Thursday, July 20, 2017

Contact With The Enemy: Matthew's Gospel (Part XIV)

Our next encounter in Matthew is:  

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matt. 9:32-34 NIV)

Don’t you just hear Satan laughing in the remarks of the Pharisees?  Remember how Satan waits to attack Jesus “until the next opportunity came”? Here is one of the many opportunities where Satan uses human beings as mouthpieces to snarl at and mock Jesus. So, here’s something to think about:  Satan uses others to get to you. Jesus was down range of Satan using others to attack Him on many occasions and it will be no different with you. The Pharisees here are being completely illogical (Why would Satan destroy his own works?) and in grave peril (attributing to Satan what God is doing is the “unpardonable sin”) so it makes no sense from a human perspective. 

But in the spiritual realm, it fits.  Anytime Satan can demean, belittle, question, cast doubt, or sabotage you and your calling with another person’s mouth, he’ll do it.  Pride, anger, envy, fear in the other person is the perfect open door that Satan comes through and uses to his advantage.  Let’s look at one time where Satan used one of Jesus’ closest followers: 

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt. 16:21-23 NIV)

 Peter was well-intentioned with Jesus.  Who wouldn’t want to dissuade your best Friend from pursuing such a horrible end?  But Peter missed the part about Jesus being raised to life, and the fear of His death opened up a door for Satan to enter and insinuate that Jesus did not need to go to the cross to fulfill His mission.  But Jesus had clearly stated, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

Let’s examine another follower whom Satan used:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:1-6 NIV)

There’s that word “opportunity” again.  This time, Satan did not use fear but doubt in the heart of Judas to get what he wanted: Jesus arrested and killed. Judas has begun to doubt Jesus’ mission. Jesus had not used His mighty power to destroy the Roman oppression of Israel; all Judas saw was Jesus using His power to raise the dead, heal the sick and drive out demons. 

Judas may have thought to himself:  Fine use of your power there Jesus, but what about using it against those Romans?  They are the greater evil!  Use Your mighty power to conquer them!  The crowds are always clamoring for your attention.  You need to turn your attention to the Romans and their abuses.  I would love to see you wipe their arrogant smiles right off their faces once and for all.

Satan entered Judas, perhaps deceiving Judas into thinking that he could force Jesus’ hand.  Judas may have reasoned that when He was finally handed over to the Romans, Jesus would demonstrate all of His power to benefit the oppressed Jewish people.  Jesus would free Himself from His captors and then free His fellow Jews.  This, as we know, did not happen. Jesus’ mission was to impart a new heart, not a new government.  Judas’ remorse over what he did drove him to suicide.  His guilt and shame were just too much when he found out Jesus was not going to deliver the Jews from the Romans, but had delivered Himself to be crucified. Satan laughed many times in those final days, as Judas was swinging in the trees and Jesus bled on that cross. 

On that Sunday morning, however, the laughter stopped. 
Satan can use friends, family, disgruntled strangers and anyone to go after you.  Most of the time, the person doesn’t even know he or she is being used by Satan to get to you. But your reaction should be the same: Pray for wisdom as to where those hurtful words or actions are coming from. Remember Satan’s endgame: to destroy you and anyone he can along the way.  He will use any means necessary. Reclaim your heritage as a child of God and move forward.  Then, PRAY:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36 NIV)

Prayer softens your heart, opens you up to God’s healing and consoling presence, and allows you to have compassion on those who have hurt you.  Besides, Satan hates it when we show mercy and see others as ourselves.  

We all need prayer, a Savior and infinite patience with one another.

We will continue looking in Matthew as to how Jesus dealt with the enemy in upcoming blogs. May His Word comfort, guide and direct you!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Contact With the Enemy: Matthew's Gospel (Part XIII)

We want a good overview of Jesus’ methods of handling Satan. Jesus’ ministry was characterized very early on with healing on a physical as well as a spiritual level:

News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24 NIV)

The reason for this is simple. The portion of Scripture He reads in the synagogue to inaugurate His ministry is from Isaiah 61:1-2:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the
He has sent me to proclaim
    freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year
of the
    Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 NIV)

So, you can see that disease and demonic oppression are incompatible with the Kingdom of God.  He went out and fulfilled His calling to take back souls from Satan’s domain.  We must not just focus on Satan’s demons or evil influences.  We must see the larger picture of why evil is so pervasive on earth.  We must realize that all suffering and evil comes from the Fall: 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom. 8:19-22 NIV)

So, in bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to this world, we are moving against Satan by our message and our actions. Satan’s influence is great, but we serve Jesus, Who is greater:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Let's look in Matthew for how Jesus encountered and dwelt with evil:  

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:16-17 NIV)

Sickness and demon possession shatters faith in God.  Jesus came to speak against the lie that sickness and demon possession are punishments from God for sins.  No.  They are part of a fallen world and Jesus came to set the world right, by dying for the sins of the world.  If sickness and possession were punishments from God, why would Jesus seek to undo God’s sentence upon an individual by healing or casting out the demon?  Jesus came to show God’s true purpose: God was eagerly seeking to reconcile with His children:

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19 NLT)

Suffering was never a part of God’s original design, for He had pronounced His creation “good.”  Adam and Eve disrupted that.  Satan then corrupted that. One comment here: God may use illness to teach us.  But He doesn’t use it to punish us.  Our life experiences with all the suffering, pain, and challenges, are ultimately for our edification: 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. (Is. 61:3 NLT)

Not everything that happens to us is good, but only He can bring forth beauty when all the world sees is ashes.  Sometimes, in the midst of our suffering, Satan will pester us to keep asking:  Why is this happening to me?  A far better question, one that brings us to sit at Jesus’ feet and listening for His response is: How, Lord, do I get through this?  Fill me afresh, and strengthen me anew for the days ahead.  And, if on this side of heaven, You tell why this has happened, I will trust You for the outcome.  If You do not disclose the “why,” I still have You and will still trust You for the outcome.  What may I learn from this so I am stronger in You?  Let me pursue the “how” instead of the “why.”

The focus shifts from you to Him.  It is only in Him will you find strength: 

He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.  (Is. 40:29-31 NIV)

He knows all too well our suffering: 

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Heb. 2:18 NLT)

Our next encounter is:

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.  (Matt. 8:28-34 NIV)

The demons are clearly afraid because the Son of God has shown up.  Jesus promised that we, as His followers, will do even greater things than He did:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14 NIV)

Jesus is glorified when we serve Him in His name.  Clearly confronting the Son of God made the demons tremble.  Their leader is a defeated foe by our Leader.  Jesus spoke the word, just as He did in the wilderness.  Satan had to leave then. Satan has to leave now. One warning, however. The passage in Luke that describes Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness ends with a sobering reminder: 

And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” (Luke 4:13 KJV) 

Another translation says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (NIV)

Still another, “When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” (NLT) 

Satan does not let up.  But a spoken word of rebuke, in Jesus’ name, is sufficient to drive him away.  For now.  Satan will be back, but Jesus and His name never loses power:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.  (Heb. 13:8)

Also, don’t expect people to understand or applaud your efforts.  The people in the town asked Jesus to leave after the pigs went high diving. Matthew recounts two demon-possessed men in the region.  In the parallel verses in Luke 8:26-39, Luke focuses on just one of the two men.  (Wycliffe Bible Commentary 28).  In Luke, we see this man wanting to follows Jesus.  Jesus requests that he stay in the area and let everyone know what happened.  The other man may have run away, along with his testimony to Jesus’ power.  But this man loves and appreciates what the Lord did for him.  This is similar to when Jesus healed the 10 lepers, and only 1 returned to thank Him. 

People will have either gratitude or fear when spiritual warfare takes place.  Don’t fret.  Serve God and seek His wisdom to do what needs to be done.  Do it to please Him and Him alone.  Leave the results to Him.  The war is won; just be faithful to Him in each time you go to battle.

We will continue to examine Jesus' encounters in Matthew in the weeks to come.  Hope you are having a lovely summer!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

S.T.A.N.D. on Following Jesus' Ministry--XII

This passage in Luke is very instructive on what our mission is in Christ.  The context here is Jesus sending out seventy disciples to proclaim Him in the towns He is about to visit.  He tells them of the perils they will face as “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), how to approach a town and where to stay.  They are to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is coming near, whether or not they are accepted by the townspeople. 

They go out and soon return, victorious and joyful.  Let’s look at Luke 10:16-24 (NIV):
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
22 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 
24  For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Fast forward to today:  Nothing has really changed.  We draw near to people with the message that Jesus is Savior and Lord.  We may be accepted or rejected.  The message remains truth regardless of its reception.  We are to keep going forward by sharing our faith. 

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

If we talk, let it be not only about Jesus but with the power of Jesus’ own words.  Our message is His message; we are empowered with His Spirit (because we are born again, His Spirit is within us) thus, our words should be His. If the words are accepted, then The Word is accepted—Jesus Himself:   
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2 NIV)

If the words are His and are rejected, then so is The Word.  If someone rejects Jesus, it pierces deeply into the heart of the One Who sent Him:  His Father.  So, claiming to love God without loving Jesus is not possible in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus was sent; therefore, we are sent.  We serve Him by going out on His behalf.  We serve His Father by going out on Jesus’ behalf. 

The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

The disciples return and they are elated.  The hallmark of their success, according to them is, “even the demons submit to us in Your name.” If we are His disciples, we have watched, learned and absorbed all that He is and does.  He commanded the demons to leave; so shall we, in His name.  Not in our power or ability but in His name.  Pure and simple: the name of Jesus is mighty.  Almighty. 
“Even the demons”—Before they left, that was probably the most worrisome aspect of their commission.  Sickness is hard to face because of the suffering of the person and the family involved.  But casting out a demon meant facing the afflicted person and a powerful malevolent force that could just as easily have turned on you. The moment any demon left a person, because Jesus’ name had been proclaimed, meant that the Kingdom of God had arrived in power and could not be stopped. 

Another time, Jesus told His disciples that Peter’s declaration that He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, meant that hell was no longer all powerful:

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:15-20)

Who Jesus is determines how we see Satan and his involvement in the world and how we go forward in it. 

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."  

The earth is where Satan set up his kingdom after Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He jets between the unseen spiritual world and our world.  He manifests his ugly presence here by oppressing people and causing chaos.  He incites all kinds of evil and humans are easily recruited to meet his agenda. So, when this new army, “The 70,” comes back, the battle for the planet has begun.  It continues today with us as the army of God.  Satan “fell”—not too dissimilar when we say that D-Day started the fall of Nazi Germany.  A lot had to be done once the Allied troops hit the beaches of France, but the Allied victory was coming. Satan’s fall began when the disciples hit the towns with Jesus’ names on their lips.  A lot had to be done then and a lot still needs to be done today, but our victory is assured. 
I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. We have authority IN HIS NAME.  How do we know that?  Well, we get to “trample on snakes.”  Back to Adam and Eve:  Satan used a snake to seduce our first parents into his way of thinking.  That snake and all those who still try to seduce others into evil will be trampled by those who wield the Name that is above all names.   God proclaimed, after the Fall,  

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Gen. 3:15 NIV)

The Seed, the Word made flesh, is now commissioning us to go out and do in His name what He did to Satan on the cross.  The cross was staked into Satan’s head, crushing him. We walk in the assurance that while he is very angry, Satan is a defeated foe.  Jesus’ power in us seals the deal.
We stand with the new Moses.  Jesus’ death on the cross allows us to go confidently into the Promised Land.  Another name for that Land?  The Kingdom of God.  So, God’s words to the children of Israel take on a prophetic and powerful meaning for us:

He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.  (Deut. 8:15-16 NIV)

Jesus’ commission to us is similar to what He experienced.  He received His commission after His baptism by John.  His Father’s voice spoke lovingly to Him.  Then He was led by the Spirit into the desert.  Maybe you look at your life and wonder why you have gone through the trials you have. Perhaps if you see them as building your character, to make you strong and ready for service, then your life experiences have value.  They are being used for His purpose:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

So, we are stronger soldiers because of what we have gone through:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV)

Perhaps you are still in the desert, or you are coming out of it.  Just like the children of Israel and their forty year wanderings in the desert, God always provided for them.  They were tested, yes, but never left to fend for themselves.  The same is true for us, no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. Our wilderness humbles us, so we are ready to take the Land when it is time to do so.  We know we can’t do this on our own.  Our desert is to keep our focus on God and His provision. The Land is ours because of Christ. Jesus is our Water of Life.  Jesus is our Bread of Life.  We are provisioned and empowered to do what He calls us to do, whether we are in the desert or occupying the Promised Land.    

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Jesus’ admonition is to humble them and humble us.  The power you have is not for you to wield for personal gain or to feed your pride, but to use solely for the Kingdom.  Yes, you are a mighty soldier, but Jesus wants you to stay humble in the field. Our names are written in the Book of Life in His blood, not in our works. Thus, our celebration is not what we do but Whom we serve.  Jesus gave The 70 a perspective check by reminding them of Heaven—their Headquarters.  We would do well to note that. 

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

We are His little children at the end of the day.  We may be tired, happy, dirt splattered and weary, but we crawl into His lap and look up into His smiling eyes and say, Abba:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Rom. 8:14-17 NIV)

The greatest thing we gain from serving Jesus is getting to know His Father better each time we place our trust in Him.  The Kingdom of God has a King: that King is our Abba.

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The disciples were blessed to see the Kingdom with its boots on the ground.  We are blessed as well.  It is knowing Jesus, serving in His mighty power, and knowing how Satan is on his way out that we are able to maintain our perspective:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:7-9 NIV)

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

The Day finally arrived that the prophets and kings had longed for, for the One Who was promised came to do the work of the Father.  He came to save mankind by His sacrifice.  We, too, are able to see the realization of the salvation plan of God. If the Day of salvation finally arrived, with the Old Testament being fulfilled, the Final Day will arrive as well, with Jesus coming in the clouds and the trumpets blasting.  God keeps His promises.  Until then, go out in the power of HIS NAME and tell others, “The Kingdom of God is here, because Jesus is here and greatly desires to live in your heart.”
So, the focus in spiritual warfare should be on Jesus and His mighty name, not worrying about Satan and his power. 

Next Time:  We will examine each case in the Gospels where Satan and Jesus collided and how Jesus handled it.  We should handle our collisions with evil no differently for we are following in our Master’s footsteps. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trade in Your Old Gear (Continued) --Spiritual Warfare XI

Let's continue to examine our gear versus what the Word says about us armoring up.

The Shield of Faith versus The Shield of Christian Culture
Faith in what? Is it in our faith? In Jesus? In our denomination? Our pastor? Our leaders? I know what you are thinking: “I have faith in Jesus Christ!” But, here’s the test: Where do you run when life and the enemy throw fiery darts at you? Do we raise Jesus’ Word in front of us, or do we raise something else?

The Shield of Faith means we believe those fiery darts will be quenched by the power of Jesus. We do not doubt that our faith will hold. Jesus used the parable of the man who built his house on the rock using His words as compared to the man who built on the sand, using what the world says. The rain and storms hit both houses. Only the one built on Jesus and His words stood the battering. (Matt. 7: 24-27) So, when we raise our Shield, we are showing that we trust in Christ alone. Not just in our faith, or a faith in faith, but faith in Christ, His love and His provision.

Such a soldier believes that Shield will extinguish the darts (the lies) of the enemy and it will hold up battle after battle. That’s why it’s raised. The very act of raising it shows the soldier’s confidence in its capacity. It is faith is action. A shield, sitting in a dusty shed somewhere, may look fine. But this Shield must be raised, wielded and never left behind. Why? The more it is used on the battlefield, the greater its value to the soldier. Every dart that is extinguished will increase the soldier’s confidence in the Shield.

Faith that is battle-tested is strong. We have learned that Jesus never leaves us, gives us strength and helps us fight the battle. So, as we face a new battle, we remember how He has been with us in the past: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, [your enemies] for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut. 3:16)

But, if we raise the Shield of Christian Culture, now we have a problem. Why? Our confidence will be short-lived, because this culture is short-lived. It changes all the time, following after the dictates of Christians who don’t want to offend anyone. These Christians appear to believe that because the world and Christianity have had a falling out, it’s up to them to fix the damage. They compromise the Word and apologize for its perceived “intolerance.” Many Christians are training with the compromised Shield of Christian Culture as opposed to the Shield of Faith grounded in God’s Word. Culture changes, trends and ideas come and go, but: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." (Is. 40:8)

Many Christians today take their cue about what is right or wrong from the larger culture. It’s as if morality is determined by the 51%, not by God’s Word. If enough people in church think that the Biblical position on an issue is too outdated, uncompassionate or insensitive because the larger culture does (and being relevant is the goal, not the truth) then out comes the Christian Cultural Shield. It’s so much lighter and easier to handle. But, once out in the battlefield, we notice a curious thing. The darts do not go out. They grow stronger and stronger. This Shield becomes more and more battered. It doesn’t stand up well to the lies that the enemy is directing at us. So, we run to the next Shield, the next compromise, hoping it will be able to just dim or divert the darts and not offend the other side. But that doesn’t happen. We lose faith in this Shield.

Soon, Cultural Shields are scattered all over the battlefield. None of the compromises have worked. The world continues to grow hostile to Christianity. Why is that? "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4)

The enemy’s plan is to make us doubt faith in general; doubt that we are at war; doubt that our side is the victorious one and doubt that we should even fight. He whispers that perhaps we need to lower our Shield altogether and not be so hung up on God’s Word: Embrace the other side! Faith is far less satisfying than a group hug!

We are at war. Period. If we lay down our Shield of Faith in God’s Word and His Son, replacing it with the well-intentioned but totally misguided idea that we must accommodate the culture and its trends, the enemy’s darts will come, no matter what we are holding. Our compromised shield will not be able to stand under fire. And you? Perhaps the better question is: Regular recipe or extra crispy?

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Faith is not something we try to psyche ourselves into or work hard to feel deep in our souls. This Shield is a gift from God Himself: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV) 

Jonathan gave David his garments and his weapons to show that they were in covenant with each other. (1 Sam. 18:3-4) We have been given God’s armor to show that we are in covenant with God.

If we set aside this Gift and walk out thinking it’s all good because we are now culturally relevant and tolerant, one day we will be on the sidelines, nursing a broken heart and wondering how it all went so wrong. The world will be one step closer to Hell and we helped.  The old saying that “If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” then it is maintained by compromise.

The Helmet of Salvation versus The Helmet of Doubt
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s) are life-altering. Spiritual TBI’s are equally as devastating: The blow of doubt can cause serious damage to our faith. Doubt can alter how we see God and how we are to live in Him.  We are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind: "He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…'” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

We need a helmet to protect us and not just any ol’ helmet. It must be the Helmet stamped with the word “salvation” in big red (the blood of Jesus) letters. If doubt is one of Satan’s favorite weapons, then the Helmet of Salvation is essential to ward off his blows.

The Shield of Faith is good for warding off the long-range missiles Satan sends, the ones you see coming. Perhaps getting laid off, being gossiped about, being misunderstood, or getting rejected are some of the fiery darts flying your way. They come at you and up goes your Shield of Faith. They hit your Shield with a fiery thud. But the Helmet of Salvation implies the enemy has gotten close enough to whack you with a blow you did not see coming. These unexpected blows demand strong protection. Our salvation is just that: strong protection. Satan probably thought he had it made in the shade when Jesus was on the cross: "None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Cor. 2:8 NIV)

But Jesus died to secure our rescue from sin and death by being our sacrifice for sin and overcoming death itself. Satan stopped laughing that Sunday morning when a gentle breeze swirled inside an empty tomb.

Consider this: We have been wearing our Helmet of Salvation for a while. But the cultural pressure on us to be more tolerant, more open-minded, can be overwhelming. Some time back, we accepted with a child-like faith the salvation Jesus offered; now, in our ever-progressive world, we feel an open mind might be a better way to go.

So, we trade in our strong, battle-tested Helmet of Salvation for the much lighter and no-brainer Helmet of the Open Mind. Satan sees our weakness and here he comes...

Whack! How can you insist that Jesus is the only way to God?

Whack! How you be sure that the Bible is accurate?

Our head starts to hurt. Then, seeing the dents, we get a new helmet: the Helmet of I Am Trying to Stay Open...

Whack! How can you claim that Jesus died for the world?

Whack! Are all other religions wrong?

Now, our head really hurts. Then we put on the Helmet of Doubt. It looks sturdy, doesn’t offend anyone and it tells everyone that we are not going to make any rash decisions that limit our intellectual horizons...

Whack! Jesus is fine for you, but we are all on the same path to God.

Whack! The Bible is just a collection of stories and is no more inspired than other stories in other religions.

Whack! You need to think for yourself.

Whack! You are so superior to all those sheep out there.

(But do you notice how that deep discontentment just won’t go away?)

Satan is never going to stop with the head blows. He wants us out of the battle altogether: we have either walked away from our faith or we are so demoralized in sin and shame we no longer fight for what is right.

We must keep our Helmet of Salvation on, seeking through God’s power to possess more and more the mind of Christ: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16)

The Helmet given to us by God is the only one that can withstand Satan’s onslaught.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Our salvation was secured by Jesus on the cross. He seeks daily, through our experiences and our thoughts, to transform us into His image: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters." (Rom. 8:29 NIV)

God wants us to be more and more of what He intended for us all along, before we were derailed by sin: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18)

We can only be transformed by the renewing of our mind if we are secure in the knowledge that He died for us: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Rom. 12:2 NIV)

We must equally be secure in the knowledge that He now wants to live in us: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20 NIV)

No other helmet will stave off the blows of the enemy.

The Sword of the Spirit versus The Pool Noodle of Excuses
The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. You can’t use it unless you know it. You can’t stand on the promises of God if you don’t know what they are. You can’t whack Satan back if he parries with half-truths and you don’t know the whole truth. Time in the Word is like sword practice. You only get better as you use it. But if you are not prepared in the Word, do you grab The Pool Noodle of Excuses? I am too busy to read the Word! I don’t understand it! I don’t think it’s culturally relevant! It’s a bit out of date! It’s not translated correctly!

OK. The next time Satan throws his darts your way or slams down on your helmet, you give him a shellacking with that Noodle. When he’s done laughing, watch out. We must be prepared to fight Satan by countering his accusations with the Word of God. We stand on the Word alone. We are not to stand on our knowledge, experience or how many years we have been a solider. If we stand on our strength alone, with pride as our driving force, we will have a false sense of security. We will then venture out into territory for which we are not prepared.

An unprepared soldier is a delightful target for the enemy. The enemy will use friends, family or life itself to give us a whack and send us reeling. The day will come when people, even those who sit in church, will prefer to have their ears tickled by the culture: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV)

The culture is not about truth. It is about feeling good. If your Sword is gathering dust, your Noodle of Excuses will be about as useful as a carwash in Seattle.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Satan’s attacks focus on slaying God’s character and thus His promises. If our knowledge is blunted (limited) or weak (pool noodle-like) we will not discern the lies when they arrive. The only good sword is one that is sharp: "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Heb. 4:12 NIV)

The Sword’s job is to divide the truth from what is false. Satan attacks us to injure and destroy us; the Sword of God is intended to cut away anything that stands between us and God. It’s painful to have those beliefs and behaviors cut away, but in the long run, we will be freer and deeper in Him. Why? Because anything that compromises or diminishes our walk in Him leaves us less and less in the light of His power and strength.

Satan injures us so we will stay in the dark. God heals us so we will stay in the light. It’s our choice.

Stay close to your Commander-in-Chief, soldier.  Dark days are ahead but we are children of the Light. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Trade in Your Old Gear-- Spiritual Warfare X

You are a soldier of the Lord. We have established that. You face warfare every day. Sometimes Satan is subtle in his attacks; other times, he is bold and aggressive. Regardless of his tactics, the kind of gear you put on each day will make the difference between a victorious encounter and one that leaves you feeling beaten.

Have you examined your gear lately? Does it look a bit worn? Does it look like, well, you? That is why we put on the armor of God. Not the armor of church, religion, denomination, family, good intentions, or good deeds, but of God and Him alone.

In order to run a mission for the Kingdom of God, you must check your armor periodically and make sure you haven’t substituted one part of it with something of your own creation. It’s easy to do.

Let’s say that you haven’t been in the Word for awhile, so your sword has been sheathed for awhile. Instead, you have been reading good Christian books, talking online and enjoying your pastor’s messages. These things are reasonable to do but you need time in the Word. You need to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. You see His faithfulness in action as you read through the Bible. History becomes His Story, and you see how He never leaves nor forsakes His children. You seek a deeper understanding through revelation as the Spirit teaches you what you need to know.

So, let’s examine two sets of gear: God’s and yours. Most Christians are going to have a mixture of both. Let’s evaluate what you are currently wearing. If it’s your gear, it must go and be replaced with God’s gear.

God’s Gear versus My Gear:  
The Belt of Truth vs. The Belt of Least Offense 

The Breastplate of Righteousness vs. The Breastplate of “I’m Not Hurting Anyone” 
Gospel Shoes vs. Gospel Slippers 
The Shield of Faith vs. The Shield of Christian Culture 
The Helmet of Salvation vs. The Helmet of Doubt 
The Sword of the Spirit vs. The Pool Noodle of Excuses 
Standing vs. Snoozing 
Prayer vs. Pride 
Diligence vs. Indolence 

Does God’s gear wear out? No. But we do. We sometimes assume that God’s gear might not be quite up to the task. Perhaps we think, deep down, that God’s gear is not quite as good as our gear. In other words, we know best. Then our adversary whispers that yes, we are right: God’s gear is inadequate and you ought to go out and get your own. After all, you know what’s best for you.
So, let’s examine our gear. Is it effective for spiritual warfare?

The Belt of Truth versus The Belt of Least Offense

I know, I know. Truth is fine when everyone agrees with you and THE Truth is fine in church where everyone agrees with you. It’s out in the trenches, or sadly, even in some churches, when it’s hard to stand on the truth, speak the truth and speak of the Truth—Jesus. But the Truth, our Jesus, holds everything together: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."(Col. 1:17 NIV)

Jesus is the very embodiment of truth. He gives form and substance to our lives. If you are sleeping, you don’t need to hold your pants up. But on the move, out in the field, the truth holds you up, sustains you and pleases the Father-heart of God. Ask: Am I pleasing God or pleasing men? Be honest with yourself here: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10 NIV)

The Truth is offensive to those living outside of it. The Truth, because it is based on the Word of God, is not just another version of “truth” that the world can accept. The Truth also reveals who is at the center of your universe: your self, with all of its wayward desires. His Truth shines a light into our darkness: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." (John 3:29-31 NIV)

Jesus as The Truth was not well received by His people; we are to expect no less: "God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way." (Matt. 5:11-12 NLT)

Think of a courtroom for a moment. If truth does not prevail, a murderer walks free, an innocent person goes to death row or a rape victim doesn’t see her assailant go to prison, taking him off the street and away from other potential victims. Justice is served by the truth. We serve a just God. We serve Him with the truth. He sent Truth to us, wrapped in flesh and named Jesus. So, if we serve Truth itself, how can we worry about telling the darkness that it’s dark? The emptiness that it’s empty? The lost that hell awaits? We must always speak the truth in love: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Eph. 4:15-16 NIV)

Our love for the person, whether they are a non-believer or a wounded Christian, will preserve our words from becoming confrontational or hurtful. We must speak only when the Holy Spirit prompts us: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." (Eph. 16:13 NIV)

We must then trust Him for the results: "It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it." (Is. 55:11 NLT) When we run missions, we wait for orders from our Commander: Jesus, the Head of the Body of Christ. You are the messenger of His love and His words. Are you speaking Christ’s words? 

Another way to think about it: Would Christ speak your words?

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

If we are not fighting for the whole truth revealed in His Word, and only for some diluted version of it, why bother? Anything less than the Gospel in all its fullness (yes, even all those “intolerant” passages) is not the Gospel at all: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8-9)
Jesus was all-in when He went to the cross: He didn’t die for some sin but for all sin; not for some people, but for all people; not for the current generation, but for all generations; so, why should we fight for anything less as we follow Him?

The Breastplate of Righteousness versus The Breastplate of “I’m Not Hurting Anyone”

Righteousness is given to us by Christ. He imparts it to us by His sacrifice: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:8-10 NIV)

We are clothed with His righteousness: "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…" (Is. 61:10 NIV) We are covered and our heart is transformed by His blood. Remember how God killed an innocent creature to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned? God has not only covered us with His innocent Son’s blood, but He has taken away our sins: "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Heb. 10:11-14 NIV)

If we leave our breastplate at home, what are we covered with? Without His righteousness ever before us, reminding us of our weakness and keeping us humble, our heart with its sinful desires will take over. Our heart is deceitful: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9) So, if our heart is allowed free rein, then we will follow what our heart wants us to do. The enemy only has to drop in a few tantalizing suggestions, and away we go. Jesus warned us of what a heart that is not under the Holy Spirit’s control is capable of: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Matt. 15:19)

Christians can rationalize their behavior just like everyone else when the heart is at full throttle. They think, as long as I don’t hurt anyone, and I ask God later on for forgiveness (which He is happy to provide!) then I’m good.  Wrong. The hurt we cause is sometimes invisible for a while. But it will come out. Maybe not now, but someday...

The parents who think their children don’t notice _________________ (fill in the sin) because they are “too young.” (But someday they will figure it out.)

The spouse who thinks the other spouse doesn’t notice _________________ because the relationship still seems good. (But someday the spouse will find evidence and be devastated by it along with the deception.)

The friend who thinks no one notices ____________________ because everyone does it and everyone seems fine. (But someday that friend goes into the ER and doesn’t come out.

Think of it like this: Why do you think Jesus equated hate with murder, a longing glance with lust and name-calling with hellfire? (Matthew 5). It’s simple: "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:45)

So, if we are speaking, thinking, and acting with His heart guiding us, righteousness prevails. If we are speaking, thinking and acting with our own heart, chaos prevails.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

The heart without the covering provided by Christ is a playground for our flesh and the enemy. When we go out in the battlefield with God’s armor in full view, we are telling Satan we know he is out there and we are ready. But if we forget to put on the Breastplate of Righteousness on, Satan knows where to aim first: our heart with all of God’s promises stored there.

Gospel Shoes versus Gospel Slippers

Shoes are for walking: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” implies well-made shoes and a readiness to go. How often have we said, “Wait! I am coming! I just need to get my shoes on!”

Bad shoes mean disabled soldiers. Think about how painful even a short walk becomes with a nasty blister; how a hole in your shoe lets water in, making your feet cold; how shoes that are too small make your feet ache; how shoes that are broken down will injure your feet and you can’t walk or run for a long time until you recover. The Gospel isn’t just about sharing words. It is about walking alongside someone, understanding their pain and trying to do what is best in the situation. It’s being in the mud and the blood of the battlefield. Satan leaves quite a trail of destruction as he moves through this planet. That’s where we come in.

The Gospel goes out, because the lost don’t always come in: "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?" (Matt. 18:12 NIV)

You go where the need is. The need is out there, because that’s where the wounded are. The Gospel means shoveling a neighbor’s driveway; helping a friend of a friend move; watching a toddler while a young mom gets her hair done; going and picking up the person you invited to church. The Gospel means movement. Shoes that are well-made (well-grounded in the Word) and a willingness to go (Lord, send me!) are a far cry from Gospel slippers. Slippers are comfy and are meant to wear at home. If your Gospel is comfy and only found inside the walls of your church home, then how will people hear the Good News? "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom. 10:14 NIV)

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

Wearing footgear that is not intended for outdoor use is useless. Not being prepared to go out and share the Good News is useless to the Kingdom of God. If our feet get pierced (we fall pray to Satan’s deception) because of shoddy footwear, we are sidelined. Let our shoes take the hit: God’s Word is strong enough to take all that Satan and the world can throw at it.

Next time...more inventorying of our gear!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What is Satan's Endgame? Spiritual Warfare, Part IX

The Bible, in 2 Corinthians 2:11, translates the plotting and planning that Satan does into various words, depending on the translation:
·         “devices,” (KJV)
·         “designs,” (ESV)
·         “schemes,” (NIV)
·         “wiles” (ASV)
·         “methods” (PHILLIPS)  

I call it an “endgame.”  Satan’s endgame is to kill you.  He doesn’t care which poison or method you choose. His goal for you is to end up six feet lion chow…be six fathoms deep…in other words, to be completely destroyed.  It’s not what you do or how you get there.  Satan is interested only that you end up dead, having lived a life without Jesus and now heading for Hell. 
Because once we are dead, this game of life is over.  The time for deciding whether or not to live it for Jesus or ourselves is also over: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…"  (Heb. 9:27)

The Bible is utterly clear on Satan’s intentions, as we have seen: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…" (1 Pet. 5:8)

Jesus taught that "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)  

Paul reminds us, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Cor. 2:11)

Satan wants to capture you and ensnare you.  He doesn’t want to take you to a tea party.  He wants you to lose yourself in what you do, and soon what you do becomes who you are—this becomes your identity. Then you become very invested in your lifestyle and forget it started out as one encounter, one sip, one smoke: "And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." (2 Tim. 2:26)  Paul equally warns Timothy and us: "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." (2 Tim. 3:13)

So, if Jesus' name in Hebrew, Yeshua, means "salvation," then someone might ask, "Saving from what?"  If we are following Jesus, we will respond, "From sin and death, of course!"  We then would boil Jesus' ministry down to: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek. 36:26)

If someone said, “Why would Jesus do that?” 

We would answer confidently: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

Then we would quickly add that Jesus came to give us abundant life.  The two greatest obstacles we face from fully experiencing God in this life is sin and death.  Sin controls our lives and death causes us fear.  Jesus came to give us victory and life.  We have passed Theology 101.  Or have we?  Let me share a key point about Satan and his endgame that I had driven home to me recently.

My husband is an eminent scholar in the field of gun rights.  He was asked to speak to the Texas Bar Association in Austin, Texas.  The presenter who spoke before him had been involved in two gun-related criminal cases as an expert witness.  The stories broke my heart.

Both involved domestic violence.  Two different women had hooked up with two men who were involved in the biker subculture.  The first woman was a Christian.  When she met him, he was willing to go to church with her.  Over time, his drug abuse and ill treatment of her led her to kick him out.  

Her fatal "mistake" was saying disparaging things about his biker patches and biker club.  After screaming, "I’m going to kill you!" he jumped on top of her with a knife.  She was able to get the knife and she stabbed him to get him off of her.  He went to the hospital with fourteen stab wounds and later died.  She was convicted of 2nd degree murder.  Her case was overturned, however, and the judge agreed that she had indeed acted in self-defense.

The second woman, after twelve years of being involved with her biker partner, and having found him in their home with another woman, said disparaging things about his club and his patches.  He later menaced her with a knife and having threatened to kill her and her family, she drew a gun and fatally shot him.

The presenter discussed self-defense, juries, and women whose self-esteem is so low that they cannot see themselves with any other guy, thereby putting themselves at risk.  It was a sobering presentation, complete with ER and autopsy photos.  

My point?  We Christians tend to focus on the sins that people commit.  We look at the adultery, the homosexuality, the greed, the pride, the abuse, the whatever, and say, "You should not do that." 
We are horrified at what people do.  The presenter did not mince words about what losers these two men were; he repeatedly used the phrase, "***holes" in describing them.  Looking at their tats, their pictures sporting attitude, it was a label that fit.  In fact, the audience laughed every time he used that word in describing these two men.

I was horrified at what he presented.  I felt anger that these men had pushed these women to such a breaking point that one man was stabbed and the other shot.  I felt awful that these women had been so deceived by these men that they stayed with them.  These women then became criminals in the eyes of the law.

I had focused on what everyone had done.  It had started out so simple for these women.  They were probably excited when they first met these guys, unaware of their poisonous character.  But these women were deceived and paid dearly for it.  So did the men. 

The bottom line is deception.  You say, I am in control, and for awhile, you will beBut given enough time, you wade in deeper.  The deeper in you go, the more the poison works its evil in you. 
Deception is one of Satan’s most effective weapons.  He says to you, as you are wading deeper into sin:

You are the only one who understands this person.  You’ll be the one to help and change them. 
·         You’re fine.  You can stop this any time.
·         You’re not like those other people, who clearly have a problem.
·         The others are light weights.  You can handle this.
·         Your needs will be met with this. 
·         This won’t lead to anything else. 
·         You are in control. 
·         If no one gets hurt, then why not?

We’ve either thought those things, or know someone who has.  A life so lived will be sadly affected by Satan’s deception. We are warned to “give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph.4:7)  A little lie is still a lie.  A little poison is still poison. Even a cracked door is still open. Let me bring up a quick analogy.  A person walks into a room filled with numerous bottles of poison. The person is trying to select which one to drink. We run in and focus on each bottle, listing the consequences of drinking that particular poison:
       That one’s cyanide!  It will steal your oxygen and turn you blue! 
·         That one’s anti-freeze!  Drink that and it will shred your kidneys!
·         Whoa!  That’s mercury and it causes insanity!
·         No way!  That’s dioxin and it causes cancer!
·         That one’s strychnine and it will shut down your nervous system!

While we are talking, the person turns around and gulps down a bottle of cyanide.  We quickly say, "How could you do that?"  We then repeat all the horrible things cyanide does to the body.  Only after much detailing of the poison’s effects, we yell, "It'll kill you!"  

We focus on what the person did and the consequences of drinking that particular poison.  Then we say, "It will kill you."

Now, let's go back to our presenter at the Texas Bar Association.  I listened to the horrible aspects of these people's lives and what they had done.  It was almost an afterthought that these people’s behaviors resulted in their destruction and death.

Then it hit me:  Satan does not care what you DO.  He could care less what bottle of poison you drink.  His endgame is your death:  six feet under and cold as dirt.  
Did any of those four people wake up that morning and say, "What we are doing will lead to our death.  We need to stop now!"  No.  The dead man laying on the coroner's table never thought he'd end his day like that.  We need to stop just focusing on what people DO now and focus on what will happen to them in the future if they continue. We need to lovingly and forcefully point out to people the consequences of sin, and not just dwell on the particular sin itself.   Let’s go into another room filled this time with “sin’s poison.”  We see a person reaching for a bottle and we quickly yell:

·         That’s adultery!  It could ruin your marriage!
·         That’s homosexuality!  It leads to many impersonal and empty relationships!
·         Whoa!  That’s alcohol!  It can lead to addiction, DUI’s and job loss!
·         No way!  That’s pride!  It offends others and leaves you empty and unhappy!
·         Yuck!  That’s unforgiveness and it leads to a bitter spirit!
·         Stop!  That porn you’re looking at is destructive to your spirit!

Then, almost as an afterthought, we tell the person that whatever sin they are engaged in is deadly. 
WHAT? How so? Damage, yes, but death? Let’s take the consequences further.  Let’s look into the future and after a long engagement with the sin, see where the sin will lead:

·         That’s adultery!  You will someday lose your marriage; contact with your kids;  lose the house; resort to drinking; carrying on in impersonal relationships;  depression; getting a DUI; dying in a crash while under the influence. 
·         Whoa!  That’s homosexuality!  It leads to an empty life; impersonal relationships;  depression; ending life with possibly AIDS, suicide or a drug overdose. 
·         No way!  That’s alcohol!  It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver; causing you to do things you would never do while sober; brain damage and dementia; suicide; early death from a debilitated body; family and friends leave; loneliness. 
·         That’s pride!  It will cause you to lie; steal; hide; lie some more; cover up; be ruined; lose self-respect; lose respect from others; suicide; a life lived isolated and alone.
·         Whoa! That’s unforgiveness! It leads to a bitter and lonely heart; ill health; depression; misery; dying estranged and alone from family and friends.
·         Stop!  That porn you are looking at degrades you and your partner.  Soon, your dissatisfaction with your partner will lead you to isolate more and more.  Your degraded spirit will find giving love harder and harder.  Your partner, alienated and hurt, will leave.  You will end up alone, your self-respect gone.

We are so focused on the horror of the sin, we lose sight of the most horrible outcome of all:  the death of the sinner.  Oh, come on, you say, how could my adultery lead to death?  Adultery is the poison in the bottle. Once you introduce it into your life, Satan now uses it to separate you further and further from God.  As the sin courses through your spiritual bloodstream, the more vulnerable you are to his attacks.  He isn't concerned what poison you drank; he just wants you to drink it and start the process.  He wants you dead.  How you get there is not his concern.  

Let me finish up what the presenter said.  At the end, all four lives were destroyed.  The two women served time.  One man was dead and the other severely injured.  Even though one of the women was exonerated, her life is forever changed.  Because she is a Christian, she has hope and assurance of God’s love. I pray for the other woman and the man who survived as well.  

Satan wants us to live a life with no hope in this world.  Then when we step off this planet, he wants to welcome us to an eternity with no hope.  The entrance to Hell should have a sign over it that says, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

A word here.  Frequently people are angered by the notion that God “sends” people to hell.  I put the word “sends” in quotes, because otherwise you picture God angrily pushing a reluctant person out of His presence, towards Hell’s entrance.  God doesn’t “send” anyone.  A person who chooses not to live in Christ in this life would not want to live in Christ in the next one either.  A person who did not love Christ in this life would not love Christ in the next one, nor would they want to be forced to do so.  A person who did not believe in God or doubted His existence and lived this life accordingly would not want to live in His presence for all eternity.  So, God does not send people to hell.  They choose to go.  They have spent their whole lives walking away from Him, despite His invitation to join Him: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

They chose to walk away from Him in this life and He honors their choice for eternity.  That is why a “death-bed” confession does not bother Him at all.  He wants to hear a cry, however weak and small, coming from a person before they leave this earth.  He wants us to join Him willingly, even if we don’t understand all the details and even if it’s at the last minute.  The two men who hung on either side of Jesus is the best illustration of this truth in Luke 23:39-43: 

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

God does not condemn us; our actions condemn us.  The standard of right behavior is not what I do versus what others do; the standard is our behavior is measured against a sinless God.  God is not willing that anyone should “perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Why?  Because of His love for us. But forced love is not love at all; it is coercion, a kind of rape of the soul.  God would never be involved with anything that is not love through and through.  Satan deceives; he coerces and lies to get us entangled in his schemes.  We are dead in our sins but faith in Jesus brings us to life:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  (Eph. 2:1-10)

Satan does not want us to come to life in this world by accepting Christ.  Satan will not let up until we leave this world. In other words, Satan wants us to live dead and die dead. That is why Jesus is so focused on us bringing life.  He is the Antidote to the poison of sin and its result, death.  Jesus says that Satan the thief is out to "steal kill, and destroy."  As followers of Jesus, let's focus on the endgame.  Satan wants your death, by whatever means necessary.  Jesus wants your life to be transformed into His life in you. He provided the means:  His death on the cross. He wants you under His protection, guidance and love. 

Let Psalm 91 flood your heart:

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

So often we Christians use the phrase, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”  I would like to amend that.  Let us love the sinner and hate the death that awaits them if they don't find Jesus.  Let's be loving and diligent to show people where their sin will take them.  Let’s not let the sin itself steal our focus, however ugly it is.  Let’s share the beauty of Jesus and His offer to save us from sin and death.  He is Salvation. He alone is what we need to counter the wiles of Satan.   Jesus wants to bring us life now and for eternity.  That is the good news.  That is The Gospel.

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