Friday, February 12, 2010

Knowing the Enemy

I could be married to the biggest Cowboys’ fan of all time. I really do believe that if you cut Mike’s arm open, he’d bleed silver and blue. You can imagine how stressful this past NFL season was for our household.

We got into an interesting discussion on January 3rd, when the Cowboys hosted the Eagles. Mike was particularly concerned about one of Philly’s wide receivers, DeSean Jackson. His words were, “He’s a deep threat…if he gets past the secondary and catches the pass, he’s likely to score every time.” Then my sweet husband went on to tell me this. “I bet the Cowboys have a man to man coverage on him with a deep safety over the top…just in case that defender got beat. That way there’s someone to catch him.”

In the NFL, coaches and players watch hours of the opposing team’s footage in preparation for the upcoming game. The goal is to learn the opposing team’s every nuance. They counter their strengths, exploit their weaknesses. That day, the Cowboys crushed the Eagles, 24-zip. In my husband’s mind, it trumped our wedding day.

As Christians, we also face an enemy, and need to be equally prepared. It’s a delicate subject. I know many passionate Christ-followers who don’t believe in the devil. They think Satan doesn’t exist…that hell is not an actual place. While that is an attractive line of thinking, it’s also a symptom of what I call “a la carte Christianity.” I like this part of the bible, but not that. This verse makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but this one makes me a little nervous. I’ll put the 23rd Psalm on my tray, and leave 1 Peter 5:8 behind, thank you very much.

That particular verse gives us a glimpse of what we’re facing. “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I find it interesting that Peter chose to compare the evil one to a lion. Lions tend to attack weaker animals…especially the sick, young or straggling. They like their prey alone, and vulnerable. Satan also likes an easy catch.

The enemy has more than one name in the bible, and makes many appearances. I chose verses from Job and Matthew to illustrate who he is, and how he works.

The book of Job is about a righteous man of good character. But God allows Satan to test him. This alone gives us insight into what the enemy can and can’t do. Job 1:6-7 – One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan the Accuser came with them. “Where have you come from?” The LORD asked Satan. And Satan answered the LORD, “I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

You can bet our enemy isn’t happy that this part of the story isn’t lying on the cutting room floor. Because already, just two verses in, we know three important facts. First, Satan is the accuser. Second, he has to account to God. God has complete authority over him. We also know this because Satan was compelled to answer God. And his answer tells us another key fact…the evil one is not omnipresent. He can only be in one place at one time. His demons can and do assist him in his work, but as a created being, he is limited.

Job 1:8-11 – Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! You have always protected him and his home and property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” So God allowed the Accuser to test Job.

I can almost hear the bitterness dripping from his voice. The enemy hates the Almighty and he hates His people. But Satan unwittingly gives us another piece of valuable information here. He can not read minds. Neither can he tell the future. If he could, he wouldn’t have questioned Job’s motives or his faith. Satan persecuted Job without mercy…and the end result? Job’s faith is strengthened, as is his relationship with the Father.

Matthew 4:1-11 has always intrigued me. Satan and Jesus, face to face. I wonder what that moment was like for our Lord. Was He frightened? Or simply determined? We know He was fully God, and fully man. We know He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. That alone tells us that testing can come even when we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. Matthew 4:2 gives us another clue – For forty days and forty nights he ate nothing and became very hungry. I think it’s safe to assume he was tired and lonely. Jesus wasn’t tempted at the Temple, or His baptism. The enemy waited until He was most vulnerable. Now let’s look at the way Satan tempts Him. Matthew 4:3 – Then the devil came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into loaves of bread.” It’s almost funny…Satan…testing the pride of the One who created the universe, yet chose to wrap Himself in flesh to reach us. “If you are the Son of God….” Christ felt no need to prove Himself to his enemy. We also need to be careful not to led pride lead us into sin.

I want to look at another verse with you before we watch how Jesus responds. Matthew 4:5-6 – Then the devil took Him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He orders his angels to protect you. And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.’” Satan quotes Scripture. He misinterprets it, and uses it incorrectly, but it sounds good, doesn’t? People have been talked into doing great wrongs at the misuse of Scripture. The Ku Klux Klan posts verses from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus on their website, and you’d be hard pressed to say they do anything positive or godly. The point is this. Satan is very smart. And a lie is far more effective when mixed with a grain of truth.

Matthew 4:7 –Jesus responded, “No! The Scriptures also say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’” Jesus countered him with the Word of God after every temptation. And it’s right there that we learn perhaps the most important thing about our enemy. If there’s one thing that will take him down, it’s the Word of God. When used correctly, and with faith, the Scripture is a powerful thing.

We know that every Christian will at some point go through trials. Where are you strong? Be careful of pride. Where are you vulnerable? Know who you are in Christ! For years I bought into the lie that I was fat, worthless, that no one liked me. Put on the full armor of God. Ephesians 6:14-17 – Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Notice how the Word of God is our only offensive weapon. Everything else is of a defensive nature. What else can we do? 6:18 – Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.
Satan is real. Demons are real. There are points of biblical theology where scholars disagree…interpretations that vary slightly. But there are very few who argue the existence of an enemy. An enemy who knows his time is short. Who knows his best tactic at the moment is to convince the world he doesn’t exist.

How ironic. How this must ding his pride. Lucifer was once an angel who once resided in Eden, whose clothes were “adorned with every precious stone – red carnelian, chrysolite, white moonstone, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald…”(Ezekiel 28:13). He was called the angel of light, who “had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire.” (Ezekiel 28:14).

Our best weapons are our faith in God, and the Word of God. He is powerless against Jesus. Know your enemy, and know your defense. To live a life in fear, imagining demons around every corner gives him power. So does living in ignorance. Know who you stand for, and know the One who stands beside you. Above all else, live in victory…and remember John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not one scrap wasted...

The idea for this blog came to me while I was picking up dog doo. Let me explain. I was cleaning up after my dog, Jim. I’m embarrassed to say that there was quite a lot of poop to scoop. Since the weather had been so cold, the kids hadn’t played outside in awhile. Therefore, the backyard just hadn’t been a top priority. So there was a lot of doo. Some had just about turned to dirt, and you could scarcely tell it was there.

That reminded me of power walking with my friend Pam. We sped through Highland Park, and you could smell the fresh manure. Manure makes fabulous fertilizer. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “God doesn’t waste a thing. Even poo has a purpose.”

And that brings me to this…even our mistakes can be used to serve God’s Kingdom.
I just love reading the book of Acts. Specifically, Paul’s conversion. He was initially called Saul, and makes his first scriptural appearance in Acts 7:58. This is where Stephen (one of the believers) is dragged out of the city by the Pharisees and stoned to death. The verse reads, “They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Stephen had been testifying that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets foretold. Upon his death, the believers got out of there. Acts 8:1 says “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria.” Now skip down to Acts 8:3, “Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail.”

Saul (Paul) was a scary guy. He was smart. A devout Jew, a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel (the most respected teacher of the Law at the time). He knew the Law of Moses inside out. Second, he sincerely believed that the Christian movement was a danger to Judaism. He persecuted believers without mercy. He tells us in his own words in Acts 26:11, “Many times I had them whipped in the synagogues to try to get them to curse Christ. I was so violently opposed to them that I even hounded them in distant cities of foreign lands.”

Destroying “The Way,” or the Christian movement, became his obsession. “Meanwhile Saul was uttering threats with every breath. He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains.” Acts 9:1-2.

On the road to Damascus, everything changed…forever. The scriptures tell us as Saul and his companions made their way, a brilliant light from heaven flashed…and Saul fell flat on his face. He heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4. It was Jesus Himself.

You likely know the rest of the account. Saul is blinded by the encounter, so the men he’s traveling with take him into the city. Hesits in Damascus for three days. He doesn’t eat a bite. He doesn’t drink a drop. And Saul, now Paul, becomes the most powerful evangelist in the history of Christianity…writing the majority of the New Testament.

How perfect. Who could be a better testimony to the power of Jesus Christ…than the very man who sought to wipe out His followers? The best witness you can give for Jesus is a changed life.
I can tell you this. People I ran with 10 years ago wouldn’t find me too much fun these days. The girl who was buying the shots is now the girl building a ministry. I’m not better than anyone. I’ve sinned so much I can’t bear to think of it. The good news is this…God doesn’t think of it either. When we repent and turn from our sin, the Lord promises us in Isaiah 43:25, “I – yes I alone – am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” There is so much freedom in that verse! You don’t have to feel guilty! Learn from your mistakes…don’t live in them! Another verse to cling to is Isaiah 43:18 – “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” The NIV phrases it this way – “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

I wish I had the courage to tell you how far I’ve fallen, and how far I’ve come. I think the reason I love Paul’s story so much…is perhaps because I relate to him…so much. I shudder to think of the stories my sisters, college room-mates and old co-workers could tell you. But I also realize that because of those same stories, God has a powerful witness in me. You want to see the saving power of Jesus Christ? Just look at me. He lifted me up from the depths of some awful pits. And I believe He will use me to comfort others who reside in those same pits. And lead them to the One who can raise them…and redeem them.

I’ll never make the impact on the church that Paul did. I’ll never make even a tiny fraction of it. But I’ll do my best to make my changed life a powerful testimony. One last thing. I simply can’t read Isaiah 43:18 without reading verse 19 as well, because it’s chock full of hope and promise. Isaiah 43:18-19 – “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do a brand new thing. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness for my people to come home. I will create rivers for them in the desert!” (Emphasis mine.)

Glory to God! Let the living water quench your thirst.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Leaded or unleaded?

A 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo starts at $85,000. If you want all the bells and whistles, be ready to shell out $230,000. I couldn’t find a review on the 2010 model, but here’s a quote about the 2009 version from Motor Trend. “Behind the cosmetically reshaped nose, between the all new Y-styled, LED head and taillights, is a vehicle truly worthy of such an affected alphanumeric name.”

I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that means. Nor do I care. I’m not a car girl. But I can tell you this. That’s a nice automobile. You own a vehicle like that; you take good care of it. Drive a Lamborghini Gallardo, and you’re rotating the tires, changing the oil every 3000 miles, and buying super-premium unleaded. You’re probably washing that puppy every other day, and carrying around a sham-WOW to wipe off smudges.

Isn’t it funny then, how we treat ourselves? We are the Lamborghini of all life. James 1:18 tells us “In His goodness He chose to make us His own children by giving us His true word. And we, out of all creation, became His choice possession.” The International Standard Version phrases it this way, “so that we might become His most important creatures.” His most important creatures. And yet, we look everywhere else for fulfillment.

I did a little research on gasoline, and whether or not it really makes a difference if you put cheap gas in an expensive ride. Basically, the technology used in cars such as the Lambo and Porsche is advanced enough that your vehicle will still run just fine. Gary Fong, the spokesman for Porsche Cars North America says, “As far as octane level, Porsche has a double knock sensor that will prevent your car from being hurt, but the emissions will be different if you use a lower octane level.”

Interesting. The car will still run, but what comes out will be different…kind of like us. You know, God has pulled me out of some pretty deep pits. It took awhile for me to climb out, because I was in good company down there. I still keep in touch with some of my former pit-mates, and some of them still dwell there. Let me tell you something. There is a difference between them, and the crowd I run with now. You listen in on a conversation of theirs, and a conversation with the gals in my Monday morning bible study, and you’ll hear it. They still run, but their emissions aren’t much better than smog.

That’s how you recognize a true believer. By their fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Here there is no conflict with the law.”

There is a man who goes to my church that my husband and I are friends with. He led a bible study of ours for several years. And Mike and I both agree that Lee is as close to being Christ-like that an individual can ever hope to be. I’ve never seen him ruffled. He radiates love. He’ll help anyone at any hour with a joyful attitude. He has given me guidance and council through a lot of my crazy, and Mike and I both love him to pieces.

Lee exudes the fruits of the Spirit. He is the epitome of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. Lee also spends time every day with the Lord. He reads God’s Word, and memorizes. He seeks the Kingdom of God first, and because of that, radiates the joy and peace God promises.

I want that. I want that so much I can taste it. I’m getting there, but slowly. So slowly. The last time my former pit-mates and I hung out it wasn’t ten minutes before I had slipped back into my old role. And by the time I left, I’d decided the label on my jeans wasn’t fancy enough, and the emblem on my car not expensive enough. Praise be to God that I came to my senses quickly.

Where are you getting fulfillment? Or perhaps a better question is “where are you seeking fulfillment?” I can tell you where you won’t find it, because I’ve tried. There is no peace to be found in others’ approval. Money won’t buy you contentment, and a Louis Vuitton purse won’t make you feel worthy. Alcohol only works for a little while, and then you feel worse than before. You won’t find lasting satisfaction in a gym-sculpted body, or a gym-sculpted boyfriend (although my hubby is super hot!). If you’re looking for wholeness through your career, be careful. 2009 showed us that 25 years at a job means nothing during cutbacks, and that you are very, very expendable…no matter what your numbers say.

Jesus is the only way. Everywhere you look in this society, you hear otherwise. But Paul tells the Galatians this, “Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:7-8.

There is peace in simplicity…so what if you don’t have that new iPhone! There is joy in generosity. Forgo the $4 starbucks every day and start helping others in need. You certainly don’t have to look far to find them. “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.” Galatians 6:9.

I don’t want what this world has to offer, it’s no good! Chasing after worldly things brings stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness. Have you ever wondered why you never hit enough? No matter how many zeros are at the end of your paycheck, someone will always make more. Jesus is enough. His grace is enough. He is all-sufficient, all-powerful. The same God that spoke the universe into existence saw fit to create you, too. Choose Him. He’s already chosen you.

“But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1.
Glory be to God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Love. Serve. Shine.

Love. Serve. Shine. It’s my mission statement for my life, and my daily prayer. To LOVE others the way Christ loves us. To SERVE others, just as Christ washed His disciples’ feet. And to SHINE the light of Christ for all the world to see.

An awful lot of us (myself very much included) lose sight of the most important thing of all, to love. I laughingly remember the day I was cut off by an SUV…with a Jesus fish stuck on the back of it! I would never speak for my Lord and Savior…but I’m pretty sure that’s not WJWD. Lol.

Honestly though…how many of the world’s problems would we solve if we truly loved others the way we are loved by Christ? If we loved each other sacrificially, laying aside our comforts and schedules to help a neighbor…or a stranger?

The book of Mark tells about a religious leader who asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest. Mark 12:29-31 - Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Love is the key. Loving Christ first then others is everything. John 15:12 – “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you.” John 15:17 – “I command you to love each other.”

Love breeds servitude. Is there a greater love than a parent has for a child? From the time that baby draws its first breath, we meet their every need. Jesus, the King of Glory, the Word made flesh, humbled Himself to walk on the earth among us. Instead of taking His rightful throne, He washed His disciples’ feet. John 13:14-17 – “And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things – now do them! That is the path of blessing.”

If you are loving others as Christ loves us and serving with a joyful heart, you can’t help but shine. Live your life so that others will be drawn to your light. There are so many lost…who need YOU to light the way to Christ. I could never say it better than Jesus. Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the light of the world – like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Love. Serve. Shine.