What’s Satan’s End Game?


Satan and his end game for the world, for humanity, really for his own personal destruction, though he thinks it’s for his glory, is no secret. It’s what he’s planned from the beginning.

Some years ago, as part of our study in the book of Luke, our pastor showed something critical about Satan. But it starts first with why Luke said he was writing his book:

it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4, emphasis mine)

The central purpose was so that Luke’s target audience, originally a man named Theophilus—but now the rest of us,too—would know the exact truth about the things “accomplished among us [the first century believers], just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1b-2).

Luke then launches into an account of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, interspersed with the angel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus’s coming birth, including this statement: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b, emphasis mine).

Fast-forward thirty years and both Jesus and John are grown men. John was baptizing people in the Jordan and Jesus also came to him to be baptized. When he came out of the water, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased’ ” (Luke 3:22, emphasis mine).

Curiously, or so it would seem on the surface, Luke follows this account with a genealogy of Jesus. One thing His lineage shows is that He was a descendant of King David. But it doesn’t stop there. Rather it traces His heritage back to Abraham and beyond, until we get to this: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38, emphasis mine).

So in these opening chapters, Luke shown the angel telling Mary her child would be the Son of God, the Holy Spirit announcing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by lineage He is the Son of God.

Enter Satan. Behind the particulars of the three recorded temptations Satan threw at Jesus is a central theme: “If You are the Son of God” (4:3b); “if You worship before me” (4:7a); “If You are the Son of God” (4:9b, emphases in all three are mine). Satan was calling into question Jesus’s identity—the very thing Luke had clearly established in the first three chapters.

This strategy is not so different from what Satan used in the garden with Eve. He suggested that God was holding back from her, that if she would eat of the fruit, she would be like Him. Satan’s key question was, “Indeed, has God said . . .” (Gen. 3:1b). Satan’s tactic, then, is to call into question God’s words and God’s Word, the Incarnate Jesus Christ.

I suggest Satan’s plan of attack has not changed over the years. He still wants people to doubt God Word and His words. Surely God didn’t really mean . . . And Jesus is The Way? Really?

The issues with which we’re confronted in our postmodern/post truth culture fit nicely with Satan’s strategy. Nothing can be known for certain, our society tells us, least of all the Bible. It’s gone through so much copying and translating, not to mention interpreting. How can we know what He really said? The best we can do is identify the particular truths as defined by a particular faith community, understanding that someone else with a different mindset may well see things differently.

So “do not kill” doesn’t necessarily include abortion; “men with men committing indecent acts” because God turned us over to our “degrading passions” due to our exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1) isn’t a statement against homosexuality; belief in creation instead of evolution is foolish dismissal of science; loving people is more important than loving a “wrathful tyrant God”; believing that hell awaits anyone is barbaric; and many more such beliefs.

Satan is working the audience. He’s getting applause, and he’s winning people to his side. He has the culture now asking, Did God say . . . And if the answer is, Yes absolutely, the accusations fly. How foolish to believe that, how hateful to say so, how cruel to claim it, how bigoted to think such. Accuse, accuse, accuse. But that’s what Satan is—the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He finds it intolerable that we cling to what God has said.

The best way to fight such a spiritual enemy is to stand firm and hold fast. Scripture tells us that, too.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:12-14).

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in April, 2014.

Advertisements

The Hobbit And The Dragon, Or Playing With Fire


Some time ago, I re-read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. At one point our hero, Bilbo Baggins, confronts the dragon (Smaug) in his lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.

After having successfully made off with a gold cup during his first foray into the tunnels, Bilbo returns, hoping to learn something useful about Smaug. He strokes the monstrous creature’s ego, plies him with questions, and learns some very useful information. However, Bilbo’s successes make him careless. He takes a parting shot, taunting the dragon about not being able to catch him (at the time he is wearing the ring that makes him invisible).

The jab infuriates Smaug, and he goes after the hobbit based on sound and smell. Bilbo is severely singed and barely escapes with his life. What’s more, the dragon goes after the place he believes Bilbo usd as an entrance into the mountain tunnels. He is right and seals Bilbo and his companions inside.

All because Bilbo got a little cocky from his successes.

Bilbo and SmaugSomething else came from the hobbit’s engagement with the dragon. Smaug planted a few seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind. Would his companions—gold-loving dwarfs—really divide Smaug’s treasure with him as they promised? And if so, how was he going to cart that treasure all the way back home when the journey to the Lonely Mountain had been so hard?

Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug isn’t so different from a real person’s encounter with the enemy of our souls.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to reason with Satan. We’re told to flee, resist, stand firm, but never to parlay.

Even Jesus, in the three particular temptations the Bible records, fought Satan with Scripture. He didn’t explain why He wasn’t going to turn stones into bread or jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Rather, He stated what God had said, and He stuck to it. Far from gloating when He’d bested Satan, He spent time in the company of angels afterward, recovering from the ordeal, perhaps, or preparing for the next encounter.

Too often in my experience, when I see a spiritual victory, I think, One down, one less to worry about. At that point, I’m just like Bilbo taunting Smaug. How much wiser to look for the nearest company of angels. And falling short of that, to find a fellow believer or time alone in God’s Word.

The point is, spiritual victories feel like a “high,” but in reality they create some of the most vulnerable moments in our spiritual walk. They might tempt us to pride, to relax our guard, to listen to the suggestions the enemy slipped in during the encounter.

When we are weak, then we are strong, Scripture says, but too often we operate as if we are strong when we are strong. We bested a temptation, responded in faith, trusted God in spite of what Satan threw against us, and we think it’s over, that we’ve come out on top. The unpleasant news is, there is no “on top” until Satan is put away for good or until we enter into God’s presence for good. Until that time, we’re in a war, and one battle doesn’t mean Satan is waving the white flag. He’s not. He’s a hungry lion (or dragon), and we are his prey.

Bilbo made a costly mistake, one that we can so easily make too unless we keep the armor God gave us firmly in place.

This article is a revised version of the original that appeared here in January, 2013.

Published in: on January 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Revenge Psalms


Afghan fighter

I don’t think any commentary on the book of Psalms will actually have a section entitled Revenge Psalms, but they exist. I decided to memorize a while back. Mind you, I didn’t realize at the time that it was a revenge Psalm. It starts out so innocently, so sweetly: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”

Yes, I thought, that’s a Psalm for me. I had underlined a few other verses further down such as “He makes my feet like hinds feet/And sets me upon my high places.” Well, who wouldn’t want to memorize that verse? Or how about “The LORD lives and blessed be my rock/And exalted be the God of my salvation.”

Great! So I settled down to memorize Psalm 18. Except, the strength David was talking about and the salvation he was referring to were quite literal. He wanted physical strength to overcome his enemies and he wanted God’s intervention to save him from people who wanted to kill him. If I’d read the intro, I would have realized this.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

I think verse 3 encapsulates the Psalm: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,/And I am saved from my enemies.”

No doubt about it. David had enemies and he needed to be saved from them. But the Psalm gets pretty graphic later on:

I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise;
They fell under my feet.
For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.
Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind;
I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.

I don’t know about you, but I confess to having problems with the not turning-back-until-they-were-consumed part, the shattering-so-they-were-not-able-to-rise, the destroying-those-who-hated-me, the beating-them-fine-as-the-dust-before-the-wind, and the emptying-them-out-as-the-mire-of-the-streets. It’s all so vengeful.

It reminds me of the modern Middle East with the ongoing battles between Jews and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites, insurgents and government forces. People are hating and fighting and praying for rescue, only to turn around and destroy those who were trying to destroy them.

I get that, when we’re talking about peoples who haven’t heard of the love of God, I ought not expect them to act according to the grace and mercy God gives. But when the same kind of attitude crops up in the Bible, it throws me. It’s one thing for God to exercise His just judgment against sinners, but when David talks in such unforgiving tones, I feel a little shocked.

But then I remember the short verse tucked in the midst of all the shattering and destroying: “They cried for help, but there was none to save,/Even to the LORD but He did not answer them.”

I find that verse shocking on a different level. People cried to God for help, but He turned away from them! The Psalm starts out with David being the one who called for help. God didn’t turn a deaf ear to David:

In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

The next verses describe God acting, as a result, on behalf of David to rescue him. But those enemies who later cried for help, God didn’t answer.

I’ve got this impression of God that He’s always there for us, that He’ll always answer the cry of the needy, but apparently there are needy wicked who He will ignore. I mean, how could he hear and answer David and at the same time hear and answer those who were trying to kill him? Apparently God takes sides.

David, in this same Psalm, credits his righteousness with bringing God on his side:

The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.

I emphasized the phrase “in His eyes” because that’s what I think is significant for today. In God’s eyes, those of us covered by the blood of Jesus Christ are righteous. It seems then, that we can call upon the Lord to save us from our enemies.

Except, Paul says our enemies are not flesh and blood:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

So I’m thinking, maybe a revenge Psalm for the Christian wouldn’t be so shocking if we had a clear idea of who the enemy is. What if we prayed for God to rescue us, our families, churches, communities, states, countries, from Satan and his schemes, in the same way that David prayed for physical rescue? I think that would necessitate us viewing God in the same way David did:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Published in: on January 22, 2019 at 5:04 pm  Comments Off on Revenge Psalms  
Tags: , , , ,

Anxiety In The New Year


I keep hearing about people starting 2019 filled with anxiety and a sense of woe. I’m not sure where this pessimism is coming from. Maybe it’s the usual depression brought on by winter. Maybe it’s the divisiveness currently in our nation. Maybe it’s the downward spiral some see our moral climate taking. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

That truth actually isn’t good news for people who reject or ignore God, because He has already demonstrated that when evil reaches a limit, He will act in judgment. He did so with Egypt, with Canaan, with Israel, with Judah. Why would the God who is the same from one era to the next suddenly go soft on sin? He isn’t likely to do that. But we don’t know just how or when His judgment will fall.

So those who are far from God have reason to be somewhat anxious.

But Christians? Not if we are going about doing our Father’s business.

There’s a little known verse in a little read book of prophecy, Nahum 1:7, that I’ve come to love:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble.
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

There’s no false promise in the verse that God will magically take away any and all trouble. Rather, it pretty much promises a day of trouble. But God matches that with a greater promise—He is the stronghold, the fortress, the citadel, the bastion, the fortification. Not for everyone. Well, I’ll qualify that. Yes, He is the stronghold for everyone, but not everyone will trust in Him.

Those who do . . . well, He knows who those are. We can’t fool Him, or pretend we trust Him when we actually are depending on our own strength. He knows. And, as a reminder, He’s the omniscient one. As David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said in Psalm 139,

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.

God’s knowledge about each one of us is not limited, so when He says He knows who takes refuge in Him, I believe He does in fact know the real from the pretend, the “in name only” and the “all in’s.” He knows.

I find a lot of comfort in that. I won’t get lost in the shuffle of all the many, many people—those on the front lines, those in the thick of the fight. I might be nothing but a squire, delivering missives from one commander to the line of soldiers on the wall, but God knows I’m in the Stronghold, that I’m there for refuge, that I have no other “safe place” than in His presence.

I find it so ironic that our culture works so hard to keep everyone safe these days, and yet we are as vulnerable as ever. We have laws about seat belts and helmets and strollers and vaccinations and plastic bags and straws and abuse and fraud and border security and on and on, but we still face danger to our health, danger from nature, danger from individuals, danger from other nations. Perhaps most surprising is that we have become aware of danger from ideas. But instead pf arming ourselves for battle, instead of running to the Stronghold, we are drawing little circles around ourselves and declaring them safe zones. Reminds me of children playing tag but with a safe zone where they couldn’t be tagged. I mean, could they live there? Of course not. So they either had to leave the safe place or quit the game.

The cool thing is, we absolutely CAN live, or as Jesus says, abide, in our Stronghold. In fact we’re commanded to do so:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Abiding as a branch sounds even more permanent than taking refuge in a stronghold, except when you think about cities under siege. Staying inside the secure walls was paramount, just like a branch staying attached to a vine. So the images are really the same.

The point is, those without the vine, without the Stronghold, may very well be anxious, and may even be rightly anxious.

Sort of like when the 12 spies of Israel checked out the Promised Land. They reported back that there were giants in the land. Real giants. They had reason to believe that they couldn’t take down the giants—as long as they thought they were to do so alone. But they weren’t. Ever. God Had freed them from slavery and had preserved and protected them on their way. Why would they think in the day of trouble, He would abandon them? That was their great mistake.

What a difference if we take refuge in Him instead.

Seeking To Deceive


Paradise Lost

Satan hasn’t changed. He’s the same fallen angel in revolt he was that first day when he decided he wanted God’s place. He’s not inherently creative as God is, so all he can do is mimic and lie. Of course he had pretty good success the first time he donned the skin of another creature and called into question God’s integrity, so he may have little motivation to experiment with different tactics.

The point is, Satan’s purpose is the same today as it was thousands of years ago when he confronted Eve: he seeks those he can devour and he uses deception as his chief weapon.

“Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8b).

“he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b)

In seeking to devour Eve, Satan told her first that surely she would not die, even though God had said the opposite.

Today, Satan continues to whisper that lie into the ears of all who will listen. Reincarnation, for example, promises endless numbers of lifetimes, but is nothing more than a form of Satan’s old lie.

Satan also told Eve that if she ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree she would be like God, knowing good and evil. Today he lies to Mankind by saying we already are like God. We are innately good, we have power within us, we can achieve enlightenment.

Another one of Satan’s favorite lies, a corollary to his “you won’t die” fabrication, is that you won’t face judgment. It’s a way of saying there’s no “second death,” no spiritual death. False teachers who claim that God has “repented” of his wrath displayed in the Old Testament, and now is loving and kind and would never be so heinous as to torment people in hell for eternity, are playing right into Satan’s bag of tricks. Satan himself undoubtedly wishes this one were true, but the worst part about this tactic is that he is impugning the character of God.

His unspoken indictment of God when he was talking with Eve, was that He cannot be trusted. God, according to the inferences Satan made, wanted to keep all knowledge of good and evil to Himself for some selfish purpose so that He could lord His power over men and women. Hence He was not beneath giving warnings that weren’t true just to keep Adam and Eve away from what He wanted exclusively for Himself. If any of that were true, then God would not be good, His word could not be trusted, and He would not love His creation.

Today, of course, nothing is more under attack than whether or not God spoke the truth when He revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture. His word, His authority is at question to the point that people naming His name still decide whether or not they will believe and/or obey what He has said.

So not much has changed. Satan is still seeking to devour and his number one tactic is to deceive.

Interestingly, the spiritual weapon the Christian is equipped with, according to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, is the sword of the spirit, the word of God.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God,. . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:12, 13a, 17b)

How can we use our Sword if we’ve listened to the enemy whispering that it isn’t reliable, that it has parts and places where it’s corroded?

We must not give him quarter. We must not allow him to ding our weapon. We must not let him pull the same scam he did with Eve. God is not a liar, His warnings are true, His judgment is sure, and His word can be trusted. It is Satan who has proven himself false.

This post is a revised version of one that originally appeared here in August 2012
– – – –

To read more about Satan and his tactics see “What’s Satan Doing These Days?”

Published in: on August 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm  Comments Off on Seeking To Deceive  
Tags: , , , ,

Christians And Battle


The Bible sets up the Christian’s life as as one of confrontation. The Apostle Paul says things like, Put on the full armor of God. And compete to win the prize, discipline your body, box as if you are not pretending. The writer of Hebrews even says

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (Heb. 12:4).

So there’s striving and there’s bleeding.

Of course the great mark against Christians is also battle—the bloody and futile crusades of the Middle Ages. Add to that the hymns of old, like “Onward Christian Soldier” and “Am I A Soldier Of The Cross,” and we Christians have been pegged as a contentious bunch.

I think in some ways, we play into that stereotype. Protestant denominations, for example, have experienced splits and splits of splits. Of course, Catholics have their own cross to bear because of their doctrine of excommunication. Some protestant churches also practice church discipline in such a way that the battle very much seems like one between believers.

Paul clearly stated in the spiritual armor passage that our battle is a spiritual one and our enemies are not other people.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

The opposition Christians face necessitate the spiritual armor. No one would walk into a physical battle with nothing but truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. Those provide spiritual protection against spiritual confrontation from spiritual foes.

Too often in the history of the Church, it seems we have become entangled in physical struggles. Most people today recoil at the “holy wars” intended to win Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims. There really wasn’t anything holy about the attempted extension of power and influence by those aligned in the Crusades.

The same might be said about a number of other instances in which religious struggle was merely a cover for physical dominance and had nothing to do with the spiritual conflict the Bible points us toward.

I have to wonder if today we aren’t still missing who we are to be fighting. Let me put it bluntly. The LGBTQ community is not the enemy. Sin and Satan and the temptations to pride and rebellion are the enemy.

Disney is not the enemy. The media is not the enemy. Liberals of any stripe are not the enemy. The enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is spiritual. World forces of darkness. Spiritual forces of wickedness.

People, humans with sin natures just like yours and mine, are not the front line soldiers in the battle. Rather, each of us is in need of rescue. We’re trapped by the world forces of darkness unless our God redeems us and transfers us to the kingdom of His Son (see Col. 1:10).

The child game of capture the flag comes to mind. As I recall, each team had something to protect and something to gain. In the process, team members might be captured and thrown into “prison” where they awaited rescue from someone on their side. The enemy at that point was the “system” that held them in “prison” awaiting rescue.

Of course the metaphor breaks down at that point because the game was played against other children and obviously had a physical component. But the image of being held captive and awaiting rescue is helpful, I think, in understanding mankind’s condition.

At various times in this game, players can become so intent on capturing other opponents that they take their eye off the flag they are supposed to be guarding. At that moment, they are most vulnerable to attack.

In the Christian life, we are told repeatedly to stand firm, to be alert, to guard against. In other words, our role in the battle seems so . . . defensive.

The work we’ve been given that is not battle oriented is to be ambassadors for Christ, to be ministers of reconciliation. to love our neighbors and our enemies.

I think too often we get our tasks mixed up. We don’t protect against the spiritual forces because we are too busy going after those we are to love and serve.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know how loving LGBTQ members is suppose to look. I mean, as soon as the word sin comes out of our mouths, someone is accusing us of hate speech. But the truth is, if we hate a sinner, we’re actually hating all of humankind because there is none righteous, no, not one. If in doubt, take a look at the end results—Scripture says the wages of sin is death, and people are still dying, one out of every one.

But here’s the thing. LGBTQ members or drug addicts or prostitutes or porn queens or any other person involved in a sinful lifestyle will not face judgment because of their lifestyle. They will face judgment because they have rejected God’s answer to their need: the Savior He sent to rescue them.

He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18b)

I suggest, then, that to do our work as defenders of the faith against spiritual forces of wickedness and to be ministers of reconciliation, we need to point to Jesus Christ. He is the one who came to save, and He is the one who stands in the gap against the evil one.

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , ,

Combating Satan


Scripture, of course, is the only reliable source of information on the subject of combating Satan. In Ephesians the Apostle Paul names the armor we need for the battle we’re engaged in “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12b).

I’ve most often heard the armor identified as the list in verses 14-17: truth, righteousness, the “preparation of the gospel of peace,” faith, salvation, and the word of God. Each of those elements Paul aligns with physical armor of his day.

Too often that’s where we stop since the metaphor stops, but Paul went on to name another vital element we need in our battle against the schemes of the devil—prayer.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20)

Pray for all saints. Pray for those who are charged with proclaiming the gospel.

Years ago when I wrote a series of posts about Satan, I couldn’t help but think about C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This little book contains supposed letters of instruction from an under-secretary of a department in Satan’s organization to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. At one point he gives his thoughts about rendering prayer ineffective:

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether … If this fails you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by actions of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. (pp. 33-34)

Screwtape goes on to say that should “the Enemy” defeat Wormwood’s first attempt at misdirection, all is not lost. He can still disrupt “his patient’s” prayer by getting him to pray to a “composite object” constructed from images of “the Enemy” during the Incarnation and images associated with the other two Persons, coupled with the patient’s own reverenced objects: “Whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him” (p. 35).

It seems to me this “keep them from praying” strategy might be all too real. How many churches dropped their prayer meetings? How many Christians dropped their family prayer times, their before-meal thanks, their individual quiet times?

And when we do pray, how much of our time is filled with requests rather than praise and thanksgiving … or confession? How many of our requests are for ourselves rather than intercession for all the saints and for those who preach the word of God? When we intercede for others, how much of our prayer is for what’s happening physically rather than for what’s happening spiritually?

Lest you wonder, I’m feeling quite convicted.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in June 2019.

It’s The Church’s Fault


donald_trump_rally_10-21-16_30363517352

To the surprise of news analysts and voters alike, Donald Trump won yesterday’s US Presidential election. Today, on Facebook, I’m reading that some are pointing the finger at Christians. One fairly well-known name in the world of Christian communication wrote a post that says the Church “has some explaining to do,” and then launched into racist reasons Christians voted for Mr. Trump

As far as I’m concerned, this is simply the latest version of Church bashing. Three years ago, I wrote “Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil” and I’m re-posting it because I think believers have joined in with the culture at large to fault the Church for . . . whatever. It’s a dangerous trend, I believe.

I know some people will be thrown off by the idea that the devil has an active strategy to pull down the Church, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.

First, the Bible teaches that we have an adversary—not a flesh-and-blood opponent and not an advocacy group for some political ideology. Our adversary is spiritual. Paul says

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Peter identifies our adversary as the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

We’re also told that we are not to be ignorant of his schemes. On the contrary, we are to be alert. Consequently, we should pay attention to what the devil is doing. Many Christians know he’s not running around in red tights or holding a pitchfork. But what precisely is he doing?

Some may think he stands on our shoulder opposite our guardian angel whispering temptations into our ears. No. For one thing, Satan is not omnipresent. It’s highly unlikely, then, that he’s picked out an average Christian to lure into an illicit affair. (Our own sinful nature actually does an adequate job of presenting us with those kinds of temptations, so Satan doesn’t need to make that one of his schemes).

Still others think we need to go toe to toe with Satan in the same way Jesus did. There might be an instance when this is true, but I don’t think it’s the common scheme Satan uses. Even if he confronted men like Francis Chan or Tim Tebow, luring them with pleasure and power, it seems like a small reward for the investment of his time.

So what’s his great strategy?

Jesus told us one part of it. He identified Satan as a liar and the Father of lies. His grand plan, then, is to attack that which points people to the truth.

Following the Great American Awakening, then, rationalism opposed belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was all emotionalism and imagination and superstition.

“Higher criticism” came along to undermine the Bible, to question its authority, its inerrancy, its inspiration.

So now we have no Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, and we have no sure Word of God to exhort and testify of the grace of God.

But Postmodernism still values community, and Jesus Himself said that the watching world would know we are Christians by how we love one another. A worshiping, caring community of believers in Jesus Christ serves as a testimony, a witness, to this culture that God transforms lives. So Satan’s next scheme, it seems, is to go after the Church.

Here are some of the ways I see this attack taking place.

1. False teachers—people who preach as true something that contradicts the Bible directly or something that magnifies one segment of the Bible to the exclusion of other parts.

2. Those who do immoral things in the name of Christ or in spite of the fact that they are known by His name.

3. Collaboration with the culture—a type of “bend, don’t break” attitude toward morality which, in the end, makes us look eerily similar to the unsaved we’re supposed to be winning for Christ.

4. Honoring tradition more than we honor God’s Word. For example, I had a pastor I respected greatly preach against syncopated music. Another one I know preaches that there were twelve apostles and no more, though Scripture clearly identifies more than twelve.

More than that, there are segments of the church that by doctrine choose tradition over Scripture. Hence, the Pope can declare that believers are not to eat meat on Friday . . . until a new Pope says they can.

1420878_church_in_the_woodThe emergent church, of course, attacked the “traditional” evangelical church for honoring tradition more than it should be honored. Although I’m not sure what the offensive things the traditional church was supposed to be doing that was so egregious, I suspect one aspect was the spit-and-polish show that has become the Sunday morning worship service.

Other complaints seem to center on the fact that there are sinners in those pews! Well, that’s hardly something that will change whether the church is traditional or a small house assembly or one that meets out in a park. Hypocrisy, pride, greed, gossip, lust, it all follows us wherever we go–which is why Paul admonished believers to lay aside the old self with its evil practices, why James said to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.

All these attacks against the Church should renew our efforts as part of the Body of Christ to create the community God intended. We are to represent Him to the world–not by haranguing the world to act more like Christ when clearly no one without Christ could possibly live a holy life, when we ourselves are works in progress. Rather, we should go back to basics.

First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think it’s important not to rush past that most important command to get to the love-your-neighbor second command which people apparently want to emphasize these days.

Mind you, I don’t see how we can create loving communities without loving our neighbors. But I don’t think we can manufacture this love from our own nature. This extraordinary bond between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women, corporate execs and day laborers, comes because we first love God with all of who we are.

We don’t see ourselves as special or deserving or important. No matter who we are or where we fall in the pecking order of society, we can never be more special, deserving, or important than God. He is the one we are to magnify. And He’s asked us to do that by serving each other.

This is the clear teaching we need to focus on. This is the best way to counter Satan’s lie which would have us believe the Church is finished, washed up, on its way out.

God’s bride? We may appear a little tattered around the edges, but our Bridegroom has not forsaken us. He will bring His Church through, and as we submit to His plan for us, we will be the testimony of His amazing love and transforming power to the world, He intended from the beginning.

Shame And Trusting God


RockClimbingA growing concern connected to Internet communication is shame. I read a post yesterday that cited several instances in which shame campaigns grew up around something a person posted—either a picture or comments. In the end, more than one person lost their job.

I’m not linking to the article because I disagree with the solution—and that’s not really my topic. The problem of shame is.

I have a friend who recounts ways a particular family member shamed others. The baggage from that cares over to adulthood.

I’d never thought about shame before. I came from a family with parents who loved me. It wasn’t perfect. My siblings and I were quite competitive and always struggled with the idea that one or the other (but never me—and we all thought this) was favored. Still, though I suspected I wasn’t the favorite, I still knew I was loved.

As a teen, of course, I was sometimes embarrassed about my family and even about my faith, but I didn’t feel shame in the way my friend describes it.

I wonder now if freedom from shame was connected to my being a Christian. What I’m discovering in Scripture, though, are verses addressing shame.

I suppose it would help if I gave a picture of what I perceive shame to be. Let’s say a person is expected to be the top of his class, but in the last semester, he forgets to write down the due date of a major paper, turns it in late, and gets a B. Someone else claims top honors. He had his chance and blew it. He bears the shame of his failure.

Shame is also something a person feels when a person you hold in high esteem says they’re disappointed in you. Or they tell others things like, he probably won’t have the grades to get into med school. It’s a public declaration of inadequacy.

So here are the verses about shame that have caught my attention. There are four. First, in Philippians:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.(1:18b-20)

Paul was essentially saying he knew he’d be delivered (he was imprisoned at the time), and that he would not be put to shame for believing so, whether he lived or died because Christ would be exalted either way.

1 Peter 4:16 is the next passage:

but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

At first this verse seems to address the kind of embarrassment I felt when I was a kid having to tell people I belonged to the Mennonite denomination—which most people in my SoCal public high school had never heard of. But the context would seem to indicate there’s much more to this. Peter was addressing believers who were being persecuted because they believed in Jesus. Writing to the churches in Asia Minor, the Apostle Peter wanted to assure them that their suffering was not a sign of defeat. He encouraged them by reminding them that it was temporary, that it was expected, that it gave glory to God, that they were blessed that God had chosen them to suffer for His name’s sake.

In other words, suffering as a Christian was not a mark of failure but of accomplishment. Therefore, they had nothing to be ashamed about.

The thing is, when someone trusts God and then continues to suffer and even to die, the world can point the finger as they did at Jesus Himself and say, See, if your God was real, He could get you out of this mess. He’s failed you because He doesn’t care or isn’t strong enough or because you didn’t believe enough or He plain isn’t there.

Peter was assuring these early Christians that none of those accusations was true. In fact, in chapter five, he specifically mentions the devil, who, among other things, is the Accuser of the brethren. It’s easy to miss the connection between what Peter says about the devil and what he says right afterward about suffering, but I think it’s the issue of shame. Here’s that passage:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (5:8-9)

Suffering, Peter says, is an experience Christians all over the world are going through. It’s not a sign of failure. It’s not something to be ashamed about.

There’s another one in Psalm 37, but I’m going to cut to the last one since I sneaked in a second passage from 1 Peter. This last one is the one that has helped me tie my thoughts together about this. It’s a short verse: Psalm 71:1.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed.

The unidentified psalmist is putting his life, his destiny, his soul in God’s hands, and if that decision turned out to be foolish—if God failed Him—he’d be ashamed before those who didn’t think God could take care of him.

I view this as sort of his “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” moment. He’s tying himself to God. There is no one else to which he could go—just as Peter said about Jesus. But he knows how this must look to those who haven’t made God their refuge. It looks dangerous, foolish.

You know the old joke, about the guy who falls from a cliff but is able to grab hold of a safety rope. He starts yelling for help: “Is anybody up there! I need help!” Suddenly a voice from heaven says, I’m here. What do you need. “I can’t hold on much longer,” the guy says. “Can you help me get back to the top?” No problem, the voice from heaven answers. Let go of the rope, and I’ll catch you. The man hesitated a moment, then yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

Dangerous. Sometimes the things God asks of us feel dangerous. Or foolish.

We aren’t risk takers. We’ve been taught to be good stewards of our resources, so we want to know we have enough money stashed away for retirement, for example, to cover our expenses should we live to be 143. We cringe when we read about Abraham going, not knowing where, just because God told him to pull up stakes and head in the direction of the Great Sea. Most likely Abraham didn’t even know there was a Great Sea. He was simply going until God told him to stop.

He wasn’t ashamed to be a friend of God, even when it meant marching to the top of a mountain with his son as the intended sacrifice. He did what others may have thought risky, foolish. But he had confidence in God. Ah, one more passage:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21)

Fully assured—not in himself, but in God and His promise! I’m pretty sure that’s what keeps a person from being ashamed.

Published in: on June 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Secularizing Faith, Or Sanctifying Life Experiences?


Ventura Beach (via Rachel Marks)A popular pastoral position among evangelicals today seems to be to teach that there should be no dividing line between the secular and the sacred. The idea is that God is not merely God on Sunday and in churches.

He is, in fact, God of all our moments and in all places. We should, then, stop thinking of church as special or different. It is a place where we gather, but God is with us in the car wash or the grocery store or at the beach or in the theater.

All this makes sense to me. In fact, it’s consistent with what I learned as a teacher in a Christian school. The great emphasis in my school was integration: God’s word was to be an integral part of everything we taught—not an add-on class.

Here’s a pertinent paragraph from a paper on the philosophy of Christian education which speaks to this point:

Truth cannot be divided. “All truth is God’s truth” accurately delineates the nature of truth, whether in the spiritual or in the natural realm. Real teaching, then, is the process of making known God’s truth. Real knowledge, congruously, is seeing the world as God sees it. Then truth and knowledge, unified by God’s Word, mirror reality. Thus, God’s Word needs to be an integral part of the curriculum of every subject. Courses should not be taught with course material and the Bible. Rather course material must be studied in light of the Bible since God’s Word is the source of absolute truth.

And yet . . .

Scripture seems to teach a standard of holiness that makes a distinction between what is sacred and what is impious, or, to use Old Testament terminology, what is clean and what is unclean. In fact, one of the things God had the prophet Ezekiel proclaim to the exiles in Babylon was that the priests—along with the prophets, princes, and the people themselves—bore responsibility for the punishment God brought on His people. And this was what Ezekiel, on God’s behalf, called the priests out for:

Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (Ezekiel 22:26; emphasis mine)

In truth, the whole Levitic law was all about separation: God’s people separated from the godless nations; the priests separated from the people; the high priest separated from all other Levites and Israelites.

Primarily what was to separate the nation was their worship of God and their obedience to His laws. They were to be holy because God is holy.

And according to Peter, we Christians are also to be holy for the same reason (1 Peter 1:16).

But what precisely does it mean to be holy? Is this where we pull out a list of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots? Some Christians would have us think that’s the way to go while others want to throw off any semblance of following dictates handed down thousands of years ago.

In truth, Jesus showed us what following those dictates actually means: do not commit murder actually means, don’t hate someone else; do not commit adultery actually means, don’t look at another person with lust; love your enemies replaces love your neighbors and hate your enemies. He summed it all up by saying, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

All right, Jesus, I’ll get right on that. I’m not meaning to be disrespectful, but really? We imperfect humans are supposed to be perfect like God who is without spot or blemish? Not possible.

Which was precisely Jesus’s point.

So we can throw away the lists, right?

We can throw them away so far as we look at those lists as a means to acceptance with God. This is the key difference that separates Christians from others who believe in a monotheistic religion. We recognize that we are incapable of the kind of perfection that marks God, the kind of perfection God demands.

The only one who measures up to God’s standard of holiness is Jesus. But when we confess our sins, when we believe Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins, we have a new birth. We become new creatures. Not perfect creatures, mind you. We don’t suddenly have a no-more-sin gene implanted in us.

Rather, we are saved by faith and we are saved for good works. Meaning that, because of our new standing with God, our hearts are changed. We don’t want to serve only ourselves. Instead, we want to serve God and the people He puts in our path—at least we know we should want to do that and most of the time we do want to do that.

But it’s a war. A spiritual war. One we’re equipped for. One we don’t fight alone. Nevertheless, we battle, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.

So what does this have to do with the divide between the secular and the sacred?

I think the divide is in our heart, not out there in the world. What we cling to as ours is profane. What we yield to God is sacred.

Jesus explained it this way when a Pharisee challenged His disciples with one of the Thou Shalts that they had ignored:

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matt 15:18-20)

In other words, if my heart is filled with evil thoughts and hatred and lust and lies and covetousness, it doesn’t really matter if I keep a list of all the right things to do and all the wrong things to avoid. I’m profane because my heart is filled with things that defile me.

In short, the pastors are right as far as they go, and Ezekiel is right (well, he was speaking what God told him to, so I guess that’s a no brainer). But the idea that all is sacred isn’t quite right—all is not sacred if our hearts are defiled.

And the last time I checked, that spiritual war I mentioned earlier is still going on.