On Alert — A Reprise


I thought I understood what “be on the alert” meant, but I now realize I’ve been nearly clueless. Recently I’ve had a crash course because I’ve had to deal with a little unpleasantness.

For the second year in a row, I’ve been faced with an infestation of earwigs. According to all the sources I’ve checked, they are relatively harmless to humans. They don’t carry disease and, contrary to the myth associated with them, they don’t crawl into people’s ears and burrow into their brains. They do have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and I can attest to the fact that they know how to use them. But apparently their pinch causes only temporary discomfort.

The worst thing about them, for me, was their sudden appearance. I’d sit down for dinner and an earwig would scurry out from under the placemat. I’d open my napkin, and an earwig would be clinging to the cloth. I’d go to wash my hands or take a shower or do the dishes, and earwigs would zip around the sink or tub. Twice there were earwigs in with the bread, and I just recently found one in the refrigerator. Worst, perhaps, they’ve been in my covers and yes, in a few articles of clothing.

At first all these sudden appearances were frightening, and I’d jump from my seat, heart racing, and in my panic flick away the skittish things. I’d spend the next moments trying to find them again to kill them, and failing to do that, I’d spray insecticide to try and destroy anyway.

This second year enduring them, I’ve learned a thing or two. I no longer unfurl my napkin without a second thought. I don’t pick up the dishcloth without first looking on the underside to see if an earwig is clinging to it. In truth, for the first time in my life, I’m on the alert in my home. I’m watchful, careful, willing to take the time to inspect the bottoms of plates and bowls before depositing them where they should go.

In spite of all my care, they can still surprise me. The one in the refrigerator certainly did–I wasn’t on the alert for one there. Once, after thoroughly cleaning off the kitchen counter top in an effort to track down one that scurried under the microwave, I reached for a sponge to rinse off the household cleaning spray, and, you guessed it, found an earwig hugging the bottom. It was the one place I hadn’t looked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like having to be on the alert in my own home. I want to relax and not have to worry about bugs popping out at inauspicious times. But I’d rather be on the alert and get those earwigs before they get me.

Imagine if those earwigs were actually as dangerous as they look (I’m convinced they belong in the same family as scorpions). How much more important vigilance would be!

Scripture tells the believer, on several occasions, that we are to be on the alert.

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert” (Act 20:29-31a).

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13).

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert (Eph. 6:18a).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8).

I’m beginning to understand, being alert is more than doing a heads up. Being alert means doing your homework and knowing what you’re up against, studying the habits of the enemy, and staying ever watchful. Not letting down your guard, even when you think you ought to be safe (surely, not in the refrigerator! 😮 )

I also notice that the metaphors used to help us grasp what we’re up against aren’t comparing our spiritual enemy to a little bug that causes discomfort.

Rather, our enemy is a roaring lion, aiming to devour. Think Nature Channel or PBS and those shows about wildlife in Africa, with a lion lurking, lurking in the tall grass, ready to spring on the unsuspecting gazelle at the back of the herd.

Or our enemy is a savage wolf, right in among the sheep. Paul didn’t need to tell the Christians in the first century that wolves eat sheep.

In other words, our spiritual lives are at stake. Perhaps its time to start checking in all the dark and damp cracks where earwigs, er, where the enemy of our soul might be prowling.

Happily, this article first appeared here in May 2013 and does not identify a current bug problem! Our apartment building management has invested in an extermination service which makes all the difference. It strikes me just now that perhaps God’s word is our spiritual exterminator.

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Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 5:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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It’s The Church’s Fault


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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)  
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Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil


1420878_church_in_the_woodI 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.

The 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.

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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On Alert


earwigI thought I understood what “be on the alert” meant, but I now realize I’ve been nearly clueless. Recently I’ve had a crash course because I’ve had to deal with a little unpleasantness.

For the second year in a row, I’ve been faced with an infestation of earwigs. According to all the sources I’ve checked, they are relatively harmless to humans. They don’t carry disease and, contrary to the myth associated with them, they don’t crawl into people’s ears and burrow into their brains. They do have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and I can attest to the fact that they know how to use them. But apparently their pinch causes only temporary discomfort.

The worst thing about them, for me, was their sudden appearance. I’d sit down for dinner and an earwig would scurry out from under the placemat. I’d open my napkin, and an earwig would be clinging to the cloth. I’d go to wash my hands or take a shower or do the dishes, and earwigs would zip around the sink or tub. Twice there were earwigs in with the bread, and I just recently found one in the refrigerator. Worst, perhaps, they’ve been in my covers and yes, in a few articles of clothing.

At first all these sudden appearances were frightening, and I’d jump from my seat, heart racing, and in my panic flick away the skittish things. I’d spend the next moments trying to find them again to kill them, and failing to do that, I’d spray insecticide to try and destroy anyway.

This second year enduring them, I’ve learned a thing or two. I no longer unfurl my napkin without a second thought. I don’t pick up the dishcloth without first looking on the underside to see if an earwig is clinging to it. In truth, for the first time in my life, I’m on the alert in my home. I’m watchful, careful, willing to take the time to inspect the bottoms of plates and bowls before depositing them where they should go.

In spite of all my care, they can still surprise me. The one in the refrigerator certainly did–I wasn’t on the alert for one there. Once, after thoroughly cleaning off the kitchen counter top in an effort to track down one that scurried under the microwave, I reached for a sponge to rinse off the household cleaning spray, and, you guessed it, found an earwig hugging the bottom. It was the one place I hadn’t looked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like having to be on the alert in my own home. I want to relax and not have to worry about bugs popping out at inauspicious times. But I’d rather be on the alert and get those earwigs before they get me.

Imagine if those earwigs were actually as dangerous as they look (I’m convinced they belong in the same family as scorpions). How much more important vigilance would be!

Scripture tells the believer, on several occasions, that we are to be on the alert.

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert” (Act 20:29-31a).

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13).

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert (Eph. 6:18a).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8).

I’m beginning to understand, being alert is more than doing a heads up. Being alert means doing your homework and knowing what you’re up against, studying the habits of the enemy, and staying ever watchful. Not letting down your guard, even when you think you ought to be safe (surely, not in the refrigerator! :-O )

I also notice that the metaphors used to help us grasp what we’re up against aren’t comparing our spiritual enemy to a little bug that causes discomfort.

Rather, our enemy is a roaring lion, aiming to devour. Think Nature Channel or PBS and those shows about wildlife in Africa, with a lion lurking, lurking in the tall grass, ready to spring on the unsuspecting gazelle at the back of the herd.

Or our enemy is a savage wolf, right in among the sheep. Paul didn’t need to tell the Christians in the first century that wolves eat sheep.

In other words, our spiritual lives are at stake. Perhaps its time to start checking in all the dark and damp cracks where earwigs, er, where the enemy of our soul might be prowling.

Published in: on May 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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