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Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Fighting Cravings

December 23, 2016

 

 

 

For most long-time followers of Christ many of the sins we end up in aren’t the result of conscious, pre-meditated disobedience. More often than not it’s a split-second decision to go along with a seemingly out-of-nowhere craving. The Apostle James describes it in his epistle, writing, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14)

We are lured and enticed by the cravings that come flowing from within our flesh, choosing in those moments to go with the flow into sin when we could instead, by the Spirit, “stand firm” (Eph. 6) and resist temptation. According to a recent webinar with the VitalSmarts, several studies have shown that most cravings last around three minutes, so if we can resist and refocus ourselves for three minutes we’ll see a drastic shift away from giving into those craving-driven sin. The question is, what do we do during those painful three minutes?

Proverbs 21 has some wise insight for us here:

“A slacker’s craving will kill him
Because his hands refuse to work.
He is filled with craving all day long,
But the righteous give and don’t hold back.”
– Proverbs 21:25-26

Cravings will kill

Both James and the writer of Proverbs agree – when we give into temptation and cravings it ends in death. A slacker’s cravings, in this case for food, ultimately kill him because he’s too lazy to get up and do the work to earn money to feed himself. Similarly, in a spiritual sense it’s often our laziness that gives our cravings and temptations power to draw us into the deadly grip of sin. We refuse to do the work that would carry us away from temptation because it’s more difficult.

It’s combat, and it’s what we were given the power to do when we were born again and received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at two practical ways to combat temptation and cravings outlined in the Proverb above.

Combat the cravings

1. Put your hands to work

God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), but it often looks like hard work, so we often choose to float along into death because it seems easier in the moment. But that’s not what we were created for. We were created with purpose for good works (Eph. 2). The slacker’s cravings kill him because his hands refuse to work, so combat your cravings by putting yourself to work.

Do you find yourself craving over-indulging on food Friday nights? Get up from the couch and do some small house work for 10 minutes. Tempted towards pornography? Put your body to work by exercising for 15 minutes. More often than not the craving will be gone by the time you’re done.

2. Give generously

The writer of this proverb contrasts the man who is “filled with craving all day long” with the righteous person who gives generously and doesn’t hold anything back. Generosity is one of the most potent defenses against temptation. Are you fighting a deep-set craving today? Get up, find another human, and bless them somehow. Bless them generously, whether that be financially or with words of encouragement or helping them with a task. As you turn your focus off your cravings and onto the needs of another human being your craving will dissipate like fog beneath the summer sun.

Practice, Practice

Pushing through moments of temptation and craving isn’t an easy thing. Just like any skill it takes practice, and the longer you’ve been giving into the craving the more practice it will take you to divert that temptation into something good and glorious. I wrote this blog post as much for myself as for anyone else who might read it – there are plenty of cravings that I too easily give into, and I intend to take these two practices from Proverbs and put them into action as we move towards a new year. Will you join me?

As we do so may God bless us with his grace to take advantage of the escape from every temptation that he provides so we can find ourselves living in the beautiful, free life that is found in Christ rather than in the dark, crushing captivity of giving into the flesh and its cravings.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Embrace Greater Things

October 28, 2016

 

 

Would it ever enter your mind that you could come to the end of your life, look back, and say truthfully that you have done greater works in your life than Jesus did in his? Apparently it should.

This morning I was reading John 14-17 in preparation for a session that I’m leading at Verge Ministry’s Leader Advance that starts tonight and this statement by Jesus jumped out at me in a fresh way;

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (14:12)

Apparently Jesus wants us to live with the belief that our lives would be full of works even greater than his. That’s a pretty huge challenge to a body of believers the majority of whom’s greatest works are being nice people and going to church a couple times a week.

In my experience we have an incredible propensity to tame down and over-qualify Jesus’ words when he says things like this. Let’s resist that temptation. Let’s press into the difficulty of statements like “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do,” and, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do”. Let’s earnestly desire and labor to experience the reality of those promises rather than bending them to fit our current experience.

I for one want to come to the end of my life and have Jesus say, “See! I told you you would.” That, my friends, would be amazing, and if our God has anything to say about it every Christ-follower’s life is meant to be exactly amazing.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

He will surely do it

June 23, 2016

 

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What beautiful words in the chaos of a world that is anything but sure! My friends, let us ground ourselves in this truth today; our God is faithful, and what he has said he will do he will surely do. When tomorrow is uncertain, when waking up and entering the day is simply a burden, comfort your spirit with the truth that “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What He Will Do

The Scriptures abound with declarations about what God has promised to do. From eternal salvation to indescribable joy, He who has called you has given his word, and faith calls you to take him at that word. I want to briefly touch on a few key things from this passage in 1 Thessalonians that we can build our lives upon today. What exactly is it that the faithful one has said He will do?

He will give you peace.

He’s the God of Peace, so he gives peace. Your anxiety and worry evaporate when you come near Him. Sin is the seed that grows anxiety, fear, worry, and ultimately death (James 1:15). When sin enters into our lives it separates us from the God of Peace, growing walls that trap us in the darkness of our own minds, which inevitably leads to the downward spiral of depression, fear, anxiety, and the like.

This God, however, has uprooted sin and nullified its power by the blood of Christ. He has shed abroad the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus. Look to him, and you will find peace as he frees you from sin.

He will sanctify you completely.

This progressive freedom from sin is known as sanctification. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification this way:

  • 1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use
  • 2 : to free from sin
  • 3a : to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to

The work of Christ has set you free. The work of Christ has set you apart completely. You’re in a whole new category. You’re no longer defined by your sin; you’re now defined by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Note the surety of this sanctification. He who has called you will do it. It’s not a weight on your shoulders. What joy and freedom is found in knowing and experiencing this!

He will keep you blameless

Being in the process of sanctification doesn’t mean that you never sin. We have a sin nature until the day when Jesus comes again. However, according to these verses (and plenty of others) God keeps us blameless. Can you grasp that? You’re blameless! In Romans 8 Paul states it another way, declaring that there isn’t any condemnation that can stick to those who are in Jesus.

When someone tries to blame you for something or condemn you for a past deed, it can’t stick to you. You’re blameless. When your mind fills with accusations of your incompetence and failure and lack of worth, toss those lies aside. The God who is faithful has called you and promised to keep you blameless. He will surely do it.

He will come again

This life is a struggle. Our broken world isn’t any easy place to live. The good news is that the struggle doesn’t last forever. This groaning creation will soon be re-created in glory, because Jesus is coming again and will restore all things. The day of the coming of the Lord will be both beautiful and terrible, and though it may seem slow in coming it will surely come.

He will love you

He will give you peace. He has sanctified you. He will keep you blameless. You don’t do this kind of stuff for someone you don’t love. Jesus came and purchased our peace, sanctification, and blamelessness because he loves us. From the delight in his Spirit the Father and the Son acted according to love and purchased for us salvation.

Unlike the loves of this world, this one isn’t going away. It’s here till the end. It’s not the love of the boyfriend who is there to get what he wants from you and then ditch. It’s not the love of the girl looking for comfort and validation. No. This is the settled, immortal love of the creator of all the earth.

He is faithful. He’s given his word and He will surely do it. Rest in that. Learn to let peace be your path this week!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

 

 

Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

Running From Demons

March 30, 2016

 

 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Mark 5:1-13

One of Satan’s most effective deceptions is convincing a person that those around them can’t handle their problems; that their issues are too deep, too horrible to ever bring out into the open. In the short eight years I’ve been doing ministry it’s always been those who are the most in need of help that are the most afraid of opening up and asking for it.

In his ministry on earth, Jesus encounters a mind-bending array of needs and issues. He encounters dead people, blind people, diseased people, liars, manipulative mothers, thieving tax collectors, and countless others in unending succession. Perhaps one of the most shocking and needy of those that Jesus encounters is the man known as the Gerasenes demoniac – a man so given over to demonic power that he has supernatural strength, engages in ritual cutting, has no discernable sleep patterns, and has been given up on by his people who apparently couldn’t control him even with iron chains.

We have a lesson to learn from this terribly demonized man. Yes, there is the standard lesson drawn from this text about Jesus’ power over the demonic and Christ’s love for all people, but I believe that we can learn from this man even before his deliverance. Despite the fact that he has the very forces of Satan battling within him, he doesn’t buy into the deception that Jesus is going to be surprised by or unable to handle his problems. That, my friends, is a lesson that we need to learn.

Run to Jesus!

“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

Note how this man sees Jesus from afar and runs to him. He doesn’t wait for Jesus to come to him. As soon as Jesus sets foot on the shores, “immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.” He doesn’t wait for permission or the appropriate moment – he simply runs to Jesus.

In Christ God has set foot in your territory. You don’t need to wait for him to come a little closer. Don’t waste time waiting for the appropriate moment. Do you have hidden sin or a desperate need that you’ve hidden for so long that it’s no longer in your control? Run to Jesus! He knows your need and is more than able to meet it.

This demonized man doesn’t ask for freedom, but Jesus gives it. He’s so far gone that he can’t even express his needs, only cry out “do not torment me!” Jesus knows his longings, knows his needs, and gives what he desired but couldn’t request. He casts out the demonic forces and frees the man from his captivity.

Sometimes we’re in so deep that we don’t even know how to ask for freedom. The Apostle Paul writes in one of his epistles that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings. Come to Jesus – you needn’t even ask – simply by coming close to him he will give you what is needed.

Jesus is unphased

Perhaps most beautiful to me is the fact that Jesus seems completely unsurprised by this man’s horrible condition. I seem to have this expectation that Jesus will be impressed or perhaps even surprised by the significance of my problems; that in his holiness he will draw back in horror once I finally reveal my deepest issues.

We’re absolutely wrong to think that way. If Jesus was unphased by this man, he won’t be phased by us. He knows full well the depths of your struggle, deception, and hidden sin. He’s already embraced it, absorbed it on the cross. When you finally come to him and confess it all he’ll simply smile, nod, and pull you up from the dirt into a warm embrace. You’ll find yourself free and “in your right mind” (Mark 5:15), seeing the world through new eyes.

Is there a portion of your life that you’ve kept hidden from those around you for fear of their response? Have you hidden among the tombs rather than running to Jesus? Now is the time to come forward! He has set foot on your shores. All you have to do is come to him and he will speak but a word and you will be free. That is good news indeed.

A closing note for Christians here. Be like Jesus. Don’t be surprised by other people’s issues. Don’t shy back from the relationship when someone reveals their addiction, homosexuality, deception, or other secret sin. We of all people should know well the depth and quickness of human brokenness, and therefore know all the better the power of the Gospel of Grace in Christ. As we learn our identity and position in Christ we, like him, will be able to stand before someone like the gerasenes demoniac unphased, gently ministering to them and leading them into the freedom of the children of God.

We Christians ought to be a people who welcome others regardless of how deep their issues are because we KNOW that God will restore them. Jesus is unphased, so we won’t be either.

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Warfare

Problems in Perspective

March 23, 2016

 

 

What’s the default storyline that you’re operating in? When something goes well are you the achieving hero or a person carried along by something greater than yourself? When something goes wrong are you a victim or a protagonist preparing to overcome the odds?

We humans can’t help but tell ourselves stories. We interpret every situation through the lenses of the stories we’ve bought into, regardless of how accurate they are. God is a storyteller, writing something amazing on the pages of history. In his image we’re created as storytellers, and in many ways the stories we tell ourselves define our quality of life. Our stories define our perspective on life, for better or worse. Our stories – if we could externalize them – would give clear evidence as to whether we are functional atheists or practical, real-life believers in the God of Jesus Christ.

There’s a scene in 2 Kings 5 that illustrates the radical difference that two different perspectives – two different stories – can have. I’ve written about this scene before but from a slightly different angle and felt that this concept merited a post of its own.

Here’s the story, in brief. Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, has leprosy. He’s dying. One of his wife’s servant girls comments that there’s a prophet in Israel who might be able to heal him. Naaman’s master, the king of Aram, lets Naaman head on over to Israel with somewhere upwards of $60,000 worth of gold and silver plus ten fine sets of clothing and a letter saying that the king of Israel should cure Naaman of his leprosy. The King of Israel receives the letter and isn’t so thrilled about it. The text reads,

And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
– 2 kings 5:7-8

A Problem

The king of Israel’s story interprets this letter negatively. His perspective shows him a big problem. Big enough for him to tear his clothes and begin mourning. He believes that if he doesn’t heal Naaman the Syrian army is coming for him. The question is, why is this his perspective? The text gives us several hints.

  • He sees Naaman as an enemy. The king’s response is a petulant child passing blame; “See how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
  • His false humility is really masked-over fear and lack of faith. “Am I God, to kill and to make alive…?”
  • He doesn’t realize the power of his position as the king of God’s people, or the resources at his disposal. He’s not God, but he is the king of God’s people.
  • He’s more focused on himself than on God or Naaman. His story is about him, a victim at the hands of the more powerful Naaman.

An Opportunity

The very next paragraph we see Elisha operating in the same situation with a totally different perspective. He’s living in a different story. Where the king of Israel sees Naaman’s arrival and request as a problem that is too big for him, Elisha sees an opportunity for God to show his power. Contrast Elisha’s view with the king’s:

  • He sees Naaman as needy rather than as an attacker. “Let him come now to me, that he may know…”
  • He knows his position and authority. He’s a prophet of God, which means God listens when he prays. “Elisha the man of God…there is a prophet in Israel”
  • His boldness is humility because it’s inspired by God. He believes in the power of God and acts accordingly.
  • He’s more focused on God and Naaman than himself.

Our Opportunity

Elisha’s perspective enables him to step forward in faith and ultimately see Naaman healed of his leprosy and become a worshipper of the God of Israel. The king’s perspective would, most likely, have led to war or at the very least Naaman’s eventual death.

Every day you and I confronted with situations that we can either view as a problem or an opportunity. What perspective are you going to live from? When you lose your job, how will you see it? When the relationship you’re in ends painfully, how will you see it? When there’s conflict in your community or the person you’re discipling goes off the deep end, how will you see it? Is it a problem that leaves you as a victim, helpless and lost? Or is it an opportunity for God to demonstrate himself in new and wonderful ways?

When we see other people’s neediness, know our position and authority in Christ, live humbly before God, and focus our eyes, minds, and spirits on Christ rather than ourselves, we’ll get to see things just as amazing as Elisha’s healing of Naaman’s leprosy. People will be blessed, restored, encouraged, and saved.

As followers of Jesus we have opportunities, not problems. God works everything for our good. Let’s work towards seeing things that way.

 

 

 

Culture, Life, Spiritual Warfare

Fear Not

March 2, 2016

 
We live in an age of terror. Where fifty years ago the average person’s main news outlets were the local newspaper, a few radio stations, and word of mouth, today we’re standing in the middle of dozens of channels of global news. We’re inundated with the flood of horror stories from around the globe and across our country. Video of ISIS murdering dozens in Syria, a barrage of articles about armed stand offs within our own country, radio discussions about rogue nations testing possible nuclear warheads, and plenty more. The world is increasingly operating on a foundation of fear.

Nowhere is this more clear than the current American presidential race. The vast majority of political candidates are using fear as the main driver for their campaigns. Be afraid of muslims and vote for me because I’ll keep you safe. Be afraid of financial collapse. Be afraid of the establishment. Be afraid of the rich and the banks. Be afraid of the future. Fear is, sadly, the politician’s most effective tool.

Hard truth time. If your mind is filled more with fear and worry than faith and worship, you’re dishonoring God.

Every day we’re given hundreds of reasons to live in fear. And, to the delight of the Devil, fear and worry have become the default for many Jesus followers. We, like the world we live in, get swept away by the torrent and fall prey to Satan’s attacks, forgetting that, as the Apostle Paul writes, “true love casts out fear.”

When we partner with fear and let it direct our thoughts, we’re denying God and affirming the evil one. I want to take one verse and three key moments in Jesus’ life and remind you today that you literally have no good reason to live in fear. As George Whitfield said, “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.” What do those who are invincible and immortal have to fear?

There’s a moment early on in Jesus’ ministry where he’s teaching a crowd of Israelites and they get so ferociously angry at his words that they try to arrest him in order to kill him. John summarizes the moment by writing, “These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20). Note that last sentence; “because his hour had not yet come.”

Safe from arrest

These seven words make a massive statement about just how secure our lives are. Jesus couldn’t be arrested because his hour had not yet come. The Father had a time set for his arrest, and it wasn’t then. No matter how vicious the crowd, no matter how fiercely they desired his arrest, Jesus could stand unafraid because his hour had not yet come and until his hour came he was invincible.

We serve the same God that Jesus did. He has the same care and power in our lives. No matter what the political reality of the present or future may be, no matter how viciously people oppose us, no matter how angry others may be, we are utterly safe. We have nothing to fear, because God is good.

Safe from Satan

Later in his ministry as he nears his betrayal and murder, Jesus says to his disciples,

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (John 14:30-31)

Catch that? Jesus calmly notifies his followers that Satan is coming for him, but he’s not afraid. The devil has no claim on him. Oh, he’ll go along with things and be crucified, but not in fear. He goes to the cross in faith, “so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

If you are a follower of Jesus you have the same Spirit that he did. You can, by faith, say with equal boldness, “the ruler of this world has no claim on me” and face even the most potent of demonic opposition without giving an inch to fear.

Safe in death

The story doesn’t stop there though, as you probably know. Jesus goes forward in love and is crucified. He dies, but even in death Jesus doesn’t give way to fear. He is utterly confident that his Father is sovereign even over the power of death. Jesus is just as safe in death as he was in that moment at the outset of his ministry when the Jews wanted to arrest him.

You too, like Jesus, can face even death with confidence. Paul writes in Romans that those who are connected with Jesus will surely be resurrected like him. Even in dying you’re secure.

Here’s the deal, my friends- fear focuses on the situation; faith focuses on the savior. We live in a world that says “be afraid, be very afraid!” ten thousand times a day. We have a savior who has said, “Do not be afraid, I am with you always” and proven it a million times over. Whose story are you going to buy? What kind of life are you going to live?

I for one don’t want to let fear define how I live. I want to be a love promoter, bold and laughing in the face of fear because I know my Father is the one with all the power. He has all the power and he’s promised that he’s going to use it for the good of everyone who have put their faith in Jesus. Get on board. Build your anchor on Christ, the firm foundation. Set aside all worry and doubt and trembling and embrace the truth; if you’re in Jesus, God loves you and is for you. You’re invincible. What do you have to worry about?

 

 

 

Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Pharaoh, Moses, and Persistent Faith

January 26, 2016

 

 

When God sent Moses back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release the of the nation of Israel from slavery, he notifies Moses that there’s going to be opposition. “The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21) Moses’ request is rejected not once, not twice, not even four or five times. Ten times Moses is rejected. In the face of that opposition Moses was expected to persist. Not get frustrated, discouraged, or hopeless, but to “perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do,” and persist in faith at doing the work that God had called him to.

God has called you to something today. It may not be taking a nation out of slavery, but God has put a task before you today that you need to accomplish. There’s going to be be people and circumstances that stand against you doing that thing. Ignore them or confront them, but don’t let them stop you. Persist in faith by continuing forward through the opposition into the victory that God has already won in through Jesus Christ.

Remember the truth that gave Moses hope. God told him beforehand that he was the one hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he could demonstrate his power and glory to Egypt. Everything, even the opposition you’re facing, is in God’s hands.

Hundreds of years after Moses, Jesus gathered his disciples and warned them that the world would be against them if they followed him, even to the point where they would be killed for doing his will. At the end of John 16, Jesus reminds his followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

There’s going to be trouble. There’s going to be opposition. But don’t worry about it. Jesus has already overcome and the Father has always been in control. Be bold in pursuing what God has put before you. Persist in faith. As you do that your reward – in this life and the next – will be great. Who knows, maybe you will end up leading a nation out of slavery and into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 

 

 

Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

My friend has cut off his hand and plucked out his eye

November 30, 2015

Jesus says some hard things to those who will listen, and among those hard sayings are most certainly his words in Matthew 5;

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Matthew 5:29-30

Even the most casual reader gets the fact that Jesus isn’t talking literally. He’s using hyperbole. The disciples sin plenty and certainly seem to have all their appendages and ocular nerves in place. However, I’d never heard of anyone actually owning up to the fierceness that Jesus is illustrating here about taking serious action to remove sin from our lives. That is, until a couple weeks ago.

I’ve been discipling Andrew for over three years now, getting to see God work massive transformation in his life. He’s made big steps of faith and hard decisions, each one launching him forward growth. This one may be the one that catapults him into the radical Christ-following that he’s longed for.

About two weeks ago Andrew and I were doing our usual morning time in God’s word, reading 1 Timothy and discussing what we found there, then ending our time with a space for asking God what he wanted us to do in light of the truth revealed in His word and listening for his answer.

Andrew laughed when I asked him if he felt like God had anything for him to do and said “I don’t know, I think it was just me thinking crazy things.” He went on to say that he felt like he was being prompted to get rid of his video games, laptop, television, and smartphone in order to cut distractions and temptations to sin out of his life.

I’ve written before about the massive damage that videogames can do to young men (and women) by keeping them in a passive state and dulling their passion for the life that God has placed them in. (here and here) For Andrew that’s exactly what they had been doing, and he knew it.

It’s one thing to know that and to know that God’s calling you to get rid of something that’s precious to you. It’s another thing to actually do the terrible work of cutting off and plucking out. Several days after Andrew shared with me what he felt like God was prompting him to do he joined the Threshingfloor Communities leaders and I at Verge Ministry’s annual retrea, Leader Advance. Through the weekend God worked and Andrew made the resolve of faith to do what he felcut t called to do.

This is where I am so proud of Andrew and impressed with his act of faith. I truly believe that he will soon surpass me in many ways. We arrived home and Monday morning Andrew began the work. He sold his television within 48 hours. Gave away his laptop. Posted his PS4 and games on Craigslist, selling most of it within a week. He has done what so many speak of from afar. He has done what Jesus commanded, removing from his life an instrument of temptation, believing indeed that it is “better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

My friends, are we that kind of people? Are we willing to take Jesus at his word – even his incredibly hard words – and obey? Andrew’s actions have been a challenge and inspiration to me these past few weeks. His work has just begun, but it has begun very well.

Jesus promises that for those who hear and obey his word now every pain and expense in this stores up greater eternal reward. For Andrew, every game sold and every temptation resisted is preparing for him an eternal weight of glory that surpasses any earthly pleasure. I want in on that! Let’s pray for Andrew and follow his lead. Let’s listen to God. Let’s obey God, even if what he’s saying seems crazy. Will you join me?

Christian Life, Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

On Looking In the Right Direction

November 9, 2015

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.”

– Isaiah 31

 

Don’t put your trust in the things of this world. They won’t last. I’ve written along these lines before, but it bears repeating. God clearly thinks so judging by how often he reminds his people throughout the Old Testament.

When you look to things other than the Lord for your protection, power, or freedom, it’s not going to go well.

In Isaiah 31 God is addressing Israel and warning them against looking to Egypt for help and protection from Assyria, Babylon, and other threatening nations. Egypt had a large army – a multitude of chariots and hordes of strong horsemen, but God declares woe on those who look to Egypt for help.

Israel was being tempted to return to their old captor in order to feel safe, abandoning the God who had set them free from Egypt and slavery in the first place.

What multitude are you putting your trust in today? When life troubles come along are you expecting your array of preparations or piles of saved dollars to protect you?

What strength are you looking to? Are you trusting in the strength of your willpower or the strength of the economy or the strength of your relationships?

Want to see the power of God at work? Give up the chariots and horsemen and the thousand little things you think make you secure. Look instead to God’s multitude of grace found in Jesus. Look instead to the strength of God’s power demonstrated in Jesus. Embrace the conflict and trust that God is more than able to help you, even when an entire nation is opposing you.

Woe to those who look to Egypt for help, but those who look to the Lord can say with the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23).