Hatred – Directing our Anger Rightly

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Nothing destroys the credibility of Christian witness like a healthy dose of hatred.

Unfortunately, our world has been misled about what hatred is.  We are told that the worst form of hatred is “intolerance,” and that it is more loving to simply “live and let live.”  This, my friends, is a deadly lie.  We ought not tolerate sin in our midst any more than we would tolerate a boa constrictor in the crib of a sleeping infant.

Out of love for the precious child, we would strike at the fiendish serpent, tearing it from the body of the infant and crushing it underfoot.  However, at the same time as we are ruthlessly killing the snake, we would take the utmost care not to harm or damage the child.

In the same way, though God instructs us to hate sin and take all measures to remove it from the life of a believer, we care deeply for the one who has become entangled by the serpent and exercise great caution lest we harm their faith.  Sin has crept into their life as they lie numbed and sleeping, lulled into a sense of comfort and safety by the world.  Though their sin may be large and hideous, what mother would be so overwhelmed by the sight of the gruesome serpent that she would forget herself and strike out at her own child in order to kill the snake?

And yet, that is exactly what happens all too often with Christians.  Our hatred is misdirected; we forget that sin, death, and the Devil are the enemies, and that the sinners are – in at least some sense – victims.  Even if your child had been playing with snakes and bringing them into his bedroom, you would still not hesitate to rush to their rescue when they lie crushed and strangling.  A lecture may soon follow the harrowing experience, but saving the life of the child would undoubtedly come first.

Our “enemies” are such because of sin in the world – the disgusting serpent that has wrapped its slimy body around you and me and all people.  We react angrily to sin, especially sin directed toward us.  This anger translates quickly to hatred when we put ourselves first, thinking about my comfort, my peace, and my reputation before the needs of our sinful neighbor and the commands of our loving God.  Instead of directing our ill will towards this person, we can respond in love, showing them God’s “more excellent way” and gently, yet firmly, pulling the serpent from around their throat.

The “me first” philosophy is certainly prevalent in our society, and perhaps it is largely to blame for the rampant hatred in our world.  Our weapons against this evil are patience, kindness, gentleness, and of course, love.  Don’t be deluded into thinking that your own neck is serpent-free; rest assured that you offend others daily with your carelessness, thoughtlessness, and callous insensitivity.  Let us look always to the needs and interests of others (even our “enemies”) and to the calling we have received from our great and merciful God.  Let us ever be ruthless and unrelenting when handling the serpent of sin, yet tender and loving to the precious child of God about whom it is wrapped.

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29;31-32)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as You strengthen and equip me to fight the evils of sin, grant me also an extra measure of Your love, that I might deal compassionately with those who deal wickedly with me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Witchcraft – Who’s in Control?

“Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored at since childhood.  Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror…That is all they can do for you – these you have labored with and trafficked with since childhood.  Each of them goes on in his error; there is not one that can save you.” (Isaiah 47:12;15)

Witchcraft?  Really?  “Surely, not I Lord!”

Like idolatry, it’s easy for us “upstanding Christians” to feel rather untouched by the Bible’s warnings and condemnations of sorcery and witchcraft.  The only “casting” I do is with a fishing rod, my “spelling” doesn’t involve wands or incantations, and although I might “brew” up some trouble occasionally, it’s never in the form of magical potions.

In fact, sometimes we might even sit back and shake our heads sadly at those poor, deluded pagans and their ridiculous rituals.  What’s the point of it all?  Just a sad attempt to maintain the illusion of control in their spiritual and earthly lives.  But now, we would never stoop so low…

The rebellion behind witchcraft lies in trying to grasp our own salvation – both now and eternally – rather than letting God take the reins and keep them.  In the temporal sense, our lack of complete trust in God sometimes leads us to seek ways in which we can “shape our own destiny” rather than letting the Holy Spirit guide us in life through whatever trials and troubles God may allow.  God would discipline and prepare us for greater faith and service, but we would prefer the easy road.  God would bless us by growing spiritual gifts in our hearts and bringing us closer to Himself, but we rebel and cling to our earthly pelf and prominence, preferring to remain “knit to this world” as C.S. Lewis would say.  Perhaps we don’t look to demonic powers to surmise the future and avoid God’s plans, but we don’t have to; we simply look to ourselves to “know” what’s best for our lives instead of humbly following God’s Word and will – and worship of self is idolatry just as worship of demonic powers is.

Witchcraft belies a lack of trust in God and His control over our lives.  We do not believe He is loving, faithful, and gentle, so we are afraid to give ourselves over to His will.  Our trust in God for this life goes only so far.  When it really comes down to it – when my job, my house, or my money is on the line – trusting God just doesn’t always make sense.  Sorry God, I know what your Word tells me here, but I think I know what I’m doing better than you do.

Our lack of trust in God translates from temporal, earthly matters even to our eternal salvation.  We don’t like being completely at the mercy of the Holy Spirit.  We want some ownership of what’s happening to our souls.  Again, we try to maintain the illusion of control by believing that our works, our worship attendance, and our lengthy prayers are building up “brownie points” with God.  We turn our faith into a ritual, where if we say just the right magical words and make all the proper motions, we will end up in heaven.  But as Isaiah says, all of our works and words and powers have the ability to bring only terror as we examine our hearts and see how utterly short we have fallen of God’s perfect law; “there is not one that can save you.”

We need to let go.  Let God take the steering wheel, and He will bring you through fields of blessing and rich abundance the likes of which you would never have known this life to contain; maybe not money, fame, or earthly prosperity, but all the treasures of a heart and mind that finds everything needful in Him.  Let go of everything you have been holding on to – sin, doubt, and shame – for Christ has taken it all upon Himself on the cross and left it buried in the tomb, that we might rise triumphantly along with Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to trust You more deeply, that I might commend my life and soul to Your loving hands alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

From the pages of “The Hero and the Dragon: Building Christian Character through Fantasy Fiction” regarding witchcraft:

Common Christian Pitfalls

“For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.” ~Martin Luther

Christians, even those who have never touched a fantasy fiction book in their lives, aren’t immune to the subtle influences of witchcraft in the way they think and act. Christianity can be twisted and perverted by pagan practices that have invisibly worked their way into the fabric of our faith. Without even realizing it, people sometimes fall into habits that reflect ideas that are not at all inspired by God’s Word, but rather by secular, pagan, or even occult messages and philosophies.

We sometimes fall into the ways of “animism,” thinking that I need to “work my way up the spiritual ladder” and earn my way into God’s good graces, forgetting that I’m saved by grace alone in Christ crucified. Other times, like “shamanists,” we place our faith in objects, rituals, or other people instead of God alone, forgetting that “there is one God and one mediator between God and man,” Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we even act like members of the “occult,” reveling in our “secret knowledge” and forgetting that Jesus Christ died for all, and we have been sent to share the Gospel with everyone we meet.

The most prominent of these distortions today is what is commonly termed “prosperity theology.” The basic premise is that people can “manipulate” God into giving them whatever they desire by saying the proper prayers, doing the right actions, or achieving the right frame of mind. This doctrine has enjoyed some popularity for the last hundred years or so, but has become increasingly popular since World War II and especially in the last thirty or forty years.

It doesn’t require a real thorough inspection to see how this idea contradicts God’s Word and reflects the pagan influences of ritualistic witchcraft. When God tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well,” it isn’t a recipe for fiscal success. God’s will for our life is good and loving, and He desires that we be happy, healthy, and successful. Obeying His commandments and precepts naturally leads to prosperity, but not necessarily as the world sees it. In this sinful, fallen world, many Christians have to sacrifice worldly success for the sake of adhering closely to the Father’s will. They are scorned and ridiculed for their faith, and some even lose their reputations, property, or lives because of it. Jesus warns that persecution will be a natural result of discipleship, not financial and physical well-being.

When we try to make God into a pagan deity who can be controlled and manipulated through silly incantations, empty rituals, and hollow servitude, we miss out on the most tremendous blessings He has in store for us. Our Heavenly Father wants so much for us in our lives, and not just sports cars, delicious foods, and fancy jewelry. He wants to craft us, to mold us, to make us more like Him, so that we can understand just how wonderful life can be when we walk together in unity – despite whatever suffering or difficult circumstances we may be going through at the time.

The prayer of Jabez in the Bible has been misused by thousands of men and women hoping for a “genie-in-a-bottle” phenomenon. That’s fine. Ask God to bless you, by all means. But you should also realize that sometimes God blesses us through pain, loss, and sorrow. Sometimes He gives us the best things in life in a way that will make you want to curse His name during the process. Sometimes cancer will be the blessing you ask for, or unemployment, or loneliness, or any number of fears, doubts, temptations, heartaches, and tragedies. Because the greatest blessing we could ever have, and the thing God desires most for us, is to be closer to Him. Bless me, Lord. Thy will be done, not mine. Give me a stronger faith. Take away all trivial distractions and help me to walk with you. Amen.

My Apologies for the late post today – I had some “technical difficulties” last night (although technically, the difficulties were with my brain and not the computer).  Thanks for your patience!

Idolatry – No other gods

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Idolatry is one of those topics where many of us are inclined to feel rather smug about our spiritual condition.  After all, I’ve never purchased any wooden carvings that depict false gods.  My home is conspicuously free of pagan altars.  And I’ve never once prayed to a little golden pot-bellied man.  So I figure I’m good to go.

Well, Scripture has a much broader view of idolatry than we sometimes do.  Have you ever longed for more money, or for a possession which God has chosen not to grant you?  If so, the Bible says that you are guilty of the sin of idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5).  As Martin Luther writes, we must “fear, love, and trust God” more than anything else in our life – whether it’s a paycheck, a Porsche, or the fine products of Demetrius’ Discount Deities in Ephesus.  All are the same; a trust and devotion that is directed at something other than God and elevated above Him in our hearts and through our actions.

The cause of greed and the root of all idolatry is a trust and devotion in and with ourselves above all else, including God.  If I am ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I fear and respect myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper.  If I care more about fulfilling the desires of my sinful nature than I do about following God’s commands, I love myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper.  If I spurn God’s commands and doubt His promises, choosing instead to go my own way and stray from the path of His will, I trust myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper.

A close examination of idolatry and what it means for Christians can certainly knock our smugness level down a few notches.  We are all guilty of idol-worship in many forms.  So how do we fight and defend ourselves against this constant temptation?  What weapons are most effective in our struggle to maintain God’s position of supremacy in our hearts and minds?

Not surprisingly, love is the most prominent weapon of faith against our natural inclination toward idolatry – in fact, the weapon of love should remain unsheathed and in our hands at all times since it is so potent in combatting evil of every form.  As our knowledge of God’s love and His gracious promises for us grows, our own love toward Him will blossom, ripening into all other fruits of the Spirit.  The closer God brings us to Himself through His Word, the less our hearts and minds are set upon earthly things – like ourselves.

Several other weapons can also be brandished in the face of personal idolatry with great effectiveness.  The joy of our salvation will help us set our priorities on what matters most – God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  The peace that comes from the Gospel will still our fears and doubts that often lead us to “take matters into our hands” rather than trusting God patiently.  And as we are sanctified through the Word in goodness, our evil desires will begin to shift toward the back burner as we yearn more and more for God and all the gracious gifts that He has to offer us through His Son.

The battle against idolatry certainly rages in our world today.  Of all the things that people fear, love, and trust, God isn’t typically very high on the list in our society – look to our attitudes and lifestyles for the proof.  Thankfully, we find forgiveness and restoration even from this treacherous sin in the blood of Jesus Christ.  Satan would have us despair over our failure to place God first in our life as His law demands, but Christ would have us glory in His redemption and forgiveness as we are strengthened and fortified against further attacks.

“Repent!  Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!…Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to put You first in all that I do as I glory in the salvation that I have in Your mercy and love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Sexual Immorality, Impurity and Debauchery

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5;7)

Sexual immorality is a “twice threefold” attack on our souls.

First of all, it comes from three different fronts.  It can be one of the most common temptations we face from our sinful nature – and one of the most difficult to overcome.  Mind, spirit and flesh often work together against us to draw us into this uniquely powerful sin.  While battling this temptation within our own hearts, we face constant bombardment from a society and world obsessed with perversion and sensuality, making the struggle that much more difficult.  And the Devil is ever on the prowl, ready to use our own weakness and the corruption and permissiveness of a promiscuous society against us by very intentionally leading us into sexual temptation.

Not only is the threat of this temptation threefold in how we are drawn into sin, but also in the effects this sin has on our life.  For one thing, sexual sins open the doors to all kinds of other rebellion and disobedience: deceit, anger, jealousy, slander, and violence to name just a few.  Not only that, but the earthly consequences of sexual sins are generally unparalleled: broken relationships, lack of trust, personal shame, loss of reputation, diseases, and even murder.  Furthermore, sexual sins have the tendency to wreak havoc on our relationship with God as we try to hide or justify our wrongdoing from Him and others, slip further and further into sin and guilt, and eventually reject the need for forgiveness or despair of the hope of His mercy.

There is no denying that this six-headed monster is one of the most powerful foes we face in our daily spiritual warfare.  So what advice does God give to His brave warriors for when they encounter this deadly adversary?

Run.  Flee.  Retreat.  Hightail it out of there.  As Adam Clarke said, “If you parley you are undone; reason not, but Fly!”  Scripture tells us plainly, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18); “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Which of God’s spiritual weapons can help us to escape this fiend and beat a hasty retreat?  Which armaments will best protect us and keep us from being cornered by this beast in the first place?  As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, self-control is an obvious choice for warriors who find themselves embattled with this particular temptation.

So how do we develop self-control in the context of lust or sexual temptation?  Love is the key – not the “love” that we find in modern romance novels and movies (a mere pretext for infatuation and sexual desire), but the selfless love that God teaches us by His own example.  Setting our hearts and minds more on God and less on earthly desires, pleasures, and pursuits goes a long way in avoiding such carnal lusts.  Seeing our neighbors (especially those who have the potential to become the objects of our sexual desire) as God’s precious children and our brothers and sisters in faith will also help us to interact with them within the framework of God’s will rather than our own perverse cravings.  If we truly seek what is good, right, and holy for their sake and put our own wants behind us to genuinely serve them, we will be proof against the combined attacks of Satan, the world, and our own sinful nature.

As Paul reminds Timothy (see above verse), the breastplate of righteousness is also particularly useful against sexual temptation – not only to ward off the Devil’s attacks as we live just and holy lives in God’s sight, but also to defend us from the despair we might face in our failures if we did not have Christ’s own righteousness.  The shield of faith can also block the fiery lies and accusations of the Devil as we look to God’s grace alone for our salvation.  Keeping our feet fitted with the Gospel of peace can help us to be ever ready to flee from earthly temptations and prevent us from stumbling or being swayed by our own sinful passions.  Equipped with these arms, we can escape the threefold ambush of sexual immorality, defend ourselves from falling, and strike back against an evil that rages out of control in our dark world.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to live a pure and holy life, filled with goodness and self-control.  Forgive me for the times when I have failed, and grant that I may look at others only as objects of Your love and serve them with a pure heart; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

The Sinful Nature

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, Pogo)

Sadly, one of the most powerful enemies that Christian soldiers face is themselves.  As if battling trials, tribulations, and persecutions directed at them from the world wasn’t enough; as if the Devil’s lies and accusations didn’t already drive us toward despair; now we must also face up to the awful truth that our own sinful nature is at war against the light of Christ within us.

The good news is that the same Gospel which frees us from the terrible consequences of our sins also trains and equips us to fight back against the temptations of our flesh.  Now that we’ve taken the time to learn about some of the “weapons of the faith,” we will examine some of the enemy’s tactics and strategies for assaulting our faith and undermining our ability to effectively witness in an ungodly world.  God has given us a whole arsenal of weapons and armor, and part of our discipleship is learning to use each of them to combat the evil we face throughout our walk of faith.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit; all of these weapons God gives to us, along with His own instructions on how to use them properly.  We can also look to the example of faithful warriors from the Bible, from the history of the Church, and from our own friends and family to see how these spiritual arms can be employed in God’s service.

For every type of assault we face from our sinful nature, there are several spiritual weapons specially designed for our defense which can help us to fight off that particular temptation.  As we grow in God’s Word and are strengthened in faith, let us pray that God would give us the power to employ these weapons effectively in our fight against evil and not fall into temptation.  May He grant us success as we push back against the forces of darkness, ever resting securely on the firm foundation of faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-21; 24-25)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Your grace You have given us mighty weapons for our defense and for the furthering of Your Kingdom.  Mercifully teach us to use these weapons, that we may bring glory to You and show a dark world the light of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

NOTE: I will not be posting tomorrow, July 4th, as we celebrate our nation’s independance at N. Morrisotwn.  I will begin our examination of some of the temptations of the sinful nature listed in Galatians 5 on Thursday.  Until then, rest and celebrate, praising God for the great country and the freedoms He has given us!  Thank Him by using these freedoms to worship and witness publicly - and thank the men and women of our armed forces for their sacrifices as well!

See you Thursday!

Spiritual Self-Defense

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3)

When I look at my self carefully, I don’t always like what I see.  I see a self that constantly wants to do what God in His love forbids.  I see a self that relies on its own powers and abilities instead of trusting the Lord.  I see a self that is sinful, arrogant, and weak.

I see a self that needs defending.

It’s some comfort to know that I’m not alone in this assessment.  In fact, St. Paul came to the same conclusion when he looked at his self: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (Romans 7:21-23)

So much for comfort.  If St. Paul couldn’t defend his self from the attacks of the world, the Devil, and his own sinful flesh, then I figure I’m pretty much toast.  I know Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” and all, but let me you – there are days when I think I could teach him a thing or two about being a sinner (and not in a good way).

It’s fairly evident that if my self is going to be defended against evil, it had better not be left up to me to get the job done.  I haven’t the strength to resist even the pettiest temptations and attacks that Satan throws at me.  So, who you gonna’ call?  “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1)

St. Paul came to the same conclusion: “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)  Thankfully, it isn’t up to ourselves to defend our selves in our spiritual self-defense.  My self is protected against all evil by the One who has already rescued me from sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

We may be able to delight in God’s law as we see the inherent goodness and holiness of His will for us, but we could never live up to its requirements, so it brings only death.  But through the power of the Gospel, the Law has been fulfilled and we are saved from the dreadful consequences of our failure.  God’s love, shown though Jesus’ death and resurrection, not only justifies us before His judgment seat, but it also transforms our hearts through the Holy Spirit, empowering us to live as His children and disciples.  And yet our defense doesn’t come from self; it comes from God through Christ Jesus.

In the coming devotions, we will examine many of the individual ways we are attacked spiritually in our walk with God.  Praise be to God that through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are daily enriched in faith, strengthened in will, and renewed with the drowning of the Old Adam in us so that we can stand firm against the Devil’s assaults as we minister to the world.

And even so, we will stumble; we will fail to live perfectly and will allow many thrusts, jabs, and slashes to get through our defenses.  But underneath, we have the ultimate protection – the cloak of Christ’s own righteousness that renders us immune to the accusations of the Evil One.  In His incredible mercy and grace, God uses even our failures to testify to His power and goodness through the free forgiveness we have in Christ.  Be blessed by this knowledge, and let it defend your self against all evil.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.  Give me grace to always point to Your love and forgiveness in every situation.  Strengthen and defend me against all the attacks of the Devil, that I may always honor You before men; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Self-Control – Fortified Against Evil

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

Benjamin Franklin tried to be a moral man.  He decided one day that he was simply going to stop sinning.  After all, he was an intelligent man, possessed of a spirit of unusual industry and determination.  He knew what society considered to be moral flaws, and he knew exactly how and when he was falling victim to various vices.  So he set up a schedule of these flaws and vices, from least serious to most grievous, and went to work eliminating them from his life one at a time.

He didn’t get very far, I’m afraid.  He began to realize that human nature is exceptionally weak, and as soon as he would move on to conquering a new vice, the “old” ones would flare up again.  His own power was insufficient; the walls of his personal self-control were too thin and frail to stand up against the barrage of attacks from the world, the Devil, and his own sinful flesh.  Perhaps this is why he periodically gave up the “morality” struggle, turning – in later years – to various indiscretions and even trying at times to redefine which things are “moral” or “immoral.”

As Christians, we have many reasons to be sad about our sins: the awful price exacted upon our Lord to pay for our redemption; the estrangement from God that results from our sin; the dishonor to Christ’s name and the weak, flimsy testimony that often results from our sinful words and actions.  Our “inability” to control our sinfulness hurts everyone.  It becomes even sadder when we realize that it isn’t an “inability” at all – we continually choose to do evil despite God’s intervention: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The amazing, incredible news is that all of these depressing facts about sin shouldn’t be cause for despair in the life of a Christian – they should be cause for rejoicing!  God has always known the rebellious hearts of His children, and yet He sacrificed His own Son to provide a way out for us.  In light of this glorious truth, we can be strengthened and fortified in our faith.  If our salvation was up to us, we would either despair over our complete failure or insanely deny any wrong-doing.  But because Christ has paid for all of our sins, we are freed to fearlessly love and serve God and neighbor.  His love for us fortifies our self-control, protecting us from the many threats and temptations that assault our faith each day – including the temptation to despair over our sins or disbelieve God’s promises.

No doubt about it, self-control is an important weapon of faith in our fight against the Devil and the world’s darkness.  The love of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to produce in us what the Law could not – hearts and minds ready and willing to serve in thankfulness.  The walls of self-control that faith erects around us will thwart the attacks of the Devil as he prowls around in frustration.  These walls can serve as a welcome refuge to all who flee the misery and ruin of a world that has been ravaged by sin and sensuality.  From behind these walls, we will fight on against all spiritual assaults, trusting only in Jesus’ name for the final victory.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:3-9)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for freeing me from my sins and restoring me in love to Yourself.  Protect my faith by granting me self-control, that I may be able to resist the temptations of this world and serve as an effective witness to Your grace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Gentleness – The Right Way to Fight

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

The Sword of the Spirit is the perfect weapon with which we can fight the evil in our world.  But even armed with such a magnificent sword, careless, clumsy warriors can sometimes hurt themselves or hinder and damage the cause for which they fight.

Paul’s reminder in Philippians that “The Lord is near” ought to inspire us to fight with both great care and a sense of urgency.  In one sense, the Lord is near to us physically and spiritually at all times.  While this is a great comfort in our distress and in the thick of battle, it is also exactly the reminder that we sometimes need when thwarted and frustrated in our attempts to spread the Gospel and combat the wickedness in our world.  When we lose our patience, when our sense of peace is diminished, when the joy has gone out of our ministry…at these times we may not realize that fact that we are under heavy fire from Satan, who is trying to undermine our witness and draw us into sin.  Remembering that God is close at hand both gives us the courage to stand boldly and gently, while also holding us accountable to our Heavenly Father for the words and actions we employ in His service.

The Lord is also near in the sense that He is coming soon, and the fervor of our spiritual battle ought to reflect that fact.  He could return at any moment, and the threat of death constantly surrounds all who dwell in this fallen world.  This is a reminder of how important it is for us to fight urgently and pray fervently for those who do not know Jesus or the saving power of His grace.  Because our emotions can sometimes lead us into despair and sin – even as we fight to spread the Gospel promise – God reminds us to do everything in the spirit of His own peace and gentleness.  We can learn to do this from Jesus and His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

God makes gentleness a vital part of our training for spiritual warfare, both in our witness of the Gospel and in our service to one another.  His instructions are clear; we must employ gentleness when wielding the other weapons of faith if we are to be effective and minimize our “collateral damage”:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)

Arming a warrior for combat is about more than just putting a weapon in his hands.  Training is a necessary part of the equipping process, both for the protection of the warrior and to ensure his combat effectiveness.  God our Commander has given us excellent weapons of spiritual perfection, and in His grace He thoroughly prepares us for the dangers that lie on the battlefield by teaching us how to use these weapons in the way that will best serve and honor Him.  The gentleness that comes from peace in Christ will guard and protect our hearts and minds from temptation as we move forward into battle with the Gospel of salvation.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me true gentleness through Your peace as I proclaim the Gospel and minister to my neighbors.  Guard and defend my heart against all anger, wrath, impatience, cruelty, and malice; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Faithfulness – A Mighty Fortress

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

If we are to speak of faithfulness as an armament of faith, we must look first to God’s own faithfulness.

Again and again the Bible speaks of God’s faithfulness as an awesome source of protection for His children.  In His faithfulness, He protects us from the troubles of this world, the temptations of the Devil and our own sinful flesh, and especially against the wrath that our sins deserve:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.  Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:1-2)

Yes, God’s faithfulness is truly our ultimate protection against every evil we face as His warriors.  In times of trouble and affliction, the best thing we can do is to place ourselves in His loving hands and proclaim, “Thy will be done!”  We have seen and know that the Lord is faithful to fulfill all of His promises: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

So what about our faithfulness?  If God’s faithfulness produces fruit in us, as Jeremiah claims, what is the role of the faithfulness which we return to God in thanksgiving?  The first and most important way that we return God’s faithfulness to Him is by continuing to cling to His promises throughout our lives.  “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).  This is God’s will for us, and it is our sure defense against the accusations of the Evil One.  But don’t doubt its effectiveness as a weapon against evil!  Perhaps the best witness we can bear to others is a sure and steady trust in God’s promises that is evident in our words and actions.  This testimony can certainly deliver a stunning blow to the Devil as he attacks those around us with doubt and unbelief through their own trials and difficulties.

We can also return thanks to God for His faithfulness by remaining faithful to our calling as Christians.  Our integrity toward others and in our service to God’s kingdom is modeled after God’s own faithfulness in our lives.  And as we persevere in doing God’s will, we can rest assured that God will remain faithful to bring about results: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  Because God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, we know that He will also be faithful to prosper all our ways in Him.

God has not abandoned his rebellious creation, but in His faithfulness has sent the Hero, Jesus Christ the Lord, to slay the Dragon and deliver us from bondage:  “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).  Despite our unfaithfulness, God has remained true to His love and His Word of promise.  This is our sure defense, and the faithfulness we return to God and neighbor is the weapon we wield in our fight to bring the light of God’s righteousness through Christ to a dark world.

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.  I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.” (Psalm 40:10)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You before all the world for Your great love and faithfulness to me – a sinner.  Grant that I may never falter in being faithful to Your name as I call upon You in repentance and proclaim Your steadfast mercy to all those around me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Goodness – The Weapon of Virtue

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

What is “goodness”?

That question is becoming harder and harder to answer as time goes on, as it sadly becomes more difficult to point to examples in our world.  “Goodness” encompasses many things; it describes a wholesome quality, a purity of character, a rightness of spirit – all the things we regard as “virtuous” and still more.

Goodness comes from God.  Think Genesis 1; everything that God creates is “very good” – indeed, perfect.  Of course, this inherent goodness is lost when the crowning jewel of God’s creation, man, rebels and falls into sin.  The world is cursed; the land becomes unwholesome, life becomes difficult and painful, and mankind loses his purity, becoming obstinately opposed to God’s good and gracious will.

Any goodness found in this world comes from God: “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).  Every real and wholesome pleasure, every genuine work of beauty, every noble and decent thing; they all bear the divine fingerprint despite the Devil’s temptation to pervert and misuse these gifts.

In the same way, any goodness in mankind comes from God as well: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  God’s goodness is so great and powerful that it shines through our own sinful exterior.  The Holy Spirit reshapes the believing heart to be more like God in goodness and virtue, serving and glorifying God through word and deed: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

Goodness is a battlefield within our own hearts as we struggle against the sinful nature of the “Old Adam.”  Through prayer and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit strengthens us in faith and equips us with godly virtue and character.  Goodness then becomes a powerful weapon as our wholesome words and deeds help us put to death our sinful desires and combat the darkness of the world around us.  It is a weapon of the Spirit – a hammer of light – with which He batters our will to conform more to God’s and shatters the lies and corruption of this wicked world.  As the Good News of Jesus’ forgiving death and resurrection changes us, so too does God use our renewed spirits to bring that Gospel truth to a world cursed by sin, that through Him all may be made new and perfect once more.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, through the redeeming death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, I have been made righteous and pure in Your sight.  Grant that through Your Spirit I may daily put to death the wicked desires of my rebellious heart and walk more closely with You, that all who see Your goodness in me will be drawn to the cross of Your Son.  Amen.