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I just spent a few minutes reading the news headlines, and that was enough for me. The internet can be a wonderful thing, but one of the downsides is an absolute overload of information. A steady stream of this in our diet is surely bad for us, and we really do need to be careful about ingesting too much. But one good thing is that it certainly does keep the problem of the sinfulness of mankind in front of us - there is no forgetting it while reading today's news. We have a few choices in life when faced with such a broken world: we can despair, we can pretend that everything is okay, or we can do something to make the world better. I really love that third option! But, what can we do?
Recently, we were teaching at a student conference. My assignment led me to spend a significant amount of time in the book of Romans, chapter sixteen. We were using the salutations in Paul’s letter to this thriving early church in Rome - the capital city of what was arguably the most powerful and significant empire in the history of the world - as a snapsot into what the early Christian church looked like. It truly is a fascinating and thought-provoking study; men, women, Jew, Greek, Roman, young, old, rich, poor - all were represented in the leadersip of the New Testament church.
As I prepared, I could not help be struck by one of the last sentences in the chapter. It captured my attention like a bolt out of the blue…
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
This has got to be one of the most intriguing sentences of all time. It seems so contradictory, but is quite effective to make us pause and dig a bit deeper to understand. Can our God actually be peaceful if He crushes things?
The Peace of God is such a beautiful thing. We know that the shalom peace of God is part of His character. It is His wholeness, completeness, and contentment, and is available as a gift to every believer. But for today's thought, we must understand that peace can also be a term that has meaning only when juxtaposed with its counterpart of strife, or war. When used in this sense, we cannot understand one word without the other.
Since that dark day in the Garden of Eden, when man and woman disobeyed God and plunged of the cliff of sin and selfishness, the battle for the souls of mankind has been raging. The wicked prince of this dark world does all he can to steal, kill, and destroy, and to keep men and women fighting and striving with one another - remember the news headlines? So deep is his hatred for God, Satan seeks to keep men and women bound in chains of darkness and oppression, to keep mankind in perpetual hatred of one another, and to keep man and God separated forever.
But though our sin and selfishness made us His enemy, God Himself fights for us and rescues us. This is why the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to men on whom His favor rests!” When the Messiah was born, the end of the war was near. When Christ was crucified, the death blow was indeed struck - not to our Great God, but to Death itself. Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price for our sin and rebellion, bringing the possibility of peace between man and God again.
In every war, the winner of the battle sets the terms of peace, and the loser of the conflict must accept them. The enemy of our souls would have every man, woman, and child believe that there is no hope for mankind - that we are doomed forever. But Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The winner sets the terms of peace, and through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross, there can be peace between God and man as well as between man and man.
When Jesus delivered His great, revolutionary teaching on the Kingdom of God, the listeners were amazed. We are still amazed today. The Kingdom of God is utterly different than any kingdom or system we see here on earth, where the most ruthless and powerful often make it to the top, and where the one who has the most money or the most weapons or the loudest voice often ends up in power. But Jesus preaches of His Kingdom, which is entirely other - to win you must lose, to live you must die, and to love you must give yourself away.
In the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes, which are a description of what men and women who walk with Him in His Kingdom will look and act and be like. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” God graciously invites us to join Him in HIs Kingdom work of peacemaking. The battle is won, and He is patiently waiting until the most prisoners of war have been rescued and brought back into His Kingdom by those of us who accept this commission to be peacemakers in God's name.
At the student conference, one young man stood up to give a testimony of a wonderful thing God had done in his life. He happens to be the younger son of our good friends, Scott and Crystal. Even if I had not already known who this student was, I could have easily guessed after a minute or two - he is so remarkably like both his mother and his father. His tone, his mannerisms, and his words were unmistakable and everyone who knows the parents can see that this is their son.
In the same way, Jesus says we will be known as God’s children when we do what God has asked us to do with Him - make peace. This is what He does, so this is what we must do, with His tone, mannerisms, and words. Our assignment is to go and make disciples of all men and women (Matthew 28: 18-20) and to show them how peace with God is possible, and how peace with other people is possible. This is our mission, this is our call, this is what we must be about. This is precisely how we can make a difference in this hurting world.
The question becomes, am I a maker of peace or still a participant in strife? Do I properly reflect God as His son or daughter - do people look at me and see God, or do they just see more of the same old stuff the world has to offer? What do our churches reflect, our marriages, our relationships with family and friends - are we fully submitted to God and His peace? If we cannot honestly answer that we bring only peace and not more strife, then it is time for change. If we are to be peacemakers, then there is no room in our lives for strife. We must love one another, forgive one another, and choose to believe the best about one another.
When we take our place as sons and daughters of our King of Peace, and rightly represent Him, we can look at our college campuses and cities and know, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” God has done the hard work; He has saved us and made a way for peace. Now let’s bring it.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
- 2 Timothy 4: 7-8
We are already two weeks into 2020 - a new year and a new decade! This year is special in my heart because it was exactly 30 years ago that I started a new chapter in my life, finishing high school and moving away to college in Stockton, California. I had no idea what lay in store for me there, but God’s plans turned out to be infinitely better than any of my own. During that first year at university, I met my wonderful husband, and both of our hearts and lives were gloriously revolutionized by Jesus. I am so grateful for all He has brought us through and for how amazing our experience has been so far.
As this new era begins, I am mindful of how quickly this life passes. Honestly, I cannot remember taking much time to process the turning of the new year and new decade in either 1999 or 2009 - in the former I had a three-year-old and an infant, and in the latter the girls were thirteen and ten. Eli and I were serving as campus pastors, and living the rich, busy life that comes with that season. Now we are in a different place - no less rich or even busy, but quite different nontheless. Now I can look back and see a full thirty years behind in my adulthood, and that makes me pause and take a personal inventory of my life. Have I made it count? Am I on a good trajectory of physical, mental, and spiritual health and of usefulness for the Kingdom of God?
I am delighted to say that the readers of this blog range in age from teenager to ninety years old. That means that some of you can see as many or even more years behind you than I can, and others of you are just beginning your race. I know from years in the ministry that it is quite normal for young people to be full of faith and zeal and hope. Interestingly, the same is true for many Christians as they near the end of their race. It is during the long decades in the middle that it is difficult to keep our eyes on the goal of Heaven forever with Jesus, and with as many people as we can bring with us. It is hard in this sleep-inducing, broken world to keep our attention fixed on the big picture and reality of God’s Kingdom.
One of the greatest lessons I learned in college took place in the swimming pool. I was a swimmer throughout all of my childhood, but have not a single fast-twitch muscle in my body, and so was recruited to swim the dreaded mile. This is the longest and most boring race in all of sports to watch - 1650 yards, which is 66 lengths in a 25-yard pool. It is also a very difficult race to learn to do properly.
My college coach was very wise. He taught us to view the race not as a whole, but as three distinct sections: the first 550, the second 550, and the third 550. When you swim a mile, 550 yards seems like a cakewalk, so we learned to tackle the race one 550 at a time.
Further, he taught us that the entire race is not won at the beginning for the person who starts the fastest, or even at the end depending on whether you can rally yourself to finish strong - the entire race is most often won by the person who is still paying attention and giving great effort in the middle of the middle 550. How easy it is to drift off and think about something - anything - else while you are swimming such a long race! How many times you get to the end and wish you had remembered to keep going strong in the middle. Of course, you can still finish if you forget about the middle, but you cannot get back the ground you lost.
As we enter a new year and a whole new decade, may the Lord help us to be mindful of our race - that we would fight the good fight and keep the faith.
-For those of you just beginning, keep going strong! Those of us just ahead of you are cheering for you and believe in you, and will do all we can to help you. Start your race with good, healthy habits and a strong committment to God and His Kingdom so you can look back years from now with no regrets, confident that you made these years count.
-For those of you nearing the end of your race here on earth, keep your eyes on our beautiful Savior and finish powerfully. Your life and testimony are so impactful to the ones following behind you, and you have such great wisdom and guidance to impart. Sow hope and life deeply into the younger generations.
-For those of us in the middle of the race, let us strive to give our best effort here. May we not get to 2030, should Jesus tarry, and wish we could do the entire decade over again. May we not fall into the temptation to live for selfish gain, or to remain for even one more day in deeply-engrained unhealthy habits. May this decade be one of life and health and hope, and of great purpose in the Kingdom of God as we long for His appearing.
Are you ready for a fresh start in your walk with the Lord in 2020? Kingdom Minded is a great tool for you and your small group to learn to walk with God in health and wholeness. Click the link to order your copy today!
Merry Christmas, from our home to yours!
This is such a special season, and a lovely way to end each year. We all slow down a little from the work-and-school rush, spend time with our loved ones, and reflect on some of the most important things - like gratitude for the blessings we have received, and the wondrous fact we can express that gratitude to a caring Father who loves and provides for us.
As Christmas Day draws near, let's take just a moment to reflect on why this day is such an important remembrance...
Recently, I had to drive down into Houston for a meeting. Our little town of Huntsville does not have traffic jams; in fact, we rarely have to stop at a light for more than one cycle. When the college students are out on break, you can actually get anywhere at all in less than ten minutes. Of course, Houston is not like our little town. I am not sure there is ever a time with only light traffic in such a huge city, but this day was much worse than normal. I was so grateful that I did not have a deadline to be anywhere, because the freeway came to a complete standstill for an hour and a half. Evidently, someone had been driving under the influence of some substance and had caused a horrific accident. Thankfully no one was killed, but as I sat and waited, I began to think of the real-world cost of just one person’s one day of selfishness.
The traffic was stopped across all four lanes of the interstate for a seven mile stretch. Conservatively speaking, that would be roughly 5600 cars and the people inside of them whose plans were impacted by the wreck. Even accounting for just one person in every car, and assuming that every one of them made a modest $10 per hour, that would total $84,000 lost as they were stuck waiting. But what about other costs - who might have been on their way to a much-needed job interview and missed it? Who might have been rushing to the hospital, or to help someone, or to catch a flight?
This brings up two very important points.
Sin is terribly costly. The example of a traffic accident shows a picture of what selfishness does. It causes great damage to oneself and others with far-reaching repercussions. Causing that one wreck is certainly not the only selfish thing that person had ever done, but just look at the effect of one day's worth of selfish choices by one person. What could decades of sin cost, in both material and spiritual currency? Not just money or work lost, but spirits crushed, bodies abused, minds wasted, hope lost - the Bible tells us clearly that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The truth of the matter is that each of us is born with that same capacity for a lifetime of selfishness. The almost eight billion of us alive today combined with all of those who came before us continue to wrack up an enormous debt of costly, devastating sin.
Many, many people do not know or believe that each of is sinful and responsible for our own sinfulness. But not knowing and not believing are not qualified excuses. This would be like not knowing or believing that you owed income tax each year. The debt is real, and one day a settling of accounts must happen. Which leads to the next thought...
Someone has to pay the price.
Who can possibly afford to pay for this costly sin, which separates each of us from our holy God? The tempter thought he had a foolproof plan in offering the forbidden fruit to mankind. As a result of that awful Fall, all of us are impacted by sinfulness and selfishness - and therefore none of us can be with God forever. On our own, the best we can hope for is bleak eternal death to settle our debt.
CS Lewis describes this dilemma so perfectly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a delightful children's book that I encourage you to read again if you have not lately. One of the children in the story has betrayed everyone in exchange for some enchanted candy, and now the horrible witch is rightfully demanding payment for the betrayal, and the price is the boy's life. His brother and sisters are devastated, but unknown to them is that the good King Aslan has a different plan in mind to settle the horribly real debt. In fact, Aslan offers his own life as payment in exchange for the boy's.
The witch ecstatically murders the king atop the ancient Stone Table, and she and all of her evil minions rejoice. This was better than they ever could have imagined. Now the great king himself was dead, and her wicked reign of terror could last forever.
But no. In the earliest hours of the morning, a tremendous shaking occurred, the Stone Table broke into pieces, and the body of the king was gone - or was it? Aslan soon came back to the children, very much alive, and explained all that had happened...
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
And this is why we remember and celebrate the tremendous occasion of Christmas.
God is Creator and King of all things, and His holiness and justice are perfect. Our sin is awful and separates us from Him; our debt is real and terrible and requires our death as payment. Only one, perfect in holiness and without sin, could pay the price; a man who never sinned and who willingly gave himself for all.
On that first Christmas so long ago, a far more extravagant a gift than anyone could ever have asked or imagined was given. Jesus, the mighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born as a tiny, helpless baby - not in a palace, but in a rude and smelly stable in a village few had ever heard of, God became man so He could offer Himself as the payment for our debt. How great is the love of God for His children! "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
This week, as we stop to remember the first Christmas, may our homes radiate the warmth and love of God. As we give and receive gifts, may our hearts be full of gratitude and remembrance of this perfect gift of Jesus our Savior.
Advent begins on Sunday, December 1 - our house is ready!
Many years ago, to celebrate our December wedding anniversary, my husband and I took the girls to spend the night at my mom and dad’s house, went out to a special dinner, and then to see a movie. It was our ninth anniversary, and the movie happened to be the first installment of the now-legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our anticipation was great. Somehow, though we are children of the 1970’s, we had missed the Tolkien craze and had never read any of the books. But we had heard about this new movie coming out, so in preparation for the release, we had spent several months reading the first book together. It is an excellent story, and made us wonder if the movie could possibly do the book justice.
I remember that winter well because it was 2001. Younger readers can not quite understand how unusual that autumn was, but the September 11 attack on American soil wrought a sea change in our culture. Whatever collective sense of security we had, real or imagined, was severely shaken, and a new sense of darkness crept into everyday life. As a nation, we had enjoyed an unusually long stretch of safety and peace, at least on our own turf. But even a cursory glance in any history book from any culture will show that this is sadly the exception, not the norm. Our time of peace had suddenly ended.
So that December night, when the lights dimmed and the movie began, we were completely drawn into the story. The first few moments of the movie are total blackness, with just the narrator’s haunting voice explaining the plight of Middle Earth…
"The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the Earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it…"
The story is told that a deceptive evil was sent into the world long ago by a wicked foe, and a desperate and growing darkness was steadily covering the earth. This evil enemy was defeated once, long ago, but he had now regained his strength and will to destroy. Evil creatures pledged allegiance to him, and with hearts and wills set against all goodness sought to conquer and enslave everyone. Was there any hope at all, or would the darkness succeed and completely blot out all life and laughter forever?
The movie definitely did justice to the book, and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire running time. Both the author and director brilliantly succeeded in painting into fantasy and fiction the reality of life here on earth. Whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, we are in a life and death struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. Our wicked enemy truly was defeated long ago by the power of the Cross, but continues to do great harm in this time of waiting for final justice. Evil has crept into God's beautiful creation, and darkness does cover the earth.
But this is the beauty of Advent - it reminds us…
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
No matter what today’s headlines say, and they happen to say some terrible things, we know that evil will not prevail in the end. No matter how dark the world seems, and it seems to be getting worse all the time, we know that the Great Light of the World really was born on that beautiful night in Bethlehem so long ago. During Advent, we wait, but with hopeful expectancy knowing that our Great King is coming again someday in glory, justice, and power.
This Advent season, I encourage you to take time to read the promise of scripture. Think deeply on the hope that we have in Jesus, and meditate on the goodness of our God who would give His only Son to save us from sin and slavery. Pray for those around you who still walk in darkness and have not yet encountered the Light of the World, that they would know Jesus intimately. Fight the good fight of faith and let your light shine brightly this season, so that many can experience what Jesus promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It is the most wonderful time of the year! I love the holidays, and the week of Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the holiday season in my book. It is such a beautiful and refreshing thing to pause together as an entire country and truly give thanks to God for the many blessings He has given to us as individuals, as families, and as a nation. God really is good.
Before the rush of the season, let's take a moment to think about this - the concept of the goodness of God is so intriguing. In this day and age, when some are trying to say that down is up and up is down, it is hard to understand what is meant by the word "goodness." Some would argue that feelings determine what is good, and some would say that whatever the most people vote for as good wins. However, in any dictionary (and also in reality), the definition of goodness still has to do with moral purity and virtue. Good is a true standard, and a measure against which other things are judged. God Himself is Good - He is the standard of what is right and healthy and whole.
So when Jesus comes into a heart, He rights all of the wrongs, and makes things come into order. He brings satisfaction, wholeness, peace, and purpose; He infuses us with His goodness. I know that when I became a Christian, I felt complete for the first time. Nothing about me changed on the outside. I still appeared to be the same person. But on the inside, everything had changed, and I knew it. To quote a great old hymn, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but in whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!”
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34: 4-8
God hears and answers when we cry out to Him. He delivers us from fears and anxiety. He takes away our shame. He saves us from our selfishness. In essence, He takes all of the ugliness from our fallen nature and replaces it with what is right, unbroken, and unblemished - with goodness, His goodness. Our sinful nature is put to death and we begin to walk in step with the Spirit. We experience and feel the goodness of God, and for the first time, we are able to pass on His goodness to others.
As followers of Christ and bearers of His Spirit, it is our privilege and duty to bring His goodness to our neighbors near and far. If you look at any news source you will see hundreds of images testifying to the sad state of this world. Wars, terrorism, diseases, famine, domestic violence, murder, abandonment, addiction, abuse, hedonism – the list of woes is long and painful. Before experiencing Christ, we all do things that add to the drama just because that is what everyone else is doing, and without really thinking about it. Young people drink alcohol, experiment with drugs, act rebellious, and become promiscuous because that is what the world says they should do. Couples fight, become adulterous, and divorce because that is what the world says they should do. Children whine, fight, act rebellious and greedy because no one ever challenges them to anything different or better. The acts of our sinful nature are ugly.
Jesus alone can set us aright and bring light and goodness into our lives. After personally experiencing the goodness of the Lord, it becomes our responsibility to share it with the people around us. If we have experienced the liberty and sweet freedom that comes from living within the restraints of Christianity, we must share it. It’s like tasting something delicious for the first time. Just earlier tonight I watched my baby grandson try his first strawberry, and it was so adorable to see him smile and wiggle for more. Whenever I taste something new and delicious, I immediately want to share it with my family. It is just too good to keep to myself.
In the same way, I will never forget the actual relief that I felt when I became a Christian and realized that there really was a right and wrong, and that it really did matter how I lived my life. The selfish choices I had been making before had been leaving me empty and despondent – my life was not going anywhere and it felt pretty pointless. After I met Jesus and began living to please Him, I felt terrific! It would be wrong for me to think that I am the only person in the world who would feel that way about the changes that Jesus brought to my behavior. It would be wrong for me to believe that I shouldn’t share the goodness of God because people might find His commandments restrictive or outdated. I had never felt more real or alive than I have since I met Jesus, and the same will be true for my neighbors. This is just too good to keep to ourselves.
Most people have such a misconception of Jesus and of Christianity in general. It is far from a long list of do’s and don’ts; rather, it is a living, growing relationship with our Creator and Savior. It is finally becoming the person He created us to be. In His goodness He brings freedom where we were in bondage. He brings order where we lived in chaos. He brings reality when we were trapped in deception. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we can share this wonderful goodness with the people around us.
It is not difficult. We just need to open our mouths and our lives and share the good news. It is true that people will be turned off by Christians who speak angrily, judgmentally, or condescendingly. However, it is also true that people respond to care and concern. If we take the time to make an investment in someone’s life, we can earn the right to speak the truth to that person in love. In my own experience, my Christian friend did not mock my very ungodly behavior choices or taunt me that I was going to burn in hell forever. She simply invited me into her home week after week and shared her life with me. She listened to me, taught me to study the Bible, prayed for me, and cooked for me. She was a friend to me, and I grew to love and trust her. I watched her life and could plainly see the difference between the two of us. The peace and contentment she displayed were something that I wanted; I wanted to be like her. Soon, when I was presented with the choice of salvation, I was ready. I had seen the goodness of God displayed in her life, and wanted that in my own life.
Since then, I have seen the same story unfold countless times. The goodness of God is so attractive and powerful, and when people share it, souls are changed forever. This holiday season, let's ask the Holy Spirit to develop this fruit in our lives. Let's open our hearts and homes so that many more people can taste and see that the Lord is good!
My amazing husband has red hair. It has darkened to more of a brownish-red color over the years, but his beard has stayed wonderfully red. I remember when we were young and newly married, he wished his facial hair would cooperate better since he had a few spots that were pretty sparse, But time and testosterone have done the trick, and now it seems he could shave one day and wake up the next morning with a full beard! Every day he trims it up, and everyday we clean the area around the sink since it gets covered with hundreds of tiny red hairs. It needs much daily taming.
The beard-that-keeps-coming-back got me to thinking about forgiveness. Have you ever struggled with being hurt by someone? Sometimes people say or do things to us that wound very deeply. And sometimes the person is so close to us and the wound so painful that we have a difficult time letting go of the wrong done to us. Hurt is a lot like a beard in the sense that if we don't fight to get rid of it, it will grow and grow until we are completely tangled up in an out-of-control thing. It will become the first thing that people notice about us. It will take over our whole lives, tripping and distracting us from anything else.
We know that the Bible plainly states that we must forgive; there is no question about this. In Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching about prayer. Just after He teaches what we now call The Lord's Prayer, He says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." As Christians, we have all been forgiven so much by God, and must not withhold our forgiveness towards others. We cannot cling to HIs mercy in our own lives without pouring it out for others.
Still, there is something we all know to be true... actually forgiving someone is often very hard to do. It is like the beard. You get rid of that hurt one day, putting it at Jesus' feet, but then there it is again the next day. Lay that hurt and anger down, it pops back up; shave that bitterness off, it grows right back in.
Thankfully, here is where the beard analogy ends. My husband will keep on fighting to tame his red beard until we are old and it becomes a white beard. But there is hope in battling the temptation to hold on to unforgiveness. The way to shut out the darkness that so easily enters our hearts is simply to turn on the light. When you find yourself thinking, dwelling, and meditating on a hurt, stop. Rather than dwelling on the hurt, dwell instead on the love and truth of God. Lay the hurt down at Jesus' feet as many times as you find yourself holding it again.
Worship, fill your mind and heart with the goodness of the Lord, so there isn't any room for anger or bitterness. Remember how merciful God has been to us, and ask Him to help you extend the same mercy. Pray for the person who wronged you - truly pray for their wholeness and forgiveness in God's sight. One great day you will wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and realize that you are clean and that the hurt is gone for good. Jesus can truly help us forgive others as we have been forgiven, and He can help us to be free.
…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
If you were an evil enemy of God, what would be your go-to scheme? How would you best achieve division and defeat among the people of God?
The most effective method is simply to keep Christians from loving each other; to cause bitter division among families and communities of believers all over the world - husband from wife, parent from child, brother from brother, friend from friend. Most of us fall for it every time, like a fish that gets hooked and thrown back over and over again by the same fisherman. Our enemy wants to highlight differences and offenses, and to keep those things ever in our minds and spirits.
People everywhere want to feel loved, accepted, and included. When Christians dwell together in unity and truly love each other, those around us can see a clear picture of how good God is and how welcoming, kind, and inclusive He is. There is nothing like the love of God! It changes everything it touches - it renews and beautifies, and gives hope, life and purpose.
To best reflect this great love of God, we must love one another as the family of God first. This is easy to say, but not so easy to do - we are all so different and have such varied ways of communicating and looking at things. If we are not careful, we can take offense easily.
We must remember that real love is not a feeling - it is a choice for the highest good of God and His Kingdom. Our ability and willingness to truly love each other is the thing that makes or breaks our witness as a community. When we do not love each other, it is painfully obvious to a watching world, and it is utterly repellent. Conversely, when we dwell together in unity, it is like oil (Psalm 133) which covers all and which everything sticks to. We become like a magnet, with a pull and draw that no person can resist.
So, our wicked enemy seeks to keep us from loving one another at all costs. This scheme becomes effective when any of us feel hurt or excluded or put down in some way and choose to dwell on that - offense is a choice, too. Something deep and dark within our sinful nature wants to demand not just our equality, but our superiority over others through attitudes of “me first” and “I am better than you.” This way of thinking leaves real love in the ditch and renders our witness ineffective.
How do we resist this tactic?
We must forgive.
The full passage of 2 Corinthians 2: 7-11 says, "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful weapons that God has given us. Real forgiveness can break bondages that have endured for generations. It can turn a brittle heart into a soft heart, and can turn a broken family into a happy, thriving family. God has extended forgiveness to us, and asks us to return the grace and favor to others. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can take God's gifts only for our own benefit, and refuse to extend love to others. Jesus tells us plainly, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6: 14-15)
Extending forgiveness to others is not optional. We must forgive as we have been forgiven - it cannot remain just theory, but must become our practice. As sinful people who have been forgiven by God, we can never say, "Yes, but you do not understand what they have done to me..." We have been forgiven of so much, and must also forgive others. The beauty of it is that when we let hurts and offenses go, they can no longer hurt us or cause a division among us. When we forgive one another, the enemy's scheme to defeat us falls flat.
We must choose to believe the best about one another.
This has two facets. First, we must choose to believe the best about others when we hear a bad word or report about them. It is falling right into the enemy’s trap to ingest or repeat the bad things we hear about a brother or a sister. What good does that do? None! It helps nothing to become a part of a bad report, and oftentimes there is much more to the story than we know.
Second, believing the best means that we must have real hope for people; we must keep on bumping them towards Jesus, and towards the dream that God has for their life. We must learn to truly honor one another. We can all plainly can see the things that are wrong with one other, but Christians need to be people who look for and see what is good and right in each one. We are all created in the image of God and have something of Him in us. We must choose to see what is best and call that out in one another rather than holding each other back.
We must keep no record of wrongs.
How do we like it when our spouse or parent or brother or friend or teacher brings up that old, terrible thing we did again and again? We are so frustrated by it, and recognize that we have grown and changed. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and tend to make excuses for our feelings and behavior - maybe we had a headache or had heard bad news that day when we were so rude to our friend.
At the same time, we might keep records of wrong for other people in our lives that stretch back for years, and with remarkable detail. Then, in a moment of hurt, we are likely to throw something back at our spouse that happened 15 years ago, leaving no room for growth and change. If we could have a moment of clear thinking, we would realize how horrible and creepy this is. It would be so offensive if someone kept and used that kind record of wrongs against us.
God actually does have every right to keep a record of wrongs on each of us, but chooses to forgive and forget when we come to Him in repentance. He loves to cover the shame that we heap upon ourselves. He loves to help us find a great trajectory towards godliness and cheers us on our way. He does not stand, arms crossed and face twisted in anger, reminding us of every wicked and selfish thing we have ever done, refusing to let us change and grow in godliness.
We ought to follow God in this way. We must forgive one another and cheer one another on in spiritual growth and development. We must treat others as we would like to be treated. Sure, people say and do some pretty thoughtless, hurtful things - sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. We all do this at one time or another. But with the same grace we extend to ourselves, we must be gracious with one another. Perhaps they are stressed out, perhaps they are hurting. Instead of feeling offended, what if we offered care and concern and friendship instead? Our families, churches, and communities could be radically changed for the better if Christians would stop falling for the enemy's schemes, and would start practicing the law of love...
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
Christmas is coming! Kingdom Minded is a great resource for small groups and Sunday School classes - order your copies today...
…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
We have been on the road these last two weeks, and one of the great joys of our lives is meeting Christian brothers and sisters in different places. It is like a wonderful family reunion wherever we go - the Body of Christ is indeed beautiful and doing good works in communities all over the world.
At the same time, driving such a long way across the country reveals that there is much work left to do. There is a great deal of suffering and spiritual poverty everywhere we have gone, and much opportunity to share the love and hope of Christ.
Why are we slow to share the Good News - why haven’t more people been impacted by true Christianty?
Paul wrote a wonderful second letter to the Corinthian church that still speaks to us today. In it, he spends quite a bit of time painting a picture of what real, vibrant relationship with Jesus will look like lived out as a community of believers. In it are two sentences that we dare not skip over as we read, “...in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The context in which he writes this is about forgiveness, and we will look at that in more depth next week. For now, let’s look at this concept of Satan scheming against us in order to outwit us - is this actually true?
In a word, yes. There really is an evil enemy of God who hates Him so passionately, and who has committed to try to hurt as many of God’s beloved children as he can in order to inflict pain on God. Thank the Lord that the great work of Jesus on the cross has broken the grip of sin and death, and has defeated Satan and his wicked plan. But in this time of God’s patience, waiting for His church to gather as many of His lost sheep as they can and will, Satan does not rest from his scheming since he knows his days are numbered.
We cannot be unaware of the enemy’s schemes, otherwise we will fall for them every time. These are his tricks and traps, and they are even worse than standard operating procedure of wickedness and evil. Standard to Satan is a hatred for God and for people because they are made in His image. So, as this era races to a close, we should not be surprised that the persecution of Christian people around the world is definitively worse than it has ever been historically. (Please research this sometime and join in prayer for the persecuted Church.) But all these 2000 years, persecution from the outside of the Church has not been able to stop the Body of Christ - it has only made us stronger overall.
But the enemy’s schemes are worse than just pure evil - they are how he worms his way into the lives and dealings of Christians to ruin real Christianity from the inside. When it comes down to it, Satan has just a few plays in his book, but they are so effective that he uses them again and again. This week and next, we will examine two schemes that threaten to devestate the Church.
First - Tampering with Truth
Our society is post-everything: post-Christian, post-modern, post-common sense. Still, the entirety of western civilization is actually based on Judeo-Christian principles and therefore remains standing, for now. It is interesting to watch the evolution of our society in the last few hundred years as the very foundational pillars of this civilization have been removed - a belief in God, a trust in God’s Word, a proper understanding and acceptance of man’s place in the world. Today, we have a culture with an odd blend of believing that nothing is true therefore everything is true, and that all rules and constraints should be cast off since all of that religion stuff is made up anyways. There is also a strange and pathetic hope that people are just going to get better somehow, when all of the evidence overwhelmingly shows this is not true. Our default setting without God is pure selfishness and all of the evil fruit that brings.
The cultural air we breath is such a complex mash of ideas and beliefs that it is quite difficult to write about succinctly - suffice it to say that our culture is trying to hold on to the safety and freedom that a Christian society yields without acknowledging God and what He asks of us. By definition, teachings and ideas that are contrary to the Word of God are called heresies, and our society is rife with them. It is one thing for our culture to embrace these heresies, but it is another thing entirely for the Church to embrace them.
Many Christians are being taken in by this old scheme of Satan. He takes wicked delight in twisting the Word of God into his own uses. He derives much satisfaction from using the words of our faith inappropriately to render us confused. So today, we in the Church are actually afraid to tell people the truth in love for fear that we are being judgmental or overbearing. We are silenced by this heresy that every path leads to the same place in the end, and that we are being ridiculous to insist that there is only one way to Heaven.
Do not be outwitted by the enemy’s schemes. Truth is not subjective or relative - Truth can be known and His name is Jesus. We Christians have gone well past the time for minding our own business. Our nation is hurting - our young people are neglected and confused, families have been utterly destroyed, hopelessness and addiction are rampant. The Church must shake off the drowsy stupor of believing the lies our culture is telling itself and shine the light and hope of Christ brightly in our communities.
“How different it is with Christianity, which knows no distinction of race or creed, but claims the world for Christ and whose messengers circle the globe. Where it comes and is faithfully practiced, sin and slavery and selfishness are banished and holiness is enthroned.”
- J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ
Parents, Jesus is the Lord of your home and can help you thrive in your marriage and raise your children in the grace and knowledge of God. Students, you have the best thing going on your campus - never be afraid or embarrassed to invite people into Truth and Light. Businessmen, workers, educators, and politicians - you represent all that is Good to the marketplace; please do not be ashamed to stand proud as a representative of God in your community. Pastors and Church Leaders, teach the Truth. Live lives of holiness and sanctification, loving your people and helping them love their neighbors.
Let's not fall for those wicked schemes - let's change the world with the love of God.
As I wrote Kingdom Minded, I hoped to create a format that would be useful to you not only as an individual, but also for your small group or Sunday School class - order your copy today!
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Matthew 18: 1-5
We have been on the road this week, seeing some wonderful people and experiencing some of the most beautiful places in the nation. I love long drives in the country - the many miles of rural scenery are so peaceful and refreshing to the spirit, and there is so much time to think. I mentioned last time that this is a bit of a watershed season in my life, as our nest is now officially empty. That, coupled with the fact that 30 years ago this fall was our first semester at University of the Pacific, where Eli and I would meet each other and Jesus and have our lives and futures transformed, has made me even more sentimental than I usually am.
I am so grateful for the life God has given to us. What a gift it is to love and serve Him, and to raise our children to do the same. What a blessing to realize that my family is such a treasure - not just our children and grandchildren, but our parents and grandparents as well. God has allowed us to have such a rich history of godly, kind, faithful people, and that kind of foundation in life is a rare gift.
Looking back on my childhood includes nothing but pleasant memories. We lived much of my young life in seaboard Connecticut, which is a storybook place, full of fascinating history, architecture and scenery. My thoughts of childhood include rejoicing when the morning news announced school was cancelled due to heavy snow, then spending the entire day sledding or ice skating. We would come back home and hang our wet jackets and socks by the fire, and it felt so awful and wonderful at the same time to let our hands and feet thaw out by the fire while we sipped some hot cocoa. I think of summertime swimming at the lake, drinking fresh apple cider at the orchard in autumn, and beautiful springtime flowers blooming after a long winter.
Absent from my idyllic memories of my youth are nights spent worrying about anything. I had nothing to worry about. My parents loved each other and they loved us, in both word and deed. I never worried about what I would do if one of them left because that never seemed to be an option in our house. I never worried about where we would live, what we would eat, or if we would have clothes - my parents always gave us everything we needed and then some. I never wondered if we would have enough money to pay the bills, or if we would be safe from harm; I had no reason to doubt that my parents would do everything they could to keep us healthy in every way. Having worked with young people with very difficult childhoods for so many years, I realize that my own experience is truly a gift, and sadly the exception rather than the norm.
My childhood helps me understand what Jesus means when He says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Many people have a very difficult time believing that God truly is good and faithful. So many have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their younger years - it has been truly heartbreaking to hear so many awful stories throughout our tenure in the ministry. Children are exposed to horrendous violence and exploitation, abuse of every kind, and float from home to home as families shatter into ever-greater disfunction. They have no good or wholesome concept of what “normal” is as they enter adulthood. Terrible patterns of behavior and abuse are passed down from generation to generation. When a person with a history like that is introduced to the reality of a great God of love, faithfulness and hope, it seems much too good to be true.
But it is true. God's promises are not empty words. His character is not unsteady or untrustworthy. HIs Kingdom is not coming someday, it is already here.
Even with my wonderful childhood and my extensive adult studies of the nature and character of God, I have found myself slipping many times into the habit of worry. Sadly, I can no longer say that I have never lost sleep, wondering what would happen with this situation or that person, fretting over every potential terrible outcome. I have struggled with doubts and with a lack of faith more times than I care to admit. What happened?
I am the one who changed. As I entered adulthood, I saw and experienced some of the storms and uncertainties of life, in my own life and in the lives of people I loved. When the ground suddenly seemed to be unsteady, I took my eyes off of what the Bible tells me to be true, and worried instead that maybe God wasn't quite as good or powerful or faithful as we hoped. When circumstances did not meet my expectations, my faith faltered. When seasons were difficult to walk through, I trusted my eyes and not the greater reality of the Kingdom of God.
I changed, but Jesus says plainly, "change back." Take action against your doubt, and stop trying to make it through on your own. Remind yourself of truth. Relax and trust God like you did when you were a child. Rest easy like you did when you were small. You don't have to worry about any of those people or things, what you will eat or what you will wear; you don't have to be knocked off balance by the uncertainties of life. God is looking after all of those things for you, and He is much more capable anyhow.
Further, if we won't change and trust like a child, we will miss so much of the goodness of the Kingdom of God. We will entirely miss the rich and satisfying life of living like sons and daughters of the King - people who hold so much power and authority and resource because of Who their Father is.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, "“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble...." Life is certain to be uncertain. But just as certain is the fact that God is good and trustworthy - Jesus continued, "but take heart! I have overcome the world." Let's live like children, and trust our Father whole-heartedly. Let's believe Him when He says that He has overcome the world. Let's live as people full of faith in the goodness and steadfastness of our King, so that others can see how much better it is to live in His Kingdom - both forever and for today.
The book is here! Here are Tara (a delight to work with from Wisdom House) and I at the book launch party last weekend. Order your copy today!
This month marks the one year anniversary of this blog - thank you so much for reading and for all of the lovely feedback so many of you have given. This has all been such a joy to me, and has proven a perfect combination of so many of the things that I love - God and people, reading and writing.
As I was thinking of how to mark this anniversary, I could not help but be drawn to the idea of remembrance. So much has happened in our lives throughout the past twelve months, and I am sure the same is true in your home. One of my favorite hymns has always been “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse says,
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
This refers to the passage in 1 Samuel 7, chronicling a time in history when all of Israel was turning back from their sin and rebellion to serve God with all of their hearts. At the same time, they were in great danger of being overwhelmed by their enemy, the Philistines. The prophet Samuel interceded, and God protected Israel by throwing the enemy army into a panic. Afterwards, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'"
Life is so interesting, isn’t it? It is so full of highs and lows, ups and downs, sweet and bitter. And I don't how this works, but time seems to speed up even more every year. Still, so much happens in a year, and if we are not careful we run the risk of forgetting how good God has been. Remembering is an important part of our faith - prayers answered, deliverance wrought, provision given. All through the Bible, God instructs us to mark things and remember, so that when tough times come again we will not be shaken. But what about the times that remembering is uncomfortable?
Lately Eli and I have been paying some much-needed attention to our home. Painting, cleaning, clearing out things we no longer need or use - it has been an entire summer of spring cleaning. We suddenly have more time on our hands to pay close attention to such things since our nest became empty as of May. The last time I checked, we were knee-deep in middle school and sports and carpooling, and now it has all passed in a flash. I thought I was doing really well with all of the changes until I went to clean the laundry room and saw this on the door...
A simple growth chart. How could this make a middle-aged woman cry? What served as a joyful expression of hope for the future has suddenly turned on me and tempts me to wish to go back in time. As much as I looked forward to this season when my girls were grown and thriving on their own, I feel the sharp stab of loss as that part of my life is over. What about my friend who lost her baby this year, or another friend who has now lost both of her parents, or still another who lost his beautiful wife to cancer? How should we remember in disconcerting times and seasons like this?
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in Mere Christianity, "“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I absolutely think it is important to remember the past and to keep before us the good things God has done. But I also think it is equally important to remember the future and what God intends for all of creation...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
-Revelation 21: 1-5
"Write this down, mark it - I am making everything new!" God is the One who encourages us not just to mark the past for remembrance, but also to mark the future. This world, as wonderful and amazing as it is, is not the end. There is so much more! This life, full of incredible moments and seasons as it is, is not all. We were all made to live forever with God! Knowing this and keeping this close in seasons of loss and change helps us remain unshaken as we keep moving forward.
One day soon, when the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, the end will come, and eternity will begin. As we celebrate an anniversary, we look back and give thanks for all of the beautiful things God has done in each of our lives. As we begin this new season, we look forward and walk with courage towards the best that is yet to come.
My good friends Andrew and Krystopher recently invited me to be a guest on their podcast to talk about Kingdom Minded - please give this a listen!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)