Submit in order to Resist

Image result for submit resist
The Bible says that there is an interlocking pattern of behavior that enables us to live in sanity and wholeness. It has two sides: submission and resistance. I use the phrase “sanity and wholeness” to describe that life of balance and peace – basically “a sound mind in a sound body” – which is described by the Hebrew word shalom.This enabling pattern is suggested, of course, by the verbs in James 4:7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
“Submit” and “resist” are two parts of the same action. The first makes the second possible. The second creates the parameters of the first. Together they form the basis of the life of active holiness.
What I mean by this is simply that  submission  is only possible where there is faith in God, ongoing trust in His goodness, and a recognition of His fatherly authority.
And “resistance” denotes an acknowledgement of the existence of evil and an implacable opposition to it.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
This is not an artificial, theoretical or overly religious worldview. It is intensely practical, albeit couched in a particular language. To some, the strangeness makes it apparently inaccessible. To others, its very familiarity blunts the impact of its truth.
It describes someone caught in a moral riptide -a dangerous surge of cross-currents- who is looking about for a way into safe waters. “Submission” is the place of safety. “Resistance” is the fight to stay afloat in the  rush of water .

But what does it mean to resist the devil, and why will resistance cause the devil to flee?

To resist means to withstand, strive against, or oppose in some manner. Resistance can be a defensive maneuver on our part, such as resisting or withstanding the temptation to sin. Or it can be an action we take to use the only offensive weapon in the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18), the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.”

Using the Scriptures to expose Satan’s lies and temptations is the most effective way to strive against and defeat them.

It is important to read the whole verse: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Resisting the devil must be accompanied by submitting to God. A disobedient or unsubmissive believer will not see victory.

The apostle John records Jesus saying about Satan, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). As Christians, we have full life when we are aware of the reality of the presence of evil. As we struggle to stand firm in our faith, we must realize that the enemies we are up against are not merely human ideas, but real forces that come from the powers of darkness. The Bible says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

What do the “world-forces of this darkness” look like? It’s possible to become so enmeshed in the unusual language that our minds become absorbed with the stuff of fantasy movies! But the language describes a harsh reality of toxic thinking and addictive thought patterns. This is the moral riptide through which we struggle for survival.

Here’s a clip from a Pyschology Today report on the problems of contemporary thinking:

Some addictive thought patterns are:
  • Impulsivity with difficulty delaying gratification.
  • Prioritizing seeking pleasure.
  • Feeling unique, translating into non-conformity.
  • Weakened sense of societal goals.
  • High stress level.
  • Fear of exposure.
  • Victimized mentality, blaming everyone else for negative feelings and consequences.

These are entrenched positions, -strongholds- which can only be cast down by submission and resistance.

And what does resistance look like? In the terms of the language of James 4:7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Why will resistance cause the devil to flee? Because he knows he cannot have victory over us if we are prepared to do battle against him. As mentioned before, the Bible assures us that we need only “Put on the full armor of God” to be fully protected from evil and to actively resist it.

There is nothing more frightening to Satan than a believer who is fully equipped with spiritual armor, beginning with the “helmet of salvation,” which protects our minds, and the “breastplate of righteousness,” which protects our hearts because it is the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Only a believer wears these because only those who have received God’s forgiveness by grace through faith have eternal salvation and the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.

Once fitted with the helmet and breastplate (literally, “chest protector”), we are then to take up other defensive weapons with which to battle Satan: truth, the readiness to proclaim the gospel, and the faith that shields us from all the “flaming arrows of the evil one”

The final piece of armor is prayer.

  • We pray for strength to resist evil and to actively battle against it.
  • We pray for wisdom in the conflict,
  • and most of all, we remain steadfast in our prayers, both for the ability to resist the devil and also for other believers who struggle in the same battle.

“When the church, the body of Christ, stands united against evil, fully equipped with the armor of God, we present a formidable foe to the evil one and we will see God get the glory for the victory.” Victory in Spiritual Warfare by Tony Evans

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Words as Weapons (2)

Image result for words

In Ephesians 6,  Paul lays out the equipment necessary to counter the attacks of Satan. Every item on the list is vital for total protection, but just now, let’s focus on using  the Word of God as a sword. So, the full armor of God includes integrity, purity, serenity, certainty, sanity and maturity… “And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you.(Eph 6:17)

Perhaps this is a new concept to you, but it shouldn’t really be so. All through our lives, we have an awareness of the power of the spoken and written word within us. Indeed, words are the very stuff of life, enabling communication, storing memory and creating worlds. There’s a lovely moment of homage to the importance of literature in Roald Dahl’s Matilda that makes the point:

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village. … So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

And God’s word feeds and comforts and thrills us in much the same way -if we pay attention. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…”

But most people don’t know how to apply the Bible in the day-to-day conflicts of life, or, specifically, to use the Word of God against the devil — even people who’ve been in church for years and have heard the Word that whole time. But hearing the Word isn’t the same as using the Word.

Being able to use God’s Word against Satan is one of the most important marks of spiritual maturity. The Bible says, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12)

It’s not hearing, reading, or even rote-learning the Word of God that makes a believer mature. According to Hebrews 5:12, a mature believer is the person who puts the Word into practice. Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 7 puts it brilliantly:

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Paul calls the Bible “the sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6. The sword is an offensive weapon that soldiers used to expand their territory — and take something over. Putting the Bible into practice is how you invade Satan’s territory.

Rick Warren said:”Satan isn’t afraid of your words, but he is afraid of God’s Word!”

The Bible doesn’t become your sword until you know it thoroughly, however. It’s best to make the effort to memorize key passages.

Why so?

The point is that you seldom have your Bible with you at the precise moment of need. If you’re looking at an expensive dress and trying to decide whether to go into debt to buy it, you need to have stored in your heart what God’s Word says about buying what you can’t afford.

Jesus did this. When Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness, Jesus always responded by quoting the Bible. Jesus didn’t have to pull out his pocket Old Testament to respond to Satan. He had already hidden the Word in His heart. That’s how you defeat the devil, too.

I have been memorizing Scripture since I was a child. I’ve memorized thousands of verses since then. Those verses give me power at the very moment of need. Often, someone will ask me a question for which I don’t have an answer. When that happens, I ask God, “What do you want me to say to this person?” The Holy Spirit then goes back through all the verses I’ve learned and brings the right verse to my mind.

Start with key verses in areas where you’re often tempted — like sex, impatience, or speaking without thinking. Then, when you’re tempted, you’ll be able to use God’s Word against Satan.

God doesn’t ask us to stuff His Word in with the groceries; He wants it firmly planted in our hearts so that we will remember Him.

Jewish children are still taught to memorize the Torah by 12, and many learn the entire Old Testament by adulthood.

 Everyone memorizes all the time.  You’ve learned to speak, haven’t you?  You’ve memorized thousands of do’s and don’t’s in life, right?  You know your social security number, your phone number, your address, how many brothers, sisters, or children you have, how to get to work and what to do when you get there.  

The problem is not that people can’t memorize, it’s that they are unwilling to make the effort. 

The Bible is the foundation for witnessing and you must memorize verses to be able to use it — this applies to your devotional life as well as witnessing. 

And when the conflict arises, the words will come to mind because they are there already. You will find a new power and energy, as you learn to challenge every sly insinuation of the enemy with a positive affirmation of who you are in Christ.

Protect yourself from self-defeating thoughts. 10 examples of changing negative thoughts into positive truth!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Words as Weapons (1)

Image result for words

The Bible has a great deal to say about the power of words. Listen to the words of the Sage (from about 1000 BC):

My child, pay attention to what I say.
    Listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them.
    Let them penetrate deep into your heart,
for they bring life to those who find them,
    and healing to their whole body. (Proverbs 4:20-22)

How do words bring healing?

The same way that they wound, by penetrating “deep into your heart.” It is the merest folly to imagine that “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.” “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall” (Jodi Picoult).

In fact, words are the most powerful weapon known to man. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. So, Paul concluded, Let no foul language come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear  (Ephesians 4:29).

The only question is, therefore: Is my mouth doing good? Am I meeting a need with the words that are coming out of my mouth? Am I building up faith into the people who hear me?

This is what God did in the creation of the world. He spoke, and it was so –“Lights, action, music!” – like a Cosmic Film Director, producing something amazing and seeing that it was good.. And Jesus is described as the “Word” of God, speaking health and healing into broken bodies; speaking deliverance into broken minds. As Wesley put it “He speaks and listening to His voice/New life the dead receive.” “The words I have spoken to you – they are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

And so this is how we live together, allowing the word of Christ to “dwell in us richly,” (“My child, pay attention to what I say.  Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart”) creating healing and wholeness in body, soul and spirit (“for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body). This is why we share His teaching together and “encourage one another, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in our hearts to God” (Col 3:16).

And in this act of fellowship, the Word renews and strengthens us, and we are empowered not only to resist the tricks of the Enemy but to prevail. The words that we speak in the Spirit are the “weapons of our warfare.” 

This is precisely how Jesus prevailed against Satan in the archetypal encounter described in Matthew 4: He countered the twisted and misconstrued citation of Scripture with the true Word of God. For “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

The first time we meet Satan, in the Bible’s earliest narratives, the same misconstrual of God’s word is in evidence: “And has God said…?”  But where the Second Adam is triumphant, the First is woefully unready, with catastrophic results.

It is Paul’s claim that we believers are “in Christ” and “have the mind of Christ.” As such, we are not “woefully unready.” “For I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom …” (Matthew 16) Often the verse is quoted in a rather defensive posture, as if we have to hold on with gritted teeth for the arrival of the cavalry. The phrase “shall not prevail,” however, means “cannot withstand.God is on the attack!

The war is on and the words that we speak are the weapons we use.

How do words work?

At the simplest level, they declare information and announce intent. Something of this was happening when Jesus instructed his disciples to announce that “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” The words declared something that was simultaneously being enacted. But when Jesus spoke, His words were activation codes bringing things into being. Many of his healings were enacted with a word or two, sometimes transcribed in the original Aramaic in which it was spoken (a small fact that I find unutterably thrilling). So we have “Ἐφφαθά” (Be opened!”) Ταλιθὰ κούμ (“Get up, honey!) along with many others such as “Be still!”, “Be cleansed,” “Rise up” etc. These are short authoritative commands in the imperative. His listeners were astonished because He spoke “with authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees.

And we too are summoned into the action of words. In a famous exchange, recorded in Mark 12, Jesus insisted on this point with characteristic hyperbole: And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

Even if the phrase “all things” leaves you feeling a little breathless, here is a statement delivered in terms of ringing clarity of how God intends to inhabit and empower our words. This is not to be understood merely as prayer answers for personal convenience but for the enactment of God’s kingdom on earth.

And -in the words that God spoke to Jeremiah when he was first summoned into service:“I am watching over My word to perform it.”

And your homework is: How do we fight against Satan with words?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Casting down imagination…”

Image result for casting down imagination

“You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think.  (Marianne Williamson)

So guard your thinking! 

Satan’s primary attack is in the mind. He begins his battle in our thoughts and thought-processes. Few believers make much of this, even whilst acknowledging it as obvious. It seems that we are content to just let it happen.

Consequently, our guard is down much of the time. We allow the media a field day in the making and shaping of our minds and the minds of our children. A decade or so back,  a Nielsen Report concluded that American children age 2-5 watch an average of 32 hours of TV per week.

If anything, it sounds like a low estimate.

And a normal adult  is bombarded with media images, TV, radio, internet, in an unstoppable media Tsunami of news and views 24/7. Theoretically, the adult is more discerning than the child, but the filter can quickly get clogged. Even our own thinking can get cluttered and confused:

“Sometimes we have thoughts that even we don’t understand. Thoughts that aren’t even true—that aren’t really how we feel—but they’re running through our heads anyway because they’re interesting to think about.

If you could hear other people’s thoughts, you’d overhear things that are true as well as things that are completely random. And you wouldn’t know one from the other. It’d drive you insane. What’s true? What’s not? A million ideas, but what do they mean?”  (Jay Asher)

The Bible speaks of “the weapons of our warfare” which are to be utilised in day-to-day intellectual war-zones in the battlefield of the mind. 2Cor 10:4 suggests that the area of our thoughts is a battlefield and the warfare begins in our thinking processes before spreading into other areas of our lives like a computer virus, affecting the whole.

The powerful phrase in the old Authorised Version is “Casting down imaginations,” which Meyer’s NT Commentary translates as “We pull down thoughts (Romans 2:15), i.e. bring to nothing hostile deliberations, resolutions, plans, calculations, and the like, raising themselves like fortresses against Christ.” We have to deal with a whole raft of negative nonsense, pulling out the rubbish as if you’re de-cluttering an attic. There’s stuff that’s redundant and useless, past its sell-by date, and not worth keeping. It’s just cluttering up your head-space and preventing clear thought.

But that word “imagination” is very telling. The Bible tells us tht we have “the mind of Christ“which suggests a new model of thinking. An Old Testament picture of that comes in the poetry of David in the book of Psalms, and the statement: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.”(Psalm 101:3)

Wicked imaginations are from the devil. We are to pull down Satan’s strongholds and cast down his thoughts, which produce wicked imaginations. 

The antidote is also there in the book of Psalms: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.”(Psalm 19:14).

The meditation of our hearts—or our thought lives—should be acceptable to God. Win the battle in your mind and you will rejoice every day of your life in the victory God gives you over the enemy.

But this is more than a call to “Try harder” (though that call is never redundant and always apt). The only way to counter that “evil imagination” is to provide alternative content.

And this was Paul’s point in Phil 4:8:”Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

A replacement diet

This is not a diet supplement, as if you can eat all that junk food, add sprouts and be virtuous. On the contrary, it’s a total replacement diet. Instead of feasting on gossip, lies and innuendo, you are nourished on truth and honour, goodness and kindness. Instead of feeling slightly sick and headachey because you’ve over-indulged in malice, cruel jokes and unforgiveness, you learn to drink the clean clear water of grace and honesty.

And it tastes wonderful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Demolishing Strongholds (2)

Image result for broken chains

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

“We live in the world.”

You might think it rather a statement of the obvious, but the truth is that it is a point that is often missed.

Don’t you feel sometimes, as you read the newspapers and watch TV that the world is so ugly that you’d rather just pull up the duvet and forget about it all? What can I do, after all?

Even church life can be like that, failing to engage with the problems of the area. Far better to lock the doors and sing happy songs, isn’t it?.

But “we live in the world.”

Jesus lived right there in the middle of everything. He saw the mass of people “as sheep not having a shepherd” Matthew 9:36), wandering about without help or guidance in the midst of perplexing and confusing situations which they did not understand, being destroyed because of ignorance, sin and fear.

Do you remember that moment when they told him that the crowd listening were hungry? He answered, “You feed them.” This became the prelude to an astonishing miracle, but don’t miss that opening remark: So you see the need? So do something about it!

The trouble is that having seen the need, felt the stirring of God’s compassion within us, we then try to sort things out ourselves. The verse goes on: “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.

We simply cannot fight the world’s problems in the way the world does. We live in the world, but “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”

We do not face life the same way. We fight in another dimension, and yet our fighting is not weak; it is powerful. It wins, it succeeds, it is mighty.

And it needs to be, if we are to come against the enemy “strongholds.”

These are  places and situations where evil is entrenched, where it cannot be dislodged easily, and it is powerfully defended. There are many such in our day. They abound around us on every side. Many have become issues which the world is struggling vainly to alleviate, but without success.

“We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Paul outlines two crucial points here: the source of the enemy’s strength and second, the nature of the believer’s attack. 

First, you have to know your enemy. You have to investigate his tactics. Second, you have to know your weapons and their capabilities. Right here, of course, is why the church has been so weak. It is because it has neglected both of these areas. It has not understood its enemy, and it has not understood its own weapons. But what makes these strongholds so strong? From whence does the enemy derive the strength that enables him to remain entrenched in human society? Why is it so difficult to eradicate these pockets of evil in our social structures?

Why are the strongholds so strong?

First, says the apostle, they are “arguments.” In the Greek it is logismus, which means “reasonings.” Second, their strength derives from “every proud obstacle.” Pride, in other words. Literally, it is “every high thing which exalts itself,” i.e., every point of pride which expresses itself in conceit or self-praise, self-exaltation, and whose final ultimate thrust is, as Paul puts it, “against the knowledge of God.” That is where evil derives its strength. It is from these two things: reasonings and the independent pride which insists that man does not need God. These are the pillars from which evil derives its ultimate strength.

You will note immediately that there is a relationship between these two things. Reasonings, “arguments,” are the outward expression of the inward attitude of self-sufficient pride.

Remember Eden? Here stands Eve before the luscious, desirable fruit. It has made its appeal to her senses and to everything in her; it has aroused her desire. As she stands there looking at the fruit she wants to have it. There has been awakened an urge, an emotional reaction within her. As she looks at this tantalising fruit there before her, (as Ray Stedman put it), “she begins to outline in her mind the first chapter of a book in defence of eating the fruit.” “It was  good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise,” (Genesis 3:6). Did you see the chapter headings?

That is what Paul is referring to here. This is where evil derives its strength. It produces specious and plausible sounding arguments which make their ultimate appeal to man’s self-sufficiency, his unlimited capabilities (as he sees himself), his lack of any need for God, and which are basically against the knowledge of God. These things appeal to man’s independence, so logically and compellingly, that millions are deceived by them and follow them. That is why evil is so deeply entrenched in society.

Paul calls these “doctrines of demons.” He says they arise from “seducing spirits,” spirits at work, using the minds of men as their instruments, to present to humanity what are really lies. They are reasonable-sounding lies, plausible lies, but they are actually lies, they are not truths. They are false, seductive, they lead people astray. They do not educate the mind toward truth but toward error.

Against this, says the apostle, we are to bring the weapons of truth, love, righteousness, and faith to bear, because they destroy reasonings. They pull down arguments, they demolish them, and the pride behind them. It is by the gospel, by the declaring and demonstrating of the gospel. The gospel is, in its widest range, love, truth, faith, and righteousness. These are what the gospel is, these very things. Therefore we can demolish these strongholds by the demonstration of the gospel.

When Paul went to  Corinth, where the people were buttressing their lives of immorality, shame, sordidness, and pagan barrenness, by arguments, and reasonings. Paul told them, “When I came to you, … I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ).

I did not come to debate with you.

I did not come with the wisdom of this world.

I did not come to cancel out your arguments with a counter-argument.

I did not come to debate philosophy.

I came to declare to you that in Jesus Christ there is relief, release, and deliverance from the pride of the human heart; pride is slain by the cross.

When you accept what this cross means, and what this One who died for you has done, and you kneel at his feet, there is released in your life a power that cancels out your pride.

You are brought low before him, and God begins to make you over again on a different scale.

That is the power of the gospel.

That is the power of the Christian.

It’s all we have but it’s all we need.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Demolishing Strongholds (1)

Image result for strongholds

“Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).

A stronghold is “a place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack.”  Paul is not talking about a castle or a bank-vault, however, but about an entrenched mental position. He’s talking about a worldview – an intellectual mindset- that is rooted and established and that doesn’t seem possible to shift.

We live our lives largely in our minds. We make thousands of decisions every day, based upon a process of thinking and choosing. In many of those choices, however, we “choose” what we’ve often done previously. It’s like walking the same way across a field every morning – your choice of direction creates a pathway and you tend to stick to the track. In a sense, that’s just what Paul means by the word “stronghold.” It’s an accustomed mental position, like we use the phrase “one track mind.”

I used to work on a production line in a factory, alongside a guy who had such a “one-track mind.” Anything and everything that was spoken in his hearing was twisted by him into sexual innuendo and smutty talk. It wasn’t funny or witty. It was banal and tedious and had the effect of making any real conversation impossible. You had the sense that his brain was sifing through the words at lightning speed, waiting for an opportunity to make a sex-related pun. I feel weary recalling it all.

But that’s a powerful picture of how you can get entrenched into a way of thinking.

You might think about money, for example. It might be a legitimate concern -a way of caring for your family and ensuring security and opportunity for your children. And the Bible does not say that money is evil, after all. But such thinking may become obsessive and entrenched, until the making of money becomes all that drives and motivates you, and you become selfish and grasping, ruthless and ambitious.And the Bible’s word to you is that “The love of money is the root of all evil.

You have become ensnared in a stronghold of thinking.

There’s nothing wrong with being careful about your diet. There’s something wrong with being obsessive about calorie-counting, and making yourself miserable over every mouthful.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a nice house to live in. There’s something wrong with that guy I saw on TV who built the perfect house and then lived in a trailer outside it, not wanting to spoil its pristine splendour.

These strongholds have names like fear, anxiety, and insecurity. We become entrenched on a “one-track” of worry about the future (health, money and so forth).

But how do you break it? How do you break the pattern of addictve reasoning? It can be hard to start taking a different route across the field.

A verse that came to mind a few days back was a line from 2 Peter 1. Peter begins by saying “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  This isn’t just a standard introduction – it’s the statement of a vital principle.

We experience grace and peace through the knowledge of God.

The more we know God and about God’s character and ways, the more we experience grace and peace. This is precisely what Jesus was doing as He spoke – He was sharing the knowledge of God and countering the prison-thinking of His listeners. “Why do you worry? Why do you fear? Your heavenly Father knows what you really need…”

We don’t come against these diabolical thought-systems in a worldly way (with whinging Daily Mail headlines, or with some version of the Thought-Police bullying people into compliance ). In the Bible’s narrative terms, you can’t fight Satan with Satan. “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”

We believe in a spiritual reality overarching all that we see and know. We believe in the existence of Good and Evil and a clear battle-line drawn between the two. We acknowledge a state of conflict in our world.

I love that line from Tolkien’s Two Towers:  “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

We recognise that conflict and in it we have learnt to identify the adversary. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, to kill and to destroy.” (John 10)

So how do we respond? The point on which I begin is the second half of the verse I just quoted:  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The promise of Jesus is the promise of life. And the life that He offers begins with the demolition of those old ways of thinking.

So even though you may have been tormented in your thinking, and feel defeated right now, I believe in the promise of abundant life! Let’s take time on this passage until we come together into victory.

There are so many believers who are stuck where you are right now. The Bible calls Satan, the “Accuser of the brethren.” Sometimes that accustion comes through others; often it comes through our own lips and thoughts as we accuse ourselves. But the origin of all condemnation is the same.

The only antidote to a lie is the truth, and Satan wants to keep you from the Truth, for he knows that the “Truth will set you free.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost…”

Image result for helping

It’s a wonderful verse. It tells you who Jesus was, and who He came for and how he changed lives.

It’s pretty much all you need to know.

It comes at the end of a story about when Jesus met a man called Zaccheus. I find it interesting to notice how Jesus dealt with folk that other people would dub “unpleasant.” Take Zaccheus (Luke 19) as a case-study.

Even today, to describe yourself at a party thus: “Well, I work for the Tax Office,” still creates a slight frisson of disgust. Zaccheus was in a completely different league. Worse, I mean.

Not just a tax collector but one who collaborated with the occupying forces of his country. A quisling. A Traitor.

And in the tight religious communities of first century Palestine he was an outsider, a covenant-breaker. A person of no character. A horrible person.

So how does Jesus deal with him? Well, he insists on being nice. Imagine that. He outrages the crowd’s prudish sense of decency and respectability.

And what’s more, he’s absolutely clear about his rationale. I’m doing this, he says, because “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.

When I was working in prison, I noticed that the guards had two ways of dealing with the prisoners. They either saw the concept of prison as punishment -clear and straightforward- or as an opportunity for rehabilitation.

And, generally speaking, we have two ways of considering crime. We take (a) the hard line: with no allowance for frailty-we don’t think about temptation, nor distinguish between circumstances. It’s the law. There is no more to be said.

Or, alternatively (b) we take the soft line, where it’s all laxity and liberalism. We say, “It’s not their fault: it’s human weakness, they made an error in judgment, just a mistake, an unfortunate circumstance, bad genes, parental failure,  drinking problem…”

We’re either too soft or too hard, and the trouble is: neither works!

Jesus is totally different. He maintained the highest standard of right (“Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ) and yet shows a total tenderness for the unrighteous. He felt compassion for the ruined, and infinite gentleness for the fallen.

Our “holiness” repels people. In our normal street vocabulary, we only use the word “holy” in the phrase “Holier than thou.” We’re often simply unpleasant towards horrible people.

Jesus, by contrast, manifested a purity that actually attracted them. He stood among the broken and offered hope, newness of life, a new beginning…

Why?

Because of who He was. He was “Son of Man.” The phrase is capable being interpeted in many different ways, but one of the simplest is to translate it “Son of humanity” or even “The human One.”

That is to say, when Jesus identified Himself as Son of Man He was linking Himself with all the trials and tribulations of everyday people.  Everything that was human touched him. He was insisting on being known as a family member of the human race.

It’s the “Big Picture” that His critics completely missed. And we are not too different today. We draw lines and call them national borders and play our patriot games. We seperate by religion, by race, by rank, by class, by age, by gender. We even split the church into denominations.

We invent reasons to divide. 

And Zaccheus found himself outside the pale, excluded and despised. Until Jesus came along. And the story tells of Jesus stopping stock-still in the midst of the happy crowd, identifying the outsider and deliberately befriending him.

Becaue He too was human.

What did that mean to Zaccheus? Well, it meant everything… Jesus said: “Salvation has come to this house… for this man too is a son of Abraham.” He’s one of us! You missed it, but I see it clear. He’s my covenant brother.

Jesus was … and is “Son of humanity.”
And He “came to seek and to save the lost…”  It’s who He came for. People get themselves lost through all kinds of false directions. They may be

  • Lost by circumstances
  • Lost by their own desires
  • Lost through distraction
  • Lost by secret sin

You don’t think that Zaccheus wanted to be where he was, do you?  It’s grim and lonely to feel a failure, or to feel an outsider.

And Jesus publicly befriended him. That was all it took to effect change in Z’s life.

  • He restores my soul
  • He puts back the pieces
  • He renews
  • He restores
  • He rebuilds

We used to sing a lovely song with the line, “Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why you died on Calv’ry.”

So how would you restore the lost? Should we increase the level of punishment, or banish offenders to keep our society pure?

Or, alternatively, forgive everybody easily and decrease the level of punishment?

What is Christ’s way?

It was the way of sympathy. He overwhelmed Zaccheus with his love. He noticed him, and offered a helping hand. It was the way of true holiness, drawing people to Him.

And, of course, Jesus tells us to “Go and do likewise.” But how do we restore the lost?
Through real fellow feeling and through the image of God made manifest.

And that’s how it worked for Zaccheus: He saw both his own problem and his own solution when he met Jesus.And this is the heart of the Gospel. We are redeemed by the life of God without us, manifested in the person of Christ, kicking into flame that spark that is the life of God within us. Without Him the warmth that was in Zaccheus’s heart would have smouldered uselessly away.

Through Him it became life and light, and the lost was saved…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment