Friday, January 25, 2008

Powerful Weapons from God

Once upon a time, the nation of Homino found itself constantly under attack by the armies of Skotos. Homino’s fighters were armed only with bows and arrows, swords and spears. They fought the best they could, but were no match for the modern army of Skotos, whose soldiers were equipped with machine guns, artillery, even an air force of bombers and fighter planes. No matter how hard Homino fought, they could not stand against the power of Skotos.

One day, an emissary from the great king of Ouranos came to visit Homino. “I can help you,” he promised. “If you will swear your allegiance to our king, he will take you as part of his kingdom. He will protect you and give you weapons more powerful than any your enemies have.” The people of Homino wanted that very badly, so they agreed to swear fealty to the King of Ouranos, and became part of his kingdom. They were excited to see the new weapons they had been promised.

The king was as good as his emissary’s word. Each soldier in Homino received body armor that would protect them from all the weapons of Skotos. The king sent them the most modern weaponry. He supplied them with an air force; with fighters that could evade Skotos’ fighters and shoot them down. The new bombers had the most sophisticated smart bombs which could target the enemy and destroy them. The people of Homino were amazed at the arsenal put at their disposal by the King of Ouranos and were excited to see what a difference they would make in their battle.

The next day, they were attacked by Skotos. The army of Homino quickly gathered its bows and arrow, its swords and spears and went out to battle. They were soundly defeated. Day after day, the same thing happened. They went to battle against the army of Skotos armed with their primitive weapons while the powerful weapons given them by the king sat idle. Day after day, they returned from battle in defeat.

Some of the commanders of Homino’s army gathered to confront the emissary of the king of Ouranos. “Nothing has changed,” they complained. “Since we gave our loyalty to your king, we have not won a single battle. All of your promises are empty. In spite of all you have promised us, we are still defeated.”

The emissary shook his head slowly. “My friends, the king’s weapons do no good unless you use them. He has given you body armor, but still you face the armies of Skotos unprotected. He gave you powerful weapons to fight them, but still you use your swords and spears. You have an Air Force with the most sophisticated warheads in the universe at your disposal, but the only thing that flies is your bows and arrows. The king has given you every weapon you need to defeat the forces of Skotos but you do not use them.”

Suddenly, it clicked. They were supposed to use the king’s weapons in the battle. The next day, when Skotos attacked, the people of Homino took up the weapons of the king. They were shocked at what happened. The armor the king gave them deflected every bullet fired by their enemies. They bounced off harmlessly. Their new weapons overcame the enemy and their bombers strafed them until they fled in terro. For the first time, the forces of Skotos were defeated.

Today, in Homino, the battle still rages but the outcome is very different. Sometimes, the people forget themselves and pick up their old weapons. When they do that, they are defeated. But more and more now, they are remembering to take up the weapons given them by the Great King of Ouranos. And when they do, the bullets fired at them bounce off harmlessly. Their weapons send their enemies fleeing every time.

And every time, they stop to give thanks to the king for the weapons of victory.

I made no attempt at subtlety in the preceding allegory. Just in case anyone missed the point, let me share three facts with you. Homino is built off the Latin word hominem, which means man, or mankind. Skotos and Ouranos are Greek words, meaning darkness and heaven respectively. Mankind, in its fight against the forces of darkness, needs to use the weapons of heaven.

I am afraid that many (perhaps most) Christians live in defeat. They battle with the forces of darkness armed in their own strength and power. They use the weapons of the flesh to battle the power of the enemy, and fail regularly. Perhaps they are doing the best they can, but it is not good enough. Many Christians have just given up and accepted defeat as normal. “We may live in slavery to the power of sin here on earth, but one day we will go to heaven and be delivered.”

How Satan must chuckle when Christians think like that. We need to take up the weapons God has given us and wipe the smirk off his face. The Bible makes it clear that God did not intend for us to live under the dominion of darkness or in slavery to the power of sin.

Romans 6: 12-14 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

We are no longer under the curse of the law but have been freed to walk in grace and in power. We have been given weapons that will free us from the tyranny of sin and the power of darkness. If we will present ourselves to God and take up the weapons He gives, we do not have to fall prey to Satan’s lies or live under the dominion of sin.

Why do we keep picking up the weapons of the flesh to do the work of the Spirit?

2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 speaks clearly. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

May the people of God take the weapons of God and stand strong against the enemies of God. May we stand in the victory of Christ, not the defeat of the flesh. May we finally take the weapons of warfare given to us by God and tear down every stronghold of the devil in our lives. May we destroy his false arguments and bring every thought of our minds captive the grace and wonder of Christ.

I would make three observations about the weapons described in this passage. First, they are not earthly weapons. We do not fight with the weapons of the world. Power politics won’t get the job done. Legalism is pointless. Trying to follow the rules of religion in the power of the flesh is futile. And we don’t do battle with anger and condemnation. These fleshly weapons have no power.

Second, our weapons are spiritual and powerful! When we use the weapons of God, we fight with “divine power.” Did you get that? When I use God’s weapons, I fight Satan with God’s power. Wouldn’t that wipe the smirk off the devil’s face?

Finally, note that the battle here is a battle of the mind. Satan works to spread lies and deceive us into defeat. God speaks truth to our spirits and casts down the strongholds of Satan’s lies. It is not religion that will change us, nor our good works. We cannot try our hardest and succeed. Victory comes when the Word of God casts down the lies of Satan in our minds and we begin to walk in the victory of God.

May that be a reality in your life!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Confused about the Gospel

I was talking with a man about the gospel of Jesus Christ. God seemed to be drawing him and he was beginning to see the need of his heart for Jesus Christ. But I was disturbed by some things he said. Somewhere along the way someone in some church gave him some very bad ideas. To this man, being saved meant committing himself to trying harder to keep the rules, to make himself a better person. Here’s my question: When did Christianity become about keeping the rules? That’s not what Jesus taught, or Paul, or Peter. This poor fellow thought that if he wanted to get saved, he had to stop doing this and saying that, improve his attitudes and behavior, then Jesus would accept him and he could get his life in order. Where did he get an idea like that? I needed a shower the other night. I do from time to time. But I knew that I couldn’t get into the shower until I had first cleaned myself up. So I tried the best I could to sponge the oil out of my hair, to scrape the dirt off my body, and to chase away the odors that seemed to be following me around. Finally, once I got myself cleaned up, I was ready to take my shower. I know what you are thinking: this guy is a moron. You don’t clean yourself up before you shower. You get in the shower dirty and let the shower do its work. And you are right. It would be utterly foolish to do what I described in the last paragraph. But that is exactly what a lot of folks try to do spiritually every day. I have got to get my life in order so that I can get back into church and start serving God. I need to break a few bad habits, delete a few words from my vocabulary, and then I will be ready to come to God. That is as foolish as trying to clean yourself up before you shower. You don’t clean yourself up so you can come to God; you come to God so he can clean you up. It is the blood of Jesus that purifies us from our sin. I come to God “Just as I am, without one plea,” a guilty sinner who deserves only the judgment and wrath of God. I give my heart, my life, my body, my everything to him, trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord. When God saves me, he puts the Holy Spirit in me to accomplish his will. Holy is not the Spirit’s first name, it is his job description. He is the Spirit who is holy, and produces holiness in those he indwells. God goes to work inside me, changing my heart, my thoughts, my attitudes, from the inside out. The Pharisees were all about the rules. They had a rule for everything. To them, pleasing God was a matter of keeping the rules. Jesus called them “whitewashed sepulchers,” clean and bright on the outside but filled with death and decay inside. That is all rules have ever done – they enforce conformity on the outside and leave the inside filled with hidden sin – the stench of death. But Christianity is not about the rules, it is about Jesus. He takes me just as I am and then makes me into something totally new. By his power I have righteousness and holiness and power and purity. He produces in me what my new year’s resolutions never could – a genuine change of heart. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s vein. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain.”

Friday, January 04, 2008

Water on the Altar

Elijah was on Mt. Carmel facing the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He waited all day while they called to their gods to bring fire on the altar, but “no one heard, no one answered.” He taunted them, they cut themselves, they made a ruckus that would have gotten the attention of any god, if that god existed. Still, no answer came.

Then, as evening drew near, it was Elijah’s turn. He prepared the altar and the bull. He stood before the people and prayed a very simple prayer. He asked God to bring fire on the sacrifice to show the people of Israel that Jehovah is God – the only living God.

You know the end of the story. God sent fire from heaven which consumed not only the sacrifice, but the altar it rested on. The prophets of Baal were destroyed and for a day, Israel returned to the worship of the one true God.

But I want you to focus on one very strange thing that Elijah did after he prepared the sacrifice, before he prayed, and before the fire fell. He gave instructions for four large jars to be filled with water and poured on the altar. Then four more. And four more. Elijah had twelve jars of water poured on the altar.

As is common among us men, I consider myself a grill-master. One thing I know – if you want to light the fire, don’t pour water on it. Lighter fluid? By the gallons! But not water.

Elijah was obviously not a modern American prophet. He would have known that God needed help if he is going to accomplish his work. God needs us to provide him mood music and a pleasing environment in which to work, doesn’t he?

A few years ago, I was a counselor for an evangelistic crusade. I was “second wave.” Each night there were three passionate invitations. Some counselors came down in the first invitation, some came with me in the second, and others waited until the third. The evangelist was pouring lighter fluid on the altar, hoping God would send fire.

But not Elijah. He poured water. If fire fell, everyone would know God sent it, not Elijah. There would be no manipulation, no trickery, no deceit from the prophet of God.

It is your duty to present the truth of God’s salvation through Christ to lost souls. It is not your job to beg or bargain to get people to accept Jesus. You just proclaim the gospel. Jesus did not make the rich young ruler a better offer when he rejected the first one. You cannot soften the offense of the gospel or make it more palatable. You just tell the truth.

He doesn’t need your lighter fluid. Just obey him and trust that he will bring the heavenly fire. We don’t have to help him; we just have to obey him.

And watch the fire fall.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Where the Feather Blows

In medieval days, the story goes, a man went to his priest to confess sin and seek absolution. He confessed the sin of gossip, of spreading a rumor, of slandering another man. He wanted to atone for his sin. The priest told him to take feathers and place them by the doors of every person he had shared the gossip with and then return. The man completed his assignment, spreading the feathers wherever he had spread the rumor. He returned to the priest. The priest gave him another job. “Go and pick up every feather you placed.” The man shook his head. “The feathers have scattered throughout the town. I could never find them all.” The priest nodded his head. “It is the same way with gossip.”

We view sin differently than God does. We see big sins and little sins. Big sins – adultery, murder, homosexuality, theft – are the ones we generally do no commit. Little sins – gossip, complaining, little white lies – these are the ones we all commit, so they must not be such a big deal, right? God does not see it that way.

James says that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, set on fire by hell. It is a small body part, but does great evil. Christian maturity is the ability to control the tongue. Proverbs reveals to us the devastating effects of little sins like gossip. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

American culture honors the person who tells everyone just exactly what he thinks. You have to vent your feelings, not suppress them. God’s Word begs to differ. The person who overlooks an offense, who forgives the offender, promotes love and harmony. The one who repeats the matter, who spreads the feathers, causes division and disunity.

If Christians had Spirit-empowered control of our tongues, there would be no division in the church. Think of every church conflict you have ever seen. When you dig through the rubble and devastation, you will find the same explosive material at ground zero. Gossip. Someone did not control their tongue. Someone got on the phone and “shared” their disapproval, probably in the form of a prayer request. Someone exercised their right to air their opinion about things.

And these dear but dangerous saints had no idea that their loose lips would sink the ship of unity in the body of Christ. “Without gossip the fire goes out,” promised Solomon.

If we could only apply one simple rule. I will not talk about someone to another until I have first talked to God, then to that person. If you are offended, upset, angry or injured, talk to God about it, not other people. He is the one who can heal the wound. If you need to, talk to the other person directly in attempt to bring healing and unity.

Until you have talked to God, and to the person you are upset with, you have no right to talk about that person to anyone else. When you do, you fuel the fires of division in God’s church, helping Satan in his efforts to destroy God’s church.

I know you don’t want to do that.