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The Fog of War

Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian general considered to be one of the most prolific and influential Western thinkers on the subject of war. You’ve likely never heard of him, though you’ve probably encountered his ideas. In his 1832 piece, entitled Vom Kriege (On War), he writes, “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for, a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

190 years later, warfare continues to be “wrapped in a fog of uncertainty.” Communications get garbled, soldiers misunderstand orders, units can become paralyzed with confusion.

Eastern military philosophers were familiar with the concept of the fog of war and used it to their advantage. Well known Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu writes, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War). Sun Tzu’s ideas, 2,500 years after their introduction, continue to be standard military doctrine because they are effective.

Do you suppose that there is any application of these principles to spiritual war?

Satan and Sun Tzu were apparently reading from the same playbook. Consider the following:

  • “The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy . . .” John 10:10
  • “ . . . The devil . . . does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
  • “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
  • In the Garden of Eden the serpent deceives Eve by playing on her desires: “Did God actually say . . .?” He contradicts God’s word, lying to her, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

While Sun Tzu describes how to successfully attack an enemy, von Clausewitz gives us insight into how to overcome our adversary in spiritual war. “A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for, a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

Our posture toward truth can help us when all else fails. Paul commented to the church at Thessalonica: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” What is your posture toward truth? Do you discriminate good from bad, truth from error? How are your truth skills? Have you bought the lie that all judgement is bad?

To test your posture, consider some common daily habits and ask yourself a few questions.

  • What do you feel like when you’ve spent even a few moments on social media?
    • Do you find peace or encouragement there?
    • What is the state of your soul when you step away from the screen?
  • What do you read?
    • How does the content of your reading affect your heart?
    • Are you more equipped to walk with courage and boldness or less?
    • Are you strengthened or do you find it more difficult to focus on “things above where Christ is seated”?
  • If you were to write down what you do from hour to hour on any given day, what would you find?
    • What is the focus of your free time?
    • Is there adequate space given to God for growth in that relationship?
    • Are you giving time to cultivate truth in your mind rather than the incessant message the world inserts into your consciousness?

Jesus called our enemy the “god of this age”. He is a master of propaganda and makes the most of every opportunity to corrupt our thinking. He tugs at our hearts with images, stories or even fear-mongering diatribes that can drive us into a state of confusion, discouragement, jealousy, heartache, or despair. He uses deception to bring us to our knees, cowering and quivering before him, attempting to make us wonder if we’ll make it through this life intact. This is the fog of war.

We must make every effort to infuse our souls with Truth. We must remember whose we are and why he called us out of darkness. When we are tempted to allow ourselves to be crushed by the confusion, mayhem, and onslaught, we must cry out to heaven for intervention, leaning into the Truth. We must ignore the crushing weight of deception that would steal our confidence, joy, and effectiveness. We must remember to use the powerful and effective weapons with which we have been equipped (I will save a fuller treatment of these for future posts).

As von Clausewitz suggests, we must be sensitive and discriminating in our judgment. The best judgment is informed by objective Truth, not cultural relativism, overly emotional reaction, or some personal ax to grind. We must resist reacting by disciplining ourselves to look first to the Scriptures, their Author, and to the Holy Spirit for discernment of truth and error. We must sharpen our minds with the file of holy living and focused thinking. Only then will we be able to see through deception, not allowing ourselves to be outflanked by our enemy. We must have the mind of Christ.

Finally, we must embrace the truth that soldiers go into battle together, not alone. Those who attempt to go it alone get killed. Sometimes it takes a comrade to help us refocus our attention on the reality without rather than the fear/hesitation/misunderstanding within.

In the coming months I will be writing more deeply about the following questions:

  • What are the weapons of our warfare?
  • How can we have the mind of Christ? How do we “scent out the truth”?
  • What can we use to defend ourselves against the onslaught?
  • How can we engage our world in grace and truth?

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Sealed

Out here on the edge of the world, 10,000 miles from all things American, we hear only what comes via news outlets and websites. It is more commentary than journalism, polarized and politicized. Because of that, the truth is difficult to discern.

Believers from many different theological backgrounds try to connect current events with the imminent return of Christ or the arrival of anti-Christ or some global cataclysm that will force us to submit to a one-world government. Others believe it is merely a recycling of historical patterns—after all, man is fallen and hasn’t really changed that much over the millennia. Whatever your thinking, there is a notable waxing fear in the West with an attendant desire to escape what lay ahead.

A prominent truth for believers, however, will allow us to stand apart from fear and escapism as beacons of light in the gathering darkness: you have been sealed by God and marked

Definition

What is a seal, anyway?

In antiquity, a seal was either a cylinder (hung on a cord and worn around the neck) or a signet ring that bore the mark of its owner. It could also be a bracelet or stamp. The seal was embossed with its identifying mark so that, when pressed into a malleable material (like clay or wax), it left its imprint.

Uses

Seals Mark Identity or Ownership

Consider the rather unusual story of Judah and Tamar as found in Genesis 38. Tamar is married to Judah’s son, who dies before giving her a child. Onan is expected to take Tamar as a wife and produce an heir for his late brother, which he refuses and is struck dead. Judah refuses to give Tamar to his other son and so Tamar is left destitute and goes into mourning, a young widow.

At some point later, Judah’s wife dies and, as he is going to the town of Timnah to shear his sheep, he decides to take comfort in the arms of a prostitute. Little does he know that the “prostitute” is indeed his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to send her a young goat in payment, but she demands his seal, his cord, and his staff as collateral in case he doesn’t send the goat, which he gives to her. She becomes pregnant and returns home with his identifying items. 

A few months later pregnancy is obvious. She is accused of  immorality, which could result in her stoning. In a coup de grace, she produces Judah’s seal, cord, and staff as proof that it was  Judah who was in the wrong. His seal identified him as guilty.

Seals Validate Character

Seals not only identify ownership, they validate character. John six is a litany of trademarks of Jesus’ character as the Son of Man. The chapter begins with the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men (plus women and children). As a result, the people tried to make him king by force. Before they could, however, he withdrew to a solitary place on the mountain to pray. As he withdrew,, the disciples attempted to cross the lake, though the wind was against them.  Jesus finished praying and  walked to them on the water. Next morning the diners rushed to find Jesus when they discovered that he and his disciples were gone.  

“You aren’t seeking me because you saw the signs, you’re chasing me because you got a free meal. Stop working for food that rots! Work for the enduring food which the Son of Man will give you.For on him God the Father has set his seal.” God the Father validated Jesus’ character as the Son of Man via the miracles. He placed his mark (or seal) upon him.

Seals Secure

Numerous times in both Old and New Testaments seals are used to guarantee that what has been closed will not be illicitly opened. In Daniel 6:17 we find Daniel in the lion’s den which has been covered by a stone and sealed with Darius’s signet and that of his lords. His unbroken seal would prove that no one removed Daniel from the lion’s den during the night.

In the New Testament, when Jesus’ dead body is laid in the tomb, Pilate orders the stone to be sealed with what is presumably a rope and seal—to prevent someone from secretly removing his body and claiming resurrection.

Seals Mark a Binding Agreement

A poetic and beautiful example of this is found in Song of Solomon 1:8: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.” The binding agreement here is love and lasting commitment. The imagery is transformative. The Song of Solomon is believed by many to be fulfilled in the marriage of Messiah to His Bride, the Church. The love of the husband took him into death and the grave—and out again.  He sealed the marriage with his own blood. 

Sealed

As interesting as these tidbits might be, the question remains, “What does it mean for us to be sealed?” 

Paul writes the following to the church at Ephesus: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we take possession of it . . .” (Ephesians 1:13-14). And later, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

We are sealed (imprinted, stamped, marked) by the Holy Spirit. We bear his mark, inscription, and character. In the Holy Spirit a binding agreement is sealed, secured, and validated.

When we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, we relinquished ownership of ourselves. God the Father placed his mark of ownership upon us. Writes Paul to the church at Corinth, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Those who choose to disbelieve the gospel are blinded. They too bear a mark or seal. It covers their attitude (forehead) and their actions (right hand). They plunge into a flood of dissipation that will lead them straight to the fiery lake and the coming judgement. We might even call their mark the mark of the beast.

Those who choose to believe the gospel are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We walk in tandem with the Lamb who took away the sins of the world. We follow him wherever he goes and He writes his name and the name of His God on our foreheads (he changes our minds and hearts).

What Ezekiel Said

Ezekiel 9 paints a poignant picture of being sealed with the Holy Spirit. God is about to execute judgment upon Jerusalem for their idolatry. He calls six executioners to the temple. With them is a man dressed in white linen, holding a writing kit. To the writer He says, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” He instructs the executioners, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity . . .”

Conclusion

As the age comes to a close and the world once again attempts to unite in rage against God, it behooves us to be those who “sigh and groan” in prayer over the evil that is besieging the world. It is to everyone’s advantage that we not only cry out to God in desperation for the salvation and redemption of this generation, but that we take up the sword of the Spirit, proceed in faith, hope, and love and declare God’s majestic name to the nations.

We were sealed for the day of redemption, guaranteed in the Holy Spirit for that inheritance. While the world cowers in fear, looking for every escape possible, we can confidently and boldly engage this generation with the good news of Jesus Christ.

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Unmovable

My family and I live in the shadow of Mount Somau in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. While remote by most of the world’s standards, we still have access to cellular service, however slow it is in comparison with Western standards. It is still fast enough to  allow us  to download news on our phones, though I’m not always sure that is such a great thing.

Charles Spurgeon once said that a preacher should hold the newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other. Perhaps. The perceptive reader will do so to connect the dots between the predictions of the New Testament and the fulfillment of those predictions today. Indeed, Paul wrote to Timothy that there would come terrible times in the last days. 

The sensitive follower of Jesus is distressed by the unspeakable nature of what the world embraces as not only normal, but laudable. We should ask the question, as Francis Schaeffer once famously did, “How then shall we live?”

Jesus spoke at length about both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of days. Consider what he prophesies as recorded in Matthew 24:9-13: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” 

  God’s people have been persecuted, threatened, opposed, hated, and murdered for millennia. Our end might be martyrdom or imprisonment. We might be cast out of society and despised. Whatever form persecution takes, Jesus warns that the increase in wickedness will threaten our ability to love one another, let alone the lost. We will be tempted to fall away,  but endure we must. We dare not yield to the pressure our enemy exerts to overwhelm, discourage, destroy and silence us.

Saiva Creek overflows after an hours-long torrential downpour. The boulders do not move.

From Mount Somau springs forth a stream that flows from the heights to the bottom of the mountain. As it flows down the steep slopes, it flows over and around scores of  enormous boulders that determine where its course. Rain or dry the boulders rarely move.

Our role in society must be like those boulders. While society flows into greater dissipation, we must remain unmovable in our convictions, loyalty to the Father, and commitment to endure to the end. We must withstand the torrent in love.

Is it possible? If so, what reward is there for the conqueror?

  • “The one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
  • “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)
  • “To the one who conquers and who keeps my word until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations . . .” (Revelation 2:26)
  • “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5)
  • “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12-13)
  • “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
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Life

A few weeks ago my family and I were watching the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof. The main character, Tevye, is wrestling with whether to arrange the marriage of one of his daughters to the local butcher, a much older man named Lazar Wolf. There is drinking and talking and eventually singing and dancing as Tevye consents to Lazar’s proposal (it is a musical after all). The song they belt out? To Life.

Tevye’s life is centered in family, tradition, faith and troubles. These are the elements that make up the lives of many believers. Family makes life bearable. Tradition brings order to our values. The God in whom we put our faith carries us through our troubles. In Tevye’s life, though, community is the framework within which all these elements find their truest and most valuable expression.

I have spent much of my adult life in and around Uria Village, on the slopes of Mount Somau in Papua New Guinea. Cultural differences abound. But there are four broad categories we share in common: family, tradition, faith, and troubles. We have different ways of reckoning family (we value the nuclear family, they the extended [much like Tevye]). Our traditions are different, but are still traditions. Expression of faith depends upon the person or family. Troubles are troubles.

What is Life?

Despite the differences, we all grapple with the question, “What is life?” The Somau Garia have no single word for “life”, but a collection of idioms that hint at life’s meaning. Westerners, especially Americans, talk of “the good life”, referring to ease or wealth or amassing goods, or holding power over others. Experience teaches us that these are hallow pursuits that end poorly–no matter how fun the journey seems.

Satan waves shiny trinkets before our eyes to draw us away from true treasure. If he can distract us just long enough to derail our faith, values, traditions, families, or communities, he has won a battle in this great war.

There is no short way to answer “What is life?” Perhaps we might just catch the slightest essence of its meaning by looking a few passages from the Bible. If we catch just a whiff, we might gain some advantage over our adversary, trumping his lies with capital “T” truth. We might cast off the temporary for the lasting.

God-Breathed

A few Old Testament passages might enlighten us. Consider the following:

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7, NLT

From a lump of dirt God formed a magnificent, complex being, made not only of flesh and bone and blood, but also of soul and spirit. Paul later refers to our bodies as “tents” that we inhabit while on this earth. So there is one kind of life in the body, but there is more to us than just body.

Ezekiel has a rather strange vision of a valley filled with dry bones. Despite its strangeness, we gain insight about the nature of life from it.


Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:4-6, NLT

Notice the consistency in how the beginning of life is referenced. In Genesis God breathes life into Adam’s nostrils. In Ezekiel prophesies that God himself will put breath into the dead, dried up, rotting bones and they would not only have sinews, muscles, and skin but that they would stand on their feet, comprising a vast army! What was dead he would make alive again. What was a chattel house of death would become a living army that would make his name known.

Dead and Raised

Paul writes in Colossians that we were dead in our sins and that we were buried with Christ when we were baptized (2:12). Just as we were once dry bones, dead and wasting away in our sin, God himself buried us in the grave and raised it to life by faith. When he raised us, he didn’t bring us back to life to leave us in the same condition that caused us to be death, he raised us by his mighty power and gave us all that we need for eternal life and godliness. He took our sin away and made us stand in grace.

Satan would have us believe that our ongoing failure and sin defines us. He is a liar. We are defined by the life, death, resurrection, and ongoing priesthood of Jesus Christ. We stand in that place of unmerited favor where God our Father loves us, disciplines us, and makes us holy so that we might know him (and make him known).

Lasting and True

Jesus prays for us in John 17, saying to the Father:

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3, ESV

So death is marked by slavery to the demands of the flesh, the world, and the devil. It is characterized by lying tongues, sexual immorality, unbridled anger, malice, hatred, covetousness, idolatry and a multitude of others. Death is characterized by a single characteristic that encapsulates them all: selfishness which might also be called devotion to self.

Life is marked by love, compassion, humility, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and a knowledge of God–not knowledge about God, but knowing him in the deepest and truest sense. It’s an intimate knowledge that is shaped by respect, honor, obedience, affection, and love. It is a selflessness that finds its completion in God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.

All is Christ

Have you ever written a love letter? It is common to include the phrase, “You are my life.” It means that a person lives solely for the beloved. Paul reminds us that Christ is our Beloved, the one for whom we live:

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4, ESV

God breathed life into us. He gave us a body, soul and spirit. He knew our frailty in being made from dust and, knowing we would fail and fall into sin, created us anyway. He breathed life into us. Having died and been buried with Jesus Christ, he breathed life into us a second time.

For the believer, life is being raised with Christ, hidden in Him, joined to Him, adopted through Christ into God’s family. Life is a transformative experience where we are invited to put off death and put on life. As Paul writes, Christ is our life.

The Hard Road to Victory

You want victory over the adversary? You want to make his name known throughout the nations? You want to shake the gates of Hell in your generation? Live in the reality that this earth and these years are merely temporary. Live with eternity in view. Put off the obscenity and absurdity of this generation. Put on Christ.

After all, Christ is your life. How can you live any other way?

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Mindset

It is no secret that the mind is a spiritual battleground. Here Satan plies his wares of lies and lusts, tugging at the flesh to pull the pilgrim away to destruction. To protect our minds from the attacks of the enemy, we do well to cultivate a hedge of Truth.

A  few weeks ago, my family and I were discussing what Truth to focus on together in 2019. We settled on the early paragraphs of Colossians chapter three, which build upon Colossians 2:12:

“For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”

Paul writes:

“If then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

As the world presses in upon us, it relentlessly pushes its message in our faces: smartphones, social media, billboards, TV, etc.. If we aren’t diligent, our minds can become polluted, distracted and blunted. We must operate in reality if we are to win the battle for the mind, and that reality is not bound up in the temporary. To operate there, we need to set our affections there. But how can we fix our minds on something so other as the heavenly realms? Are we left merely to our imaginations?

Bible teacher Alistair Begg rightly points out that we are not merely fixing our minds on a place so much as a person. In the “above”,  God the Father sits enthroned over all. At His right hand sits the victorious Son, who overcame sin and death in order that we might be with him where he is.

Where is the Son? What is he doing there? Plant a seed of Truth by taking a few moments away from whatever device you are using to read this. Quiet your mind. Grab a Bible and read through Hebrews chapters 8 through 10. Finished? Read through it again, chewing on passages that jump out at you. Lay your Bible before you and kneel (if you are able) and begin to talk to God in prayer about what you read there. Who are you in relation to who He is?

There is much more to be said on this topic, but I’ll leave you with a short passage that sums things up pretty well:

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest . . .” —Hebrews 6:19-20

He has gone before the face of God to prepare the way for us to join him there. Now there’s something to set you to thinking!

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Dancing in a Hurricane

The Christian life is filled with its share of heart-ache. It should be so. God chose to take up a dwelling place in us when he gave us his Spirit and because of that, we experience the world differently than we once did. That which once pleased us now grieves us. He even told us that in this life we’d find plenty of trouble, though knowing that we are going to experience suffering or pain or trouble is little comfort. Especially when the pressure is on.

Believers are often pressured to paint a smile on a grieving heart. There is a price for being plain spoken about high cost of discipleship. Though it is becoming more mainstream to be candid about our experiences, we too often are expected to tell touching stories where everything turns out like the ending of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

I remember a scene from Spectre (a recent James Bond movie) that may speak more to my experience. Mr. White (one of the bad guys)  taunts Bond, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” He wanted to steal Bond’s hope of finishing his mission, convincing him to stop then and there. What a compelling description of how Satan frames our situation and attacks. Like Mr. White, he intensely wants us to succumb to fear of the tumult of the hurricane.

Seeking some answer to this taunt, I ask:  “Lord, why aren’t we just blown away in the gale?” or “Why are we not consumed by the enemy?” 

His answer reflects his compassion. I realize that when I cannot see I must trust. When I cannot hear I must open the pages of the Scripture to see what I cannot hear.

Here is, in part, his response to my asking:

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

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’”—Psalm 91:1

“We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf . . .” —Hebrews 6:19-20

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-2

The language in these verses is violent, noisy, threatening. It shows us our need for protection and deliverance. But it also depicts the compassionate love of God and Father, Warrior and King, Refuge and Fortress.

Take His words to heart, warrior. “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea . . .”

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Take the Risk!

Considerations

Some of us are rather doubtful about our place in the world and even more so about our place with those that we care about. This is commonly referred to as insecurity and it stems from any number of things. Some say certain personality types are prone to it (like the folks who use the Enneagram to start meaningful conversations). Others consider formative experiences early in life to be a root cause, or to some particular trauma that looms heavy in the person’s consciousness. A lot has been written on the subject, both in the popular and professional press*.

Whatever the seed that planted insecurity in our souls, the truth is that if that seed germinates in a soil fertile with bitterness, anger, unresolved emotional need, or hunger for “significance”, it will sprout into a vicious, virulent, venomous plant that will bring painful misery to those stricken with its poison.

If we consider ourselves Christ followers, it is important to recognize this reality, because our relationship with God is not immune to insecurity’s poison, but may indeed be most vulnerable. Why?

Questions

It all has to do with how we see ourselves in relation to God; how we relate to Him. A few questions may enlighten those unaware of insecurity’s grip on their own life:

  • How do I think that I acquire the approval of God?
  • Do I try win God’s affections through doing stuff?
  • What happens when I fail?
  • How do I try to make my failure alright in God’s eyes?
  • How do I know when enough is enough? Will it ever be enough?
  • If I think I can never do enough for Him:
    • Does it anger me?
    • Do I love Him? Hate him? Hide from Him? Rage at Him?
    • Do I feel helpless?
    • Do I hope against all hope that He might love and accept me anyway?

It takes courage to answer these questions honestly, even to ourselves. It can be costly. We act. We don’t always know why.  Insecurity with God stems from our need to be the actor rather than the acted upon, i.e., we try to earn His love and affection rather than receiving them as the gift that they are.

Inner Workings

We do well to remember that emotion and intellect do not react to stimuli in the same way. Intellect can understand and accept a theologically correct answer to all this, while the emotions may feel left out in the cold, as it were, waiting for . . . something. Healing, perhaps. (If you’re a Trekkie, it’s like Mr. Spock vs. Dr. McCoy.)

We need both intellectual and emotional stability to be healthy. One depends upon the integrity of the other. Both impact our spiritual maturity and our ability to accept God’s loving discipline as discipline and not rejection. The truth is that our Father disciplines us as his children. Though discipline isn’t enjoyable, it flows from love, not indiscriminate anger or abuse. It is meant to be corrective, so that we will be mature and complete.

Hence, it is crucial that we fertilize the soil of our hearts with Truth. We must take the Gardener’s tools and uproot bitterness, unrestrained anger, and hunger for so-called significance if we are to be fruitful in God’s Kingdom. What does it look like to weed the garden?

Truth becomes real to both the emotions and intellect in the interplay between our spirit and the Holy Spirit. This connection is most effective when we pray. We take our minds, souls, bodies, and spirits into God’s presence to forge a relationship that depends not upon a great mountain of our good deeds, but the simple, straightforward reality of His One Good Deed.

Let’s Face our fear

Let us consider the following as we face our fear and walk into the prayer closet:

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory for ever and ever! Amen”

—Revelation 1:5-6, NIV

The more our sin, hurt, inadequacy, and anger is laid open before the eyes of a loving God, the more healing  and rest we will find in Him. Truth burns away the deceit of our sin and the misunderstanding of our pain.

Because it can be a painful process, some of us will, no doubt, resist the challenge to be vulnerable. We are afraid of the possibility of pain and rejection and suffering. Take the risk. Here’s a bit of Truth to bolster your courage:

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?”

—Romans 8:31,35, NLT

Take the risk!

 

*A good starting point for understanding insecurity and co-dependency is a book published by the Minirth-Meier Clinic in the early 1990’s: Love is a Choice: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships. It was originally published in 1991 and has been revised and reprinted several times since then and made available in electronic formats such as Kindle. Click on the title above to link to the Amazon Kindle store.

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Fear’s Funeral Dirge

“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”

Revelation 1:17-18, NLT


What is your experience like when you sit down with a hot drink and an open Bible? Why do you go there? What do you hope to draw out of the word?

Sometimes I come to the Scriptures hungry and needy and melancholy and desperate. I have waited too long and now I come, realizing that I am not enough. Ever. I come wondering if my lingering delay has damaged intimacy with Him. I come realizing that the depth of my own dysfunction clouds my thinking and incites fears that need not persist.

Pushing my fears aside and choosing to believe the Truth, I open my Bible, and then . . .

There is a tremor in my spirit. All my longings are concentrated into a single moment and I am confronted with holiness. I am in the presence of the Ancient of Days, the One Now Living, and the One Who Is to Come. There is no other like Him.

In His presence, I am completely exposed for who I really am. There can be no pretense. It is risky to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the God Who Sees Me. I must come to Him honestly, candidly—nothing to hide—ready to admit all, confess all, release all. He is the Lord. I am His servant. It must be so, for I am a missionary who lives from day to day in a country not my own, living and working in someone else’s culture and language, trying desperately to make it possible for them to come to the Scriptures and experience God through the word in their heart language.

Yet sometimes fear sings fortissimo. I need it to sing fortepiano. I need my spirit to not be overcome by the volume and painful pitch of fear in a situation, but to immediately quiet it to little more than a whisper in the background. Fear sings its loudest dirge when death is at hand, like in the days following my oldest brother’s death a few months ago. A mere fifty-six years old, he died in the night, sitting in his favorite chair, alone, of a heart attack. I am not much younger . . .

The Scriptures teach me much about life after death, but the experience of death remains a mystery. Before I moved to Papua New Guinea I had images of this beautiful land fixed in my mind. There was something magical about the imagined New Guinea. But the imaginary New Guinea lacked the intense heat and suffocating humidity, the pungent smells, the sounds of a thousand tongues and the complex relationships that must be cultivated in order for Jesus to be known here. It was but a dream. Even though I had talked often with others who had long lived here, the experience was still not my own.

Some of the images used in this composite are courtesy of www.lumoproject.com.

I talk with Jesus about death. I must. He’s been through it and this is what he says to me about it: “Don’t be afraid! I died, but I am alive—forevermore!” That tremor returns to my spirit. I am in the presence of Someone so holy and powerful that death itself has no hold on Him. I am overwhelmed with awe. But He’s not finished: “I hold the keys to death and the grave.”

Courage, dear friend. Courage! When the deceiver threatens your very life, take courage in the fact that death has no sting and the enemy of our souls is not in charge. Jesus alone holds the keys. You were made that you might shake the foundations of hell by shattering the deceptions and empty threats of a defeated enemy. Let the only tremor you feel in your spirit be in response to the holiness and overwhelming power of the Risen One.

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Clear Voices

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

John 1:11


Confusion

We live in perilous times. Truth is considered by many a personal choice. The lines blur between reality and fantasy as people are bombarded by fake news, revised versions of “history”, and augmented reality devices become widely available and sought after by the masses. The glut of untested and undocumented information creates an atmosphere of confusion. People are losing their capacity to discern truth from error.

Nothing New Under the sun

Similar confusion existed when the long promised Messiah arrived on earth in a little town called Bethlehem. Rome had conquered the world, administrated by men like Pontius Pilate who famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Cities were completely given over to idolatry, sensuality, and self. Slavery was the technology of industry. Mob rule ensued when the economy was threatened (or was perceived to be threatened).

Closer to the Truth

Standing in high relief against the vice of the Roman world were the Jewish people with their laws and traditions and worship of the true God. Yet they were divided. Some Jewish leaders thought that political upheaval was the answer, hence the Zealots. Others thought that strict adherence to the Law was the answer (Pharisees). Their authorities abused this conviction by adding law upon law, making it impossible for anyone to live “righteously”. Sadducees were something like Jewish nihilists, teaching that there is no resurrection, only the grave. Despite so many competing voices, there was great anticipation that God would send his Anointed One, the promised Prophet, Priest, and King.

Most thought he would be a political deliverer who would restore Israel to her former glory, as in the days of David or Solomon. Though they held the Holy Scriptures in their hands, they did not discern well. They interpreted reality (and prophecies) through the lens of their own aspirations, dreams, and desires. Their idea of a Messiah was not God’s idea of a Messiah.

So when Messiah arrived, they neither recognized nor received him.

A Clear Voice for Grace and Truth

One clear voice emerged to set things straight: John the Baptizer. John was eccentric, a prophet in the truest sense. He lived apart in the wilderness. He ate whatever he could find in that arid land.  He called people to turn back to God, baptizing and preparing a people for the arrival of God’s Promised One. He did so fearlessly.

Photo courtesy of www.LumoProject.com

But being a prophet can be dangerous business. Truth alienates (and often angers) those ducking for the shadows. Truth tellers push the keepers of the status quo to the limit. Pharisees and Sadducees make odd bedfellows, yet they united against both John and the One he was preparing for.

In an age of confusion, though, people look for clarity–especially when it comes to the will of God. Ordinary people were drawn to John because he both understood and taught that Jesus’ mission was to be “the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.” Who will declare this good news to our generation?

Your clear voice is needed

We need many John the Baptizers in our generation. We need clear voices calling out above the din and roar of partisan politics, social media, and personal comfort.

Will you be a clear voice in your generation?  Will you risk looking weird, wild, and wooly to speak Truth? Our generation will never find clarity in this chaos if we don’t bring it.

Take a risk. Shake the gates of hell by standing out in high relief from this generation as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Lead people to the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  

Jesus is mounting his white horse, adorning himself in white robes, taking up his sword and preparing to come. We dare not delay.

Will our generation receive him?

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Whose Glory Is It Anyway?

The Least

135,000 soldiers filled the valley of Jezreel. Like a swarm of locusts they noisily consumed every living thing before them: crops, cattle, donkeys, grass, trees, wild animals, everything. When they moved through, nothing was left.

Within earshot of this vast swarm of humanity, Gideon bent over with his threshing rake, tossing what little grain he could in the bottom of a winepress, afraid. Perhaps he was peeking over the edge of the winepress when he spied a man sitting under the oak tree in Ophrah that belonged to his father, Joash.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Looking around: “You talkin’ to me? Well … if the Lord is with us, then why do I need to thresh the grain in this winepress? Eh? Why is Israel overrun by these locusts, these Midianites? Why are we so poor, then? Answer me that! Where are the miracles? The deliverances? What about the stories my daddy told me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper? The Lord cut us loose. He handed us over to Midian … mighty warrior … let me be. I’m busy.”

“Shut up! … and listen. You have some strength left. Go and save your people from Midian. It’s Me talkin’ here … you will set your people free–by my hand.”

“You serious? I’m from the weakest clan in Manasseh, and I’m the least of that line.” Something clicked in Gideon’s mind. “You mean it? You’re going to use me to do this thing? You’d do that? Really?

You know the rest of the story. If you don’t, you’ll find the story written in Judges chapters six through eight.

Encouraged

I find Gideon’s story encouraging, if puzzling. Gideon is essentially a nobody in Israel. Today we’d call him an “everyman”. He’s taking care of his family, putting food on the table, trying to keep his head down and make it through tough times.

He’s honest. He speaks his mind. No filters. Even to the angel of the Lord. Even though he couldn’t wrap his head around the great tragedy that he was living through, he knew that Jehovah was (and is) the God of Israel. He wants to believe what he’s being told. It’s just so blasted hard when he looks both around him and within. He’s confounded. “Why me?”

His story shows me that it is OK to speak plainly to the Lord in prayer. God doesn’t smite him or grind him to dust. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow him. His questions are honest, not rebellious. He’s not opposing God, he’s just trying to understand, to discern the words being spoken to him. Though there is a twinge of fear in his heart, he obeys anyway. He fears the Lord more than he fears what might happen if he obeys.

His first task is to tear down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole, these abominations to false gods. He goes in the dead of night, but he goes nonetheless.

Gideon’s story is a picture of God’s grace and mercy. He uses a no-name to do deeds that were so pivotal in God’s greater story that they would be recounted for thousands of years. Gideon, though hesitant, was obedient. God used him to deliver Israel. He conquered an army of 135,000 with a mere three-hundred men, delivering Israel.

Lessons?

What can be learned here that will help us shake the gates of hell?

God chooses the weak, the nameless, the forgotten to fight the war in the heavenly places. Jesus chose fisherman and tax collectors and hot-headed zealots to be his disciples. When God chose the nobodies he equipped them to follow. They were chosen for their obedience and character, not for their name. He empowered them by his Spirit to carry out bold and courageous missions. God acted in the midst of their obedience and faith.

Warning

There is a stern warning here as well. Israel was quickly confused about who delivered Israel. They wanted to make Gideon their leader. But Gideon was not having any of it. His response was as straightforward as his initial prayers, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you.”

He next did something, perhaps with good intention, that became a snare. He took his share of the plunder and made into an ephod, which became an idol to the people. They worshiped the thing that represented victory to them. They worshiped “success.”

Today there is no end of books, blogs, and emails promising the secret to growing a successful church, building your mailing list, making a platform for your message. More often than not these are thinly-veiled business principles reimagined for religion and reputation. And what if we build a list of 100,000 readers or congregate of thousands of people? Gideon’s success became a snare for Israel. Could not our “success” be a snare to us? Will “success” make Jesus’ name famous or ours? (I’m not suggesting that well-attended churches or highly read authors or growing organizations are wrong or evil. By no means. I am suggesting that success doesn’t necessarily indicate blessing or eternal reality and that we should guard our hearts from seeking the wrong things.)

Whose Glory?

Shaking the gates of hell is something that happens in the heavenly realms and occasionally manifests in this one. Israel looked at the man God used to bring deliverance and wanted to worship the man. He wasn’t looking glory for his “success”. He was simply obeying. Whose glory is at stake anyway? God’s or ours? If we are seeking glory over obedience, it is surely time for repentance, humility, and submission to the Lord of hosts lest we destroy ourselves with our “success” and bring shame to the only Name that matters.