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Endurance in Adversity

A Brief Word

When I started shakethegates.org several years ago, my intention was to help believers in Christ not only stand firm in the evil day, but forcefully advance the Kingdom of God despite the overwhelming opposition of society. I’ve been busy living in a developing nation, discipling believers, translating the New Testament, trying to stay afloat. My high aspirations for this website have fallen far short of what I’d hoped to do with it.

Lately, I’ve been feeling increasing urgency to prepare believers for a level of opposition that few have ever known. Intense opposition is the norm for many believers around the world. People in those contexts have endured the unspeakable, yet continue to stand. Not so much in the West.

The best way that I know to prepare believers for what lay ahead is to drill down into the Word of God and draw out the meaning, exhortation, nourishment, and hope found there. After all:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV

I covet your prayer as I step into a new season of study, writing, prayerful thinking, and preparation. I ask you to pray that the Father will grant me sharp focus, a heart tender toward Him, skillful word-smithing, and clear understanding of His word in order that I might serve Him and you well in this endeavor.


A few weeks ago I published an article entitled At Hand which you can read here. The urgency of the New Testament writers (in that case, Paul, Peter, and John) was unmistakable. The world of their time was pagan and poised against the subjects of the King of Kings. Their rulers were notorious for their extreme immorality and their violent reigns.

Imperial Persecution

Emperor Nero was representative of many of the Roman emperors. According to Henry Halley (Halley’s Bible Handbook), under Nero’s persecution “many Christians were crucified, or thrown to wild beasts, or wrapped in combustible garments and burned to death while Nero laughed at the pitiful shrieks of burning men and women. Paul and Peter suffered martyrdom in Nero’s persecution.”

Nero is most known today for his maniacal fiddling while Rome burned. There were a litany of emperors between Nero and Domitian, who exiled John. Nero committed suicide, leaving the throne to Galba who reigned a grand total of 7 months and 7 days at which time he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. Then came Otho, appointed by the Praetorian Guard who reigned for 3 months and 1 day. He committed suicide after losing a battle. Vitellius followed, reigning 8 months and 3 days before being murdered by Vespasian’s troops. Vespasian replaced him and ruled nearly a decade before dying of natural causes. Then came Titus, Vespasian’s son, who ruled 2 years and 2 months before dying of fever. Finally came Domitian, who ruled 15 years and 4 days before being murdered by court officials.

During Domitian’s reign, John was exiled to the island of Patmos where he penned Revelation, having survived, according to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, being boiled in oil.

Modern Persecution

Though most of us have not suffered under this sort of rule, patterns and trends would point toward the possibility that, as our societies disintegrate and people attempt to cast off moral restraint, people will eventually demand some sort of powerful rule, whether a government system or a strong individual. What followed the October Revolution of 1917? Stalin’s reign of terror. What followed the Wiemar Republic and the stripping of Germany’s military might following WWI? The rise of national socialism and its leader, Adolf Hitler. Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, leaving a legacy of murder. What of Chairman Mao and the cultural revolution in China? Or Fidel Castro in Cuba?

In each of these situations, followers of Jesus have suffered persecution. Stalin instituted the Gulag. Chinese Christians have consistently suffered intense persecution and opposition since the cultural revolution. Hitler’s government not only exterminated 6 million Jews, it imprisoned and executed political opponents and Christians who did not hold with the party’s brutality and extreme evil.

It seems that humanity is once again attempting to set the stage for 20th-century-like upheaval. Creation groans. Humanity is drunk with rebellion and notions of revolution. This generation desires to cast off all restraint. Many of our information sources are merely propaganda machines, spreading dissension and hate toward all that is holy. As we drift along the flow of history (past and future), proponents and servants of the world system increasingly attempt to silence the voice of reason and holiness.

Read more . . .
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The Power of Doxology

When I was new to the Lord I learned an oft sung chorus simply called The Doxology. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow/Praise Him, All creatures here below/Praise him above ye heavenly host/Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” It was sung after communion or at the end of the church service, in keeping with the Biblical tradition of book-ending a section of text with a “word of glory”, an ascription of value and worth to God. While this chorus is actually a Catholic prayer, doxologies are found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Lately I’ve been thinking about doxology and this is what I’ve concluded: doxology has a powerful place in daily life. Consider the doxology included in the introduction to Revelation. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”(Revelation 1:5-6, ESV) This one doxology, if internalized, has the power to revolutionize your life. In fact, this would be a great passage to meditate on at the beginning of each day this week.

This doxology is ascribed to Jesus and begins: “To him who loves us . . .” There are days when it can be a stretch to remember that He loves me. Perhaps I’ve not bothered to confess my sin and I’m feeling estranged from Him. Maybe the woes of walking in this world become heavy and I’ve neglected to release them to Him. Or I read the words and they merely bounce around my mind, never taking root in my heart. But not only did Jesus tell us that he loved us, he showed us. He said to his disciples in the closing hours of his ministry in his body: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, ESV) That is precisely what He did for us. Allow this truth to sink down through the layers of your mind into the depths of your heart. Allow this truth to be a cornerstone to the foundation of your faith.

The doxology continues: ” . . and has freed us from our sins by his blood . . .” His love moved him from the Garden to Golgotha. Bloodied and tortured, he was nailed to a Roman cross in order to provide our reconciliation to the Father in Heaven who, by the way, loves us, too. When we were helpless slaves to our rebellion and rejection of God, he surrendered to the cross to free us to walk from death to life.

Having washed us by his blood, reconciling us to the Father, he ” . . . made us a kingdom . . . “ Not only did we become subjects to the King of Kings, he gave us a place of honor, allowing us to become kings with him, to share in his rule of the nations of the earth in the age to come.

He also gave us the privilege of becoming ” . . . priests to his God and Father “, that is to become mediators between the lost ones and the Father. Having been reconciled to the Father, we represent Christ to the world, appealing to its children to be reconciled to God. We not only intercede for the lost, we do all in our power to bring them to the Heavenly Father, that they too may be freed from their sins and be made new creations.
At this point the John puts hands and feet on the high praise given the King: ” . . . to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” May this never be merely a statement we make by rote before moving on with our day. First, says John, honor God with your life–forever. Second, surrender rule of your affections, attitudes, and actions to God the Father–also forever. That is, give him dominion of your being.

Meditating on these profound truths allows us the opportunity to begin our day basking in the love and gifts of God. As the truths take hold of our hearts, we respond by yielding the right to rule ourselves to God the Father, inviting him to show his glory, character, and majesty through us to draw a rebellious world to himself.

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Authentic Weaponry

Introduction

I’ve read a lot over the years about spiritual warfare–out of necessity, of course. I’ve been hip-deep in it more times than I’d like to remember. While some thinking in circulation rings true, other thinking is just zany. It takes more effort than expected to separate the zany from the true, searching the Scriptures and testing the “spirits”.

Most discussion (sound or unsound) includes the topic of spiritual weaponry. Yet to rush into talking about spiritual weapons without laying a solid Biblical foundation is folly. Weapons are useful only if you know how to use them. Their effective use implies the use of solid tactics, which themselves are employed within thoughtful strategies.

Warfare or Paintball?

We have been guilty in the 21st century church of treating the war for the souls of men and women like a game of paintball. We wage an ersatz war which we often don’t truly believe has consequences. Sure, maybe in some theoretical existence, but day to day? After all, what’s really at stake in a game of paintball? A little soreness? A loss of face if your team loses? You have a little fun then go back to “real life” when it is over.

Rather than rush into an overly familiar treatment of spiritual weaponry, permit me to turn your attention to a more foundational facet of spiritual warfare: authentic relationship. Real soldiers, trained and armed, move into harms way. Imitators play paintball on the weekends.

Sceva and His Sons

Acts chapter 19 illustrates this well. Sceva was a Jewish high priest during the earliest days of the church. His seven sons were itinerant exorcists. Lexicographers Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida* define an exorcist as “one who drives out evil spirits by invoking supernatural persons or powers or by the use of magic formulas“.

Though these sons were well respected, religious and active in engaging the enemy, they were nameless in the realm where demonic spirits traffic. They had a religious reputation without accompanying spiritual power. They saw Paul doing miracles in Jesus’ name and wanted in on the gig. So they treated His name as a mantra, a talisman, a magical word of power wedged into an empty formula.

I live and work in a culture where magic formulas are the religious norm. Rites and rituals are expected to control spiritual entities and bend the course of society. They are used for revenge or evil. They are also used for good (healing, fertility, fruitfulness in gardening, etc.) But much like the sons of Sceva, practitioners find that the mantras don’t transform, power words don’t stop suffering, and use of talismans don’t delay the inevitable.

Appearances

Paul warns Timothy that in the last days this sort of thing will become common in the church. Consider 2 Timothy 3:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, ESV

What was it in Paul’s use of Jesus’ name that was different?

Authentic Relationship & Delegated Authority

Paul lived in authentic relationship with Jesus. That relationship resulted in Paul using delegated authority as he confronted Satanic powers. This is not unlike a military chain of command. In the U.S., Congress declares war. The general staff utilizes strategy to draw up orders which are given to their subordinates. Those subordinate officers give orders to officers subordinate to them and it goes all the way down the chain to enlisted men who carry out orders–orders which are based on an ultimate strategy (at least ideally). The gunnery sergeant giving an order to a subordinate is analogous to a general giving an order to a subordinate. The gunnery sergeant is operating on the delegated authority, ultimately, of Congress.

Sceva’s sons were not in relationship with Jesus. They had no delegated authority. The evil spirits had no obligation to respond to these men at all. And so rather than obeying a bunch of imposters throwing “magic” words at them, they did quite the opposite.

“The evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 19:15-16, ESV

Any use of spiritual weaponry must begin with an authentic relationship with Jesus. If we are to operate in his delegated authority, we must be in subjection to His authority over us. Does this mean that we must be perfect? Of course not. Does it mean that we are living according to works? God forbid. It does mean that we operate on Jesus’ authority and command. He is the head, we are the body. He is the one given strategy, we carry out his strategy.

Results of Authenticity

What results when we act on delegated authority derived from authentic relationship?

“And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord was extolled. Also, many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices . . . So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

Acts 19:17-20, ESV

Next Post . . .

In the next post, let’s unpack what it means to walk in authentic relationship . . . See you there!

References

*Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (Louw and Nida)

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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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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 . . .”