OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Nov 19]—Worthy of the Message


            One of my favorite movies of all time is Saving Private Ryan. Of course, it’s extremely violent and has some really course language, but you won’t find a more realistic depiction of the Normandy D-day invasion. In case you missed it, in the film the U.S. Army determines that only one out of four brothers of a certain family is still living after the invasion starts. So they assign Captain Miller and his squad to find Private James Ryan and bring him off the front lines so that he--as the last surviving Ryan --won’t die on the battlefield (hence the title of the movie). After losing some men in their squad, they finally find him and two other paratroopers, and they all end up battling a much larger Nazi force in order to hold a strategically important bridge. Most of the Americans die in battle, with Ryan being an exception. Miller, lying on the ground bleeding out, in his last moments grabs Ryan and whispers “Earn this.” Ryan then goes home, starts a family, and then decades later goes to his friends’ graves and asks them if he did what Miller asked him to do, if he’d earned what his friends had sacrificed their lives for him to have.
            Of course, the analogy is imperfect, as all analogies are. There’s never going to be a day in which I earn or pay back what Christ did for me. But as Paul says in today’s passage, I need—with God’s enabling grace—to strive towards conducting myself in a manner consistent with the Good News of Christ. BTW, if you’re wondering why I use the term “Good News” or “Message” instead of “Gospel,” I give my reasons here. It’s not something I consider essential, but it’s a strong preference of mine.
            How would my personal conduct be “worthy of” or (I prefer this rendition) “consistent with” the Message? I thought the whole Message of Christ is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” or salvation by grace through faith in Christ, or “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” What does any of that have to do with my performance or lifestyle? If you’re asking that question, you need to read my posting about salvation and repentance. To sum it up, repentance and a changed lifestyle post-conversion are part of essence of the Good News. Any presentation of the Message that doesn’t include that is incomplete at best and deceptive at worst.
            Repentance is part of the Message, and also when I don’t live like I’m supposed to, it brings discredit upon what I’m proclaiming. Paul accusation against the Jews of his time was that “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” because of their hypocritical conduct. Unfortunately that applies to us as well: When we aren’t living a godly life, even non-Christians understand that that’s incompatible with being a follower of Jesus, and they use it as an excuse to reject him. 
            How can we—in the sense Paul is talking about here—conduct ourselves this way? What would a life that’s consistent with the Good News look like? Like my old teacher put it, this isn’t rocket surgery or brain science:
·         Unity in the Body of Christ. As Paul has taught over and over and over, we’re all part of the Body of Christ. The only question is whether or not we’ll act according to this truth or not. All too often, we don’t.
·         Unity in purpose. We aren’t called to be unified in liking or not liking Italian food. We don’t have to be unified on every less-important point of theology (like your particular timeline viz a viz the book of Revelation). But we need—we must—be “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” That means we’re working together to spread the Message and in defending the truth of the Message against the Enemy’s attempts to distort or silence it.
·         Taking the eternal view over the temporal one. This could have two subheadings. First, we need this when we’re facing our “enemies.” I put that in quotes because really no lost person is my enemy. I only have one Enemy, and he’s not human. But we have people who oppose us all the time when we try to spread the Good News. They can use every dirty trick in the book, from mockery and lies and slander all the way up to persecution and murder. When we face them without fear, knowing that we’re on the winning side—actually, the side that’s already won—this is a sign that they’re on the wrong one. In our conflict, our eternal destiny and their eternal destiny are foreshadowed. Even if they persecute us, even if they supposedly silence us, the moment we decide to do things God’s way they lose and we win.
      The other way we need the eternal perspective is in regards to our sufferings in this life. In another letter, Paul said that when you compare the absolutely worst things we could possibly experience in this life versus the glorious future we have in Christ, well, you can’t really compare it. When I look at any hardship I suffer for Christ’s sake, I’m supposed to see that as an honor and blessing. I know I know, easy for me to say from the comfort of America, where “persecution” usually entails someone mocking you online. But that’s what Scripture tells us.
       So do I? Do I live a life that’s consistent with the Message I proclaim, with the Savior I claim to love? Tough questions, and I expect the answers won’t be easy to hear either.

Lord Jesus, I confess that all too often I don’t live a life consistent with who I am and whose I am. By your empowering grace, I want and expect to change that. Please.

[Nov 18]—Torn Between Two Worlds


            Like I said before, the book of Philippians is theoretically a thank-you letter from Paul to the believers who’d sent him a generous and sacrificial gift. This is one of the most positive and warm letters of the N.T. But even in this letter, we can find some really deep material to ponder and apply.
            Paul was under house arrest, living in a rental house in Rome, probably chained to a guard 24-7. He wasn’t sure what the outcome of his trial would be, and he knew that he had mortal enemies who’d literally stop at nothing to see him dead (there were Jews out there who’d taken vows to neither eat nor drink until they’d killed him). Humanly speaking, his future was really uncertain.
            But what was his reaction? “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!” If he continued living here on earth for a few years, then he’d be serving his Savior as long as he did. Christ would continue to live his (Christ’s) life through him: Speaking through him, acting through him, using Paul as his vessel. But if he died—wow, so much better! “To die is gain”: What an understatement!
            And that leads me to the main point for today, something I want us to chew on for a moment. As believers, all of us have “dual citizenship,” so to speak. I know that in another place in this letter the apostle tells us that our real citizenship is in Heaven, not here. But in a practical sense, we have interests both here and in the next world.
            Paul said he was torn between two worlds, this one and the next one. On one hand, being with Christ. There’s that. He says it’s “better by far,” which again is a huge understatement. I mean, he was in prison. But if Paul was king over the entire earth, having all his physical appetites satisfied at a moment’s whim, having every human being completely under his own despotic authority, that still wouldn’t compare to one split-second of seeing his Lord’s smile, basking in his glorious presence for an eye-blink’s worth of time. And when we step into eternity, we won’t have our Lord’s presence for an instant, or for a day or a month or a year or 10 years or 70 years. No, he is ours and we are his forever and ever and ever and ever. Like Lewis put it, our life in Glory is a book with each chapter more beautiful than the one before it, and it goes on without end forever. Each moment in our Lord’s full presence will be better than the last.
            But. . . he had other interests here. There was still work to be done. It’s not mentioned in today’s passage, but there are still a lot of people in this world who need to hear about the Savior’s love. As you’ve no doubt heard, sharing the Good News with the lost is the one thing—besides sin—which we won’t be able to do over there. But in today’s reading, he tells them that one of the main reasons he desires to stay is. . . them. The believers in Philippi needed him. They needed his encouragement. They needed his fellowship. They needed his further instructions and challenge and leadership.
            And like anyone with dual citizenship, he was torn between two competing worlds.
            Of course, I have interests in this world as well, but they tend to be a lot less noble than Paul’s. I care about making money and sports and listening to music and reading good books. Not that there’s anything sinful or wrong about any of them, but they’re certainly not as honorable as the apostle’s “holdings” in this world. But even leaving aside the less-than-purely-noble pursuits, there’s work to be done down here before we head to our native Country which we’ve never seen.
I think this is a mark of a more maturing Christian, this “tornness.” We have work to do down here. As long as we’re breathing, our Lord has a purpose for us in this world, and it’s not primarily to watch TV and entertain ourselves. But in my better moments in my walk with Christ, I’ve had a hint of what Paul’s talking about, this longing for a Country and Home I’ve never seen. And it’s like I can almost hear a whisper in my heart: “Not yet, my child. Soon. Now I love you, but get back to work.” Paul heard this as well, undoubtedly a lot more clearly than I have. He also knew there was still work for him to do down here, and thus he knew that he’d continue here for a while longer.
            And of course it’s this longing for my Homeland which makes me a better worker down here, not a lazy one. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it’s always been the most heavenly-minded saints who’ve done the most earthly good in history.
            Have you felt it too, this longing? It’s sweet and painful at the same time. In fact, in a way it’s sweet because it’s painful. Take it as the good sign of growth that it is, and let’s let it spur us on to work harder and longer and more stridently. The days are shorter than we might think.

Lord Jesus, I can hear that whisper right now, I think. Thank you, for the comfort and the spurring.

            

[Nov 17]—Advancing the Good News Through Chains?


            Sometimes I just have to wonder about Satan. He’s been in the presence of the Almighty God. He watched as the Creator literally spoke planets and stars into creation with no exhaustion of the Lord’s power. He saw God’s glory and power and majesty firsthand. And yet. . . he rebelled. As best as we can tell, sometime near the Beginning of time he conspired against the Maker of All and gathered around himself some followers from among the other angels. He led some sort of open mutiny against the Lord, and was cast out of Heaven. Now think about this: The One he initiated a war against is Omnipotent (meaning he can destroy you with a thought), he’s omniscient (meaning that any scheme you come up with, he knows it beforehand), and he’s omnipresent (meaning there’s no hiding from him). Again, I have to ask—what was he thinking?
            How foolish was/is he to do this? Well, take a look at today’s passage. I have to set the scene for you first.
            As Paul was writing this letter, he was a prisoner of Rome, which was where we left him at the end of the book of Acts. Officially he was under “house arrest,” so his conditions weren’t nearly as bad as they would be in a Roman prison. But they were bad enough: He certainly couldn’t leave and go where he wanted, and it’s very likely a Roman guard was chained to him 24-7 to make sure he didn’t try to escape. He couldn’t go proclaiming the Message about the Messiah in synagogues or talking to pagans in the open marketplace about their need for Christ. He didn’t come to Rome to sit in a house, no matter how many comforts it had. He came to proclaim Christ to those who didn’t know him and to mutually encourage his fellow believers.
            But the Enemy had other plans for him. Moving through his servants, the moment Paul entered Jerusalem, Satan incited a riot against Paul and had him arrested in order to keep him from spreading this “Good News,” this Message which was eating through his kingdom like a flame through dry kindling, and which was stealing men’s souls (which he considered his property). He had to have this useful servant of his most hated Enemy shut up, preferably permanently.
            Now read today’s passage again. How had Satan’s plans worked out? Were they pretty effective? How’s about slightly effective? Or maybe a small hindrance?
            No.
            Paul said that his present circumstances had worked out to advance the gospel. Satan’s plans and schemes had actually turned out to be quite effective. . . in advancing the Good News of Jesus Christ. How so?
            Number one, his guards had noticed something. Undoubtedly they’d guarded lots of prisoners before now. But this one was different. No matter what was happening to him, this prisoner radiated joy and peace and thankfulness. Keep in mind that years earlier when Paul had been beaten severely, placed in stocks in the bottom of a dark dungeon, and was expecting to be executed at any time, his reaction was to sing praises to his Savior God. That’s the type of man these hard-bitten Roman soldiers were encountering, and a lot of them. . . had placed their faith in the Jesus that Paul was preaching. They thought that he was a prisoner of them, and his reaction was “That’s wonderful! A captive audience! They think I’m locked here with them, and really they’re locked in here with me!”
            Consider the possibilities of this. A Roman soldier, becoming a follower of Jesus? From guarding Paul he could be shipped off anywhere in the Empire, which encompassed the entire known world. Presto, a new-born missionary sent off to share Christ in other lands, at the Empire’s expense!
            And that’s not all. There’s a second effect listed in today’s passage. Because of Paul’s reaction to his situation, his fellow believers in Rome and elsewhere were encouraged and challenged!  They could see Paul’s trust in his Lord in these harsh conditions, and they were challenged/encouraged to trust the Lord more implicitly themselves! Specifically they were encouraged and challenged to share the Message of Christ more boldly everywhere they could!
            Remember Paul’s goals? He wanted to 1) Get the Message of Christ out to people who didn’t know about the Savior yet, and 2) Encourage and challenge his fellow believers. Done! And far more effectively than he’d planned or hoped.
Ponder this. We’ve been over it before: God does not accomplish his purposes despite Satan’s strongest efforts, but because of them. He doesn’t just overcome the Adversary’s power with power of his own. As wonderful as that is, he often does much better than that. He uses the Enemy’s own power and schemes to accomplish his own purposes. Of course, the best example of this in all of history was not when Paul was in prison, but at the Cross. All of Satan’s schemes and plans were actually quite effective. . . at destroying his own kingdom.
Please don’t lose sight of this. God’s ultimate purpose for you is quite the opposite of Satan’s, but our Lord—in his mysterious wisdom—uses all sorts of means, including the Enemy of our souls, to bring about his glory and your good. Just trust him. He knows what he’s doing. He really does.

Lord Jesus, I really don’t know what you’re doing at times, but I know enough. I know enough to trust you and do what you tell me to do. By your grace, help me to do both better. 

[Nov 16]—Prayer for Love, Knowledge, and Fruit


            I know I spent a lot of time granularly examining Ephesians (aka the “Queen of the Epistles”), but we’re just going to do a kind of whirlwind tour of the rest of the New Testament epistles since we have such a short time left. Also, much of the material I would’ve covered in the remaining epistles has already been covered elsewhere on the blog, usually during one of my short topical studies.
            That's almost a shame, because I love the book of Philippians. Paul loved the church at Philippi, and it showed in this letter and elsewhere; it’s one of the most positive books of the Bible. Basically it’s an inspired  thank-you letter written to the church that took up a generous and sacrificial love-offering and sent it to him.
            Paul listed two prayers he regularly lifted up for the Ephesians. In his letter to the Philippians, he listed only a short one, but it’s so beautiful and concise that I couldn’t resist spending a day looking at it. Like most of Paul’s material, he packs “10 pounds” of theology into a “one-pound bag.”
            What did he pray for the Philippian believers, these people so dear to his heart? What did he ask God to bring about in their lives?

·         He asked that their love may abound more and more. It wasn’t that they were really lacking in love. They showed how much they loved the Lord and Paul through their sacrificial giving. But none of us, save Christ himself, has ever loved as much as we can and should. No matter where we are in our maturity level, there’s always room for improvement. He wanted them to "step it up a notch," always striving to be closer to he who is love.

·         He wanted this love to be grounded in knowledge and depth of insight. I can’t think of any principle that needs more to be hammered home to this generation: Love must be grounded in truth and knowledge and depth of insight. As C. S. Lewis put it, “In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are 'good', it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding . .  . He told us to be not only 'as harmless as doves', but also 'as wise as serpents.' He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and first-class fighting trim.” Or as Paul told us in another letter: “Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

·         This discernment will let me know what is best. In other words, I’ll be able to not only discern between good and evil (that’s a given), but between what’s good and what’s best. Quite often the good might be the worst enemy of the best. There’s nothing wrong with watching a hockey game: It’s a “good” pleasure I get out of life. But I need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the “best,” that which is of eternal significance. Or to put it another way, “Never settle for less than God’s best.” That’s how I get purity and prepare to be pronounced “blameless” when I see my Savior face to face.

·         This love, which is grounded in knowledge and depth of insight, will produce fruit. This is the “fruit of righteousness” which is a natural result of our becoming more like Christ. “Fruit” is a metaphor for visible results of an invisible process. Paul in Galatians lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As we’ve noted before, however, that list isn’t comprehensive of what he wants to see in our lives, like humility and perseverance. For my series on Christian virtues, see here

·         The purpose of this is to the praise and glory of God. Of course, this is the summum bonum of everything I am and do. As I become more like Christ and display more fruit, he gets more glory. Duh.

            Let me wrap this up with a way I like to apply passages like this. Instead of just reading this in my devotional and moving on, I like to pray this for myself: “Father God, please let my love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I can discern what’s best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through your Son Jesus—all to your praise and glory, Father. In your Son’s name, Amen.” Or something like that.

Instead of me submitting a suggested prayer, I’d suggest making today’s passage your own. 

[Nov 15]—Don’t Fight Naked! Part Five


            I can’t believe it. I did an eleven-part series on prayer earlier this year, and I never talked about this passage?
            In most of the translations I’ve looked at, vss. 18-20 are clustered in with 10-17 (the “Armor of God” passage). There are pretty good reasons for this, even though he never uses an armor or weaponry metaphor in discussing prayer here. In the Greek there’s no “And” (as in the NIV and other translations), but the language structure makes it clear that “pray” modifies “Put on the whole armor of God” way back in vs. 11. In other words, one of the main ways that we put on God’s armor is by praying. Even if it’s not officially part of our “armor,” it’s desperately needed in any confrontation with our Enemy.
            Here are my notes:
·         We’re supposed to pray in the Spirit. What does that mean? It means we pray in the way his word instructs us. It means that we allow the Holy Spirit to search out our hearts. It means we submit ourselves to his authority and thus tap into his power.
·         We’re supposed to pray on all occasions. There is no such thing as the wrong time to pray—well, I guess if you kept praying for someone after God told you to stop (like he did with Jeremiah), but that’s not a very common situation. Obviously we need to pray when we’re about to face down the Enemy or his representatives. But we need to make a habit of listening and talking to our Father no matter what our circumstances are at any given moment.
·         We’re supposed to pray with all kinds of prayers and requests. If you’re interested, I just mentioned a series I did on the types of prayer, but here’s an abbreviated list: adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (and it’s usually best to go somewhat in that order).
·         We’re supposed to always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. God’s people need to pray for each other. This is a grand and glorious privilege, for the Lord to invite me into his good plans for a fellow believer. You don’t need to know someone personally: If you hear about believers being persecuted in another country, pray for them.
·         Then we come to the jaw-dropping verses 19 and 20. Please forgive me as I quote myself:
Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? Paul—the apostle Paul, who’s been visited personally by Jesus and who’s writing Scripture at this very moment—is asking them to pray for him. And he wants to see them, so that he could be refreshed (encouraged, strengthened) by them. By ordinary believers, just like you and me.
      My friend, I can only dream of being as close to Christ, as spiritually mature, as bold in proclaiming the Message as this man was. But he wanted and needed prayers and intimate encouragement from ordinary believers. That tells me that no matter how far along you are in your walk with Christ, you still need prayers from others. You still need encouragement from others. In this life, you’re never “past” this. The Lord designed his Body so that each of us needs the other. As we say in the IT world, it’s a feature, not a bug.
      Let me just focus on vss. 19-20 for emphasis. Paul is asking them to pray for him to be able to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. . . [and] that he could declare it fearlessly, as he was supposed to. Paul. Surely in the history of the Church there’s been no one who’s been more courageous or bold or unrelenting as he in presenting the Good News. But he needed prayer to keep this up in the face of opposition. This just reinforces my point earlier: We all need each other to pray for us.
·         Here’s something to ponder. When the Ephesian believers and others prayed for Paul as he requested, they had a part in his success. The Lord used their prayers to make him the incredible evangelist/missionary he was. Yes, we need to support missionary work and evangelistic efforts with our money. That’s important. But even more important is prayer: Asking the Father to bless the preaching of the word, asking him to give boldness and courage to the ones proclaiming it, and that the Enemy’s efforts to hinder it would fail.

            God doesn’t need your prayers, just like he doesn’t really need anything from you at all in order to accomplish his purposes. But in his condescending grace, he invites ordinary and flawed believers like you and me to take part in his grand and glorious plan to invade the Adversary’s kingdom. Are you in?

Father God, what an incredible privilege and honor it is to take part in your plans, and how little I take advantage of it! Help me to see what part I have in this, and help me to step forward into it. Please. 

[Nov 14]—Don’t Fight Naked! Part Four


            Today we’re wrapping up the official listing of the “Armor of God,” although prayer is typically lumped in with this section in vss. 18-20. The last two pieces of armor Paul lists in vs. 17, as you undoubtedly just read, are the “helmet of salvation” and the “sword of the Spirit.”
            What’s Paul referring to with the first piece? Well, per usual, MacArthur puts it much better than I can: “The helmet protected the head, always a major target in battle. Paul is speaking to those who are already saved, and is therefore not speaking here about attaining salvation. Rather, Satan seeks to destroy a believer's assurance of salvation with his weapons of doubt and discouragement . .  . Satan wants to curse the believer with doubts, but the Christian can be strong in God's promises of eternal salvation in Scripture (see Jn 6:37-39; 10:28, 29; Ro 5:10; 8:31-39; Phl 1:6; 1Pe 1:3-5). Security is a fact; assurance is a feeling that comes to the obedient Christian.”
            That’s the important thing to keep in mind. Our salvation in Christ is not something that we can “take off” or something we need to “put on” before our battles. But. . . we can lose our assurance that we’re saved. When we’re disobedient and don’t repent, one of the first things we can lose is our assurance. We know, in our heart of hearts, that what we’re doing is incompatible with being a follower of Christ, and we can’t help wondering if we really belong to him.
            Another passage that I think illuminates it is 1 Thes. 5:8, which has a kind of “Armor of God” theme in extreme miniature: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” In that verse, Paul says that it’s our hope of salvation which is our helmet we need to put on and wear. Remember, there are at least three senses in which we’re saved, the three “tenses” of salvation: 1) We were saved from the punishment of sin when we placed our faith in Christ (also known as justification), 2) We’re saved day by day from the power of sin as we tap into the power of the Spirit and utilize the tools he provides (aka sanctification), and 3) We'll one day be saved from the very presence of sin when we either go to Christ in death or he comes to us as he returns to earth (aka glorification). Our hope of salvation would fall into the 3rd category.
            According to this interpretive theory (shared by me and others), we’re supposed to go into battle with our ultimate victory “protecting” our heads (in other words, keeping it in the forefront of our thoughts). This is certainly consistent with the facts: If we go into battle knowing that it’s the Enemy’s Kingdom which is under siege, knowing that our future’s secure whatever happens, and knowing that our Lord’s victorious return is near, that makes all the difference. So whether Paul’s referring to our assurance of present salvation or future salvation, we need to focus on our thoughts on that and let it guard our head.
            Then we come to the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This is the only piece of our armor which can be used offensively, everything else is only defensive. This is the weapon we use to take the fight to the Enemy and actually wound him and make him hurt. You want to make Satan wish he hadn’t come close to you? Quote the word of God, either to him or around him.  When our Savior encountered the Adversary in the wilderness, he could’ve dismissed the Enemy with a word of command. He didn’t: He countered each temptation with a quote from Scripture (each quote from Deuteronomy, btw). We know from personal experience that the our Lord’s word is “[sharper] than any double-edged sword, [penetrating] even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. . .[judging] the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” That’s how laser-sharp it is. When the word of God is turned against me, I feel it. So think about that sharpness being turned against the Enemy of your soul, and smile.
            But just like the rest of our armor, a sword does absolutely no good in a display case. In order to quote it back to the Enemy and wound him, you have to know it. That means reading it daily. It means meditating on it. That means memorizing passages which address your weak areas. That means faithfully plugging into a church where it’s preached and taught.
            I think we can all stand to sharpen our sword-fighting skills, don’t you?

Lord Jesus, I thank you for my salvation, past, present, and future. It’s all from you. And help me to read, understand, apply, and use your word. I want to make my Enemy wince, and you smile. 

[Nov. 13]—Don’t Fight Naked! Part Three


            I know that we read verse 14 yesterday, but I feel a little funny starting off the Scripture reading with “. . . and with your feet fitted. . .” And also there’s the fact that vs. 14 modifies “stand firm”; in other words, how are our feet are fitted describes how we’re supposed to stand firm. It’s all connected.
            In talking about our feet being fitted with “the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace,” Paul’s echoing an image in both Isaiah and in the letter to the book of Romans. Both of those passages talk about the beauty of the feet of those who proclaim Good News. In context, Isaiah was primarily talking about national salvation for Israel from her political oppressors. But Paul in Romans was referring to a far greater salvation, salvation from God’s wrath and into his beloved family of heirs.
            People who are called by their Lord to be his ambassadors to a lost world have an awe-inspiring privilege and responsibility. Please forgive me as I quote myself from an earlier posting:

Right now, there are legions upon legions upon legions around the Throne in Heaven. Each one of these angels is incredibly more powerful than you or I could ever hope to be in this life. Almost every time you see an angel appear to someone, the first words out of the angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!” They are luminescent with God’s glory. The stone-cold killing machines known as Roman soldiers fainted dead away at the sight of one. One angel—yes, one angel—killed 185,000 soldiers overnight.

And every one of these angels delights to obey and bring glory to their Creator. Let’s do a thought experiment: If the Lord on his throne said “I’d like to spread the news about my Son to this tribe of nomads in this area. Do I have any volunteers?” My friend, all the angels present would trip all over themselves in rushing forward to volunteer. And if one of them showed up to tell people about Jesus, I think they’d get a lot of attention, don’t you? It’d be hard to dismiss the word of a being like this!

But no. The Lord Almighty, in his wisdom, has chosen to bypass all those volunteers and has chosen. . . you. And he’s chosen me. Can I be frank here? An angel’s not going to chicken out of telling people. He’s not going to mess up the message. He’s not going to get caught doing something that undermines his witness. To my limited understanding, he’d make a much better evangelist and missionary than you or I would be. But God hasn’t chosen any angel. He’s picked us to be his ambassadors and representatives to a lost and dying world. Wow.

            To our Father and to those whom we reach with the Good News, the best news they’ve ever heard, our “feet” are “beautiful.” Anyone that we’ve had the privilege of leading to our Savior (or even towards him, if we weren’t the ones who directly introduced them to him) owe us a debt they can never pay, just as we owe an unpayable debt to others. 
            Note that these shoes are the “the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” God doesn’t call everyone to be an international missionary, or to be a full-time evangelist like Billy Graham. But he calls everyone to be ready to be his ambassador wherever he sends us. That’s part and parcel of being his follower.
            Let’s take just a moment to talk about the second piece of armor, the shield of faith. The shield he’s talking about was usually soaked in water so that when an enemy fired flaming arrows (an incredibly devastating attack), they’d be extinguished before they could cause damage. He’s probably not referring to “faith” in the sense of a standard set of Christian doctrine (as in “the faith”), but our basic trust in our Lord. The Enemy lobs all sorts of temptations and lies our way, especially the temptation to lose confidence in the One who most deserves our 100% trust.
            Using your shield to squelch these arrows is a choice. Trusting your Lord is a choice. Despite how circumstances might look at the moment, no matter what the Enemy tries to whisper in your ear, you have to choose to trust.
            Shoes do no good if they’re never worn, and a shield is useless if it’s never picked up.

Lord Jesus, wherever you send me, whether it’s across an ocean or across the street to my neighbor, I want to be ready. I trust you, but I need to trust you more. Please help me. 

[Nov 12]—Don’t Fight Naked! Part Two


            In verse 14, Paul tells us for the third time in this passage (vss. 11, 13) that we’re supposed to “take a stand” against Satan’s “schemes.” I forgot to mention yesterday that the Greek word for “schemes” is methodeias, from which of course we get the word “method.” This again emphasizes the fact that the Enemy’s main weapons in his arsenal, the main tools in his tool-bag, are lies. When we believe his lies, he wins. He only has true power over us and anyone else to the degree that we believe him instead of God.
            But getting back to this issue of taking a stand (which Paul repeats for emphasis), that brings up the question, “How?” Our Adversary’s a lot more powerful than we are. John in one of his letters says that the “whole world” is under his control. We can’t fight him using physical weapons like bullets or bombs. So what do we use? We’re going to look at two pieces of this armor per day to answer this question.
            The first thing on Paul’s list of our armor is “the belt of truth.” We’re supposed to have this “buckled around [our] waist.” What is that? Of course, Paul’s original readers in the 1st century would’ve known automatically what he was referring to. The Roman soldier (the type of warrior who’d conquered the known world and who seemed unbeatable) wore a loose tunic (which was common for a lot of people), and in hand-to-hand fighting this type of dress could hinder you and thus get you killed. So soldiers used a belt to tie up the loosely hanging material. The belt held everything together, and thus anything that hindered the soldier was tucked away.
            What’s Paul mean when he says that we need to buckle this belt of “truth” around our waist before we head into battle? What “truth” is he referring to? Some scholars (like MacArthur) interpret this rather as “truthfulness,” in other words as self-discipline and sincere commitment that you need to win. That’s entirely possible, and since Paul doesn’t elaborate on his metaphors here, we can only make an educated guess. Others say (and I happen to agree with them) that this is talking about basic knowledge of God’s truth. This understanding of God (as revealed in Christ) holds everything else together as we enter the fray.
            The second piece of armor is the “breastplate of righteousness.” According to MacAthur, “The breastplate was usually a tough, sleeveless piece of leather or heavy material with animal horn or hoof pieces sewn on, covering the soldier's full torso, protecting his heart and other vital organs.” If something got past the soldier’s shield, the breastplate was his last line of defense before becoming a casualty.
            What’s the “righteousness” he’s referring to? Well, as believers our ultimate righteousness is Christ himself. Before God he’s our only righteousness, and we’d be really foolish to claim any other. The only problem I have with that is that Paul is telling us to enter the battle having put this breastplate on, indicating there’s a possibility that a foolish soldier in Christ’s army might be dumb enough to take it off. We can’t remove that righteousness from ourselves even if we wanted to.
            But there’s a sense in which we need to cultivate personal righteousness or holiness. True saving faith must and will begin the process of making us more like Christ in how we think, talk, and act. Here are just a few Scripture verses which talk about a personal righteousness, not the righteousness which is credited to our account when we’re saved by faith.
            So which is it, Christ’s righteousness or ours? A case could be made for either one. While we don’t “take off” Christ’s righteousness (in other words, we can’t lose our salvation), we can lose focus on the full righteousness of Christ which he’s given us, and thus negligently lose the protection that this knowledge protects our hearts with. When my Accuser approaches me, I can refer him to the righteousness of Christ which is forever mine and which isn’t dependent at all on my performance. And I need personal righteousness if I’m going into this battle. If there’s an area of my life in which I’m not submitting to my Lord, that’s my “Achilles’ Heel.”  That’s the chink in my armor, a point at which he’s going to attack me.
            Again, I don’t believe anyone can lose their salvation, but the Bible certainly teaches that a Christian can—through disobedience—lose a lot that’s precious to him. This battle has eternal consequences, and if you’re like me, you need to take it a lot more seriously than you have been. Let’s.

Lord Jesus, I know that the war’s been won, and I know that I’m secure in your arms. But this is a real battle with real souls at stake. By your grace, help me strap on your truth and your righteousness and keep them on. 

[Nov 11]—Don’t Fight Naked! Part One


            Now we’re returning to the last few verses in Ephesians, and I guess it's only appropriate that today on Veteran's Day we start looking at the famous "Armor Of God" passage. 
            Before we get to the actual armor, though, Paul introduces us to the concept and lays out some general principles we need to absorb:

·         Realize that you’re in a continuous battle. Yes, the ultimate war was won 2,000 years ago at the cross and empty tomb. That’s one of the main points of the Ascension: It was Jesus’ triumphal reentry back into Glory and to sit back down on his throne at his Father’s side. At that time, the Father officially declared that all of creation was under the authority of his Son, and placed all things under his feet.

But. . . we still do battle with the Enemy. It’s the rough equivalent of Berlin when it was surrounded by the Allies in the final days of World War 2 in Europe. Hitler’s days could literally be counted on one hand, but a lot of German troops fought on in what they knew was a lost cause. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell wouldn’t withstand the assault of his Church, so it’s the Enemy’s Kingdom which is under siege, not our Lord’s (no matter what it might look like to our limited perspective). And this Enemy fights tooth and nail against the incursion of his Kingdom. It’s bad enough when a lost person turns to Christ, but if that newly redeemed child of God starts to grow in his faith, Satan will do literally everything in his power to stifle it. If the Lord's starting to move in a certain area, you can count down the minutes before the Adversary shows up to try to throw a monkey-wrench in his work. Paul’s entire passage here presupposes that we’re going to face spiritual opposition anytime we decide to do things God’s way.
Please get it in your head that this Adversary never gives up. He never takes a break, much less a vacation. He never lets up the pressure on us. He never gives an inch unless he’s forced to. And whether you’re interested in him or not, he’s interested in you, especially if you’re doing something to merit his attention.

·         Your job is to stand against his evil schemes. Please note that while Paul is using the military language of frontal assaults, that could cause some misunderstanding. It’s not so much frontal assaults that I need to be most concerned about: It’s his schemes. The most deadly weapon in his arsenal is his ability to lie. Jesus said he’s the father of lies, and every lie comes either directly or indirectly from him. Yes, he might occasionally do “frontal” assaults on us like physical ailments, or financial hardship, or a whole host of terrible things happening to us all at once (like he did with Job). But most of the time he’s a lot more subtle than that.

·         You need to fight the right battle on the right front. This is a spiritual battle, and thus won’t be won with physical means. The world uses bullets, bombs, and other physical means to fight out its battles. And as someone pointed out long ago, politics is war by other means. Unfortunately, the Church sometimes imitates the world in this way. Yes, I believe that Christians should be politically active. I’m not a pacifist, so I believe that physical armies have their place in the world. I’m not against believers working together in the political realm when the situation calls for it. For example, we need to pass more Pro-Life legislation, and that means electing more Pro-Life politicians. But we have to put our main focus on winning on the spiritual front. The struggle to pass Pro-Life laws is only a small part of the battle when a culture/society is turning away from God’s word en masse. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Does our emphasis show this?

Over the next few days we’re going to look at what Paul says about the real battle and how to fight it. Let’s hear what he has to say, and put it into practice. Let’s go into battle doing things his way. Otherwise, we’re showing up to fight naked, and that’s a bad thing.

Father God, we’re going forward in your battle plan. We’re going to listen to your orders, and obey. We’re going to fight this your way, and by doing so our victory is assured. By your empowering grace, let this be so. 

[Nov 10]—Work: A Four-Letter Word? Part Three


            Today we’re wrapping up our short series on work. Obviously, the word “work” literally is a four-letter word, but I decided to cute it up a bit. For a lot of people, work is a swearword. The only reason they do it is because it’s either that or starve. It’s not necessarily that they’re lazy: If someone offered them an opportunity to get paid for nothing, they’d (hopefully) have too much self-respect to take it. But the work they do is monotonous and soul-deadening. They work day after day performing repetitious actions, or with a boss who’s difficult to work with (to put it mildly), or with coworkers who drive them crazy, or in a really stressful position. They don’t see any room for advancement in their line of work, and going back to school is not an appealing or feasible option. I’ve been there.
            Now, if I was talking with non-Christians about this, I’d tell them that their attitude is perfectly reasonable. If this life is all you have, and you spend most of your adult life in a cruddy job that you hate, that would be soul-crushing. Someone once told me that when I see a lost person, I need to remember that (barring their coming to Christ), this'll be the only heaven they’ll ever see. Wow. That’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?
            But for believers, we were made for something more. Look, I’m going to have to be frank here: You have no excuse to be joyless in your job, to see it only as a way to pay the bills. If you go to your job and dread and hate every minute of it, something is wrong, and—again, I have to be frank here—that something has to do with you.
            Before you write me off as being cold and heartless, please hear me out. I can just hear all the angry responses: “You have no idea what I have to put up with! My boss is the worst in the entire world! My job has killed my dreams! That’s easy for you to say!”
            Remember what I said when I was telling wives to submit to their husbands, the same thing I’d tell fellow Christians who were being persecuted? Yes, I’ve lived a relatively easy life here in America in the 20th and 21st century. I’ve never been persecuted, and you wouldn’t have to look hard to find folks who’ve had lives much worse than mine. But when I teach the Bible, it’s not an issue of what I’ve experienced. The only thing that matters is what God is saying to you.
            That’s why I point you to today’s passages again. Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is telling slaves to obey their masters. Not with the typical obedience of a slave, doing just enough to avoid punishment. No, he’s telling them to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,” and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” and “to be subject to [your] masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that [you] can be fully trusted.” He’s telling this to slaves. Not people stuck in a dead-end job with a bad boss and who aren’t getting paid what they deserve. I promise you, your life working for your boss is not nearly as bad as a slave in the 1st century, or in any century for that matter.
            Now, one of the rules of hermeneutics is context. Context, context, context. You could make a case that he’s not addressing employees in a freely contracted job. That’s true:  Literally he’s not addressing anyone in that situation. But I ask you: If he’s telling this to slaves, how much more does this apply to non-slaves in a freely contracted job? I don’t think I have more of an excuse than a slave did; I have much less.
            So I need to be the most honest, most diligent, employee my boss has ever seen. If there’s a nonbeliever in my company who cares more about the company’s interests than I do, something’s wrong with me. I shouldn’t be the type of employee who constantly needs a supervisor looking over their shoulder; quite the opposite. Whether my boss is looking over my shoulder or not, my work should be the same.
            Why? Because whether he’s looking over my shoulder or not, my Lord is. He sees all and knows all. When I take an extra-long break when I should be working, he knows it. When I shade the truth in order to make myself look good, he’s well aware of it. When I come in late or leave early and think I’m getting away with it, I’m not. I’m not getting away with anything. He’s always watching me.
            But let’s focus on the positive side of this for a moment. If I’m the most honest and diligent employee my boss has, there’s a side-benefit to it besides my Savior’s smile (although that should be enough). Read the last verse of the Titus passage again. When I’m the employee I need to be, there’s a huge bonus: I make the teaching about God my Savior more attractive. That means I’m letting the beauty of the Message about Jesus shine through me. My non-Christian coworkers and boss will notice. And—unfortunately—if I’m not the model employee I’m supposed to be, they’ll notice that too. And then instead of making the teaching about God my Savior more attractive, well, you get the idea.
            But again I want to focus on the positive. Maybe my job is tedious and repetitive and/or stressful. But if I’m doing it for my Savior, I have no excuse for it to be dull. I’m doing it for him. When I clean the toilets, I’m doing it for him. When I deal in a patient and compassionate way with that customer who’s trying to step on my last nerve, I’m doing it for him. And if I’m not getting credit for the hard work I’m doing, if my boss doesn’t appreciate what I do for him, that’s OK: My Lord is watching, and “[I] know that the Lord will reward [me] for whatever good [I] do.”
            Do I put this into practice all the time? Am I constantly working in the light of these truths, that my Lord is watching me? I wish. Way too often I’ve put forth the least effort I could get away with. I’ve been guilty way too often of goofing off when I’m supposed to be working. And I’ve let myself get really upset over not getting the recognition I think I deserve. But by his grace, I’m trying to be better. Ultimately, no matter what job I’m in, I’m working for my Savior. And he deserves absolutely nothing but the best from me.

Lord Jesus, help in this area. In my work, I want to make the Good News about you as attractive as I possibly can. And by your grace, I intend to. 

[Nov 09]—Work: A Four Letter Word? Part Two

Genesis 39:1-10; Daniel 6:1-10

            I’m well aware that for most people, their job isn’t fun. There’s a reason why someone has to pay you to do it, right? It’d be nice if someone paid you to sit in front of a TV and snack on potato chips all day, but that’s not likely to happen.
            But for us as believers, our job isn’t just a way to pay the bills. Or at least it shouldn’t be. As I mentioned before, the first worker was God when he created the universe and then rested. Our first parents were given the 100% pleasant task of maintaining the garden in which they lived. Please note that even in a perfect, sin-free environment, everything wasn’t just handed to them with no effort required. As created in his image, we were made to work, to be creative and productive. Sin didn’t bring work into our experience: It only brought futile and frustrating work into our experience. We were created to improve our environment through physical effort. And if someone was actually willing to pay you to sit on the couch and watch TV, would you really want a job like that? Really?!
            And as believers we know (or should) that the way we work should be glorifying to our Savior. So how do we do that?
            Well, right off the top of my head, followers of Jesus should be marked by integrity in their work. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
            Joseph and Daniel had a couple of things in common. They were both kidnapped and forcibly carried away from their home by a foreign power and were given “jobs” by ruthless powers that held despotic power over them in a nation not their own. Neither of them applied for the “jobs” in which they had; they weren’t there by choice at all. If anyone would have an excuse to do a half-hearted job, they would.
            But they didn’t. Both men were raised to positions of power and authority within the regime in which they found themselves. Why?
            Well, the ultimate theological reason is “God gave them favor in the eyes of their masters.” And that’d be absolutely correct. The Bible’s clear on that score. Both the Egyptians and Babylonians tended to be prejudiced against Hebrews/Jews, and would be far less inclined than normal to promote them to positions of authority and responsibility. But the Lord sovereignly overcame any innate biases against them, and—without doing violence to human free will--inclined their hearts towards these men. At least that’s the best explanation I’ve heard.
            But did the Lord give them favor in their masters' eyes in spite of their personal behavior? Were Joseph or Daniel lazy, incompetent, dishonest workers and God just overrode that and made their masters promote them in spite of that? NO! The same Bible that says that the Lord gave them favor in the eyes of their masters also makes it crystal clear that their behavior merited every bit of that confidence.
            Take Joseph for example. Leaving aside all the theological mystery about God’s sovereignty and free will, what was the bottom line? Potiphar promoted Joseph because “the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did.” In other words, Potiphar noticed that the more he put Joseph in charge of, the more money he (Potiphar) made. Potiphar’s only decision to make every day was what to eat. Every other decision he left in Joseph’s very capable hands.
            And both these men are noted as being diligent and honest. Joseph was tempted by his employer’s wife who was blatantly coming on to him, and exhibited loyalty to his employer (really his master) who’d been so good to him. He made the right choice.
            What about Daniel? The king had promoted Daniel, and was thinking about promoting him even further. The other satraps were threatened and jealous, so they “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs.” They granularly looked for any incompetence or dishonesty or negligence or corruption, even something they could credibly make up about him, and they could find nothing. They finally came to the conclusion that they’d “never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” In other words, the only way they could bring a charge against him was by making his faithfulness to God an issue.
            My friend, if my enemies did “opposition research” on me, I hope and I wish and I pray that the only thing they could find was “He loves Jesus too much.”
            Look, I’m well aware that both these men were sinners like I am. They weren’t perfect, and although Scripture doesn’t record any big flaws, I know that if we knew enough about them, we’d find something. But in the record we have about them, they provide an excellent example for us to follow. If we want to bring honor and glory to our Lord in the workplace, this’d be a great place to start, right?

Father God, I’m not where I need to be on this. If my employer looked hard enough, he could find plenty of fault in me. I know my value is found in you, not in my work, but I need to honor you and bring glory to your name in how I do that. Please help me with that.