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Breaking Catholic–Part 1: History Lesson

    Just before Christmas, Benedictine University did a survey of former Catholics and lapsed Catholics to find out why they had stopped attending Mass and to ask what they could do to bring them back.  I was already planning this series when I found out about the survey, but it made me think a

Whatever We Ask: Part 6–Prosperity

“. . .  God wants to make your life easier.  He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages.  He wants you to have preferential treatment.”  Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now     This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme,

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

  Finally, THIS is the happy ending.   God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.   That night, as the church emptied, I hit

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 5: PRactice Grace

    “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird   Some of us are blessed with great relationships with our

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)   This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 2: PRaise and PRayer

      PRAISE AND PRAYER   God must come first, because He is first.  When you put God first in your life, you are not doing Him a favor; you are doing yourself one.  As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:    “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or

Doubt: Part 3–Cloudy

  Imagine you’re at a funeral on a cloudy day.  Then the sun comes out from behind a cloud.   Now if you are a scientific, buttoned-down, fact-based kind of a person, the first thing you would say is that the sun didn’t move–the cloud did.  You could give a meteorological explanation of prevailing winds,

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

    Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.   Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.   Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE               So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.             We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to

Do Unto Others: Part 3–Respect

It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who foolishly condemn the Gospel without knowing what it can do for them, having never experienced its power.  You are free from the law, but that doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong.  Live as those who are free to do only God’s will at all times.  Show respect for everyone.  Love Christians everywhere.  Fear God and honor the government.  1 Peter 2:15-17 (TLB)

 

Many Christians love this passage . . . right up until you get to the last three words.

 

Honor the government?  But what do we do if the government is not honorable?  Do we still have to submit to a president or a congress that does not have our best interests at heart?

 

The answer, though we may admit it reluctantly, is yes.  Let’s break down this passage.

 

Verse 15 says that God wants us to shut up the ignorant folk who think we are deluded or even dangerous.  But He wants us to do this not with our words, but with our lives.

 

Verse 16 says that being free from the penalty of God’s law does not give us license to do whatever we want, but to do God’s will.  And what is that will?

 

To show respect to everyone.

 

The remainder of verse 17 gives examples of this.  Love Christians everywhere.  Fear God.  Honor the government.

 

This isn’t multiple choice.  ALL of these examples fall under the heading of showing respect to everyone.

 

“Everyone” also includes the people in verse 15, whom one might describe as enemies of the faith.  But remember in Part 2 when we talked about loving our enemies?

 

There’s just no getting around this, so what do we do with it?

 

First, as painful as it may be, we simply have to accept the fact that the world is full of stupid people.

 

Second, and equally painful, we must realize that no matter what good people we may think we are, not everyone is going to like us.

 

The third thing we must do, and this is where the freedom enters in, is to stop caring about the first two things.

 

Live quietly & mind your own business so that you may win the respect of others and have need of nothing.  1 Thess 4:11-12

 

We don’t solve the problem of finger-pointing by employing the method of sign-waving.  We don’t stifle the ignorance of idiots by yelling louder.  And we don’t solve problems in our government by advocating revolution or anarchy.

 

A Christian should never be concerned about other people’s issues when our primary function is to meet other people’s needs.  Whoever they are, their chief need is Jesus, whether they realize it or not.

 

 

It all comes down to respect.  Honor.  The Greek word Peter uses in the passage above is “timao.”  It means to add value.  A synonymous word in English would be “to appreciate,” but not in the sense we casually use it today, for example, “I would appreciate it if you would put away your laundry.”

 

No, this is in a much larger sense.  It means to esteem, by giving someone his or her due.  By showing a full understanding of their inherent value, especially how it relates to you.  To consider another more important than yourself.

 

 

This is what respect is.  You may not feel respect for Donald Trump’s character or for that of Barack Obama before him, but you are called to respect the office of the president, because:

Every person must submit to and support the authorities over him.  For there can be no authority in the universe except by God’s appointment, which means that every authority that exists has been instituted by God.  So to resist authority is to resist the divine order of God, which results in severe consequences.  Romans 13:1-2 (TPT)

 

Bottom line: if you call yourself an American, then THE president is YOUR president, the same as if you call yourself a Christian, then God is your God.

 

And your pastor is your pastor.  And your teacher is your teacher.  And your boss is your boss.

 

You may disagree with them.  You may cringe at the sound their voices.  You may even find yourself making voodoo dolls of them in your spare time.

 

But they are all people, the same as you, and made in the image of the same God as you.  And this same God has commanded the same respect for all.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 2–Mercy

If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners love the people who love them.  If you do good only to those who do good to you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners do that!  If you lend things to people, always hoping to get something back, what praise should you get?  Even sinners lend to other sinners so that they can get back the same amount!  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back.  Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin.  Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy.  (Luke 6:32-36 NCV)

 

Many people believe in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Yet, it seems that many folks are waiting to be done unto before they do any doing.

 

In the passage above, Jesus is advocating a totally different strategy—mercy.  Mercy is not concerned with everyone behaving properly or with showing favoritism toward those who do.

 

As Christians, we are called to set ourselves apart by being merciful as our Father is merciful.  So what does that look like?

 

Romans 5:8 says, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He didn’t wait for us to get in line to meet His standard (which is impossible anyway).  He didn’t ask, or even consider, what we could do for Him.  He went first.

 

This is probably the easiest way to define mercy—mercy goes first.  Mercy looks to the needs of others, and sets about meeting them before considering anything else.

 

This doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  In our culture, we’re used to “getting what we paid for.”  If we are going to exchange our money, time or talent, we generally expect to get something in return.  For this reason, it seems natural for us to think about how we’re going to be paid back before we make an investment.

 

The thing is the people who are the most in need of mercy tend to be the ones who CAN’T pay you back.  But they CAN pay your mercy forward.

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you relied on someone else’s mercy, knowing you wouldn’t be able to reciprocate?  You might have felt gratitude at first, but later, the sense of indebtedness might have made you feel guilty.

 

Don’t go there.  There’s a better way.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for the person who helped you out, think instead of what you ARE able to do for someone else who is in a more desperate situation than you are.  There’s always someone.

 

Here’s the catch, though.  The person most in need of your mercy might be someone you don’t like.

 

This is where the “love your enemies” bit comes in.  Jesus never asked us to LIKE our enemies.  Remember though that agape love is not a feeling; it is an action.  As such, it is perfectly possible to show mercy toward someone who has been adversarial to us, even if there’s still a part of us that wants to push them down the stairs.

 

But here’s the part we all need to remember.  We were just as adversarial to God when He chased us down.  He continues to bless us, even when we don’t thank Him.  So if we are endeavoring to be “sons of the Most High,” we shouldn’t be standing around waiting for thanks either.  It feels nice to be appreciated, but remember, this is not the goal of mercy.

 

This is mercy–to listen with compassion to the people who annoy you the most in order to learn what their greatest burden is, then to speak only that which will help relieve them of that burden, and if that is not possible, to remain silent and allow God to do His work in them, rather than burden them further with opinions and judgment.

 

And that is what God offers to us all day, every day.  Think about that for a second.  How does it make you feel to know that you don’t ever have to put on a fake face for God to receive His mercy?

 

Now how does it make you feel to know that you have the power to make somebody else feel a little bit of that?  So go do it.  And focus more on the “you’re welcome” than the “thank you.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 1–Justice

 

The Lord always does right and wants justice done.  Everyone who does right will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7 CEV)

 

 

 

Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”

 

However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation.  It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”

 

Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him.  With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.

 

Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith.  Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation.  Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.

 

Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly.  Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.

 

Justice and Righteousness

 

 

Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out.  Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so.  Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here.  Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God.  God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan.  Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing.  Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.

 

In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result.  His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice.  Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.

 

The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness.  Then he answers his own question, saying:

 

The Lord has shown you what is good.  He has told you what he requires of you.  You must act with justice.  You must love to show mercy.  And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.  Micah 6:8 NIRV

 

The key word in that quote is “act.”  God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it.  And how do we do that?

 

The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first.  God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is.  Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”

 

Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.

 

(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 6–Words Matter

Do you hear me
Do you care
Do you hear me
Do you care
My lips are moving and the sound’s coming out
The words are audible but I have my doubts
That you realize what has been said
You look at me as if you’re in a daze
It’s like the feeling at the end of the page
When you realize you don’t know what you just read. . .
Media overload bombarding you with action
It’s getting near impossible to cause distraction
Someone answer me before I pull out the plug
What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it’s no use talking at all
“Words” Missing Persons—1982

 

That song was released 35 years ago, before there were such things as the Internet or cell phones. Needless to say, things haven’t gotten any better.

In Part 5, we discussed the paradox of technology that to be totally connected in the 21st century is to be totally oblivious to the real world. Here’s another paradox. We have more ways to communicate instantly than we ever have before, yet we are losing the ability to communicate effectively day by day.

In 1984, George Orwell painted a picture of government control via the progressive destruction of the English language. By instituting Newspeak as the official language, vocabulary was systematically broken down to its most basic elements with each new edition of the dictionary becoming smaller and smaller.

Today, instead of 1984, we have The Emoji Movie, a cinematic abomination whose philosophy (if you can call it that) is summed up in one character’s quote, “Words aren’t cool.”

Consider the implications of this statement for a moment. Words are an expression of thoughts. The more profound the thought, the more words it takes to convey it. As a writer, I am keenly aware of this.

Sending emojis by text instead of speaking face to face, or heaven forbid, writing a letter, dilutes meaningful communication in a similar manner as Newspeak. Instead of connecting with another human’s mind through verbal communication, the goal now seems to be to get your point across (if you have one) with as little effort in as little space as possible.

Now I’m all for efficiency, in communication as well as other things, but this is going overboard. You don’t have to write a book when a sentence will do, but you do need to write a sentence when a sentence is needed. If a person can’t even write a coherent sentence, how would they expect to be taken seriously by anyone with intelligence?

There’s room here for a lengthy rant about spelling and grammar, but that’s not where I’m going with this (not today anyway). My concern is more about words themselves.

Because if words aren’t cool, then how much uncooler is The Word?

Think about that for a second. Two of the tenets of the Truth Mission Statement are that we strive to encourage people to discover the foundation of their beliefs and that we seek to train our youth in critical thinking and discipleship. Both of these require deep reflection and an ability to communicate. Erosion of language makes both endeavors impossible.

When I am around teenagers that suffer from depression, or even regular-sized doses of teenage angst, the common thread I hear from them is that they want to be heard. They feel that they are misunderstood and/or no one listens to them. Apparently, this is something that is common from generation to generation. What’s different today is that these kids who want to be heard aren’t able to express themselves in a meaningful way. And that’s assuming that anyone is even listening to them in the first place.

How do we overcome this and raise up a generation that not only knows how to think but how to express that thought proficiently? Don’t wait for the public school system to do its job. They have already done away with textbooks and given the kids tablets, laptops and YouTubes, so the kids can entertain themselves while the teacher plays solitaire or takes a nap.

The thing is, every time we put down our toys and pick up a book, we remember the pleasure that comes from reading, when our brain cells are roused and engaged. Some of us enjoy it more than others, of course, but it’s a very different feeling from the law-of-diminishing-dopamine that comes from being glued to a video screen.

And how much more refreshing is it when we read scripture? We were wired to respond to the Word, because as John explained at the beginning of his gospel, the Word is God. David wrote in Psalm 19:

 

The Law of the Lord is perfect, giving new strength to the soul. The Law He has made known is sure, making the child-like wise. The Laws of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The Word of the Lord is pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The Lord is always true and right in how He judges. The Word of the Lord is worth more than gold, even more than much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey straight from the comb. And by them Your servant is told to be careful. In obeying them there is great reward. (Psalm 19: 7-11 NLV)

 

This is what it sounds like to be undistracted. A tall order in today’s society, but not impossible.

We have God’s Word, though, always available to us. It doesn’t change, and it’s written on a page, so that if we need to hear something again (and we all do), it’s right there for us. All the answers we need, even if we aren’t sure what the question is that we want to ask. This is the user’s manual for life.

But no one, kids or adults, can find answers if they won’t look for them. No one will ever know what the Word has for them if words aren’t cool.

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 5–Wake Up!

Let us then never fall into the sleep that stupefies the rest of the world: let us keep awake, with our wits about us. (1 Thessalonians 5:6 PHILLIPS)

 

Technology can be our friend.  It created the laptop on which I am writing this, the Internet on which I posted it, the social media whereupon I distributed it, and the device upon which you are reading it, among many other more beneficial things.

 

This same technology, however, can also be our enemy, as it robs our productive time, pushes our dopamine buttons relentlessly, decimates our attention spans and erodes our ability to relate to one another outside of cyberspace.  It seems that the more tech savvy we become, the less aware we are of the real world around us.

 

This phenomenon can affect any generation, of course, but kids today have never known a world without this technology.  Texting is as natural to them as breathing.  When new tech becomes available that might make the head of someone my age blow up, kids adapt to it instantly, as though they were part machine.

 

What concerns me is that with all this information at the touch of a button (or a voice command—who needs buttons anymore?), an entire generation may be losing its ability to think critically.  Anyone can retrieve copious amounts of information off the interwebs, but do they know what to do with it?  It’s bad enough when kids fall for the clickbait, but when the generation that’s supposed to be teaching them how to make sense of it all is caught up with the rest of the sheeple in the fake news maelstrom, then the kids don’t stand a chance.

 

The 21st-century paradox of technology is to be totally connected, yet totally oblivious.  This needs to stop.  It needs to stop because there is a real world out here with real people in it that have real needs that we were uniquely designed to meet.  God can’t draw our attention to these people and these needs if we’re busy taking selfies instead of looking for signs.

 

Yes, technology is fun.  There is a 99% chance that if you’re reading this, you found it by a link on social media.  And obviously I spend a fair amount of time on there as well, or I wouldn’t have known where and how to post this.

 

The main issue is where, and how intently, we are focusing our attention.  We can’t teach our children to be more aware of the world around them if we aren’t, because as every parent knows, kids will do what they see us doing before they’ll do what they hear us saying.

 

It all comes down to self-control, really.  Any intelligent adult is capable of prioritizing his or her activities and determining which of them should receive the most time devoted to them.  But be honest now.  Are you better at planning your work or working your plan?  To an unfocused person, even the planning process becomes busywork, until the planning becomes an end in itself.  I’m done planning my week, so . . . TIME FOR FACEBOOK!

 

Staying awake and alert over the long term requires having a driving purpose or mission.  Without something like that to focus on, your mind will drift, and your body will follow (since that is where your mind is located).  Before long, you’ll get to a place where you stop to look at your life and wonder, “What happened to me?  How did I end up here?”

 

And if you can’t figure out how your own life got off track, then how could you expect your kids, who have never had a chance to get their lives ON track, to have any kind of motivation to wake up, rise above the masses and make a difference in the world?

 

We have to be on our guard at all times against anything that would deter us from our main mission.  For our own sakes, and for the sakes of the kids who are watching us and trying to make sense of their own lives.  They’ll never even understand the concept of trying to find their calling if they don’t first observe what it looks like to seek after it.  And they’ll never be prepared to rise to the occasion if they are unaware that an occasion is even taking place right in front of them.

 

Therefore it falls to us be more intentional about being awake and aware.  We can’t guarantee that our children will employ self-control just because we model it, but it’s for certain that they won’t if we don’t.

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 4–Integrity

I am hurt and lonely.  Turn to me, and show me mercy.  Free me from my troubles.  Help me solve my problems.  Look at my trials and troubles.  Forgive me for all the sins I have done.  Look at all the enemies I have.  They hate me and want to hurt me.  Protect me!  Save me from them!  I come to you for protection, so don’t let me be disappointed.  You are good and do what is right.  I trust you to protect me.  (Psalm 25:16-21 ERV)

 

 

The words of King David ring true for many today, especially teenagers.  It is so easy to feel isolated and alone at that age.  In many cases, these kids actually ARE isolated and alone.  Sometimes it’s in their own heads, and sometimes it’s external, as a result of normal social inclusion/exclusion rites, or worse, as a product of bullying.

 

I notice this especially with girls.  Gossip and rumor-mongering are bad enough, but today’s technological advances have made hateful talk accelerate to light speed.  Couple that with this generation’s reliance upon/addiction to their mobile devices and it becomes nearly impossible to get a positive thought in edgewise between all of the notifications.

 

So what’s a parent to do?

 

I believe that it all starts with integrity.  Integrity and uprightness, or honesty, is all we have left when everything else is taken away.  This is true for adults as well as teens.  If we lose everything–our jobs, our loved ones, our material possessions–then what is left behind?

 

Only our character.  Who we are really behind all the masks, the social constructs, the rumors and the legends.

 

So who are we really?  If you lost everything except your life today, what would you have left to rebuild your life upon?

 

If you are a person of integrity, that is, you say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say you are going to do and finish what you start, then you have all you need.  Because you are a person that others can trust and rely upon, then trusting people will do that.  If these are the kind of kids we want to have, then these are the kind of parents we need to be.

 

So our primary goal is to be the kind of parents whose children look to us as David looked to God in the above passage.  Obviously, we are not perfect like God, but we are created in His image, which means that we have aspects of His character woven into our DNA.

 

When my children are up against it, I want them to know that they can look to me for help.  I want them to know that I will forgive their mistakes and give them room to grow.  I want them to know that they have somewhere to turn when it seems like the world is crashing down on them.  I don’t ever want to let them down.  I want them to trust me to take care of them, even when they are older and don’t really need me to do that anymore.

 

But the only way I can be that kind of a father is to remember that I have a Father who does all of these things for me.  And so do my kids.  So it’s not really me I want them to trust, but God.  His integrity is flawless and will go on forever.  If I can point my kids to that, directly or through my own rudimentary example, then I will be giving them what they need to survive and overcome whatever comes their way.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 8–The Struggle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  (Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV)

 

 

Back in Part 6, we discussed how fear can gradually wear us down.  By maintaining a continuous level of inner turmoil, we become less effective at pretty much anything useful.  Some of this mental stress comes from what we actually see and hear, but have you noticed that sometimes that thing that bothered you hours or even days or weeks ago still seems to have some hold over you?

 

Now some folks are better at letting things roll off their backs than others, of course.  This is a process I am still learning myself.  But I am not talking about merely having a good attitude here or learning to relax.  I am talking about nagging thoughts and anxieties that linger to the point where a person can be sitting still in a quiet room with no apparent external stimuli and yet be teetering on the edge of a panic attack or a ragestorm.

 

So what’s going on there?  A psychiatrist might look at a person in such a situation, diagnose a disorder of some sort, and throw a pill at it.  I can personally testify that pills do help somewhat, but like any pill, they treat the symptoms rather than solving the problem.  While I do appreciate being able to face my struggles with a rational sense of calm, rather than a perpetual state of frokeoutedness, the struggle remains.

 

So what is the real struggle?

 

It’s not about comfort or safety or a sense of belonging.  It’s not about politics or world affairs or getting the last word in on social media.

 

We all have a common enemy folks.  His name is Satan, which means “adversary.”  He is not some made-up cartoon figure with horns and a pitchfork to scare little children.  He is real; he doesn’t sleep, and his primary goal is your destruction and mine.

 

He begins his attack with fear, attempting to paralyze you into submission.  If he finds that he can not make you afraid of something or someone, then he will use deception, trying to stir up your basest emotions with things that just aren’t true.  If you won’t buy an outright lie, then he will work on you with subtle half-truths.  But if you are a Truthseeker, always on your guard against such nonsense, then he will move on from deception to distraction.  If he can’t win you over, he can at least keep you from doing good.

 

So why is the devil so effective at carrying out his schemes?  Because most of us are unaware that he is even there.  And that’s just how he likes it.

 

Here is the reality of spiritual warfare.  If you are on one train of thought, and something else intrudes on that thought out of the blue, that is not the random firing of a synapse.  That thought that just popped into your head didn’t just pop into your head.  It was PLACED there.  This doesn’t mean you can’t think for yourself.  That’s what you were doing after all before your thought process was interrupted.  But what will you do NEXT with this new thought?  To answer that, you need to know who introduced it.

 

When Christians talk about receiving a message from God, it is almost never an audible voice.  If it is, many times that is a sign of something else going on that is more mental than spiritual (cue the above psychiatrists).  More often, you will hear people use phrases such as “prompted by” or “led by the Spirit.”  Sometimes this is in direct answer to prayer; sometimes it’s seemingly out of nowhere.  However it happens, you can always tell that the message is from God if it is in line with scripture, illuminates the solution to a problem and leads to a good result for all concerned.

 

Here’s where things get sticky.  Sometimes you might have a thought that solves YOUR problem but creates one for someone else.  Sometimes acting on that thought leads to a result that works in YOUR favor, at least for the short term, but has far-reaching consequences that you don’t even notice.  And of course, if you don’t know Scripture, then you have no way of telling if the message you are receiving is in line with God’s will as revealed in His Word.

 

Even worse, if you’re not aware that this spiritual influence is even happening, you probably think that the idea was your own idea in the first place.  After all, no one spoke it to you out loud.  But remember, you didn’t think it up yourself if you were actively thinking of something else when this new thought “occurred to you.”  Satan’s easiest targets are the people who don’t believe in him.  He has the easiest time influencing people who have no idea that they’re being influenced.

 

However, now that you have read this, you are aware and can no longer claim ignorance.

 

(So what do you do now?  Come back for Part 9—The Armor of God)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 7–Up There

Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone.  (Colossians 3:2-3a VOICE)

 

Why is it that we dwell on things that we know aren’t good for us?

 

How many times have you caught yourself starting a sentence with “I really need to” or “I really ought to,” but then you don’t actually do what it is you really need to do?  It’s as though we think we’ll at least get partial credit for simply acknowledging that we have fallen short of what is necessary.  I really need to eat a salad, but I’m going to have pizza instead.  I really need to go to the gym, but I seem to have grown butt roots here on the couch.

 

Or how about these.  I really ought to pray more.  I really ought to read my Bible more.  I really ought to get off the Internet and pay attention to my kids.  I really ought to put my phone down and talk to my wife.  Can you relate to any of this?

 

You could say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it, and it is, but one step does not a journey make.  You have to take the next one.

 

The thing is, the next step is usually not anything difficult.  We just. . .don’t. . .do it.  How hard is it to make simple choices like ordering something different at the restaurant, standing from a seated position, or simply TALKING to someone?  So why do we make it so much harder than it is?

 

I would chalk it up to a combination of habit and fear of change.  We do what we do because we have always done it, or if not always, at least for long enough that it has become automatic.  Habits are comfort zones; therefore, breaking them makes us uncomfortable.  And we will always gravitate toward comfort if left to ourselves, no matter how obvious it is to us that a change would do us good.

 

Christians do not have this luxury though.  When we turned our eyes toward Christ, we also turned them toward heaven, where He is.  Once you have seen a glimpse of the eternal, the things down here lose their luster a bit.

 

The problem is that the things down here are the things we are used to and that we continue to be surrounded with every day of our lives.  We love our stuff.  We love being in control of our own schedules.  We love our dreams and ambitions.  Even if they no longer satisfy us as they once did, we have claimed them as our own, and we defend them.

 

We can not forget this simple truth though.  When we made Jesus the Lord of our lives, we signed a spiritual quit claim deed for all of that stuff.  Our possessions are not ours, because the earth and everything in it belong to the Lord.  We are not in control of our lives, because we have no idea what the next day, or even the next hour, may bring.  And all of our dreams and ambitions die with us when we die.  From a spiritual standpoint, they have already died, because we surrendered them when we surrendered to Christ.

 

When we talk about “overcoming the world,” we are usually focused on all the evil bad things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with down here, and that we know won’t exist up there.  However, if we are serious about overcoming the world, then we also must focus on overcoming the pleasures down here along with the pains.  This is much more difficult, because while pain usually catches us by surprise, pleasure is something we continuously seek.  We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

 

Now is it bad to do things that feel good?  Not necessarily.  The point of this is that we need to realize that eternal life with Christ will feel, and indeed be, better than anything we have going on down here.

 

The thing we have to learn then is to be patient for the reward that is coming for us up there instead of being consumed with rewarding ourselves down here.