Satan’s Relentless Pursuit to Take Us Out

I had been in full-time, vocational ministry for just over 30 years when, for the first time in my life, I gained new insight into the depth of the evil Satan possesses.

After my son, Jordan, took his life I was crippled in every way, en route to being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts myself.

As you can imagine, during that first year, I, numerous times, broke down into screaming madness on the floor.

Later, as I reflected back on those moments of unspeakable pain, I recalled how intense the battle was for my mind. I remember distinctly a voice in my head telling me to “finish the job. Go see your son. Your family will be much better off without your broken mind. Finish the job.”

Logic says that, at that point in my life, being 100% useless to the kingdom of heaven here on planet earth, Satan would’ve moved on to someone else.

But he didn’t.

Satan didn’t care that I was beat down.

His goal? Finish the job. Take me out. Hurt my family deeper.

I learned from a counselor once, “You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.”

According to the Bible, the devil exists. And he hates everything about you.

If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you are an active threat to his plans.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, you potentially could do that one day. That makes you a potential threat.

He. Hates. You. And won’t stop attempting to take you out.

Marriage in shambles? Just lost a loved one? Just diagnosed with cancer? Suffering from crippling depression? Facing unanticipated financial crisis? Been recently betrayed. Wrestling with addiction? Lost your job? (Insert here your most recent crushing life event.) The list goes on…

Satan doesn’t care how hard life is for you. He’s coming after you to finish the job.

Two gospel writers, Matthew & Luke, record the temptation narratives (the “showdown in the desert” between Christ and Satan), recorded in chapter 4 of each gospel.

There are a dozen sermons in those passages. Mine here is just one:

After failing to get Jesus to sin the first time, Matthew records, “Then the devil..” (4:5)

Satan wasn’t going to give up.

After failing yet a second time, Matthew records in verse 8, “Again, the devil…”

He still wasn’t going to give up.

**While the Cross offers us mercy, the devils offers us none.**

Finally, Jesus ordered Satan, “Away from me, Satan!” And Satan had no choice but to leave.

But Luke adds this ominous warning: the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” (4:13)

Paul reminds believers that, because of Christ, “we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The disciple, John, put it this way: “Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

This biblical truth is catastrophic to the work of Satan.  So, naturally, he works tirelessly to get us to forget it.

This way he can continue his relentless, systematic, and methodical strategy to take out families and individuals. Once and for all.

You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.

My objective here is to remind you we have an enemy.

But, he is no match for the risen King, Jesus Christ, at whose presence the devil cowers in terror.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” an imprisoned Paul wrote, “that you may be able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

For Narnia, Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Malachi (My response to the Prosperity Gospel)

No one likes to hear a sermon on giving.

But this sermon will be different than what you might be expecting.

When Malachi steps onto the scene a lot has happened over the last few centures:  Israel has, due to widespread spiritual rebellion, exhausted God’s patience, suffered punishment in way of being conquered by neighboring nations, taken into decades-long exile, and finally been released to return to their homeland in and around Jerusalem.

In the book of Malachi, a century has passed since they were allowed to return home.  Unbelievably, they were given permission to rebuild their destroyed temple.  They started out in a blaze of glory.  But, discouragement became complacency which became apathy which led down the proverbial rabbit hole of “Devotion to God is a complete waste of time.  From now on, I’m looking our for No. 1.”  As one scholar observed, their sin and rebellion against God was worse now than it ever was before they were taken into exile.

People seem to never learn.

Malachi’s job was, like all ancient prophets, an unpopular one.  He was to call Israel to account, pointing out how arrogant and self-absorbed they’d become.  They had become quite okay with telling God, in essence, to shove off – you’re just in the way.  (This would be the same God who had, throughout history, saved them over and over again from their own idiocy, as well as from enemy nations.)

As God, through Malachi, began listing all the ways Israel had abandoned their devotion to him, all they could do was, like spoiled children, smart off back to the prophet.

The book of Malachi is a fitting ending, actually, to the age of the prophets.  Following Malachi would be 400 years of seeming silence from God.  The next prophet would be John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way for the true king, Jesus Christ.

One of the indictments handed down to Israel was that they had been “robbing God” by withholding their best while offering to him their leftovers (“Maybe God won’t notice?”) The issue was not about “amount”, but rather “attitude.”

In the only time in scripture where God gives us permission to put him to the test, he says,

“Should people cheat [rob] God? Yet you have cheated [robbed] me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (3:8-11)

Now, here’s the sermon you might not have been expecting.

There is a not-so-subtle heresy today commonly termed the Prosperity Gospel.  It’s tenet can be summed up in the words of one of its modern champions:

In short:  God’s will for your life?  Wealth & health.

I have no interest in critiquing the man who is Joel Osteen, or others like him, in this blog – only their interpretation of scripture on what God says about giving.  The Prosperity Gospel Preachers understanding of basic biblical teaching on this particular doctrine is embarrassingly incomplete.  It would behoove them and to preach the “whole counsel/will of God” and include the other side of this doctrine.

If the passage from Malachi (printed above) were the only passage God chose to give us regarding giving, Osteen and the like would be spot-on.  But it’s not.  The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel don’t insinuate – they boldly proclaim the following axiom:

Are you healthy, successful and financially prosperous?  You’re giving God your best.  Are you languishing in financial bondage?  Barely living paycheck to paycheck?  Something’s wrong and you are not giving God your best.

But, as with any half-truth being preached from a pulpit, anyone with a halfway intelligent understanding of the Bible immediately begins thinking in response: “This sounds sorta right, but not all right.  Something’s wrong with this picture.”

Clearly, according to the Prosperity Gospel – the apostles, the early church fathers, persecuted Christians both ancient & modern (Sri Lanka) have done something wrong.  For, if God wants us to prosper in health and wealth – and God never changes – then logic dictates that the followers of Christ, both ancient and modern, should enjoy happiness, health and affluence.  But, nothing could be further from the truth:

Once again, Prosperity Preachers trumpet, “God’s will for you is happiness, health and financial prosperity!” So, how does that jive with actual scripture?  Glad you asked 🙂

Job 1:8, 12 – The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?… everything he has is in your power.”

Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush [Christ] and cause him to suffer.”

John 9:1-3 – As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – …in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

According the Prosperity Gospel, here are the implications of these passages:

  • Job, whom God had just described, in vs 8, as the “most righteous man on earth” had apparently not given God his best.  Why else would God give Satan, himself, permission to destroy Job’s life?
  • Jesus, the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy, would suffer greatly as a result of God’s perfect will.  Clearly, for God to make his own son suffer so greatly, Jesus must not have given God is best, right?
  • The ancient misunderstanding was, “If a person was born blind or lame or deaf, etc., there must be great sin somewhere in his family.”  Sound familiar?  But, Jesus explained to the biblically myopic disciples that the man’s blindness had been given him by God to bring glory to God.   I keep trying to find the verse in this passage where Jesus says, “The man had not been giving his best and was cursed with blindness.”  Alas, it’s not there.
  • Finally, Paul, writer of a full third of the New Testament was, like Job, tormented by Satan, himself.  And, to make matters worse, when Paul begged God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”God said no. (No one knows what pain this was in Paul’s life but it was debilitating enough for Paul to beg God to remove it.)  According to the Prosperity Gospel, Paul had not given his best.

And we haven’t even mentioned the pain and persecution threaded throughout the rest of both the Old and New Testaments.

Bottom line:

  • Make no mistake: God’s words through Malachi are certainly true, as are Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.  Giving God our best (whether its money, our time, our resources, etc.) will always, in return, receive a blessing. But, as you well know, the way God blesses is often different from how he thought he would bless us. (I asked God to make me a more patient driver, so he put me behind slow drivers 🙂  I asked God to help me be more compassionate to the hurting, so he hurt me deeply.) God’s blessing for us may well be new wisdom and discernment regarding the managing and stewardship of all with which God has entrusted us. (I always tell musicians/artists that their talent is merely on loan from the Lord.) It may be his peace that passes human understanding to help us get through a difficult time.  Or, it may actually be material blessing.  Regardless of how God blesses, it will be provide all that we need.
  • Almost always, a financial windfall is not in the cards. This doesn’t mean that’s never part of the Lord’s will.  But not usually. Think: the manna/bread provided for ancient Israel after the Exodus.  Israel was never in want of what they needed.  But God gave only enough for what they needed for the present time.  In the most familiar psalm, David wrote, “I lack nothing.” God’s definition of “prosperity” for some may be living paycheck to paycheck, giving us opportunity to trust him in tenuous times. (“Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials…”)
  • And, finally, you may give your very best – and still return home to a busted water heater, or have your car’s alternator go out the following week.  Does that mean you are somehow amiss in your giving?  Not according to God, who is Yaweh Jireh –  יְהֹוָה יִרְאֵה  – our Provider.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Good Friday – 20 Centuries Ago…

jesus-crucifixion

On Good Friday, while we go through our daily routines, use your imagination and travel back with me twenty centuries to the dusty roads of southern Palestine.

The son is appearing over the horizon. By this time, the rooster has crowed, alerting Simon Peter to the fact that, just as Jesus predicted, he would deny Jesus not once, but three times during the previous night. The other disciples have scattered in fear.

Jesus has spent the entire night facing an illegal, hostile, kangaroo court designed to railroad him into a verdict of execution.

The Jewish leaders have demanded an audience with Pontius Pilate, who, normally in Caesarea, is in Jerusalem because of the crowds associated with Passover. Pilate tolerates the Jewish leaders, hearing them out. But, seeing through their false accusations, Pilate agrees not (yet) to have Jesus executed, but to have him flogged. (death may be less cruel)

Jesus is about to have his back shredded and ripped from his body, producing voluminous blood-loss and hypovolemic shock. This was the type of torture from which prisoners often died. The Roman writer, Cicero, described it as “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible.”

But, the crowds aren’t satisfied with the flogging.  They want death!  “Crucify him!”, they shout repeatedly.  So the verdict is handed down….the death penalty. For only Rome has the authority to execute a death sentence. And their favorite form of execution? Crucifixion.

Crucifixions are “events” intended to send a message of terror to the onlooking crowds: “Thinking about rebelling again Rome? Behold! This is your fate should you follow through.”

But, this is Good Friday, right? Given Jesus’ condition, how could anyone ever describe it as “good?”

Because, without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection.

I saw a sign once sitting outside a coffee shop on the Friday prior to Easter.  It read:

“Come on in – where every Friday is Good – and no one has to die.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I guess.  But it completely contradicts what God says:

“For all have sinned…. [and] the wages of sin is death.”

Translation:  The verdict is in.  We’re all guilty of sin.  Every last one of us.  And God’s payment to us – the wages we have earned for our sin – is death.  An eternal death sentence.

Today, consider Him who died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

This is the Gospel.

To put it in the words of contemporary culture:

karma

From John MacArthur’s brilliant “God With Us”:

“Think for a moment about how Jesus died. It was not an easy, gentle passing from this world. It was excruciating agony and torture of the worst kind, for it was on a cross. He suffered in His death. He drank the bitter cup at Calvary in its fullness – He drained it to the last drop. He experienced all the pain, all the loneliness, all the torments that have ever been associated with death…..The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin.

The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ was born, put it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:3-5; emphasis mine)

MacArthur adds,

Jesus Christ received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that (far more), He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin.”

Contrary to the sign outside the coffee shop, according to God – someone did have to die.

So Christ did. For us. Willingly.

Why? Because of his relentless love for us all.

It’s Friday,…but Sunday’s Comin’, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Habakkuk

The sound of silence… can be deafening.

Ever felt like God’s “stepped out of the office” and forgotten about you completely?

You’re not alone.  The “heroes of the faith” felt the same way.

Habakkuk begins his story with,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?

In Psalm 13, David lamented the same thing:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

While the enemy hisses his lie, “God doesn’t care,” the biblical truth is this:  God may seem like he’s not paying attention to our struggles and pain, but God’s own Word says otherwise.

Jesus, himself, said,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (emphasis mine)

God’s answers to our cries have always been: “yes”, “no” or “wait a while.”

It’s the “wait a while” that is most frustrating and even painful.

The Scottish theologian, Oswald Chambers, offers us a paradigm shift regarding this particular topic.  He wrote,

Does God seem silent in your life right now?

Trust him.  “He is bringing you into the great run of his purposes.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Nahum

In the mid 7th century B.C., Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh (the capital city of Assyria) and warned them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent of their heinous cruelty and off-the-chart depravity.

They repented.

Fast-forward one hundred years.

By this time, Nineveh had systematically declined as a city right back into the proverbial gutter they had created a century earlier.

God could have just killed them.

But, because God longs to forgive more than punish, he sent yet another prophet to warn them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent.

This time they didn’t listen.

So Nahum opens up with this foreboding announcement:

The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath… The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (1:2-3)

They still didn’t listen.

This reminded me of a story of a similar time in history, albeit more recent. Travel with me back to 18th century, picturesque New England.

During the Great (Spiritual) Awakening of 1734-35, thousands of people were coming to Christ and getting right with God.  Nonetheless, there was one church, in Enfield, Connecticut, that had no interest in repenting.  Due to deeply-rooted spiritual complacency, they were far too comfortable with the lifestyles they had chosen – void of biblical truth.  They had a good thing going (so they believed.)  And, just like ancient Nineveh, they had no interest in God interfering.

Since God had used Jonathan Edwards, a graduate of Yale, so mightily to spark this Great Awakening, the pastor of the  Enfield church invited Edwards to come preach, hoping and praying God would use Edwards’ preaching to wake the church up out of their spiritual slumber.

So, on July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards stood in front of those unsuspecting people and preached America’s most famous sermon:  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Edwards passionately preached:

“Below you is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; hell’s mouth is wide open;… You deserve the fiery pit;… The Devil is waiting… hell is gaping;… The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot, ready to receive you.  The glittering sword is whetted and held over you,…

The bow of God’s arrow is bent; the arrow is made ready; and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow…

You have no refuge, no security, nothing to take hold of.

All that preserves you is the sovereign forbearance of an angry God.”

Testimony of the event bears witness that “Edwards was interrupted many times before he finished his sermon by people moaning and crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?”

We don’t hear sermons like that anymore.

But, we should.

The author of Hebrews warned,

It is a fearful and terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God [incurring His judgment and wrath]. (10:31)

God tried to get, both, Nineveh’s and the Enfield church’s attention by sending prophets. 

Enfield listened.  Nineveh didn’t.

As a result, in 612 B.C., God used Babylon to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth.  So decimated was the city that the site was not rediscovered until 1842 A.D.

Do you find yourself complacent about your faith?  Has God been trying to get your attention?

Heed his warnings before it’s too late.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

The Decline of the Bible in North America

As a guy who spent 25 years in full-time Youth Ministry, I have a burning question that, with each passing year, weighs heavily on my heart and mind.

But first, a disclaimer:

There’s always debate between which is better: a digital copy of the Bible? Or one with real pages? One may be better for one’s particular learning style. Neither is “right”, nor “wrong”, but merely a matter of preference. I’m for either as long as it’s used.

Now that we have that out of the way and, hopefully, understand my question has nothing to do with what media we ought to use – let’s dive in…

Here’s my burning question:

What is the reason most modern teens have little or no regard for Scripture, and how do we fix it?

Every teen today can download a Bible app.   But, as with all technology it’s a double-edged sword. Reading the Bible has never been easier or more convenient due to digital apps. But, in my experience, less and less are actually reading and studying it.

Most teens can quote entire song lyrics by Drake and Cardi B, but struggle to recite two scriptures from memory.

Why should the Bible be vitally important?

Here’s why…

It’s the sole source for 1) telling us who God is, and (2) telling us what is right and what is wrong. A non-biblical worldview opens the mind up for complete subjectivity, sending us down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Biblical illiteracy among Christian teens and young adults is alarming and heartbreaking.

The problem, in my experience as, both, a youth pastor and adult pastor, is systemic in that a loss of respect and honor for the Bible originates with us, the parents/adults.

My favorite quote on “learning” is this one:

“We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”

If we, as adults, have no real, consistent devotion to the Word of God then there is little chance our children, as well as the younger generation, will either. If, as parents/guardians, our lifestyle demonstrates a low priority for being a disciplined student of the Bible don’t be surprised when our children have little interest in the Bible when they’re grown. Parents, not church staff, were always designed to be their children’s primary “youth pastors.”

I’ve visited with many grown Christian adults who know little about the Bible. I’m thrilled to help them learn, but taken back at how much they don’t know, given the fact that our very faith is based upon a book so rarely studied.

Ever heard this one?  “The Bible is too heavy and complicated for teens to understand.”

Give me a break.

Have you seen what they’re studying and accomplishing in school?

We grossly underestimate how much they can absorb and learn. Look at how they respond to sports coaches, dance and music instructors, etc.

Granted, we can’t compete with the lightning-speed and entertainment of social media. But, we don’t have to.   We have something better than social media.

Look, when life comes crashing down around us, social media or the latest song to top the Billboard Charts can’t give us hope, peace and truth.

Only the Bible can do that.

I fear if we don’t whet the appetite of this generation, modeling for them a hunger for the great, epic adventure of God in the Bible, allowing them to, with us, wrestle with the Bible’s hard teachings and seeming problematic passages, the words of Judges 2:10 will, once again, apply:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done…”

Please know my heart – there is no shame or guilt intended for anyone here.  Far too many times, I’ve been as poor an example for teens as the next guy.

Fortunately, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I heard a preacher say once, holding his Bible up, “This book will keep me far from sin; and sin will keep me far from this book.”

Parents/adults, join me in putting down our phones for a few minutes and engaging in intelligent dialogue with the younger generation about the Bible and the treasure it holds.

Join me in challenging one another to memorize verses and passages, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through God’s Word.

My friends, may we return to a deep conviction that God holds the answers for our fallen world, and that those answers are found in his living, active, powerful Word.

Sola Scriptura, Nick