Category Archives: Battle Against Evil

The Cycle of Hurt

Battle

As I was in an attitude of prayer yesterday, I saw a picture in my mind of the huge spiritual war that is going on around us.  I could see the chaos and explosions, with shrapnel flying around everywhere and casualties occurring.

And it’s real.  Satan is working destruction, taking carefully aimed shots, lobbing bombs, battering down defenses.   Everything we see that is negative is his work.  When people have bad attitudes, it’s his work. When they are insecure, it’s his work.

battle2

It’s important to remember that we have a part it this.  We make choices. Any time we allow our fear to shape what we do, we are working with Satan. The same is true when we give into resentment, or selfishness, or pride.

So often we act out of our emotional damage, out of the insecurities, the buried hurts, the secret gaping wounds. We behave like wounded children, retreating in mistrust, or unintentionally lashing out. We don’t see that we hurt each other, and are hurt in return, and then we feel more damaged, so we hurt again.

The only way to stop the cycle is to be like Jesus and not retaliate, to do good to others when they do bad to you, to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Because people really do NOT know what they do. They are acting out of deep hurts and insecurities.

The only way to BUILD instead of destroy is to strive for our actions to be motivated by love, faith and reverence for God.  Every time we practice these we create a better world.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  II Cor 10:3-4

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  I Peter 2:23

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. Eph 6:4

 

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Prepare and Dare!

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.  Mark 14:1

It’s a good thing to remember that Satan is plotting our downfall.

ambush

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And no matter how hard we try, all of us will fall victim to Satan’s schemes at one time or another.

I mean, look what happened to the twelve disciples.  They were around Jesus all the time, heard his teaching, saw his example.  You’d think they would be impervious to temptation.  But Jesus warned them in verse 27, “You will all fall away.”  And that is what happened when he was arrested.

In a strange way, that’s kind of encouraging to me.  No one was immune.  They all messed up.  I’m not so bad.

BUT, what is really encouraging to me is that these same men who messed up went on to be the most influential men in history!

I think the same is true for us.  No matter how badly we fail, we can always pick ourselves up and go forward and do something that will make a difference.

We just need faith.  We don’t have to be super talented to impact the world in a great way.  We just have to step out in faith and do what we can, instead of cringing at home and thinking we’re not good enough.

I love this quote from an article by John Oaks:

“Israel’s leaders were real–not perfect. David was an adulterer, Abraham was a liar, Noah got drunk, Jacob was a manipulator. What all of these men had in common, ultimately, was faith in God.… God chose Moses, Abraham, David and others in spite of their sin.  He chose them because of the child-like faith and because of their willingness to repent.  The same is true today.”

So all of us can make a great impact for God.  The important thing is to not let Satan succeed in his schemes to take us out.

We need to be like Jesus in this.  He withstood temptation because he EXPECTED that Satan would ambush him.  He PREPARED for severe trials.  He lived his life in such a way that he was READY when they came.

How did he prepare?  I think Mark 14 gives us good insight.

First, he maintained righteousness.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.  Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (Mark 14:13-15)

No matter what was coming, Jesus still honored God.  He celebrated the Passover.   If it were me, I would have been tempted to take a break and live it up a little.  But Jesus always had the discipline of being God focused.  And then when hard times came, he was close to God.  He had all the spiritual tools to deal with challenge at his disposal.

Second, Jesus surrounded himself with the support of friends.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  (Mark 14:22-23)

In Luke’s parallel account of the Last Supper, Jesus said,  “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  (Luke 22:15)  Jesus’ heart was joyfully anticipating this time with his friends.  He drew strength from being with them.

I experienced something like this on Sunday, sitting in church with two of my children, one on either side, and my spiritual family all around me.  Since my kids live in other cities and have busy lives, it is very rare that we get to sit together at church.  For me, this is the closest thing to what I think heaven will be like — being with those we love most, worshiping our magnificent Lord.  It was momentous.  It was indescribable joy.  Afterwards, I felt refreshed, like a different person, ready to face my week.

Surely Jesus felt the same way.  There is something so strengthening about being with our loved ones before the Lord.

Surely we need to do likewise.  We need fellowship opportunities like we need bread and water.  I am an introvert, I know that being with others can be draining.  But it still also replenishes me.

Third, Jesus prayed.

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35-36)

THIS is how Jesus was able to face the impossible, how he was able to stand with integrity and power against heinous challenges.  He prayed.  He poured out his heart to God.  He begged and pleaded.  He didn’t stop until he had it within him to go on.

So today, let’s prepare for trials.  Let’s not lose ourselves in life so much that we forget how important it is to be ready for something to go wrong.

Because as much as God works for the good, it still is true that things will go wrong.  But these things don’t have to sideline us.  We don’t have to become a casualty.  We can take our trials in stride, and then dare to step out one more time, in faith, to do good works that will change the world for God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Eph 6:10-18

 

 

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To Love is To Endure

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.   Mark 13:13

How hard it is to endure!  We are disappointed, crushed by life’s woes, broken in heart by those we love.  Our friends fall away.  People let us down.   Things don’t go as we planned.  The world seems to fall apart.

Yet Jesus calls us to endure.

How do we do this?  Sure, it’s easy to have it as a lofty goal.  We’re all inspired by stories of the those who persevere in spite of great hardship to the very end.

crossing finish line

But then we find out that it’s a lot harder in practice than it is in concept.

endure

What makes it so difficult?  I want to suggest that it’s not just the trials, it’s our mindset during the trials that makes us lose heart.

Look at this parallel passage in Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Let’s break down this verse.

First of all, what is lawlessness?  The Greek word here is anomía (from A “not” and nómos, “law”).  In other words, without law.  It describes people who don’t want to follow God or His precepts.  Instead, they want to do things their way.

Or maybe I should say it describes us when we do what we want instead of what God wants. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” (Isaiah 53:6)  

And then, what kind of love are we talking about here?  The Greek word is agape, which means a committed, sacrificial, unconditional love.  Agape is the way God loves us.  He is righteous.  He is faithful to us no matter what.   He is the one who proclaimed, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”   (Isa 46:4)

So, looking at Matthew 24:12 again, it’s saying people will have an increasingly prideful and independent mindset.  And this will cause them to lose the passionate unconditional love for God they once had.  If they don’t feel like it, they won’t obey Him.   They will no longer commit themselves to Him on His terms.

It does seem like this is especially true today.  With the Internet, it’s such a temptation to think we’re well informed, and thus we know the best way to look at things.   As we read and cultivate opinions, we define ourselves in sharp lines, and we are sure we know how the world should go.

pride

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.  Prov. 26:12

The trouble with this is that we start thinking that God has to fit into the construct of our own personal world view.  And thus if some part of following Him doesn’t fit with our paradigm, or make sense to us, it seems very reasonable and rational that we not do it.

We start to drift away in small ways, both in practice and attitude.

And then the trials hit, and we flounder.  We know we should keep on, but we’ve taken God with a grain of salt.  We’ve lessened our commitment to him.  It’s easy to be tempted to give up.

In addition, we can feel stuck, because we’ve required God to make sense to us, and what we’re going through doesn’t make sense. We don’t know how to move forward.

stuck2

How sad if feels to be in this place where our heart isn’t what it once was!

So it’s vitally important that we maintain our passion for God.  It is our wellspring, our source. 

spring

Above everything else guard your heart, because from it flow the springs of life.  Prov 4:23

Here is what I’ve learned: No matter what happens, it’s me and God.  That relationship is my sweetest delight.   Regardless of what is going on with my loved ones, or my church, or my life, I have God.  I have His love, like a hidden treasure.  It is enough.

And I want that for all of us!  Let’s fight for it!!  Here’s a battle plan:

Let’s REMEMBER WE ARE LOVED with agape love.  Because HE set an example of loving us no matter what, we can press on to show our love for Him.  “For Christ’s love compels us…” ( II Cor 5:14)  “We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)

Let’s COMMIT AND GRIT our way through.  Like marriage, love for God is for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.  It is a promise to continue in ANY circumstance.   Like I Corinthians 13 says, “love always perseveres. Love never fails.”  We have to set our face forward with teeth clenched determination that we’re going to follow God and do the right thing no matter what.  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”  (John 14;23)

Let’s TRUST.  We need to live our life on our knees, admitting in humble acknowledgment that He knows better than we do, and that He loves us and wants what is best for us.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.”  Prov 3:5

Let’s REALIZE HE IS WALKING WITH US.  When my mother died, there was nothing that could take away my pain.  But it meant the world to me that my friends came and supported me through the pain.  It’s the same way with God.  He sometimes doesn’t take away the pain, but He does He walks with us through the it.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Ps 23:4

Let’s HOPE.   It is infinitely helpful to know that our efforts are not futile, that they WILL bear fruit.   “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (I Cor. 15:58)  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Gal 6:9)

Jesus wanted his disciples to know very clearly that trials would come.  And he called them to endure through the trials, to the very end.  He would not have said this if it wasn’t possible.

Satan’s goal is to keep this from happening. And he’s got some pretty heavy artillery.  Jesus mentioned some gruesome trials — being betrayed by family, being put to death.

But even with all of that, Satan’s greatest weapon is to attack our minds and hearts.

He wants us to dilute our love for God, little by little, with love for self.

He wants us to distract us from drinking deep from the well of God, so we feel like we’ve run dry, and get weary and tired.

He wants us to feel like our challenges are bigger than they are.

barking dog

But Satan is often all bark.  Satan just stirs up our fears and uses them against us.

“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  I John 4:4

Let’s fight for our hearts!  Let’s hang on, even if it’s by our fingertips!

hang-in-there

The one thing Satan doesn’t want is for us to keep on going.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, but as long as we don’t give up, we’re in the battle.

And look what is in store for us!

  • To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations  Rev 2:26
  • To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  Rev. 2:7
  • ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne  Rev. 3:21
  • He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Rev. 21:7

To love is to endure.  We can do it.  It is worth it.

 

 

 

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The Jesus We Need to Make It Through

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”    Mark 13:306

As I read this, it really hit me that people need to see the REAL Jesus, not a deceptive one.  And I began to realize I haven’t always been reflecting the real Jesus to my friends.

Because I want to make Jesus easy for my friends.

When my friends are having a hard time, I want to empathize with them, and tell them it’s okay. I don’t want to be seen as self-righteous or closed minded by telling them they have to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.

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After all, I haven’t walked a mile in their footsteps, I don’t know what they’re going through.  Would I be able to do better if I were in their shoes?

So I’m soft and I let them settle.

softie

And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.  I really don’t have the wisdom to understand what they’re going through, or what their journey should look like.

The thing is, though, that I may be withholding from them the thing that could help them most – the real Jesus.  Yes, I tell them about the Jesus who is loving and compassionate, and this is vital.  Without these qualities in Jesus, we could never make it.  We need his understanding and loving mercies so desperately.

But we also need the hard-nosed Jesus.  We need the Jesus who set his face towards Jerusalem and gutted it through to his death.  We need the Jesus who pushed through in the garden and kept praying until he had the heart to do the right thing.  We need the Jesus who willingly took the way of suffering.

Because we’re all going to suffer, and if our only goal is to end that suffering, we’re going to miss the point.  It’s in pushing through the suffering that we are able to grow, overcome and be our best.  If we just settle for where we are because it’s too hard and painful try to do better, we’ll never become the best version of ourselves.  We cheat ourselves of the joy of victory, the joy of being our best selves.

I’ve got to reflect the beneficent Jesus, but I also have to call people to follow the Jesus who never did what he wanted, but always sought to please the Father (John 8:29), the Jesus whose sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed to be able to do the right thing, (Luke 22:44) the Jesus who gave his ALL.

Unless I show my friends this Jesus, and call them to imitate him, I am leaving out the one thing that can help them through their trials: the Jesus who found a way to be righteous when it was hard. THIS is their lifeline! Because there IS a way through. There’s a better place ahead, if they’ll just keep fighting.

If you read the whole chapter of Mark 13, you see that Jesus was sending a clear message to his listeners:  struggles and hard times were coming.  This is a message people have never wanted to hear.

Case in point, we all love Jeremiah 29:11, and how God has plans to give us a hope and a future. But right before that in 29:8 He said, “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”

The Israelites were going to have to go through seventy years of captivity before they got to the place where God was going to bless them.  And they didn’t want to hear about that.  They wanted to listen to false prophets who would tell them it wasn’t going to happen.

We all gather around us teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear (II Tim 4:3), that we’re going to be free from struggles.

itching ears

Is this how the early disciples encouraged one another? By telling them that life doesn’t have to be hard?

Acts 14 says of Paul and Barnabas, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,they said.

Paul and Barnabas built up the churches by telling them that they would be in for a hard time.

What was the real Jesus Paul preached? Here is a part of his sermon in Acts 13:

Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have (Jesus) executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. Acts 13:28-31

Paul preached the Jesus who suffered, died and came back to life.

THIS is the Jesus we imitate in our lives, and encourage our friends to imitate.  We get beaten down by life, but we rise again!  We live out the gospel over, and over again, as we go through hardships.

Let’s not be deceived, like the writer of Ps 73 almost was:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

We can’t think the be all and end all is the cessation of struggles.  But we can have the mindset, and help others to have the mindset, that there WILL be challenges and we CAN get through them, just as Christ did.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. II Cor 1:5

So going back to the beginning, maybe instead of being self righteous and telling my friends to do the right thing no matter how tough it is, or being soft and letting them settle, I should tell them that I’ll cheer for them and be with them every step of the way as they fight through!

It’s just like the illustration we had Sunday in our lesson.  Mitchell, who was preaching, had someone from the audience, Nate, go up front and do push ups.

nate pushups

Nate thought he could only do 40 push ups, but when he had people cheering him on, he did 73!  Check out the following link below if you want to see it in action: Video

WE CAN DO IT, with encouragement from one another, and the real Jesus is our inspiration!  He gave his ALL!  And as we strive to give our all, we will realize more and more the abundant life God intends for us to have.

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Following Jesus — Full of Surprises (and We Don’t Like It!)

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Mark 10:32

If you go after Jesus, he’s going to surprise you.

Jesus was always amazing his disciples.  He wasn’t what they expected.   He took time for children.  He ate with sinners.  He refuted the Pharisees.  He washed feet.  He said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven.  He was arrested.

The apostles walked with Jesus every day for three years and just when they thought they had him figured out, he’d blow their minds.

So why is it that I think I can live a calm predictable Christian life like I somehow have Jesus figured out?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  Isa 55:8

I love this blog by Tom Jones.   In it, Tom talks about how he was praying to God in the morning about something.  He wrote, “​By that night, G​od’s answer was already coming in. (Don’t worry if things don’t happen that quickly for you. They usually don’t for me either.) But in this case his answer was as shocking as it was clear. It absolutely could not have been any more different from what I would have expected or guessed. How could this happen? 48 years of following Jesus, and he is still totally surprising me. ”

Tom has been following God for many years, and he still got astonished.

I think God gives out wisdom like manna.  It’s only good for a little while and then it expires.

Gathering Manna Exodus 16:14-31

Gathering Manna Exodus 16:14-31

Of course, I’m exaggerating.  We do gain wisdom over time.  But we never completely get a handle on God.  Just when we think we’ve got His number, He turns around and does the unexpected.

We need to ask for wisdom like we ask for our daily bread.  It’s not something we have a sufficiency of.  Moment by moment it needs to supplemented.

But back to Mark 10:32, let’s try to get a feeling here for what the disciples’ astonishment looked like when Jesus set out for Jerusalem.

It sort of reminds me of how I am when I’m on vacation sightseeing with my family.  They call me the bulldozer because I plow forward, with them reluctantly trailing behind me, saying, “Mom, slow down, we’re tired.”  But I just keep on going because I have a plan of things we’re going to see and do.

The family following after me on vacation

The family following after me on vacation

Jesus was the same way.  He was plowing forward.  He was determined.  He had an agenda and he was going to fulfill it.  And as he went, the disciples trudged after him, flabbergasted,  saying to one another, “What?  We’re going where?  Jerusalem?  I can’t believe it!”  They shook their heads.  “That place is going to be nothing but trouble.  Why would he want to go there?”

And a feeling of doom settled over the group.  You know that feeling?  Like bad things are SURE to happen?

But Jesus wasn’t fazed, any more than he was when he slept during a raging storm.

jesus sleeping

You know why?  Because Jesus knew that while it might FEEL like battles would be lost, he would win the war.  And that’s what he told his apostles —

Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.  Mark 10:33-34

Jesus was going to rise.  Good would triumph.

And the same is true for us —

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.  II Cor 2:14

We need to remember this no matter what we’re going through.  After all Jesus died for us.  The deepening conviction that he did should be our anchor in every storm.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus . . . II Cor 4:10

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . .  we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:32, 37

Because we’re going to need that anchor.  There are going to be a lot of surprises in following Jesus.

Just like the disciples, we don’t expect that he will lead us to a scary place.

A place where we’re called to a greater level of commitment.  All of a sudden we realize we’ve got to take it higher, and do stuff like confess sin, fast, ask strangers to church.  And every time we start to get comfortable with doing those things, Jesus stretches us more.  (Go door knocking?  Yikes!)

A place of grueling emotional battles, apparent defeats and discouragements.

A place where the shadow of doom overtakes us.

But we can be unfazed.

Because it’s guaranteed.  Good will triumph.  We’re going to win the war.

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Encourage My Soul

Gross picture, but it's fake!

Gross picture, but it’s fake!

So if your hand causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life disabled than to have two hands and go to hell, to the fire that cannot be put out.  If your foot causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  If your eye causes you to lose your faith, tear it out! It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.   In hell worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out.  Everyone will be salted with fire.  Mark 9:43-49

Okay, here we have the classic radical repentance scripture, only I’m using a different translation  –the God’s Word Translation, which phrases stumble or sin as lose faith.  It gives us something to think about.

Losing faith.  You know, this is really Satan’s goal.  It isn’t just to cause us to lose our temper, or be bitter, or lust, get selfish, greedy, etc.  It’s to cause us to  lose sight of how real and good God is, or even that it matters to Him what we do.

So our goal needs to be to do whatever it takes to keep our faith.

 A lot of people who do long distance running say they use a focal point to reach their goal.  They find a tree or something in the distance and just focus on getting to that.  Then they find something else and focus on getting to that.

running

If we have a focal point, something we can SEE that we’re working towards, it’s easier to make it.  It’s the same way in working through our struggles.  If we keep thinking about how hard it is, we get bogged down.  But if we can look to where we want to end up, the way becomes clear.

I found that was true this week.  I was struggling with something — one of those things that takes over your head and you can’t get rid of it.  I was stuck.  Then I pictured how God has worked out my schedule in the past.  He has always worked out the tough situations in my life,  And I realized He is going to help me find a way through this as well!  I pictured the resolution God WILL help me find, and I felt so much better.

Faith is what we need. An unhampered vision of what God will do.

And Satan wants to find ways to obscure our vision, sabotage our faith.

So lately, instead of just trying to not sin, I have starting asking myself, “What is causing me to lose faith right now?”

And do you know what the answer has been?  FEAR.  Fear that people will think badly of me.  Fear that I will fail.  Fear that things won’t work out, that something will go wrong.

Fear messes me up so I keep focusing on my problems instead of God.

Fear is something I need to cut off, tear out!

Fear is something I need to replace with trust that God will guide me out of every dark valley.

dark valley

Replace with humility, bowing before God and letting Him teach me.

Replace with the wonderful encouraging vision of the resolution, what God will do.

Replace with the vision of heaven.

But there’s more.  I can’t just tell myself not to fear.  I can’t just replace it with other things.

Why?  Because I have to address the source of my fears.

This passage in Mark says, “everyone will be salted with fire.”   Judgement Day is coming.  And what is going to be judged?  In Hebrews 4 it says,  “For the word of God is alive and active. . . .  it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. . . . Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

It is our thoughts and attitudes that will be laid bare and judged.  And the word for attitudes here is énnoia, which means “settled (thought-out) opinions, attitudes.”

So it is our entrenched attitudes which will be judged.  It’s not just what we think, it’s what we are intense and passionate about, what we’re invested in.

That is why I can’t just tell myself not to fear anymore.  I have to figure out the ennoia that’s at the base of my fears and root it out.

That is why we can’t just stop one instance of wrong thinking.  We have a whole system of thinking that’s wrong.   It feels like our very self.  It’s like we have to cut off a piece of our heart.

Wounded_Heart_by_AshaTC

And THAT IS painful and scary, just like the picture of the girl with the gouged out eye at the beginning of this blog.

But faith is so good.  When I feel it, I’m like, why was I holding onto the fear, the selfishness, the pride, and so on?

Deep change seems scary, but the truth is that it actually like walking into the sunlight.

bright sunlight

Giving up control completely to God, giving up even our way of thinking, brings such clarity, such relief.  God’s goodness eclipses everything, and it’s expanding all the time, like light swallowing up darkness.

Living by faith is nourishment to our soul.  And Satan wants to keep us starved in our sins and struggles.

So let’s address those things that hamper our faith.  Let’s dig down and root them out at the source.

What is the root for me?  Simply a lack of trust in God.  I’ve been working on asking Him, “What are you teaching me through this” instead of resenting my situations, and it has been so much better.

With faith, Satan can’t get me to lose sight of God’s gleaming goodness.

I see that the storm is passing over.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Ps 27:13

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Take Care for Snares!

millstone

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  Mark 9:41-42

We have the power to encourage or discourage.

We can give a “cup of water” to someone,” and God is fired up!  In our fellowship of churches, our mantra has been to “encourage one another daily. . .  so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  (Heb 3:13)  We know very clearly that we personally can have a positive impact on our brother or sister.  We can keep them from sinning.

But this passage also makes it clear that we can cause people to sin, and God HATES that.  A millstone is a huge heavy thing.  This is a strong statement.

Actually, the Greek says we cause people to “skandalizo,” to stumble.  The word refers to a trap or snareI get the picture of a person walking along, and then their foot is caught and they can’t move forward.  

caught in snare

Our actions and words can trip people up, distract them, get them off track. This can even happen when we are well intentioned.  I think that’s the point of Romans 14.  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. . .  make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

The God’s Word Translation phrases it as causing them to lose faith.  This makes sense.  People get tangled up, pulled into sin and away from God.

tangled

They get discouraged instead of encouraged.  And we can be the cause.

Am I strengthening or weakening?  Strengthening should be the goal of every interaction.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  Eph 4:29

Consider these verses:

  • Not many of you should presume to be teachers.  For we all stumble in many ways.  . . . And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  James 3:2a, 6
  • See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.   Heb 12:15

A lot of wisdom is needed in our dealings with others.  We can’t be careless.  Instead we need to be very careful.

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  Matt 12:36

We also need to be very careful with our hearts.  We will not only give account for our words, but for our inner thoughts and attitudes.  (Hebrews 4:2)

Because our attitudes DO affect others. The careless words referred to in Matt 12:36 come from the fact that, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Matt 12:34)

Cleaning our inner selves is like cleaning the refrigerator.  You think you have it spic and span, and then you find another container in the back with something rotten in it.

rotten food

In our support group, I’m finding more and more in my character that I need to work on.  It’s a good thing!  But it’s sobering.

We’ve been learning about perfectionism.  Our book  quotes John Wesley, who said that having a “scrupulous conscience” is a “sore evil.”

What? Evil? Surely not!  I would think it is great to have a tender conscience.  It would drive us to be our best for God, and to help others more.

But Wesley describes those who carry it to an extreme, “condemning themselves without cause, imagining something to be sinful where Scripture nowhere condemns it, supposing other things to be their duty where Scripture nowhere enjoins it.”

Wow, now I understand.

I understand because I can be too much of a perfectionist and tie myself in knots.  A friend was in need this past weekend, but I wasn’t comfortable with the way I could help her.  I felt guilty and wretched.  “Jesus would do it, what about the Good Samaritan?” I told myself.  “I should be willing to help her.”

Then I went to a family reunion, and already out of sorts, I fell victim to more feelings of guilt.  My conscience said, “You should have talked to your father in law more.  You should have . . . ”  Once I start down that path, it can go on and on.

And then later in the week I had a talk with a friend that was intended to be righteous, but ended up being a downer for us both.

We get tangled up.  Snares abound.

snare

traps surround

And Satan wants us to be part of the process.

Fight him by realizing how precious each person is.

Fight him by being careful with our words and actions.

Fight him by avoiding unnecessary arguments.

Fight him by dealing with our heart.

Fight him by praying earnestly for wisdom and guidance.

Fight him by seeking to strengthen and encourage, to LOVE!

Because we need each other to get through.  How we need each other!  And we carelessly sabotage that without even realizing.

Let’s give very careful thought to how we interact.  Is it going to build someone up or weigh them down?

There’s so much to do.  There’s a world to be won!  There’s a race to win, with heaven as the prize!  Satan wants to trip us up, get us off track, use us to get others off track.

Let’s foil him, with God’s help.

trap avoid

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  Hebrews 12:1-4

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