our struggle is not against people

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. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

If there’s anyone who struggled with people besides our Lord, it was surely the Apostle Paul. When you read the account in Scripture, it’s remarkable what all he went through especially from his own people, but sometimes from others as well. His life, like our Lord had previously indicated, was marked with suffering. And Paul did warn people about certain characters who were resisting the gospel and its messengers.

But in Ephesians we read something that is remarkable in itself and yet given the message of Scripture and what is more and more revealed along the way is arguably not all that surprising. There are underlying spiritual entities at work both to resist us and resist our witness. They are active and at work in usually the most subtle ways, though sometimes not so subtle. C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a remarkable read that lifts the veil off what they’ve been doing the past few centuries right through to the present day, even with anticipation of what’s beyond. Without getting into that, which I’m not prepared to do anyhow, I want to insist that what Paul calls us to here is nothing short than living in the truth of the gospel, as we share that gospel as a witness to others.

What do we tend to do instead? We fall right into the enemy’s trap by doing something different. We might fight fire with fire. We might enter into the struggle as if it’s against other humans, perhaps a political or philosophical battle rather than a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean that something of philosophy or politics might not find its way into what is going on, though the gospel should always be front and center. The point is that we’re no less than in a spiritual battle, with the Holy Spirit at our side to help us through prayer and our attempt to do in the Lord’s strength, what God calls us to do here.

With these things in mind, we want to beware entering into the enemy’s turf by stooping to something less than what we’re called to do. Yes, there’s always grace for us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing what’s best or most pleasing to the Lord. So we want to avoid insofar as possible partisan politics, like siding either against or for some particular politician or government official. This seems to be a major way in which the enemy is either tripping us up, or our witness. That said, we also need to be willing to take some controversial stands which will be considered political. The gospel is not just about one’s personal relationship with God and their salvation. It includes so much more, at the very least in its impact on all of life. If we fail to take that into account, then we’re not following Paul’s example or heeding what Scripture says. But we want to do so as those who are “as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”

This really all begins with our own walk. We should not imagine that God has something “great” for us to do day after day. The great God wants done is that we see to ourselves, as the text above says, and pray. God will let us in on other things along the way, but it must always be first things first, the basics in place. We must seek to live in the strength and provision from God, realizing that we are in a battle, a spiritual one. In and through Jesus.

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more than a persecution complex

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

John 15:18-25

Couched in Jesus’s Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) the eve of his crucifixion, is some words of warning to his disciples. In our own culture we’re hard pressed to make much sense of them, but in the world at the present time persecution of Christians is as bad as ever. We do well to keep track of it and help by prayers and giving (see Open Doors).

In this present age we live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All are directly opposed to Christ, often subtly in my own context. Oftentimes what can happen is a kind of getting along which amounts to compromise and a watering down of the message of the cross. If the ideal of the separation of church and state is maintained, then neither will interfere with the other. The church strictly speaking is a separate entity, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). At the same time the church is a people in exile from the heavenly Jerusalem, and wants to see the nation blessed in which it resides (Jeremiah 29:7).

So like life itself, it’s complicated. But straight up, as followers of Christ, we should expect persecution. In my own context again, more or less subtle. Though we who are blessed to live in a space in which significant religious freedom remains should be aware of other Christians who do not, and are more or less suffering real persecution, perhaps in the loss of property, and even life.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

We dare not carry around a persecution complex, ready to jump at the slightest provocation, always thinking the worst. But as followers of Christ, we need to remember that our lives are to be a small picture pointing to Jesus and his cross. We’re to take up our crosses and follow. In the love of God for the world. In and through Jesus.

trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

what’s a loving parent to do?

As God’s children in Jesus, we often would like life to be easy, or at least easier. But instead, we find ourselves embroiled in the midst and mess of the world, the flesh, and the devil against Christ and Christians. Not to mention the fact that we have our own issues. A basic problem for most of us would be our propensity to not trust in God, but trust instead in ourselves, or someone or something else.

God could bail us out and make life grand. And some even advocate something like that in their teaching. But scripture teaches us that God is concerned about our growth into maturity in Christ, that we would become like God’s Son. And if even Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered (Hebrews 5), mysterious thought that is, then how can we think we will be exempt from such? Scripture over and over again tells us a different story.

God as a loving Father desires the very best for his children, nothing less. To learn how to swim, we must be in the water. To learn how to live well, we have to live in the real world. And basic to that in Christ is the necessity of learning to trust in God, an unreserved trust in the heavenly Father.

God as our loving Father wants that for us. What pleases God is faith (Hebrews 11), faith in him and in his word. Our effort alone won’t because we’re ever in need of God’s grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus. Faith in God’s word, the gospel in Jesus is essential. But even that is not enough. God wants us to totally trust in him. We might trust, yet hold back. We trust God for our salvation through Christ’s person and work, his life, death and resurrection, but we don’t trust God in the practical nuts and bolts of life. God lovingly looks on, but surely grieves over us. At times there are things not even God can do. God won’t override our will. It’s up to us to trust, to trust and obey.

Something I’m learning, even late in life as it is. Better late than never. In and through Jesus.

fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

Jesus has won, but for now we still remain in out and out war

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20

In Christ we are above all children of God as well as servants of Christ, and we’re also soldiers in spiritual warfare. There’s no question that on the cross, by his death, Christ won and vanquished the host of Satan (Colossians 2:13-15). But for whatever reason, the result of that victory in finality is future, and in Christ is also present. We can stand and resist, but only through Christ and Christ’s work. We certainly are no match for the devil ourselves. Yes, I am referring to angelic beings who are fallen, in rebellion against God. In case we haven’t noticed, we’re in an out and out war. A decent analogy is World War 2, when after the Normandy Invasion, which came at such a horrific cost of human life, the war was all but over. Unfortunately serious fighting continued. My father was in a tank in Germany, and was definitely in harm’s way. In the same way, but spiritually, not physically, we in Christ must face it: we’re in out and out war. I like the way Eugene Peterson phrases it in the Message: “a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”

There are countless ways that we can acknowledge this. Anything at all which gets our focus off Christ and the gospel is a sign. And whatever violates love for God, and for our neighbor as ourselves, including even love for our enemies, as Jesus taught us, is also equally a sign that we’re off track.

It’s important for us to realize the nature of what we’re in. God will give us the strength we need, as well as the resources through the gospel, just as Peterson’s rendering of this passage above, makes clear. We have to realize what we’re in for. It is no Sunday School picnic. Expect the worst. But then brace yourself. Again, God will give the needed strength, along with all we need through Christ and the gospel, and from God’s word. That is a given, but we must take it. We must be ready. If we have the attitude of wanting to avoid such, we’ll be in trouble. This is plain and simple reality. And the answer is nothing fancy, but is indeed profound. And makes the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

the serpent or the dove?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the serpent or the dove that’s influencing my thoughts, which can then impact my actions. Actually it’s not that hard to tell. Beginning with just the effect it’s having on me, whether thoughts filled with what’s good, or dark despondent despairing, or something else not good.

It doesn’t matter at all what we say if our lives don’t back up our words. In fact our lives need to be in order first, really, before whatever we might say means anything. This passage in James follows Jame’s stern, relatively drawn out words on the danger of the tongue.

It is the person we’re becoming by God’s grace and the Spirit through Christ that is important. Little else matters besides. That will make the difference needed in our lives, and through our lives into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.