utter dependence on God

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s interesting how time and time again in Scripture, we see God’s people have to push through in the midst of great weakness. I find it to be true that God meets us not when we might think we’ve arrived, but when we know we haven’t.

The point is not feeling like we can’t do it, but only that we can’t do it ourselves, in our own strength. Continuing on, seeking to be faithful to God’s call in dependence only on God. Which means we’ll often feel like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak. And always and forever entirely dependent on God. In and through Jesus.

awakened to the battle

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

There are times when we as Christians need to be awakened as to the spiritual battle we’re in. The need for such awakening can become evident when what trouble we have is harder to handle, when we feel that all is lost, or that the situation is helpless. All of that is evident that our faith in God is not what it’s supposed to be, that we’re lacking in our trust in him.

That’s when we need to be awakened to the spiritual battle we’re in. I think that can come in answer to prayer, as we look to God in our trouble or the trouble of others. In that battle we need both the Lord’s strength and fortitude. Fortitude meaning the discipline as the text tells us to stand firm with the armor and weapons of the gospel given to us to stand firm against our spiritual enemy.

Just to highlight one part of the text, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that is against humans, but against spiritual entities, namely the demonic. I know in our western culture that sounds crazy, and we explain it all away. That includes what happens in other cultures where the demonic can be frighteningly real. Of course that same mindset does not accept the witness of the Bible, including the heart of our faith, Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So none of that should matter to us. I know there are Christians who tend to explain away the demonic as well, while believing in Christ’s resurrection. But that’s a mistake. We need to realize what kind of battle we’re in and by the help of God’s Spirit do what God’s word tells us to do.

I see signs of the spiritual battle not only off and on in my own life, but in other places nowadays, which is nothing at all new. We need to pray about such, but first things first, we have to take care of ourselves, where we’re at, what’s up with us. In and through Jesus.

 

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.

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 Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.

 

 

something of the devil’s schemes

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.

Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6:10-20 is one of my go to passages I have memorized in the past, which I can go back to and repeat at least nearly verbatim. And sometimes I find that I really need to. There are times when all of the sudden it seems like I am stuck in a place I really don’t want to be in terms of spiritual warfare.

This passage could mean that we live in the evil day, or that the evil day will hit us along the way (NIV). I don’t know. I tend to want to include both, that we should be ready all the time now, and that we’re to put this into practice when we know we’re under attack. I remember that Christians have actually made a regular practice of “praying on the armor.”

Of course we have to take to heart, as well as put into practice all that the passage means, and that’s saying quite a lot. We have to find our strength in the mighty power of the Lord and put on the armor of God, what God provides for us in Christ through the gospel to stand firm. Too easily I can be duped by being taken in by the devil’s schemes, so that I give in to something less than God’s will or best.  It can be in terms of defending one’s self, rather than being open to truth, and taking the way of the cross in following Jesus. Oftentimes it’s a subtle, yet outright denial of God’s word, or God’s goodness, just as the serpent tempted Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).

At any rate, we do well to realize that this is the point in which we live, and why in part there’s so much trouble in this life. Particularly so in that we are followers of Jesus in the face of that which is in direct opposition to Jesus and the good news in him. Although in this day in our culture it’s mostly quite subtle. And the schemes of the devil include getting us off the mark of God’s will for us in Jesus. So that it might be all about defending ourselves, or something less than Christ and the gospel, rather than standing firm in the faith, and for Christ and the gospel, come what may.

Something I was not simply reminded of yesterday, but thrust into. And through which I am seeking to learn, and do better, in and through Jesus.

deficits becoming helps

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Some of us are challenged in significant ways. Actually all humans are likely challenged in some way or another. In a sense, just because of sin, we all are.

Some problems can be rather life threatening. Sin can put a choke hold on anyone, and there can seem to be no way out. It takes the form of addictions and sometimes simply liabilities which threaten our sense of well being.

Redemption in Christ frees us from sin’s consequences by freeing us from its power over us. That comes by faith. We look to the crucified, risen Lord for the salvation we need, and we begin to live the new life that brings. And it involves a process which takes time, along with the fellowship of the church and prayer.

In the case of the Apostle Paul and his team, they were evangelizing, sharing the gospel in areas where it had never been proclaimed. And as a result, they were up against it from people who opposed such a message, which seemed to strike at the heart of what they were all about, and ultimately does, although it sets us on the course of being truly human, toward fulfilling our own humanity. And they as well as we face the spiritual enemy, which is bent on keeping people in blindness and chains for ultimate destruction.

One of the truths I find in my own life, which actually is both discouraging, but ultimate encouraging is that the struggles I face can by and by help me to a stronger, deeper faith. What can be discouraging is not only the problems themselves, but the fact that the same old problems we overcame can be back again later, after we think we had overcome them. And rationality is a challenge when we’re cast in the midst of darkness, when all seems lost, and we’re at a loss. But during those times we need to hold on to faith and pray. And have others pray for us, as was true in Paul’s case (see passage above). “This too will pass.”

And so deficits can become helps. I dislike an opposite word or something like it which would mean positives. It’s the way of Jesus, the way of the cross that we are taking. Inherently in the way of our human weakness (read the entire book of 2 Corinthians). But through that, coming to know the Lord’s strength. In and through Jesus.

finding the way of escape from temptation to sin

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10

There is a meme or thought that has been going around on the internet for some time which states that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Years back, our Pastor Jack Brown pointed out the fallacy of that statement, that in fact God does allow us to have more than we can handle ourselves, so that we will learn to trust in him, finding his strength in our weakness, words to that effect.  2 Corinthians is a great book to read with that theme in mind. As someone wisely pointed out recently, the 1 Corinthians 10 passage is not referring to struggles and burdens, but only to temptations.

I think the thought behind the meme might have had the above passage in mind, the truth that God won’t let us be tempted beyond what we are able, since he will provide the way for us to escape the temptation to sin. We need to keep both thoughts in mind. We live in weakness, up against forces and even the circumstances of life in a way in which we can’t navigate, or handle ourselves, so that we need to learn to cast ourselves on the Lord, and in our weakness depend on him and his strength. And we realize that we don’t have to yield to the temptation to sin in a given situation. That there’s a way out for us to escape. Think of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).

In the prayer Jesus taught us, we are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” That certainly is an admission of our weakness, and complete dependence on God to deliver us from evil, spiritual warfare at least hinted at there. In passing, it’s good to note that the classic spiritual warfare passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 while involving armor and a weapon, is also to be accomplished in one simply standing their ground, not either turning back in flight, or advancing in conquest. That doesn’t suggest a passivity, nor is it to be confused with the advance of the light of the gospel even into places of darkness. This is certainly an important thought since our Lord taught us to regularly pray it.

It’s important not only what we do, but also what we don’t do. Temptation in this world through the flesh (James 1:13-15) and from the devil is very real. We had best not minimize it, but be prepared, because it is in fact a part of the present life. We can’t escape from the temptation itself, but we can escape from the sin which we’re tempted to commit. Temptation also includes sins of omission, in that we’re tempted to not do what we ought to do.

God is faithful, but we must take the way of escape. We must be aware of all of this, and instead of being upset because we are tempted, learn to find the way out which God provides. When we do sin, of course there’s always the confession of sin open for us. Although some sins will require much more as well, perhaps restitution, and carry a great cost. We should never trifle with sin of any kind, be it big (Psalm 19:13) or small. But some sin is to be avoided at all costs. There is a road back, no matter what the sin. But not an easy one, nor without serious consequences.

We look forward to the day when temptation to sin will be a thing of the past. Until then we take heed, and remain watchful. Trusting in God’s help and provision for us in and through Jesus.

faith pressing through the most difficult places

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samueland the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Hebrews 11

All of scripture has value for us in some way. Because of Jesus’s teaching and example, I may not participate in physical warfare, but spiritual warfare is most certainly another matter. And just as important as that, if not more so is the reality that life is hard and continuing on in faith is challenging. There’s certainly a piece of spiritual warfare going on in that, as the world, the flesh and the devil are indissolubly linked together. But it’s even in the ordinariness of life when we need to pick up and keep moving, even when the energy and passion are long gone, faith is the victory we have within our reach in and through Jesus.

For some reason, actually for a number of understandable reasons lately, the peace of God in my life has subsided, which probably to some extent is my own fault, definitely surely my own lack of faith. Yesterday, besides the edifying time at my mother’s church in the Bible teaching class, the worship-song time, and the message, I was helped by hearing this message from Charles Stanley. What came across for me was the gentle voice of the Lord encouraging me to trust him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

But still the stress and strain of life can get to us at times, and the feeling of being overwhelmed can be the norm. What we need at that point is both a focus on the Lord, and the wherewithal to accept the hard place and go on by faith. In the Lord’s strength, rather than our own, and in spite of our sense of weakness. Being willing to walk through the hardest places, face the most difficult challenges, and still seek to stand in the Lord in the midst of it all, come what may. Another way of putting it perhaps, is to accept the iron in one’s soul so to speak to enable us, instead of disabling us, in the way and will of the Lord. All by faith. Just as those people of faith did long ago in the midst of their trouble. In and through Jesus.

stewarding thorns

Sharon Brown along with her husband Jack have been a blessing in the Lord to us for a good number of years. We were blessed yesterday at Redeemer Covenant Church to hear Jack’s teaching and sharing on how to process change in terms of the inevitable grieving process we go through, in terms of lament. With a good follow-up to that from one of the teachers there, Shallini Bennett. Rich, powerful, life-changing stuff.

But if that wasn’t enough, Sharon, after she got home on Sunday from the conference in Toronto discovered that her plenary address was available online, and already. So I sat down, and Deb and I took it in. Her talk in my mind actually coalesces quite well with what had preceeded in the morning.

To listen to it, a bit over an hour, is well worth the time. I plan to listen to it again, and seek to process what is being said, particularly over the thorns of life as spoken of by Paul in 2 Corinthians.

Thorns seem to choke our fruitfulness. But in this context they actually, oddly enough, promote such fruitfulness. As in prayer, we work through dealing with them, even as Paul did. And learn to accept that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, that the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us even there. And that out of this, Christ’s power can rest on us.

Listen to Sharon here. Much richer than what I just said, and more related to humility with reference to ourselves. The true humility: we can’t, but God can, versus the false humility: we can’t and we’re down and out. How would we react if Jesus wanted to wash our dirty feet, and what about the washing of others’ feet, who may be thorns to us, themselves? Some of my own words here, mixed with Sharon’s, so as not to misrepresent her.

Important teaching for me, for us all. And along with that I need to process the thoughts on the thorns, which I have never seen this way, and not in this depth before.