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Persecution

1 2 3 6

In today’s Bible reading, Paul completes his statement of what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like as it applies to relationships with parents and children and with masters and servants (employers and employees in our context). He concludes the chapter discussing Spiritual Warfare.

Most believers think they’re being persecuted for being a believer when they can’t wear Christian-themed jewelry at work. Or they can’t wish “Merry Christmas” to customers in the checkout line.

Let me say this as strongly as I can: Most Christians (especially in the West) have no idea what real religious persecution is. OpenDoors, Voice of the Martyrs, and similar organizations give real examples of real persecution of real people. Check them out. (and pray for them)

Most of what believers call “spiritual warfare” isn’t.

So why would I make such a bold statement? Do I believe spiritual warfare doesn’t exist? Nothing could be further than the truth! Spiritual warfare is very real. Believers are victims of spiritual attack every single day. But most of what believers call spiritual warfare isn’t. Believers can be very nearsighted about spiritual warfare just like we are about “persecution”.

Most believers think they’re under spiritual attack when they get sick, or when they run out of money before the end of the month, or they lose their job, or when their car gets a flat on the way to church. Some of this may be spiritual warfare, but most of it isn’t.

Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Most of the armor is defensive; it protects you from attack from the front. But notice that there’s no protection to your back if you tuck tail and run in heat of the battle!

But there’s one key piece of the armor that isn’t spelled out as clearly as the others. It’s easy to see that the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. But if you don’t see it in this passage, you completely miss the other offensive weapon!

Paul mentions it at the end of the list: the spear of prayer. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t spell it out like he does the others, it doesn’t make it to the picture hanging in our Sunday School classrooms and Children’s Picture Bibles. And not seeing this piece of armor in this passage prevents you from learning to use it in one of the key aspects of the very nature of the warfare!

Spiritual warfare is well, spiritual warfare. Things happening to you in the physical realm may or may not have a counterpart in the spiritual realm.

Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” Ephesians 6:12 (CSB)

He begins the next sentence, “For this reason“. Because the war field is in the spiritual realm, we have to take up spiritual armor. A good friend of mine has rightly said, “You will never win a spiritual war with a fleshly weapon.” Elsewhere, Paul expounds on the nature of spiritual weapons.

For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Our weapons destroy strongholds, arguments, and anything else that rises up against the knowledge of God. We use our spiritual weapons in the spiritual places to accomplish spiritual purposes namely, to point our eyes to God so we can worship and obey him.

Getting sick, running out of money before the end of the month, losing your job, and getting a flat tire can happen to anyone: believers and unbelievers alike. What you do when those things happen is where spiritual warfare can occur. But most of the time, only believers are attacked spiritually when those things happen.

The spiritual warfare occurs when those things cause us to lose focus from thinking about God rightly, when they keep us from worshiping Him, and when they keep us from obeying Him.

Yes, spiritual warfare happens in spiritual places, and one of the battlegrounds is the mind of the believer. That’s why we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand our ground. Note that Paul mentions standing three times in four verses. Standing in spiritual warfare must be pretty important!

Application

Whenever you feel that you are under spiritual attack, ask God if that’s what’s up. He’ll tell you. And if you are under attack, Paul tells you what to do: Put on the full armor, not just a few of your favorite pieces.

Catching a nail in your tire on the way to church isn’t spiritual warfare. But if that causes you to question the goodness of God in allowing it to happen in that place at that time, it is spiritual warfare. If it causes you to not thank God for His provision of a helpful stranger to change your tire, and if it keeps you from using the opportunity to share the gospel with him, yes, it is spiritual warfare.

So to deal with this spiritual battle in a realistic way,

  • You put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts and think about God’s wise provision in the timing and location of this.
  • You grab your shield of faith to reject those attacks that suggest that God isn’t in control and that this flat tire caught Him off-guard.
  • You draw your sword of the Spirit and meditate on Bible verses you’ve memorized on the goodness and faithfulness of God; you use those verses to attack those thoughts questioning God.
  • You protect your heart with the breastplate of righteousness to keep your heart right before God in this battle.
  • You hold it all together remembering the truth that all of this is about maintaining your focus on Jesus, worshiping Him and obeying Him.
  • You put on your shoes to be ready to share the good news of peace with God with this stranger.
  • And you offer to pray for this helpful stranger; he may have a need for you to pray with him about. Also, pray for the helpful stranger to respond to the call of the Gospel and you thank God for the opportunity to be His instrument of reaching out to this stranger.

God’s Word is very applicable in showing us how to win spiritual battles. If we will just step back to get our focus on God, worship Him, and obey Him.

This devotional was originally published June 13, 2019.

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Jesus praises Simon's acknowledgement of Who Jesus is
Image source: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, as Jesus and His Disciples entered Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who people thought He was. They replied that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, Jeremiah, or Elijah.

Next, He asks, “Who do you think I am?” Simon immediately responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Simon’s response and says that he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. The truth of that response was imparted by God. Jesus doesn’t tell us how God told Simon this awesome truth, only that He did. (Matthew 16:17)

Next, Jesus says that He’s changing Simon’s name to Peter (rock) and that He would build His church on this rock. Now, it’s important to note the different Greek words used in Jesus’ statement, otherwise, we’ll make the error that the Roman Catholic Church has made in attributing to Peter the title of the First Pope.

Actually, Jesus says, “You are a rock. And on this boulder, I will build my church.” What was the boulder? The boulder was Simon’s confession of Jesus’ Divinity. Jesus says that He would build His church on the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Jesus never said He would build His church on Peter — any other person, for that matter! Instead, Jesus promised that His church — built on the confession Simon made — would prevail against the gates of hell.

And just seconds later, when Jesus told the Disciples that He would suffer and die, Simon said that Jesus shouldn’t have to go to the cross. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan for you are not setting your eyes on God, but man.” (Matthew 16:23) Within a few seconds, Peter goes from being the toast of the party to being cursed like the devil. And the only thing that changed was his mindset.

Application

All of the Disciples may have thought the same thing, but Simon is the only one who spoke up. They were ready to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem as He overthrew the Roman occupiers. They were willing to fight to keep Jesus from going to the cross and dying. Or so they thought. They thought that Jesus’ ascent to Kingship over Israel would come easy. They rejected the suggestion that Jesus would have to suffer. And die.

How true is that for Jesus’ Disciples today? How many of us follow Jesus, thinking that He’ll just bless us with everything we could ever want. And the first time we hear anything about suffering?! What’s up with that?

But suffering and persecution is part of following Jesus. Along the way, we have to give up a lot of idols — some of which we don’t know we even have — in order to follow Him more closely and walk into the destiny He is calling us.

But every idol we reject and every point of suffering and persecution is worth the all-surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Not His blessings that come from His hand, but Himself, Who He is.

Do you know Him?

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Woman carrying a wooden yoke

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus offers comfort to those who would follow Him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)

Application

Note that Jesus never promised to do away with all of the burdens of His followers. In fact, He offers to exchange burdens with them. But they still carry responsibilities. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that we have no cares. It means He carries our cares and gives us rest as we take His yoke upon us.

Regarding the word “easy” Jesus uses, Greek Scholars, Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida say, “pertaining to that which is pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability…. In a number of languages it is necessary to translate [easy] by a negativized equivalent, for example, ‘it is not difficult to bear.”[1] Jesus makes us suitable to carry His yoke. And the Bible is one of the key components. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Regarding Jesus’ word “light”, the scholars say, “pertaining to that which is easy to bear or endure—‘light, easy.’ … If ‘burden’ in Mt 11:30 is understood figuratively, [light] can generally also be understood in a figurative sense.[2]

The implication is that those who follow Jesus have burdens and yokes. Nowhere does Jesus promise that if you follow Him, you will have no concerns. No, He promises that we will continue to face obstacles. And I have said many times that a call to follow Jesus is a call to come and die.

No, we have responsibilities. We have things we have to do if we are to follow Jesus. But He assures us that He is there to shoulder those responsibilities with us. He is there.

And that is a very comforting promise from our Lord!

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 246. Print.
[2] ibid.

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Agabus warns Paul not to return to Jerusalem
Image source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

In today’s Bible reading, a prophet named Agabus walks up to Paul and binds his own hands and feet in Paul’s belt. He says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” (Acts 21:11)

Some are frightened by this visual aid and beg Paul to not go to Jerusalem. Paul brings them back to their senses by saying, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” The people respond, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13-14)

Paul’s friends are concerned for his well-being. This is normal. Who wouldn’t want the best for their friend? But Paul reminded them that God is in control. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and permission.

Application

Adding to yesterday’s devotional, the best place to be is where God wants you and that the worst place to be is anywhere else. And in the case of Paul being arrested in Jerusalem, it turns out that Paul’s life was probably spared because he was in the custody of Roman soldiers. There was a great deal of confusion so Paul was taken to the barracks so the Roman tribune could make sense of what was going on. Otherwise, he may have been killed by the riotous mob. (Acts 21:34-36)

Sometimes the safest place is the last place you want to be: in the custody of Roman soldiers.

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In today’s Bible reading, we see Paul doing a very foolish thing. He says that God has told him that if he returns to Jerusalem, he will face trouble. In fact, Paul says that everywhere he goes, the Holy Spirit confirms that if he goes to Jerusalem, he will face imprisonment and afflictions. (Acts 20:23) So why would he go to the very place where he would face such hardships?

Dr. Luke answers that question with Acts 20:22: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there.”

Earlier, I said that Paul did a very foolish thing. Actually, it wasn’t foolish at all. In fact, it was the wisest thing he could have possibly done!

Application

Where the Holy Spirit leads, you will find peace. Now, I didn’t say that where the Spirit leads, you will find prosperity. No, where the Holy Spirit leads, you will always find peace and God’s blessings. You don’t want to be where God doesn’t want you to be.

Many years ago, I lamented to a friend that I hadn’t yet been called to my first church ministry position after seminary. He wisely remarked that “No place is better than the wrong place. Trust me, I’ve been there.”

As our son prepares to go back to Australia with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for two years, many people have asked Amy and me if we were concerned with his leaving and going literally to the other side of the world. We respond, that if God is calling him to study and minister there, the last place we want him to be is here with us. Yes, we will miss him. Yes, we will be concerned with his welfare. But we know that he is in the hands of a totally sovereign God who is always good and Who loves our son more than we do.

If you have a sovereign God (and we do), your anxiety level drops a great deal. God knows what He’s doing and is always in control of every situation.

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1 2 3 6

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