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Spiritual Warfare

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ficticious Perfect Humility book

Pastor and Bible teacher Francis Frangipaine was once asked what spirit is most often the source of opposition to churches and ministries. He responded, “The Holy Spirit.”

How would you feel if you learned that the main reason your ministry (professional or otherwise) was difficult/impossible was not because you were opposed by the devil, but because the Spirit of God opposed you? In today’s Bible reading, James tells us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. James is alluding to Proverbs 3:34, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” (ESV)

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Application

Could it be that your ministry is unnecessarily hard because God is opposed to your pride? I know that’s a hard word to swallow. But it could very well be the source of your difficulty. Now, I’m not saying that all ministry should be easy, smooth sailing. In fact, I believe that all God-glorifying ministry will be met with opposition — sometimes significant opposition — from our enemy.

But as we press into God’s leading, seeking to glorify Him, edify other Believers, and testify to the lost and dying world, we should do all that we can to gain and maintain humility so that God will undergird our ministry rather than oppose it.

Spend a few minutes asking God to search you deeply and reveal pride. (Psalm 139:23)

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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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wheat field

My dad grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Each year my grandfather and his sons would prepare the fields for harvest by planting whatever they felt they needed to grow that year. They had to be careful not to grow the same thing in the same field year after year; instead, they rotated their crops.

One year they would plant corn. Another year, they would plant cotton. But you know what? Each year at harvest time, they would reap what they had sown that year. Never in my Granddaddy’s career as a farmer was he surprised when harvest time came. Never. If he planted corn, he reaped corn. If he planted cotton, he reaped cotton. Never once did he go out to harvest corn and find a field of cotton instead. Never.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul reminds his readers about the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He says,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10

Application

Now, when I refer to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, I’m not talking about the very popular belief of transactional religion where God is obligated to do something for you if you do something for Him. You’ll never find that in the Bible!

So what do you want to harvest spiritually? Looking back in five years, ten years, twenty years, where do you want to be in your walk with God? I can promise you that if you watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio without wisely screening what your eyes see and what your ears hear, you won’t get there. Unless you don’t want to see any growth in your walk with God. And that in itself is very telling.

If you want a close walk with God, you’ll have to do a lot of sowing of what you want to reap. Do you want to have a deep understanding of the things of God? Then you’ll need to sow a lot of time in God’s Word and prayer. You’ll need to share your faith. A lot. You’ll need to get involved in your church. You’ll need to give financially to support the work of God through your local church. You’ll have to go all-in with Spiritual Disciplines. And you’ll have to give up some things.

Whatever you want to reap in the future, you’ll need to sow. Now. And as a friend of mine once said, “This isn’t rocket surgery.”

God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.
So sow wisely. And sow generously.

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Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted, just as we are.
Image credit: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, read that “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Cutting through the double-negatives, the writer tells us that our High Priest (Jesus) is sympathetic to our weaknesses. He’s been tempted in every way that we are, yet He is without sin. Does this mean that he has faced every single temptation that we have? Obviously not. Jesus was never tempted to waste precious family time on social media perusing his newsfeed while neglecting the needs of those closest to him. Then how was He tempted “in every way”?

When Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1–10), He faced the same categories of temptations as we: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16) Yet, in the midst of His temptations, He didn’t give in. We should take great comfort in the fact that being tempted isn’t sin. Jesus was tempted, yet didn’t sin. And also note that Dr. Luke sets up Jesus’ temptation in the context of being full of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and then being led by the Spirit for the purpose of being tempted. (Matthew 4:1)

Application

The implication is that it is possible to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be in the throws of facing your greatest temptation. The two experiences are not mutually exclusive. In fact, given Paul’s encouragement/exhortation/command in Ephesians 5:18 to be continually filled with the Spirit, we should expect the be tempted while being filled/empowered/controlled by the Holy Spirit. There is no better situation for facing temptation than to be filled with the Spirit! Otherwise, you’re virtually powerless to face the onslaught of demonic attack.

So when you face temptations — and you will — rejoice! James tells us to be joyful when you encounter various trials, knowing that our faith-tests will produce endurance. And endurance will ultimately result in our maturity in Christ. (James 1:2-4)And rejoice when you’re tempted because Jesus as our High Priest knows what you’re going through.

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We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul.  Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.

The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.

The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.

Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.

Application

The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.

Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.

There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.

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