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Suffering

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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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Gold is purified by fire in a crucible

In today’s Bible reading, Matthew tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Most often when people talk about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they talk about Jesus’ baptism and his healing ministry that followed.

It’s unfortunate that in 1227, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to put a chapter break between Matthew three and Matthew four. It’s unfortunate because when you’re reading one chapter at a time, you miss the fact that the end of chapter three talks about Jesus’ baptism. Chapter four talks about Jesus’ temptations. With the chapter break, it’s easy miss the flow between chapters three and four.

I would argue that Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism by John. I would also highlight the fact that in all three Synoptic Gospels,* Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by His temptations, followed by his healing ministry.

Why is this important? You cannot separate Jesus’ temptations from His endorsement from His Father and His healing ministry. Jesus’ ministry includes His temptations. Why? I have heard that every leader — and especially every minister — must go through a period of testing. Not testing to see if they’ll pass the test, but testing to remove impurities like you would with silver or gold in a crucible.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)

When God tests a heart, He isn’t doing it to learn if you can pass the test. Instead, He tests the heart to purify the heart, to remove the bad things from the heart. He tests the heart, not to see if you can pass the test, but to prove/demonstrate that you can. God didn’t wonder if Jesus would pass the test in His temptations. He did it to show Jesus’ sinlessness and to provide a model for those who would pursue ministry and other leadership roles.

Application

Have you been tested? Maybe you’re going through a period of testing right now. Don’t be misled by my discussion of testing for ministry. All of us are ministers. All of us need to be tested. It’s for our good and for the good of those who we will minister to.

Don’t look at times of testing as cruelty on the part of God. Look at those times as the goodness of God to make you more like Jesus, chipping away and burning off those things that don’t look like Him, and to demonstrate to those around you how much you do look like Jesus.

* The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called synoptic because they look similar in the stories they tell and their wording. They can easily be harmonized to show their similarities and differences. John’s Gospel is not a Synoptic Gospel, because he tends to be more theological in his presentation, as opposed to chronological.

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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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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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1 2 3 7

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