The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 4

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In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.

When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.

In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.

When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.

If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.

Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.

Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.

In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.

There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?

When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)

Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.

Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.

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Jonathan

Check out Jonathan’s own site at http://www.openheavensblog.com/.

 

The Blessings of a Long Battle, Part 3

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From Jonathan Coe’s website at http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you gracious brother! (I’m so glad you are my friend.)

As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.

Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”

These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.

The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.

Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.

This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.

That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.

It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!

I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
  • “If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
  • “If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
  • “Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
  • “You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”

These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.

Reposted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you Jonathan for your great teaching.

The Judas’ Kiss

The Judas Kiss

“Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.”   

Matthew 26:49

Kiss–  verb (used with object)  1. to touch or press with the lips slightly pursed, and then often to part them and to emit a smacking sound, in an expression of affection, love, greeting, reverence, etc.:  He kissed his son on the cheek. 
   –Dictionary.com
“A man’s kiss is his signature.”
Mae West

This singular verse (v. 49) should cause us to pause and think. It is part of an amazing account of the events surrounding the death of Jesus.  At this point Judas leans over and kisses him. Now, a kiss can be used when you show affection and commitment for someone. Kisses are like a ‘x-ray’ into your very being, opening and quite revealing.

Judas shows everyone exactly what he is all about.  The kisser declares to the kissed the intent and desire of their heart. It also says things to those who witness it.

This kiss of Judas set into motion a whole series of events.  But more importantly, this kiss was an evil kiss.    We kiss and are kissed.  Its the way we tell others of our friendship and fidelity.  It has always been so.  The mechanics of it all seem a bit odd, when you think about it.  Touching lips?  (Ok. That’s odd.)  But a real kiss goes further, injecting love and esteem and other intangibles into another.

Also, we should understand that a kiss has intense power.  The kiss of Judas had this power.  It wasn’t done to convey his commitment or affection, rather it was a powerful act of betrayal.  Judas had drained this particular kiss of all its goodness and only evil remained. 

It very well could be that Judas was attempting to manipulate a sequence of events to allow Jesus to become the messiah/king by force.  He may have thought that this was a politically expedient thing to do.  Maybe a good thing in his thinking. (But who can know?)

A “Judas kiss” is perhaps the most dastardly way one can be betrayed.  It is not real common, but it happens, and it is devastating.  Some have told me that it was like having your heart ripped out of your body.  Betrayal with a “Judas kiss” is almost always a surprise, coming out of the blue, hitting you when you’re most vulnerable.

The English poet Milton envisioned hell with many levels.  The very deepest level is reserved for Satan.  Interestingly, Milton puts Judas at the bottom with Satan.  They share the punishment of hell together, forever.  I guess that this is as awful as it can get.    In studying the character and the sin of Judas the following lessons may be brought out:

  1.  We must not be surprised if some bad men enter the Church, for even among the twelve was one Judas.
  2.  It is no proof that Christianity is untrue when some of its believers prove hypocrites. The defection of Judas did not leave a stain on the name of Christ, nor did it disprove the loyalty and fidelity of the other disciples.
  3. One may be very near to Christ and not be made holy in character. Judas was three years with Christ, heard His words, lived in the atmosphere of His love, and remained unchanged. An empty bottle, hermetically sealed, may lie long in the ocean and continue perfectly dry within. A heart sealed to Christ’s love may lie near Him for years and not be blessed. Only when the heart is opened to receive His grace does closeness to Him change the heart.
  4. Sin grows, and we never can know to what terrible and awful extent a wicked thought or desire may reach.  Extrapolated, it has a vast magnitude of evil possibilities and potentialities beyond anything we would have ever dreamed.
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Dancing With Bruises

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Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.

Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”

So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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What Could Have Been

What do you regret? As a believer it is already forgiven.

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.”  

~Fulton Oursler

Regret is an ugly thing. Dictionary.com describes “regret” as, to feel remorse for, or to feel sorrow over. It is a difficult emotion for us, as there can be a dissatisfaction, or sorrow or remorse over, it can be a paralysis of sorts. It is the kind of personal sorrow about ones behavior in a certain situation, that can be overwhelming.

There will always be a deep sense of loss for “what could have been.”

I regret many things, my mind works as an active recorder. Future life continues its relentless advance, and there is from the past a constant awareness of darkness, failure and sin.

There are some who have no idea what I’m talking about. I might as well be speaking Chinese. But there are others who will “spark” on what I have just stated. Regret for many of us, is savage and bitter.

Not a day goes by when the voice of darkness doesn’t speak to us. My thinking is that it may be more reasonable to take a baseball bat across your femurs, and dealing with broken legs, than handling regret gone viral.

We think “about what could have been.” We imagine life without regret, of things we might have done not having this dark burden. However, these possible choices are things we can never be sure of.

In my younger days I dreamed of attending college, and then going to seminary. I really thought that I wanted to be a pastor, in some small Lutheran church in the Midwest. But this would never happen. It was just an aspiration, a dream. And it wasn’t reality (even though I wish it had been).

I assure you there are much nastier and blacker regrets, there are things of which I am profoundly ashamed. But my point is this, they exist, they do unsettle us, and the present moment is corrupted by my past behavior.

You are not unique or alone. There are millions of sincere Christian believers who face what you are facing.

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

1 Cor. 10:13, NLT

I must tell you that there is a spiritual war. Satan is the enemy of our souls. He will bring to your mind fear and confusion. In scripture, he is called “the accuser of the brethren.” He has a diabolical ministry is to bring you down. He operates out of pure hatred, and he will never show you mercy.

We must develop a more scriptural method of wrapping up our minds in God’s Word. It stops and then alters the spiritual radiation from the enemy. The Word has tremendous power to halt the enemies attack. Ephesians 6:10ff tells of spiritual armor that must be utilized and worn.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Ephesian 6:13

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Against the Cosmic Powers

Perfectly safe.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.

Ephesians 6:12, ESV

Satan attacks us in two distinct and recognizable ways.

First, he stirs up our desires and inflames our appetites for sin. He is very good at this. He knows all about you, and what you like.

Second, he accuses us of committing an evil against God. Scripture identifies him as “the accuser of the brethren.” He condemns us as perverse, rebellious, seditious and evil. “See what an evil wretch you are, your heart is small, black and hard.”

But the believer will run to the cross, and hold on. He will hear the blood of Jesus cry out for his soul. In this simple act of obedience and faith, he allows Jesus Christ to deliver him/her from darkness. There is absolutely nothing to be done except this, and this is enough. Sin can never hold a broken believer, who has a child’s heart of humility.

“And thus I shall always do, whenever you leave me to myself.” ~Brother Lawrence

I cannot fight this dark battle in and of myself. I have neither the armament nor the understanding to take on “cosmic powers”. I must become broken, and weak, and then the Spirit will shelter me. Being manic depressive can actually be of help. I know my own weakness, and it lays me at the feet of my Lord, with no pretenses of strength.

Romans 8:31-32, The Message reads like this,

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?”

It is the ‘nerd’s’ dream, of being absolutely protected from his tormentors by someone with superpowers. And scripture makes it clear that this is not far from the truth. God defends us not just because he loves us, he protects us because his reputation is on the line.

“Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture (verses 33-34, the Message)

Oh struggling saint, you cannot battle alone. Apart from him, you can do nothing. Spiritually, cover yourself with the righteousness of Jesus. Do not venture out against these dark forces, when you have the love of One who cannot fail.

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Scorched, But Deeply Loved

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Peter on the spot

“Then Jesus said to Peter, “Go away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the things of God, but only about the things people think are important.”

Matt. 16:23, NCV

Principles of the Kingdom will often will sound like a simple conversation to an outsider.  Things are often established or nullified with a ‘face-to-face.’  In this chapter of Matthew we hear Peter extolling the divinity of Jesus (vv. 15-17).  Peter exceeds the norm with his analysis of what is real. It is as perceptive as it is supernatural.  “You are the Christ,” Peter proclaims, “the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus responds to this and Jesus praises him for this insight.

One of my personal problems is that I am way too spontaneous.  It gets me in trouble. I have become a fool more times than I bother to count.  I will do something that is outrageously amazing– and in a short time I am flirting with apostasy.  Often this is indicative of bipolar disorder, a mental illness of some considerable significance.

I’m not sure why Peter does what he does.  But just a short time after he makes his astonishing pronouncement, he is taken apart by Jesus, being solidly rebuked ‘face-to-face.’  In one clear moment he expresses an awesome and wonderful faith, and suddenly his personal stock suddenly and precipitously crashes.  He is now a pariah that needs to be avoided. Every disciple will be scorched. But loved.

This is quite bitter. It seems that in the light from this chapter (actually seems like a bright glare,) Peter is astonishingly quite devastated.  In three years of discipleship it seems that all he merits is a brutal ‘dressing-down.’

The rebuke is bitter.  Peter is being compared to Satan!

In a blur of just a few minutes he moves from “hero-to-goat.”  I suspect that Peter was ashamed.  He most likely wished he had a “rewind button.”  His savior, Jesus– has given him a new label.  And it hurts.  Many times, we would become resentful, maybe a bit bitter.  It could cause some to walk away, developing an anger that solidifies into something very scary. Thank God, Peter doesn’t do anything stupid.

 The correction in the rebuke gives him life, and a hope.

But who’s to say we would be as correctable?  One thing to add, earlier we mentioned the ‘conversational approach’ of discipleship.  Peter was rebuked in the presence of the other disciples.  The publicity was embarrassing.  Too many people were watching and listening. Peter will survive this, but he has learned something valuable.

Our daily commitment to Jesus hinges on our willingness to be “undone.”  His heart and plan pretty much precludes any “secret or hidden” agenda.  Jesus pretty much rakes us over the coals.  He will insist on an uncompromising obedience to His faithfulness.  Every true disciple will be scorched— but loved.

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