The Art of Resisting

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 

(James 4:7)

For those of you old enough to remember the late 60s and early 70s, there was a comedian named Flip Wilson who used to play a character called Geraldine. When the character would do something wrong, her most famous saying was, “The devil made me do it!” Another saying I often hear is, “I am human so I am going to mess up”. Both of these sayings indicate temptation is something, which comes upon us and we are totally defenseless, thereby making us think we are not accountable. 

However, Scripture completely disagrees with this line of thinking. While temptation is certainly real, it cannot be casually dismissed as an inevitable outcome to our fallen condition as humans. Temptation is an integral part of life permitted by the Lord, designed to present us with an opportunity to decide between doing what is right and choosing to do wrong.

Jesus demonstrated how to triumph over temptation. Hungry, tired, and lonely after 40 days and nights of fasting in the wilderness, He was offered the chance to break His fast by changing a stone into a loaf of bread. It was a temptation to take matters into His own hands instead of trusting the Father. His response? “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Jesus 1 – Satan 0

Next Jesus was offered power and status in return for believing a lie and performing false worship. What was His response? “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Jesus 2 – Satan 0

Finally, Jesus was offered the chance to prove His faith by an act of total irresponsibility. Standing on the highest point of the temple, Satan used a twisted application of Psalm 51, encouraging Jesus to jump off and trust the angels to protect Him. His response? “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus 3 – Satan 0. 

What was the result of the failed temptations? …“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time”. 

I know the first objection to this is that we are not Jesus, so we cannot be expected to stand against the temptations of Satan. However, the reality is we do not stand face to face with Satan as Jesus did either. 

While we may not be Jesus, we certainly have the Holy Spirit living inside us and His Word to guide us. Jesus overcame Satan through the Sprit of God and truly knowing what Scripture says. Far too often we just give in to the temptation because we are not relying on the Holy Sprit’s power and do not know what God’s Word truly says. Therefore, we do not really even put up a decent fight. 

When it comes to temptations, do you put up a fight or are you an easy whip for the enemy?



Healing from a Pole

And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

(Numbers 21:8-9)

For most, serpents hardly seem to be the appropriate symbol for healing. In fact, for many it may seem to have a totally opposite affect. For some it causes great anxiety and even panic. However, to this day a serpent wrapped around a pole is a symbol of the medical profession. What connection exists between the cult, mythology and the biblical story of our passage today is not clear. As we will find, Jesus took the story seriously and so should we.

Our story picks up with the Israelites once again being disappointed and frustrated, so they reverted back to blaming Moses. It is also important to remember Moses himself had just found out he would not be allowed to enter the Promise Land. The people had complained about everything including the food from heaven God had been supplying them. Because of their disobedience and complaining, the Lord sent serpents in their midst and when bitten, they died.

The people recognized their sinfulness against God had contributed to their predicament, and they repented to Moses asking him to pray for them, which he did. As Moses appealed to the Lord, the Lord gave him instruction to make a replica of the snakes and attach it to the top of a pole. The Lord promised if those who were bitten would look at the pole, they would be healed and not die. Those who followed the commands of the Lord and looked to the pole once bitten were healed.

Apparently Moses’ snake on a pole was preserved for future generations. We find in 

II Kings 18:4, during the time of Hezekiah, it actually became an object of idolatrous worship. The people had once again succumbed to substitute an aid to worship in place of the one to be worshipped. The people began to revere a bronze snake on a wooden pole instead of trusting God.

Centuries later, Jesus told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). 

Jesus was reminding those who heard, it is God who heals both body and soul through faith in accordance to His plan. Just as the people of Israel were commanded to have faith in the serpent on the pole to heal their physical sickness, people today are commanded to have faith in Jesus who hung on a pole to be healed spiritually.




Power Plays

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. 2 And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:1-3)

Chuck Colson, former White House aide once stated, “Power, privilege, position, prestige and parties —these are the perks of politics.” I have always felt most people who enter politics in the beginning do so for great reasons. They have a strong desire to make a difference in society. However, there are some who enter the arena of politics for many of the reasons Chuck Colson states. 

The opportunity to exercise power and to gain prestige brings its own rewards. Of course those who hold the power do not relinquish it readily, and those who crave power do not always use the most honest ways to gain it. The results often become power plays and they certainly can become very ugly. These power plays can take place not only in politics but also in various walks of life.

Korah is a great example of someone trying to make a power play. Korah was a Levite who had special responsibilities and privileges. However, like many who are prideful, this was not enough for him. He resented Moses’ authority, claiming everyone one is equal, therefore Moses had no right to exercise leadership over anyone else. Korah basically told Moses he believed Moses had overstepped his bounds and that all of Israel had been set apart by the Lord and He was with all of them. He asked Moses what right he had to think he was greater than anyone else. So Korah decided to begin a rebellion against Moses.

While Korah was correct in stating all of Israel had been set apart, he was forgetting the Lord chose Moses to lead the people. Korah and his friends were guilty of what they accused Moses…”they had gone too far”. While they were all set apart in one sense, they all had their roles to play in God’s divine plan for Israel. Korah was not satisfied with God’s plan but instead wanted to rise above their role while denying Moses the role God had given him. Moses had been selected by God to lead Israel and therefore was not to be subservient to Korah and his band of rebels.

Moses pointed out to Korah he was not rebelling against Moses but instead was rebelling against the Lord. This did not dissuade Korah and his rebels from trying the power play. In response, the Lord made it abundantly clear whom He had selected to lead the people. The Lord told Moses what to say to the congregation and as he finished speaking the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and all his family and belongings. The 250 rebels did not escape as the Lord consumed them with fire.

Sadly not ever power play is quickly put to rest. However, we must remember authority resides with the Lord and He delegates as He choses. So embrace what He graciously gives you and allow Him to choose the time and place to use you and avoid grasping for authority He hasn’t given. Otherwise, you may find yourselves in the shoes of Korah and his friends and be rebelling not against a man’s leadership, but instead against the Lord Himself.



Transition to New Life

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:16, 24

Life is full of transitions. When we get to college, we start a new life. When we get married we start a new life. When we have children, we start a new life. Later when we retire, we start a new life. Life is all about transitions, challenges and choices. The more drastic the change, the greater the adjustment needed.

No transition in our lives should call for a more drastic change than when we commit our lives to Christ. In fact, Scripture says when we do this, there is such a drastic change, which takes place we become a new creation. Paul describes this as life in the Spirit. This life in the Spirit should make us no longer have strong desires for the things the world has to offer, but instead to seek those things with eternal impacts.

New believers are often surprised to discover, after the initial joy of committing their lives to Christ has worn down a little, they struggle to live a new life. They expected everything would be fresh, new, wonderful, and would somehow keep them from experiencing the spiritual battle against the flesh we each face daily. They also have the misconception being a follower of Christ means no more pain, struggle, worry or defeat.

They have to go through the learning process to understand even though they are now in Christ, the forces between the Spirit and flesh are in a constant battle and the choices are never free from conflict. Paul describes this very struggle in Romans 7: For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

This may seem discouraging, but we have to understand we are not immune to this struggle which rages within. We have the freedom and the power to choose whether we will be dominated by the Spirit or by the flesh. In fact, we are commanded to make this choice — or more accurately to continually make this choice. This is why Jesus said we are to die to self daily.

When we die to self and decide to follow the Spirit’s leading, we are to say yes to the commands we have been given throughout Scripture and say no to the things of the flesh. As we do this consistently we find we are living a new life — a rich life, a full life, a life that honors God and blesses people. This would seem to honor the two greatest commandments of loving God and also loving your neighbor as yourself.




What is Faith?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Hebrews 11:1

It amazes how many people look at believers and say, “I don’t know how you have faith.” Most say they cannot have faith in a Creator or God because they cannot understand how it would take place. However, everyone believes in something! Everyday life is not possible without exercising belief, trust and dependance on something. 

How many of us flip a light switch expecting a light to come? How many of us get into our vehicle and turn a key, or now just push a button, and expect the motor to start and the car to function perfectly? How many of us have ever gotten on an airplane expecting this giant thing to get off the ground and fly us through the air to our destination? How many have ever gotten onto a cruise ship expecting to take a trip miles and miles out to sea without the boat sinking? How many of us travel through an intersection when the light is green, having faith everyone with the red light stopped? You see, we all have faith and trust these things will take place. Yet, how many of these things are we capable of explaining how they work?

Faith at the level of ordinary living is commonplace…but faith is also expected at a much higher level. After the early Christians learned about Christ, their faith was strengthened so they could remain faithful even during the difficult times. Their whole lives could be summed up in one statement, “a righteous person will live by faith”. The significance of faith cannot be overestimated and must never be underestimated…But what is faith?

Faith is believing something you were told is true. The conviction it’s the truth is often based on the source of the information being trustworthy. Trust is placed in the truth to the degree the believer begins to look forward with confident assurance of what is to take place prior to the occurrence. This faith perseveres even in the face of difficult and often life threatening circumstances.

Should we be tempted to embrace the culture’s concept “seeing is believing”? We should instead remember, much of our seeing is determined by our believing. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples did not believe in people walking on water —but they did believe in ghosts. So what they believed determined what they saw. Believing was seeing. For faith is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

No human was present at the beginning of creation — no one saw what happened. So speculation and scientific exploration continue to this day. However, the believer accepts by faith all things were created “ex-nihilo”…that is all created from nothing…as God spoke every single thing into existence. The believer’s life is about believing in all aspects of what Scripture teaches.

The question now becomes…Who and what you do you believe in…in other words, WHAT IS YOUR FAITH IN?



Generations That Follow

For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession. Psalm 135:4

It is hardly a coincidence some of the greatest athletes come from parents who were great athletes. I watched a documentary sometime back called “The Book of Manning”. The documentary chronicled the story of Archie Manning, along with his sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli. Each of his three sons were great football players just as he was. While there may certainly be some genetics involved, there was also a lot of shared knowledge and practices.

The same can be said for the sport of NASCAR. We see the names Petty, Earnhardt, Elliott and Allison throughout the years of the sport. Was it just an accident so many sons and grandsons followed in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers? There was a great deal of knowledge and expertise passed along through the generations.

What is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual realm. We find a certain expectation throughout Scripture that spiritual heritage will be treasured by each generation and transmitted to the next. One psalm actually gives us this context by saying, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4)

There is an expectation that parents will share the treasures found in Scripture with their families; that parents will share the stories of how God loves and deals with His people. There is also an expectation each generation will be interested enough to listen to what is being passed down and allow the Holy Spirit to teach them how God desires for them to live.

It has often been said the Christian faith is never more than one generation away from being extinct. This may sound like an alarming statement, but there is certainly an element of truth in it. There are cultures in the world today which were once considered Christian strongholds, that over three generations have become a post Christian society with the mission fields dark like a primitive society.

Do you realize there are actually other countries in the world sending missionaries to our country? Did you realize the United States is currently the third largest mission field in the world? It sounds crazy considering here in the Bible belt there is a church on every corner! How in the world can this be? What in the world can be done to change the current direction of Christianity in our society?

The answer to such a threat is simple — every believer who brings a child into the world should accept the responsibility of bringing them up in the faith. Each parent should seek to give their child a working knowledge of the Lord and His dealings with His people. We should make sure they understand the offer of salvation and the joys of being in fellowship with Him.

While no one can guarantee the next generation will come to faith, each of us can make sure they have the chance!



Helping Those in Need

If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” — I Samuel 20:14-15

Helping people in need can be challenging, uncomfortable, time consuming, dangerous and I can almost guarantee it will never be convenient. However, it is right, good, rewarding and God honoring.

David had more than his share of trouble, not the least of which was his dealings with Saul. King Saul, in todays terms, would most likely be seen as someone who was emotionally unstable at times. Saul would go through periods of paranoia, which would send him into murderous rages. Unfortunately for David, the king’s bitterness and jealousy were typically directed toward him. This made for a very uncomfortable experience for David and forced him to head for the wilderness to find safety.

Fortunately for David, Saul’s son Jonathan was willing to assist his troubled friend. Jonathan understood the popularity of David and recognized him as a young charismatic hero who might one day ascend to the throne. In fact, from a political perspective, Jonathan would certainly have benefited more from David’s death than for him to remain alive. However, Jonathan knew the right thing to do was to help David.

But the two young men whose status and situations were so different, had important things in common. They both valued strong, loyal friendship. They both took their commitment to the Lord seriously. They also knew followers of the Lord needed to treat others with this faithful love as well. This relationship was not just about personal friendship, which was very strong; instead it was about treating people rightly and recognizing the Lord was watching.

We serve a Lord who acknowledges those who help others who are in need. Just as with David, the Lord knows our needs and moves with compassion keeping His promises to us. Jesus did not hesitate to pay the ultimate sacrifice to help us in our time of trouble to be able to return to God.

So the next time you do not feel like helping someone in need, REMEMBER the One who helped you at your greatest time of need.



Faith in the Foxholes

I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. Psalm 66:13-14

While I never served in the military, I have often heard it said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Often people who have demonstrated little interest in faith and eternity are suddenly moved to pray while being fired upon by the enemy. Many have also been known to experience amazing conversions under the threat of the death penalty for crimes they have committed.

In many instances, the promises made to God in the foxholes have been kept after the guns fell silent. However, this is not always the case. There have also been cases in prison for those on death row when someone is removed from those circumstances, because their sentence changed, the offenders have forgotten the commitments they made to the Lord.

The truth of the matter is, all of us will attempt to bargain with God if the circumstances are difficult enough. The psalmist, thinking of the circumstances through which the Israelites had passed, writes he has remembered to bring the offerings and will perform the vows he promised when he was in trouble. 

The Lord has always known people will be quick to forget who He is when circumstances are going well. In fact, He instructed Moses to warn the people as they entered the land of great abundance, it was a time for them to be careful. He wanted to remind them in their time of plenty they should not forget the Lord and disobey His commands. (Deut 8)

The psalmist is able to testify, “I will come to your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you…”. He then says it was the promises he made while in his time of trouble. He is demonstrating a deep appreciation for the mercy extended and grace received. 

While some might bring animals which were crippled or diseased, the psalmist brought the best of the best. There is nothing being done grudgingly or half heartedly. He brought the best he had and demonstrated his desire to share his experience of God’s goodness with others. What better response can a person have to the Lord’s unfailing love than to show unfailing gratitude to the one who is always faithful. 

Have you been faithful to keep the promises you have made to the Lord. If you are a believer one promise you have made is to follow Him. Are you being faithful in following, or will you have to find yourself in a foxhole to renew the vows you have made.



Stand Still and Get Moving

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:13-15)

It’s amazing how quickly our minds forget. Only a few days after begging the Israelites to leave, following the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt, Pharaoh and his men regretted their decision. So the Egyptians got their army together and took off in pursuit of the recently freed slaves.

During the same time, the Israelites realized the Egyptian army was in pursuit so they turned on Moses and accused him of leading them out into the wilderness to die. Their rationale was it would have been better to die as slaves in Egypt than to be pursued and killed in the wilderness. How quickly they forgot how God had worked many miracles on their behalf.

With remarkable faith and confidence, Moses told the panicking people, not to be afraid. Instead he told them to stand and watch what the Lord was about to do once again on their behalf. While Moses did not know exactly how God was going to intervene, he knew God was going to take care of them. Paralyzed with fear, the people observed what it was the Lord was going to do. 

In telling the people to stand still, Moses wanted them to understand God was going to fight their battle and they would not have to lift a finger. As things turned out, Moses was exactly right! But at the same time, in order for them to see what God would do, it was necessary for them to go through the parted waters of he Red Sea. So Moses having told the people to stand still…now had to tell them to get moving.

There are things which come up in our lives that only God can handle. There are also situations and daily experiences we face in which none of us have the answers. But our hope and peace comes from the fact God has the answers. Recognition of this at times leads a person to “stand still” and see what God will do. It is a matter of trust and faith.

On the flip side, while people cannot always solve their problems, God may tell us to get moving so He can solve them. This is now a matter of obedience. In fact, all spiritual experience is about faith and obedience, The two are not incompatible. The power to obey becomes available as we trust in God to act.

Without faith, there will be no obedience, and without obedience there is evidently no faith. So as the old hymn says, trust and obey…or as we read here…stand still and get moving.

Are you demonstrating your faith by being obedient?



Undercover Disciples

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. — John 19:38-39

It’s amazing how different people will react to the same situation in totally different ways. For instance, take two men to jail for the same crime. One may be deeply remorseful and serve his sentence as a perfect prisoner and after his release lives a model life.

The other man may become hardened and bitter spending his time in jail making connections and working on his criminal skills. When he is released, he then becomes a criminal who continues to break the law with more severe crimes.

In the story from the passage above, we remember as soon as it became clear their leader was being crucified, Peter and some of the other high profile apostles went into hiding. As we mentioned yesterday, Peter even denied knowing Jesus. Fear and despair gripped them to the point self preservation and survival were all that mattered. They had been a part of Jesus’ ministry for over three years but now were afraid to even be associated with him.

Meanwhile, there were a couple of men who moved in different directions. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee had previously been hiding their commitment to Jesus. Nicodemus is carefully identified as the man who had come to Jesus at night. Apparently when he came to Jesus he was intrigued and desired to know more about His teaching. It would appear from all indications at some point he accepted the things Jesus taught and became one of His disciples.

Jospeh of Arimathea, also a member of the ruling Council, had been wanting the Kingdom of God to come…in fact, he had been an undercover disciple of Jesus for some time. Yet he too, as we read from our passage, was wiling to take a stand along with Nicodemus in retrieving the body of Jesus to give Him a proper burial.

We know throughout the Gospels, the ruling Council’s hostility against Jesus was fierce and unrelenting. Anyone who publicly identified with Jesus was in danger of being excommunicated from the Synagogue and thus the jewish social life. Nicodemus and Joseph stood even more to lose as they both were men who held influence as they served on the Council. They also faced the very real possibility of being put to death.

Exactly when the character and conviction of these two men came to the point of committing themselves to Jesus is not clear. There is evidence Nicodemus and Joseph gradually came to recognize their own covert belief needed to be openly expressed in some form or fashion. So after the dreadful events of Jesus’ execution took place and they realized there was an opportunity to do the right thing…they took it!

There comes a time in each of our lives as true followers of Jesus, when fear must be overcome by love and anxiousness along with anxiety overcome by conviction. Nicodemus and Joseph demonstrated how to step out of the shadows and relinquish their role as “undercover disciples” and become men willing to take the risk for doing the right thing. 

Are you at the forefront of the battle identifying with Jesus or would you be considered an undercover disciple?