The Real Struggle

Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Our world is just so real.  There are real rocks, real trees, and real people.  Everyday, we get ourselves ready to deal with those real things.  We follow road signs.  We listen to people.  We use training and skills for work.  We feel ready. (for the most part!)

Unfortunately, all those real things distract us from seeing the other real influences in our lives.  According to our Scripture this week, there are forces in this world that are very real, but we just can’t see them with our physical eyes.  They affect us.  They influence the world we live in and try to mold our perspectives.  They try to point us in a certain direction.  How do we stand?  How do we stick with what we know is right and good?

God has told us – we need to prepare!  It isn’t about what we can see.  It is about who we are.  It isn’t about reacting.  It is about being someone.  It is about being someone who realizes there is a spiritual struggle above and around our physical one.  We don’t really wrestle with people.  They are the symptom.  The true wrestling happens with the spiritual forces that are at work in the people.  Their doubts.  Their angers.  Their self-interest.  All of that comes from the spiritual forces at work against God.

How do we overcome those forces acting on us?  It isn’t mere will.  It is preparation.  It is putting on intentionally the full armor of God.  It is this armor that will let us stand.  It is this armor that protects our hearts, minds, wills, and life.

Each of us faces evil days.  Those days are days of temptation.  Those days are days of personal attack or failure.  Those are the days we just want to quit.  Preparing with the full armor of God is what will make the difference.  Will we prepare?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Why We Need Others

Philippians 3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

I would imagine there are exceptions, but not many people plan to be heretics.  They don’t start out wanting to believe things that undermine the gospel.  They didn’t plan to lead others astray.  They didn’t start out hoping that they would be an enemy of the gospel of Jesus.  Yet, Paul declares that there were people that he weeps over who were that way.  Their god had become their stomach, and their glory was their shame.

What was his antidote for such a state?  Walk with others.  Notice who looks and acts like Jesus and walk with them.  Let them rub off your rough edges.  Be teachable.  Be correctable.

Why?  Why is that the antidote to wandering from the faith?  It is because we all have excesses.  We all lean a certain direction because of our personality or our background or our past struggles with sin.  We try to avoid sin, and so we make rules for ourselves.  Over time, unexamined rules become legalism.  We were brought up believing that good deeds are reward.  Eventually, this belief in blessing becomes a prosperity gospel.  On and on it goes.  Little deviations that become big differences over time.

This is one reason we need each other so much.  We teach one another.  We rub off the rough edges.  We correct each other’s misconceptions.  The question is: Will we value this service we do for one another?  Will it matter to us enough that we will seek it?  Will we treasure it?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Mercy of God

Isaiah 6:5 “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

We all have that moment when we just don’t feel worthy.  Maybe it’s when you think about something you’ve done or someone you’ve hurt.  Maybe it’s when you think about something you lack in ability or strength.  Whenever it is, what do we wonder?  We wonder if anyone is going to find out.  We wonder how anyone would ever listen to or trust us.

This is where Isaiah’s experience intersects ours.  He felt something similar.  He declares, “I am ruined!”  Will we believe God’s response?  An angel comes to Isaiah.  He essentially erases Isaiah’s inadequacy.  In the next verses God asks who will be His witness.  Isaiah eagerly answers, “Here am I, send me!”  He believed that God had truly made him clean.  So, he was ready to go.

Are we?  Do we?  God offers the same thing in Jesus.  I want to take Him up on it.  Join me, won’t you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Thinking about being good

Galatians 2: 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

This passage always makes me pause.  Why?  It’s because of how little Peter did to bring it about.  I know, as a leader he should have considered the consequences of his choice.  However, Paul doesn’t say that Peter said anything.  He didn’t teach that the law makes a person more acceptable to God.  He didn’t say under his breath something like, “Those backsliding Gentiles, I’m glad you guys got here.”  All he did was start to fellowship with the Jewish believers more than the Gentiles.

Yet, for Paul, that was enough.  It was enough to communicate to the Gentile believers that they were somehow second class.  It was enough to make some in the crowd wonder if they ought to become Jewish in order to be acceptable to Peter.  Just the hint of works set Paul off.

What about me?  Do I have that sort of passion about all the glory going to Jesus?  Do I want my righteousness to be Jesus alone?  Oh, I don’t want to go back to the Jewish law, but do I create my own “law” to measure my righteousness?  A law like this:

1. I have brought my Bible to church.

2. I didn’t beat my kids this week.

3. I read my Bible 5 times this week.

4. I prayed this week.

5. I didn’t use any bad words.

6. I didn’t look at pornography.

7. I put a 20 in the offering plate.

8. I signed up to do VBS (missions team, Sunday School, small groups, etc).

9. I called my mother/father on Mother’s/Father’s Day.

10. I listened to the pastor as he shared the Word.

A new 10 commandments.  Are any of these on your list?  When we do them, we feel good because we have achieved our standard of righteousness.  We think that we are better people because of it.

Yet, are we better people?  In the book of Galatians, Paul declares that it is only by grace through faith that a person is made righteous.  In fact, he says that living by the rules means that we are going back to God’s ultimate standard: we have to obey EVERY rule in order to be righteous.  Can you or I do that?  Can we obey EVERY rule ALL the time?

Paul says emphatically, “NO!”  Any honest person would have to say the same.  So, I don’t want a rule book.  I want a person.  I want Jesus.  I want to depend on Him alone for my righteousness.  I want to communicate it clearly.  I want to live by Him earnestly.  I want to listen to His leading so that He gets all the glory.  How about you?  Are you ready to put away your list?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Bacon and other Yummy Things

“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting:to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” – Ecclesiastes 5:18

So, if you are wondering, I am not really going to focus on bacon today. (My apologies to my youngest daughter who gave me this idea and loves bacon!)  However, I am going to focus on enjoyment today.  We enjoy lots of things (including bacon).  Solomon points out here that we are supposed to enjoy them.  They weren’t created to be ignored or for us to turn our noses at them.  They are supposed to be enjoyed.

The only problem is when we think that those fun things are the whole point.  They aren’t. Material blessings are the by-product.  They are the by-product of hard work.  Solomon says that we not only enjoy those things, but he encourages us to enjoy what brings us those things: hard work.

In our culture it is unusual for us to talk about enjoying work.  So, here is an illustration that helps us catch what Solomon is talking about: When a person has worked hard on a project and when they are done they are happy with the product and they say, “Whew!  I’m glad that turned out good!”  That is the emotion that Solomon is talking about.

Do you have work in your life that you feel that way about?  You aren’t just glad it is over.  You are also glad that you produced it.  You are happy that you did the work.  Have you had that experience?  Solomon points out that such feelings are also a reward of hard work.

So, it’s not just the bacon (the reward) you and I can be excited about.  It is also the work itself.  Can you imagine such a thing?  What would it change in your life?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Reflections on Reflections

2 Corinthians 9:1 For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.

This week I have been noticing how often I don’t like reflections.  I complain that the camera catches my bad side.  I yell that the mirror must be broken.  I bark that the blood test can’t be wrong because my cholesterol can’t be that high.  It’s just not fair!  I feel good.  I feel young.  I can’t be going bald, wrinkled, and unhealthy!  So, I want to blame the tests and reflections that I see.

The problem is that those are just the physical reflections.  There are deeper reflections that ought to bother me more.  My attitudes and relationship with God are reflected all over my life.  They are reflected in my children, my language, and my checkbook.  My children catch my faith.  My language shows my heart.  My giving shows what I truly value.

Paul told the Corinthians that their zeal for giving had inspired others, yet he felt the need to send Titus to collect their gift because he was worried that they might be ashamed by their forgetfulness to actually give.

There is so much of life that is like that.  We mean well, but if we were honest we would see that the reflection doesn’t fully measure up to our ideal.  How about this – instead of simply believing that what we say is what we do, let’s look at our reflection and see if there are some things that need to change so that what we do does truly reflect what we say.

Think about this question (and I didn’t come up with this one on my own!)  – “When all is said and done will you have said more than you have done?”

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Best Lies are Easy to Believe

John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

This week I have been challenged by the lies we believe.  This verse came to my mind as I was thinking on it.  The NIV says that when Satan speaks lies that he is speaking his native tongue.  The NASB says that he is speaking from his own nature.  Either way, lying comes naturally to him.

Things that come naturally to us are easy.  I have a friend who can play the piano that way.  He doesn’t have to practice for church or family gatherings.  It comes easy.  He can manipulate those keys with ease.  That is Satan.  He doesn’t have to tell whoppers to prove that he can lie any more than a native English speaker has to use big words to prove that he can speak English.

That is what catches us.  All the half-truths that are around us.  The half-truths that declare to us that we aren’t really any good unless we are performing or are beautiful (whatever that means!).  The half-truth that says that forgiveness must be earned.  All of these lies are not big ones.  They are partial truths that confuse and manipulate us.  To Satan it is as easy as tickling the ivories.

Which lie is enticing to you?  For me, it is the lie of performance.  I go through seasons that I unintentionally begin trying to impress God.  As if.  What about you?  Is it a lie about forgiveness or worth that sucks you down?  Is it a lie about grace or rules that trips you up?

There is only one way that I know of to deal with a lie: break it off and replace it with the truth.  We can’t accept part of the lie and think that we can build truth upon that.  Truth must be built from the ground up.  So, which lie will you tackle today?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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