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Monday, January 31, 2011

Satan is Still Not a Myth

There is an old song in contemporary Christian music that you might have heard of, called "No One Believes in Me Anymore (Satan's Boast)."  It was written and recorded by singer/songwriter Keith Green on his album For Him Who Has Ears to Hear.  I was thinking about it earlier, and did a little surfing on the internet for it.  There, I heard it connected to C.S. Lewis' classic novel, The Screwtape Letters, which is a sort of fictional advice guide on how to deceive mankind.

Both work on the same principle, in that they point out the supernatural origin of the wickedness and trouble we encounter in this life, as well as how Satan and his followers try to ascribe the trouble they make to more "natural" and acceptable origins.  It is difficult for many people to think of actual evil spirits roaming about, deceiving people and stirring up individuals against others.  It's so much easier to think that people have come up with trouble on their own, or that there is a scientific or statistical reason for the disruption.

On the other hand, more and more people are becoming interested in paranormal activities, and are especially fascinated with powers of darkness and things that cause fear.  It seems that it is glamorous, in some people's minds, to seek out and dabble in such powerful spiritual forces.  Fear, pain, and uncertainty are often portrayed as desirable qualities in modern fiction and movies.  Even so, most people who are curious about these things still have an attitude of disbelief, seeming to think these powerful forces of darkness can be harnessed and used like parlor tricks, and therefore they are more fun than serious.

Christians fall somewhere between these two extremes of belief.  They acknowledge the existence of supernatural darkness and spiritual evil, and they know that the power there is no laughing matter.  On the other hand, they don't seek after or glorify wicked supernatural beings, nor do they give them undue authority over their own lives.

The Christian View of Demonic Powers

Christians believe that our enemies are not the ones that we see, but rather what lies behind the people we see.  The Bible says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," (Ephesians 6:12 KJV).  To add some insight into this verse, I'd like to point out that, until fairly recently in world history, most tribes and nations had a national religion, usually involving the worship and fearful appeasement of one or more demonic powers.  These powers, which spoke through priests and "prophets," would direct kings to go to war, make laws, and so forth.  So what Paul was saying, as his audience understood it, was that our real enemy is not kings and nations, or indeed any individual in power, but the wicked spirits which direct their thinking and actions.

So what am I suggesting?  Demon gods and goddesses are real and powerful?  Well, I suppose on some level they are.  The powers of darkness, whatever they wish to call themselves, have the real power to cause harm, and they love getting attention and controlling people through fear.  However, before they start gathering glamorous or even fearsome qualities in my readers' eyes, I must underscore that they are not real gods or goddesses.  They do not have ultimate power.  In fact, they, like human beings, absolutely must bow before the power of God.  Even Satan had to go ask permission from God before he could torment Job (Job 1: 6-12; 2: 1-7).

The real power we should fear and obey is God, who is more powerful than any of these spiritual beings we might encounter.  Unlike all of these dark supernatural forces, God is kind, not arrogant and mean.  He doesn't make our way hard; in fact, He has given us a way out of the trouble we have caused for ourselves, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 9: 11-15).  In fact, those who have been restored into fellowship with God through Christ no longer have the need to be literally afraid of God.

On the other hand, those who defy God have every reason to fear His punishment (read my old post, The Fear of the Lord, for more on this).  They are also still under the torment of Satan and his wicked forces (Matthew 12: 43-45).

Power Over Spiritual Forces of Evil

Those who are followers of Christ do not need to fear the spiritual forces of evil, even though they know that they exist and are powerful.  Although the Bible says that God has made mankind "a little lower than the heavenly beings" (Psalm 8: 5 NIV 2011), God protects His children.  God has also given His followers a weapon that is powerful and effective against Satan and his dark forces--the power of His Holy Name (Matthew 28: 18; Luke 10: 17).

Christians don't have superpowers, nor are any of them significant enough in their own right to bind evil spirits by their own strength (Acts 19: 13-18).  They have the authority to rebuke evil spirits and have their command obeyed because they do so in Jesus' name.  In other words, it is not their own power that does these things, but rather the one who sent them--the one who backs that name with authority and the power to enforce the command.

Think of it this way.  In modern terms, if I told you to do something, "because, I, Rachel, said so," I would be laughed to scorn (unless, of course, I was your mother and you knew I always enforced what I said with punishment).  However, if I said you had to do it, "by the power vested in me by the government of the United States," you might be more inclined to do it, because that name means something, and it has authority behind it.  Likewise, if Christians do things, or ask for something, according to God's will and by the power of His name, those commands have authority and backing by God.  In fact, God defends His name zealously, maintaining its authority before men and the forces of evil who try to profane it (Ezekiel 36: 22).  God rises to the challenge when Satan defies His name.

So here is the summary of all of this: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," (James 4:7 NIV 2011).  Satan is no myth, although his trouble-making is easier as long as that lie is perpetuated.  However, if we have the power of God in our lives because we have fully submitted to God, we don't need to fear Satan's power.  In fact, when we have submitted ourselves to God, we understand that when we resist the devil, he flees, not from us, but rather from the God who defends us.

Food for thought, folks.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy, and resist the devil!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekly Snippet: the City Gates

In ancient times, cities and towns were walled communities with gates and a public square at those gates.  It was a crossroads for the whole town, so the whole town saw, heard, or at least knew about what had happened at the city gate. The place became symbolic of public discourse, governance, legal contracts, hospitality, and morality.

So, what went on at the city gates, happened in the sight of the whole town; therefore, what was publicly approved at the city gates was done with the approval of the town.  The "gates" became symbolic of the morality of the community.  The Bible includes dozens of examples of judgment on an entire town, specifically including the gates, because of what happened in the public square at the gate--I cite Sodom and Gibeah, to name a couple.

This symbol has powerful implications.  What happened at the city gates and in the public squares was parallel to the condition of the individual hearts in the community.  So the city gates, and the outside perception of the community, were the responsibility of the individual.  Disgrace on a town started with one person deciding to sin, and the rest of the town either joining in or trying to appease that person.  Honor for a town began when one person, followed by others, chose to do what is honorable and punish the wicked.  And it all played out at the city gate in the public square.

So when we read Proverbs 8, we should keep all of this in mind.  What is the voice of Wisdom, personified as a woman, doing at the city gate?  She is trying to turn hearts to follow her, so that she can rescue the whole city from destruction.  There is a condition to that salvation; the individual must hate evil and fear the Lord like she does (v. 7, 13).  But those who cannot submit to the counsel of Wisdom are like the people of Sodom and Gibeah, who wouldn't listen to the ones who tried to stop them from their sin--they hated wisdom and loved death (Genesis 19: 9; Judges 19: 25; Proverbs 8: 32-36).  That is what they chose, and that is what came to them.

Nowadays, most towns don't have a public square, or a city gate, but just about everyone is part of a group that is judged in just the same way--what happens in the sight of all, and how it is received (or tolerated) reflects the condition of the hearts in that group.  So my thought for today is this: When we Christians are gathered at our "city gate," can we hear the voice of Wisdom?  Are we listening to her? Do we take her more seriously than any other concern?  Are we drawing near to Wisdom's gate, or one of our own preference?

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.  For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord.  But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8: 34-36 NIV 2010)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Waste No Time

One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs
of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.(1 Samuel 25: 14-19 NIV 2010)

I have always found the kind of humility and bravery that Abigail shows in this passage to be an inspiring example for Christians to follow.  God brought it to mind last night, while I was planning what to write today.  After re-reading 1 Samuel 25, I saw again the parallels between this passage and God's relationship with the righteous and the unrighteous.  Intrigued?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekly Snippet: May the Lord Grant All Your Requests

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.  May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.  May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.  May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.--Psalm 20: 1-5 NIV 2010

I don't know of anyone who wouldn't think it ideal to live without obstacles, to always get what we wanted, and to accomplish every plan.  Also, let me not underestimate the value of having God behind us, protecting these interests. 

At first reading, it may seem that the passage I quoted above is promising just that--our every desire granted on every side--but it actually says "may" this or that happen.  There is an interceding step.  Before we can live a life of this kind of prosperity (free of barriers), God must agree with these plans and requests.

It is impossible to convince God to agree with us, and do what we want, if His mind is already set against it (James 1: 17).  He has made it clear that He doesn't bless bad things; therefore, He won't grant us prosperity in doing wickedness, nor will He grant us something that allows the wickedness in others to prosper over us.  To restate that more simply, God won't help us victimize others, nor will He aid us in giving ourselves over to our enemies (Satan being the chief).

I'm going to assume that you, my readers, are not asking God to help you hurt others (i.e. "Dear Lord, guide my fist into my big brother's face today").  However, you may have made some requests of God, in faith, and never saw them granted.  I've been there, too.  Now, sometimes the problem is just that we haven't waited long enough to see our requests granted.  Other times, usually after we've nearly forgotten about our requests, we see that if we had been granted what we asked for, it would have been a disaster.  It's always a blessing to be allowed to see what could have been, because it reveals that God really was looking out for us, even when we were not.

Here's an example from my own experience.  I once really wanted to take a certain class in college, but it was always offered at odd times and never fit into my schedule.  I went to enroll one semester, praying (yes, praying!) that it would fit in that time.  However, when I got there, I found out that it competed with my lunch hour, so I would have been in class from morning until evening without a break.  The other classes were all prerequisites for other things, so I couldn't skip them.  I thought about enrolling anyway, but I felt God urging me not to.  Later, I heard that most of that class had come down with mono that semester, including the instructor. Whew!  My moral of the story?  When God says "no," consider that a blessing.

Getting back to the passage from Psalm 20, I will pose this question: If you say that God doesn't grant all of your requests, doesn't that invalidate Psalm 20?  Well, if you ask for things that are not good for you, it has been established, you will not get all of your requests granted.  It has also been established that if you don't see immediate results, it doesn't always mean that your request has been refused--you may just need to wait.  However, if you ask God that His will be done in your life, you will always get that request granted, and if you present requests in submission to His will for your life, and if God sees that they are right for you, those requests will be granted, as well.  Psalms 20, then, is not a carte blache request that human will should prevail, but rather a caution that God's will always prevails--may we never live in opposition to Him.

It is simple, when we come right down to it.  The only unobstructed path in this life is cleared by God, so that His plans can succeed, not the short-sighted or wicked plans the human heart can sometimes make.  We are called to obey Him, and submit to His guidance.  When we finally do (and I say finally, because we are stubborn and willful creatures), He will grant us every need that we have.  We will find that what we most desire is really what God has already desired for us.  He wants to give us good gifts (Matthew 7: 11); may we always desire those "good gifts"!

God is not like the parent who gives His children socks for Christmas, and then tries to convince the children that socks are more fun than toys.  He wants us to have fun, but He doesn't want us to come to harm.  In the same spirit, let us not be like the children who despise their parents because they don't get to eat cake for dinner every night.  May we always ask what is best for us, and may we see that it is best, and praise God for it!

Have you ever asked God for something, only to learn, some time later, that it would have been a bad thing if God had granted it?  Please share your story!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Let Fear Shut You Down

Recently someone confessed to me, concerning life and spiritual work for God, "I don't think I'm a bad employee, I'm just a discouraged employee....I feel this is a wrong attitude, because it's like I don't have faith that God can change things, or that He's working in my life, and this is my testimony to the world about Christ."  Do you ever feel this way?  I can confess right now that those words really struck a chord with me, and I'm taking steps to change that.

As that conversation continued, it became obvious that the root of discouragement is a peculiar kind of fear--fear of a gloomy or unchanged future, fear that trying again will result in another failure or rejection, fear of powerlessness or inadequacy.  Discouragement is even defined as despair or a loss of hope.

Ironically, discouragement seems to be self-perpetuating.  When we harbor those feelings, we begin to stop trying, and when we stop trying, our fears come true.  The deeper we get into discouragement, the harder it becomes to start moving forward again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Living Room

Today (or rather, this evening) I'm spending time with family and friends in another town, but I thought I'd log on here long enough to write a quick post about something I was thinking about earlier today.

During the drive, I was listening to Mark Harris' album "Windows and Walls," an album that reminds us to live for Jesus in all aspects of our lives and at all times.  A frequent metaphor for our lives is the actual, physical home that we live in, and that turned my thoughts back to one thing I wrote about in my post earlier this week.  One such song on that album, "Living Room," invites Jesus to move in to our lives, metaphorically describing that act as someone moving in to a house, sweeping it clean, and throwing open the windows so light can enter.

Earlier this week, I spoke of my puzzlement as a child on the subject of how Jesus could actually live in my heart.  I tried picturing Jesus shrinking Himself down to the height of one of my child-sized fingers so He could fit in there.  Of course, being the overly-thoughtful child I was, I kept thinking that it would be rather dark in there, as well.  But, I digress.

It comes down to a real, pointed question that many people may be asking.  If God doesn't live in us in the sense of the Brahman/atman concept that the Hindus teach, how then are we supposed to imagine God living in us in the Christian sense of the teaching?

Well, in some ways, this is a deep spiritual concept that is difficult to understand aside from metaphors like houses, but it can be explained, and it is significantly different from the Hindu teaching.  The most important difference is that Christians do not teach that we become divine, or part of God, when we become followers of Christ.  At no point, when God is "living in us," do we become God or assume God's powers.  We never become gods in our own right.  Finally, we never become "as God" in the sense that Adam and Eve craved in Eden--we don't rise above judgment or the consequences of our sins.

Now, that is what Christian's don't mean when they speak of God "living in us."  Well, what do they mean, then?  They are speaking of a change in a person's life focus when that person becomes a follower of Christ, but something deeper than that, something more intimate and personal, brings about the change.

The Friend On the Couch

Imagine having a best friend, a close companion and roommate, who not only encourages you at work all day, but also sits on the couch with you in the evenings and teaches and encourages you in your living room.  If this friend is always offering wise counsel, and the two of you are together all the time, a transformation will occur.  Your friend's words will begin to take hold, and you will see a change in your life for the better as you take that good advice.

Even if such a great friend exists, he or she would still have a barrier that could not be crossed.  No friend, however close, can see your thoughts or look inside your heart (1 Samuel 16: 7).  As it says in Proverbs, "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy" (Proverbs 14: 10 NIV 2010).  Well, no person on earth can share in those feelings, but God has no such limit.  He can see our thoughts and respond to them.  When He is present in our lives, there is nothing outside His view.

So, to relate this, finally, to the concept of God moving into our lives, the choice to follow God is like inviting God to be that friend and roommate.  When we choose to follow God, we open all aspects of our lives to His scrutiny--not that He couldn't see it all before--and let Him tell us what we need to change.  We literally let Him come in to our lives, as they were, and remodel our thinking and behavior into what His counsel suggests.  We know that God's counsel is wise, and leads us to His blessing, ultimately ending in eternal life.  But there is something different about having God as our roommate, because He moves in to our hearts and by His counsel, even our thinking is changed.  He is closer to us than that friend.  He's sitting on the couch in our hearts.  Understand?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The God in Me?

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3: 16-17a NIV 2010)
 Christians teach that God dwells in the hearts of believers, and Hindus teach that part of their god is in each of us.  These two teachings are being gradually blended and confused (especially through the influence of many New Age groups), and lately I've begun to see them gaining a foothold in the U.S. Christian community.

If you need evidence of this, turn on your local Christian radio station and listen to several popular songs with lyrics like, "we are divine,"  "the God in me," or imagery of Christians joining God like rivers flowing into the sea.  Now, let it be known that I don't speak against Christian radio or specific artists when I say I reject those things.  I love Christian music, but I listen with the same critical thinking and caution that I use in a regular church pew.   I am always concerned when I hear non-Biblical teachings being passed around among Christians.

We claim in Christ that we have the truth, and that He is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6); therefore, let us reject anything else that claims to be the truth, even if it seems at times to resemble it.  Even when the line appears faint, I firmly believe that the light of the Gospel will show us where it lies.  So, let's get down to investigating the truth.  I will begin by presenting non-Christian teachings, trying to relate the facts without critically analyzing them until the end, so please bear me out.  Here is the central question for today: What is the difference between the indwelling of God and the godhood the Hindus and New Agers preach?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Weapon Formed Against You

"No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me," declares the Lord.--Isaiah 54: 17 NIV 2010

There are people who believe in karma, and say that when someone does something rotten to us, rotten things will happen to that person in return.  At first glance, this verse may seem to confirm that belief, but I know the Bible is really talking about something better than karma.  What is the difference between karma and punishment or vindication from God?