Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dealing With The Enemy

"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.  And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day."  (Deuteronomy 34:5,6)

"But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' "  (Jude 9)

Because, at one point, Moses struck the rock (from which water gushed forth), rather than speaking to it as God had instructed, he was not allowed to enter the promised land.  Instead, the LORD allowed Moses to view the land He had promised to Israel from the top of Mt. Nebo.  Shortly thereafter, Moses died, and God tended to the arrangements Himself.  Through Jude's account, we learn that God apparently sent the archangel Michael to procure Moses' body for burial.  However, Satan had other plans.  It seems that he had undisclosed purposes for the body.  Perhaps he intended to produce Moses's body to become an object of idolatrous worship, and thereby cause Israel to stumble.

Whatever his motive, there ensued a dispute between these two powerful angels over the body of Moses.  And, rather than deal with the devil directly, Michael called upon the Creator to rebuke him.  It was a moment when even the highest of unfallen angels circumspectly recognized the fury and power of God's most potent enemy.  

How much more, then, should we take into account the strength of the forces opposing us in the spiritual world... as John MacArthur aptly observes, "This is the supreme illustration of how Christians are to deal with Satan and demons.  Believers are not to address them, but rather to seek the Lord's intervening power against them," (The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1956).  Our greatest position of strength is in submitting to God (James 4:7), while clothed in the provided armor (Ephesians 6:10-18).  

May our faithful Father grant discernment, our senses trained in godliness, as well as our sword of the Spirit honed for quoting Scripture in the face of temptation.


Monday, August 19, 2013

II Corinthians 12:9

"And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you.  For My power is perfected in weakness."  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

In the verse prior to this, Paul speaks of the thorn in his flesh, a messenger from Satan, concerning which he entreated the Lord three times that it might be removed.  Although answered with a "No", Paul was heeded and heard.  For, the Lord spoke to him.
We could easily miss a needed word here.  Many in our world balk at the thought that God could, can, or does communicate with any one.  The logic runs: "since I haven't heard His voice, He must not speak to anyone."  In a recent conversation I had with just such an individual, the gist of her perspective was -- "if I heard a voice in my head I would question my sanity."  And while I'm not insisting that the Lord speaks audibly these days (although He can certainly do as He sovereignly pleases)... He does most definitely speak to His children, as promised.
In the familiar 10th chapter of John, where the Lord Jesus pictures His relationship to believers employing Shepherd-to-sheep imagery, He promises speaking to His own:  "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice..." (v. 16); and again, some time later as He encountered opposition from the Jewish leaders, He asserted, "...you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me," (vv. 26, 27).
Coupled with this is Paul's teaching related to signs of sonship through the Holy Spirit, in Romans 8:  "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (v. 16).  Apparently, through the Bible and through prayer, the Lord's Spirit assures His elect that they are His own, and need to continuously listen for His voice (Isaiah 55:2, 3a; Luke 10:39).
Now, what the Lord said to Paul wasn't the response he desired, but the promise he received was precious, indeed.  First, His grace is promised.  Grace is the undeserved, unearned favor that God sovereignly shows toward those upon whom He set His heart from all eternity.  Hence, grace is an unconditional attitude of love by which He has committed Himself to the eternal salvation and security of His elect ones.  Grace also has an enabling element... His grace empowers, imparting the ability we as His children constantly need in living out the Christian life of sanctification.  We were saved by His unmerited favor and power, and we are kept by such grace, as well.  
Secondly, grace's sufficiency is pledged.  The Greek present tense translated "is sufficient" infers an ongoing process.  The gracious Lord assured the tormented Paul that His empowerment, His grace, was not a one-time offer.  Thus, his faithful Father warmed Paul's exhausted heart by promising ongoing, fathomless, unceasing grace.  And since a promise is only as good as the one who makes it, every promise made by the omnipotent, immutable Creator of the universe CANNOT fail!  Note:  worry is not disguised doubt...it's unbelief.  We sin by worry in the face of circumstances, but how can we do so in the face of God's promises?  To worry is to impugn His character, cast doubt upon His faithfulness, and tell a watching world that He isn't completely trustworthy.
May we ponder His constancy by reflecting on the ways He has shown Himself strong on our behalf, and then refuse the encumbrance of fear & the sin of worry that so easily entangles us.  
Thirdly, His paradoxical principle is put forth: power perfected in weakness.  Paul's natural tendency (as is ours) was to be strong, self-sufficient, capable.  Instead, he found himself abused, ridiculed, and feeling forced to defend his apostolic credentials.  The thorn was the Lord's tool for highlighting Paul's dependence upon Himself, in order that His enabling grace would be most evident in Paul's life.  When thinking of God's power being manifest through weakness, Samson comes to mind.  Paintings consistently portray him as a "hunk", rivaling any muscle builder we can name... yet, it actually seems more probable that his physique was fairly average.  Consider: if he had been a rippling mass of muscles killing thousands with only the jawbone of a donkey, who would get the credit..?  Yet when done by a man of average build, observers wouldn't say, "Wow, that Samson is amazing!", but rather, "Wow, Samson's GOD is amazing!"  
So our lives are to be likewise lived in such a way that attention is drawn to our God, rather than to us.  We'll then find Him faithful, He'll gain the credit & glory, and a watching world will sense the difference He makes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Oh, That We Would Grow in Grace!

To appreciate and embrace the grace of God, one must first focus on two things: (1) the holiness of God, and (2) the heinousness of sin.  Underestimating either one will lead to a warped and weakened apprehension of grace.  Embracing both will lead to a greater gratitude for the God of grace, and giving Him the worship He so richly deserves!

The holiness of God.  Isaiah writes, "In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called out to the another and said,
    Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
    The whole earth is full of His glory."  (6:1-3).
Of all the attributes of God mentioned in Scripture, only His holiness is repeated three times, as here.  He is never said to be "love, love, love" or "gracious, gracious, gracious"... yet His holiness is highlighted beyond all else.  This characteristic, then, permeates all others, so that His love is distinguished as a holy love... His anger is a holy wrath... His goodness is a holy goodness... Too, as with every attribute of the infinite God, His is an infinite holiness.  His innate standard is perfection, unattainable by mankind, and His judgment against sin is death.  A consuming fire, is our God... righteous and upright in His perfections, hating sin to a level we cannot conceive.  Nothing is hidden from His gaze, the Creator with Whom all must have to do (Hebrews 4:13).  Again, the greater, higher, and loftier awareness we have of Who He is in His utter holiness and hatred of sin, the greater will be our gratitude for grace.

The heinousness of sin.  To say that we are comfortable with sin is to understate the obvious.  This familiarity explains much as to why it is so difficult to comprehend (and reverence) God's holiness.  Born into this sin-cursed world with a sin nature, as accustomed to sin's prevalence as the air we breathe, inundated with its perspective, priorities, and pressure by the world system, we struggle to grasp its seriousness, its deadliness, its fatal consequences. On a planet whose system downplays sin's reality, whose lost inhabitants are spiritually blind to its presence, and whose lives are lived with sinful glee, we often absorb this atmosphere, gradually falling into an unconscious apathy to sin's dominance around us.   Thus, we can lose sight of God's perspective on sin, His holy perspective...  When this occurs, it is time to return to the cross.  There we see most graphically the living God's hatred of sin, as He poured out His holy wrath onto His beloved Son (who had become sin that we might be the righteousness of God, in Him), II Corinthians 5:21.  To meditate upon the agonies, both physical and spiritual, of the Son of God as He endured the terrible tree, is to find afresh the oft-hidden true nature of sin.  It is a terrible thing.  We are to hate it, for we are to hate what our God hates, and love what He loves.  And the closer our walk with holy God, the greater will be our detesting of sin in all its forms.  

Grace.  Only now are we able to embrace sovereign grace.  In a holiness and love we cannot comprehend (but definitely adore), God took the initiative to spare a people from nations all over the globe, by setting His heart upon them from all eternity.  In so doing, He precluded any claims any one of them might have that they contributed in any way to this gracious act. Had He not done so, no one would have been spared.  His hatred of sin would have seen to that.  Yet He showed immeasurable condescension and grace, as He sent His only Son to live the required sinless life, to die as a Substitute for those He had set His heart upon, and having His Holy Spirit apply the sparing to their lives in His sovereign timing.  Such an un-coerced plan of loving grace, when truly embraced, leads to humility, life-long thanksgiving, and ongoing obedience.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Living God

"... I am God, and there is no other;  I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure," (Isaiah 46:9b, 10).

Highlighted here are wondrous attributes of our God, calling us to look away from our selves, circumstances, surroundings, and fix our gaze on GOD.  And, it is not another quoting Him... it is He Himself asserting the truth of who He is!

First we are to worship Him in His uniqueness.  "...there is no other"  In four simple words the living God sweeps away all competition contrived by man for worship.  No human can calculate the number of gods (whether physical, mental, emotional or otherwise) humanity has devised in order to keep from worshiping the only true God.  Without exception, they can all be traced back to the living God's archenemy:  Satan.  His power is considerable, his ability to deceive amazingly adroit, and his rage against God and His children implacable.  Yet, he is a creature.  And as such, his strength is finite, his existence dependent upon God, and his interim victories serve only to highlight his prophesied doom, to the glory of the only God Who is.

Secondly, He precludes comparisons.  "...there is no one like Me"  As people, we live, eat, sleep, and breathe comparisons.  From earliest childhood, the wee one wants to know, "What is God like?"  Then begin the lifetime of analogies... He's like a father... He's like a grandfather... He's like the school teacher I had in 3rd grade... all because we haven't the nerve to admit "He's like no one, He's God."  
Of course, the most popular analogy among folks is anthropocentric: "He's like me."  Since "every man's ways are right in his own eyes"... and the promise of the serpent to Adam & Eve, "you will be like God" is still being lived out by humanity, at least two passages bear repeating:  "...You thought that I was like you..." (Psalm 50:21b); and "...My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD," (Isaiah 55:8).

Thirdly, God declares His omniscience.  "...declaring the end from the beginning..."  no Open Theism here, with God discovering what we will do only as it's happening.  No, the Creator of the universe, being as great in His minuteness as He is in His magnitude, knows any- and everything perfectly, with absolutely nothing escaping His awareness (Hebrews 4:13).  Such infinite knowledge also has implications for prophetic passages of Scripture.  Being from everlasting to everlasting, He knows no past nor future... all is an ongoing now.  Thus, His prophetic Word is completely trustworthy, since He has known and seen it from before time began.  

Finally, the LORD God of all that is asserts His incomparable sovereignty.  Only He is in ultimate and final control of every aspect of everything real and potential.  Only He can truly accomplish and establish all His decretive will, purposes, and pleasure.  Jeremiah rightly prayed, "Ah Lord God!  Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for You," (32:17).  
May we be granted grace to worship the one true God as He truly is, communicate Him to others as He is worthy, and serve Him in a manner that reveals His true character.