This Christian Life is not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15)

Imagine giving years and years of your life to something, and then to have it come down to the final pivotal moment when all of your work culminates in its reward, only to have it all go awry! That is what a group of scientists must have felt like just a few years ago. Here is the news story…

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah (AP) – Scientists with tweezers picked through the twisted wreckage of a space capsule that crash-landed on Earth, hoping that microscopic clues to the evolution of the solar system weren’t completely lost in Utah’s salt flats.

NASA engineers were stunned Wednesday when neither parachute deployed aboard the Genesis capsule and the craft plummeted to the ground at 193 mph, breaking open like a clamshell and exposing its collection of solar atoms to contamination.

“There was a big pit in my stomach,” said physicist Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This just wasn’t supposed to happen. We’re going to have a lot of work picking up the pieces.”

The capsule held billions of charged atoms — a total haul no bigger than a few grains of salt — that were harvested from solar wind on five collecting disks during the 884-day, $260-million mission.

Helicopters flown by Hollywood stunt pilots were supposed to grab Genesis almost a mile above the Utah desert and lower it gently to the ground by snatching its main parachute with a hook. But before the capture team learned of the parachute failure, the speeding capsule had plummeted into the Utah desert.

Imagine the frustration… to design something like that, send it out to distant space and have it return, only to crash at the very end of the project! But that is a picture of what the lives of many people are like. They spend all of their lives pursuing dreams and endeavors, only to have it all crash at the end because they are not rightly related to Jesus Christ. It is “climbing the ladder of success and upon getting to the top, discovering that it was leaning against the wrong building.”

Man, if this faith thing, this Jesus stuff is not true, we have worked and believed and lived in vain. We crash at the end. We run out of ladder rungs against a cold, stone edifice.  Paul said it this way…

1CO 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Paul goes on to say that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and His resurrection makes all the difference. The story God is writing holds promise for the future… the guarantee for a glorious hereafter. Such knowledge changes the way we live. It affects our priorities on a daily basis. The stuff of this world is only of value for this world, passing away relatively soon after it begins. But our labor for God is not in vain.

1CO 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

This Christian Life is Doable (Hebrews 12:1-3)

As most of you know, I coached high school kids in cross country and track for 13 years. It is a really different type of sport compared to many others, as the athletes see their opponents very frequently and often spend hours upon hours at meets in the same stadium. Even among fierce competitors, there frequently develops a mutual encouragement society. Track teams are pretty large, and most of the athletes spend a bulk of their time in the stands watching others perform. Usually, there are more athletes in the stands than there are simple spectators. The athletes understand each other, because they know from their own experience the labor that has gone into the preparation by those currently competing on the track.

The writer to the Hebrews must have been familiar with such a spectacle. He speaks of those who have gone on to their reward as those who now sit in the stands encouraging the current participants to finish their race well.

HEB 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I remember back when I was training to compete in my first marathon race, there were a lot of doubts in my mind as to if I could actually do such a thing as run for 26 miles. Over the months of training, I met a great number of people who had completed such an event.  Some of them were greatly gifted athletes, but some of them were also pretty regular types of people – like me! Their experiences were helpful, and the fact that they had done it encouraged me more than anything. If they did it, I could do it too!

Life is tough, and it can get pretty nasty sometimes as unexpected events roll over us like wave after wave at the beach. But others have gone before, endured such sufferings and beyond, and finished their race well.  I hope that is your goal… to finish well… it is a very doable thing. And throngs of people in the stands are telling you so!

So stay faithful in running this Christian life. And spend time together with the others doing the same, encouraging one another about how doable this thing is.

The Family Tree (Hebrews 2:10-11)

Every family tree has some sap running through it!

In my family, it was my Uncle Art. It is difficult to describe my Uncle Art – the portly smirking fellow with the ubiquitous toothpick ever clenched between his teeth. Lecherous was a word a woman used one time – but maybe you don’t know what that means! (It ain’t good.)

Well, he was educated through the sixth grade… was often crude, coarse, silly, immature, tasteless, uncultured, uncouth, grizzly… again, with that dumb toothpick ever extruding from his otherwise vapid stare! Other than that he was a fine guy!

Actually, he was a very honest person in business, a man of surprising faith under the gruff exterior, and a dear uncle who thought I was the next best thing to Jesus Christ. When I first knew Diana, I wondered when I should introduce her to Uncle Art. If it was too soon in our relationship, it might completely scare her off! I eventually thought it was safe and chose a time. I warned her sufficiently in advance about what to expect, and he fulfilled it all! Good night, what a bizarre performance! But ultimately Diana replaced me on his “next to Jesus” list.

Do you have any relatives like that?  I’ll bet most of you do!  These are people of whom you are more than a bit ashamed to be known as blood relatives.

Imagine how difficult it is for a perfect person to be accepting of non-perfect folks as his family. But Jesus regards us as brothers and sisters. The word “brother” is used with great frequency by Luke, Paul, John, James and Peter to speak of others in the body of Christ. It is, if fact, one of the most common words of the New Testament. Not only these five authors, but the unknown writer of the book of Hebrews liked it also.  Here is how he frames it…

HEB 2:10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  

It is really pretty cool that in spite of our sin, the author of salvation is not ashamed to call us brothers and regard us as family. So we are all brothers and sisters of each other… not just for this world, but for eternity! It might be good for us to get used to each other, since we are going to live together forever.

Do you actively and regularly think of others in the church as your family? This can be a wonderful concept, particularly for those who have no family locally, or for those who have family situations that are far from Ozzie and Harriet, or Leave It To Beaver.

So how are you doing with the brothers and sisters?  Is there a sibling you are finding yourself walking a wide circle around – someone you would just rather not claim as your spiritual flesh and blood?  Don’t you suppose that grieves the heavenly father?  If you are a parent of multiple children, you know how you have no ability to rank your love for any one above the other – you love them all with the same intensity. And when you see these people you love so very much… just hating on each other… it grieves you so deeply. You wonder why they cannot just love each other as you love them!  And so it is with God.

1PE 3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1JN 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  

HEB 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers.

So, hey… you gotta love the others in the family!  God wrote you into His story to be family with each other, and the hero, Jesus Christ. So my brother or sister – don’t be the sap running through our family tree!

Not Alone in this Christian Life (1 Kings 19)

Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself in the midst of a large group of people and you were there feeling very alone – totally different than the rest of folks in that place? In November of 1986, I flew to London to set up the details for leading a youth missions music team to England the following summer. I traveled with the director of the mission agency on Kuwait Airlines – an airline most Americans were afraid to fly, but which fit the mission budget especially well.

The cross cultural experience began on the airplane. It was a Boeing 747 full of people, but I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my friend and I were the only Anglo-Americans on that fight. It was a flight beginning in Newark and going to London, Kuwait and ultimately Bangkok. It was a virtual United Nations on that flight, with people and children sleeping in the aisles, etc.

A university student from Pakistan was seated next to me, and I struck up a political / international issues conversation with him. After a while, he asked me, “What are your views on the nation of Israel?” … to which I looked around me and quietly whispered to him, “I don’t think my views on Israel would be very popular on this airplane.” He looked around also, and quickly grasping the situation said, “I think perhaps you might be right, let’s talk about something else.”

Some years ago I was invited to a Williamsport area event that honored women in sports, and I was in fact given an award at the event for coaching the girls cross country state champions. This was an event by the women, of the women, for the women! I was the only male who made it to the front of the room! It felt kind of silly and awkward.

Maybe that is how you often feel in your world as a believer in Jesus Christ, seeking to live out the values of Scripture. Maybe you feel all alone, totally going against the current. Isolated!

Elijah felt that way! He had just gotten done challenging the hundreds of prophets of Baal and seeing them wiped out by God. Of course, this made Queen Jezebel really angry. Elijah panics and runs away as far as he can into the wilderness and hides in a cave, where God asks…”What are you doing here, Elijah?”

1KINGS 19:14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The following answer of the Lord has always stuck me as rather humorous. Actually, God does not really deal with Elijah very specifically… he basically just gives him another job to do. I can almost imagine the Lord rolling his eyes at such a whining and wimpy answer.

1KI 19:15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah thought he was all alone, when if fact there were 7,000 others who shared his values.

And you are not alone. God has His people everywhere. And God wants His people to be united and spend time together, to encourage one another for the inevitable times we are in single combat against the enemy.

And God also has made it so that we may be a part of what He is doing in the world. We may be players in the story He is writing. How many authors allow the reader to be a living part of the adventure?  … to be a partner with the hero of the story?  You have to admit, that is pretty cool way to live this Christian life!

Just Feet of Clay, Getting Into Step (Galatians 5)

It is one of those 90/90 days of the summer – heat and humidity, that is. The grass has to be cut; it can’t wait any longer!  The calendar is full of appointments and meetings; so it is now or next week. You do it. You are soaked. You have 15 minutes to eat lunch, shower, and be in the car to the next appointment. There is no time to cook, but you are hungry and hot. Inside the freezer compartment is a half-gallon container of Breyer’s Butter Almond ice cream. It is only half gone. The only things higher than your temperature and hunger are your cholesterol numbers and excess pounds.  … Ah!… worry about that tomorrow, and you empty the container and run! The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

The flesh is weak. Our experience in this Christian life regularly tells us that we are not made of very substantial stuff. And in fact, the Scriptures on a number of occasions refers to us as clay…

2CO 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

The flesh is weak. Each of us know it all too well. It is one thing to run from bad guys who pursue us…like wicked people and demons and the sort. But it is so discouraging to realize that the pursuit of evil is perhaps more often sourced inside ourselves! Man, that is frustrating! Paul understands, and writes it better than perhaps anyone ever has…

RO 7:14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wow! That is candid! And we all know IT IS TRUE! Our failures are not because we want to fail. We desire to live well for God in righteous attitudes and deeds. But this “thing” inside us takes us down again and again. Gosh! We are wretched! Ugh!

But Paul immediately references the answer that is there – also within us – Jesus Christ our Lord!  Where else might we turn?  How do we have what Paul calls “the life of Jesus” within us?

Jesus told his disciples near the end of his earthly time with them that he would send the Spirit to not just be with them, but be in them. This indwelling of the Spirit is the common experience of the Christian in the church age, a reality not generally known by the saints of God in previous ages. So, Jesus lives in us in the form of the Spirit. The issue therefore becomes one of yielding control and authority to that inner strength, versus yielding to the inner strength of the flesh and sin nature.

GAL 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

GAL 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  

Don’t you just love that last statement? Keep in step with the Spirit. Remember the old show, “Gomer Plye, USMC’?  Remember Gomer in the introductory clip having trouble getting his feet into rhythm with the marching company, and Sargent Carter screaming into his ear? That is how we look so often when walking with the Spirit, and seeking to see the life of Christ lived out in us. It is time to get in step… and by doing so, we thwart the pursuit of evil, and we live well in this Christian life.

The Beer Party World (1 Peter 4)

I have a great many wonderful memories about high school and that period of my life. But I also have some very painful reflections, even all these years later. I did not attend a really huge school, as my graduating class had only 129 students. I would compare my school to Clear Spring High School relative to the composition of the community and student body. To my knowledge, there was only one other Christian in that group of 129, though I know some have come to know the Lord since then.

My good memories come from the classes and school days, and particularly the sponsored after school extra-curriculars. The bad memories come from just about everything else beyond that.

It seemed to me that most of my classmates lived for the weekend… to anticipate a beer party somewhere and then to talk and gloat about what happened until the next adventure came around. I remember early evening returns to the school from away games where the camaraderie was great; but the entire scene would change as I was the one person left behind to simply go home, as the rest of them went out on a drinking binge.

I have memories of lying awake in the middle of the night and hearing emergency vehicles going out the primary connecting country road we lived on … wondering who of my school friends might have crashed into a tree this time. It was so pervasive, I almost developed a 6th sense about what was happening. I recall one Friday evening where I got up in the middle of the night, went downstairs and watched out the window for the ambulance to return past our house toward the hospital. My mother heard me go down the steps and followed to see what was wrong. I told her that I felt certain someone I knew was hurt; and sure enough – a couple of them had crashed into a stone wall just a few miles up the road. They survived with few serious injuries, though none the wiser. I knew I did not want to be any part of that scene, but I also knew I was pretty much all alone in my values. It was often a depressing time.

Do you often feel alone in your world, completely out of step with the majority of people around you? The reason for that is because you are! You have been called out of this world and into the kingdom of His Son. That is what the Greek word for “church” literally means. “Ekklesia” is the combination of two words… “ek” = out of, and “kaleo” = to call. So you are part of a fellowship of people called out of the rest of the world to be a part of God’s family.

This sense of being a square peg in a round hole, and being disliked for it, is common-ground experience we share with Christ. Jesus said…

JN 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

I remember one particular occasion of being dropped off at my home after a high school game by an older teammate who could drive, and him saying, “You don’t go out drinking to the parties do you… man, you are so stupid… you don’t know what you are missing.”  The world is amazed that we would not just follow along in their patterns. Here is how Peter spoke of it…

1PE 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2 As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

It really is a beer party world. And it is a challenge for us all, but especially our teens, to see the temporary and foolish nature of this world. We need to focus on the eternal… to make that focus the main idea we identify from the God’s grand story in order to live successfully in this Christian life.

1JN 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The Axis of Evil (2 Corinthians 11)

A few years ago, President Bush termed a handful of hostile countries around the world “the axis of evil.”  These were nations led by people who are wicked at the core of their being. But there is a more awful axis of evil to be found in the legions of cohorts in association with Satan.

Most Christians know and believe that there are such beings as demons. But many probably do not know of their history or activity.

Demons are angels – originally created by God as His messengers and servants – who followed Satan in rebellion against God at some point in eternity past. They now serve their new master, knowing their time is limited and their destiny is one of a fixed and certain destruction.

There is a balance for us to maintain in terms of our view of the demonic realm and their influence and power.

On one hand, we in modern America downplay and disregard (or sublimate) the reality and activity of the Satanic host. We are the odd ones out in the world, as most of the rest of the world, particularly the third world, openly experiences and acknowledges the active reality of the supernatural.

On the other hand, we need to guard against the thought or presumption that the kingdom of darkness is an equal combatant with the kingdom of light. Though Satan and his ilk are granted temporary powers and authorities, their doom is sealed. (And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross – Colossians 2:15)  So, we do not need to be overwhelmed by this foe. The resources for our regular victory over this supernatural axis of evil is very much at our daily disposal, which is particularly clear in the Ephesians 6 passage we referred to in the previous devotional.

However, it is good for us to know that the techniques used by this foe are not always those of raw evil. We need to remember the strategy often used by these forces is to mask evil with that having the outward appearance of good.

2CO 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Among issues where Satan may masquerade as good are those related to the big three of worldly temptations – sex, money, and power. Failures in such categories do not usually happen randomly or impulsively. Rather, it is the end result of an erosion of a mind fixed on God. It happens over time, as one begins a pattern of rationalizations and mental gymnastics to convince oneself that the aberrant behavior has justification within the special parameters of the current situation. “This extra relationship is actually good for me because it encourages my self esteem.”  “The extra money I am gaining will enable me to give more to God’s work.”  “It is too bad I had to roll that guy’s head, but he was an obstacle to the progress we need to make, and God put me in this position.”

We also need to place within our thinking the great interest Satan has in our current generation. He will not go down without a fight. He will seek to “take out” multitudes with him in the course of his own destruction. I believe it is biblically undeniable that we live in the broad category of time known as “the last days.” And in such a context, we may surely expect heightened Satanic activity.

1TI 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

Indeed, Satan and his cohorts are granted powers we need to respect with wisdom and balance; but the ultimate victory in the story is ours. There is nothing possessing higher trump than what we enjoy in our relationship with Jesus Christ. The journey of our great calling in Christ is a treacherous one, but our relationship with the hero of the story insures our ultimate victory over the pursuit of the axis of evil.

RO 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Enemy Plans and Intentions (Ephesians 6)

As I had mentioned in a previous devotional, I recently read a book about World War I naval conflict. The British Admiralty (the United Kingdom equivalent of the American Department of the Navy) had an espionage room called “Room 40”. They had broken the German naval communication codes and were very often aware of the intentions of their enemy long before they were put into action.  On one occasion the British Grand Fleet, knowing in advance about a planned German offensive, actually put to sea five hours before the High Seas Fleet of Germany launched.

As God’s people, we have a great enemy in Satan. Though we are not able to see him specifically, we are not uniformed about his methods and schemes. Paul said it this way to the Corinthians…

2 Cor. 2:10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven–if there was anything to forgive–I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

We do not need to be unknowledgeable about Satan’s schemes, though many of us apparently are. The Bible is a sort of “Room 40” for us. Satan’s techniques are not new, as compared to his methods over the generations. Peter warned his readers with these words…

1PE 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

A lion never rests for long; it is always considering where its next meal may be. We have all seen those television nature programs with the lion lurking, looking for the vulnerable gazelle that strays a bit from the herd or loses its sense of caution and respect for imminent danger. The picture is a colorful one that we should certainly heed. And note also that this danger is not unique to us or to our setting or our generation. It is the common experience of believers around the world.

Imagine you were being stalked by a person, an enemy of your life that desired to see you fail in a whole variety of ways. Imagine that person showed up at your workplace from time to time; and every so often you saw him outside your house window. What would you do? Well, certainly you would go to a higher authority concerning the problem. You would want to understand why this person hated you so significantly. And you most definitely would have a strategy to deal with this threat to your life.

Well, this actually is your situation! You do have an enemy in Satan that wants to see you fail in many places of your life. He, or his emissaries, are out and about your life… looking into your activities for a crack in your armor. You need to go to a higher authority in trusting God. It serves you well to have a working understanding of Satan and his schemes. And you surely need a strategy. So here is a biblical strategy session…

EPH 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

The pursuit of evil is a part of the big story, and a part of your story. It is popular in our generation and within Western Civilization to deny the reality of such. Don’t be that foolish.

The Ultimate Enemy (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28)

A couple of years ago, for some light reading I really got into the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and read the entire thing. The turns of phrase of an English author from a century ago are nothing short of really cool!

Of course, Holmes had many enemies and villains come across his path, but none as dastardly as the evil Professor Moriarty. When Holmes first reveals to the dear Dr. Watson the characteristics of this wicked creature, he describes him this way…

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed—the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught.  In that case money is found for his bail or his defense.  But the central power which uses the agent is never caught – never so much as suspected.”  (from The Final Problem in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)

The biblically literate person cannot read that paragraph without thinking how very much of it could apply to Satan, the great enemy of the biblical hero, Jesus Christ. Consider the similarities… the source of the bulk of all evil, the great mind and power, the sinister nature of the personality, the web of organization, an association of confederates, the seeming immunity from arrest and prosecution, etc, etc.

The presence of Satan is revealed early in Scripture, appearing in chapter three. He raises doubts about the goodness of God, displaying his position as the enemy of righteousness. Originally created as the most extraordinary of the angelic host, his history of rebellion against God is recorded in passages from two of the major prophets…

Isaiah 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! 13 You said in your heart,    “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

 Ezekiel  28:14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.  So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.  So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.

Many years ago, a favorite professor of many of us who attended Philadelphia College of Bible was Ron Showers. Professor Showers wrote a marvelous little booklet that has surely been out of print for decades now called “What On Earth Is God Doing?”  This booklet spoke of the plan of God through the ages, with a special emphasis on the activity of Satan to thwart God’s purposes step by step. From the temptation of Adam and Eve, to the introduction of murder…  From the plan of the fallen angels to intermingle with the human race (Gen. 6), to the tower of Babel with evil human leaders, and multiple efforts to destroy God’s chosen people… all the way down to the death of Jesus – Satan has worked to prevent the redemptive ministry of Christ, and he works now to negate its application to people even of our generation.

Satan is the enemy of God. He is the enemy of Jesus. He is your enemy and passionately hates you! Our theme switches now to consider the pursuit of evil that is a part of all great stories, is part of the biblical story, and is therefore a part of your story as well.  Looks like you need to journey on with us!

Guaranteed Victory (Revelation 19)

I like winning things, and my overly-competitive nature is the stuff of local legend. From my high school cross country coaching career, I think the video is still out there on the internet somewhere of the day my best runner was out-kicked at the finish line of the state championships. The clipboard in my hands at that moment ended up in multiple pieces.

During several of those 13 years of coaching I had a girls team that was truly a rare powerhouse. Winning meet after meet, only the very best teams in much larger schools had any chance of beating them. In our division in Maryland, even if every other school in the state combined as one, my girls would probably still win the title. I liked it that way! Knowing we were going to win made everything about it a lot more fun and relaxing.

That is how it is with our hero, Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate guaranteed winner. I am not sure I could stick with this faith adventure in the midst of such a sinful world if I did not right now know the end of the story. A lot of circumstances do not seem fair and do not make sense, even with knowledge of how things end; but I know it will all culminate in the establishment of righteousness and justice.

I remember in elementary school being taught to read a book by starting with the first chapter, then going to the last chapter, and finally reading all the stuff in between. That always seemed kind of dumb to me. But maybe it really does make sense! Once in a while when I’m reading a novel and I begin to really like a character, I’ll look at the back of the book to see if the person is still alive and part of the story. It makes me less stressful about what might happen to him or her in the meantime.

That is similar to how I am able to find peace in a bonkers world. I have read ahead to the end of the book. Jesus wins in the end, and I am on his team… so, I am going to keep my eye on the ball and enjoy playing the game.

Revelation 19:11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.