Tag Archives: God

The Limitations to Spiritual Attack

In the Christian life we can expect many trials. It is not a life of cosiness and comfort in the pleasures of wealth, power and prestige. Those who teach that “you only need faith and everything will be okay” are like the false prophets of old who said “peace, peace” when destruction was coming upon Israel: they deceive with promises of comfortableness, blinding their hearers to the truth.

Tank

We are attacked as Christians, but there is a limit to what the devil can do.

Scripture says that: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence” (Matthew 11:12). Those who belong to Christ can expect attack from both within and without the Church. Oftentimes men of deceitful and violent hearts will enter the Church with the purpose to cause disruption and harm to the true, invisible Church. Jesus warned us to beware the false teachers and false prophets, calling them “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Like wolves they seek to devour the sheep. Others, openly hostile to God and His Church, will seek to ridicule, perform violence – sometimes literally – and cause other hardships to those who confess Christ.

We should not be arrogant in condemning these people, but rather we ought to “love our enemies, and pray for those who spitefully persecute us”. We need to remember that we also were once enemies of God, and, bar the grace of God, we would still be violently opposed to the purposes of God. No, we should not be arrogant in our salvation but rather humble, knowing that we are also sinners, though thanks be to God that we are now reconciled to God in Christ. We must acknowledge that it is not the people who are our real enemies, but rather we should heed the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

Having acknowledged that it is the devil who is behind the attacks that come upon God’s people, we might become discouraged at such hostility. How do we counter this? It is through knowing the position which the devil has and the position that God holds.

God is Sovereign, He is Almighty, and He is Omnipotent. He is not limited by anything other than His own character, and there is no event, however small, which He does not know of and of which He is not the prime director. Every word of God’s mouth is sure, every word in His inspired Word is infallible. His purposes shall be fulfilled and every promise kept.

Soldier on horseIt is not so with the devil. The devil is limited. First, he is limited because by his very nature he is a created being. He is not omnipotent, neither is he omnipresent nor omniscient. Second, he has been defeated by Christ. Just as the devil bruised Christ’s heel, so Christ has crushed his head. The devil is a poor old man in his dying days, having been disarmed and defeated at the Cross.

But the most profound aspect in which the devil is limited is shown in the book of Job. I will let my friend Richard Swartz make this point, for he did it so well (you can follow Richard on Google+):

Satan can do nothing without God’s divine permission. Not one thing! “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.” (Job 1:21) It comes down to the sovereignty of God, each and every day and each and every way. Not a single purpose of God is ever thwarted. (Job 42:2)

In order for the devil to make an attack on a man he must first gain God’s permission. Then the rules of engagement are laid down by God, and finally the outcome is again determined by God. (see Job 1:6-12, Luke 22:31-32.)

As we have our trials and come under attack, whether physically or spiritually, we would do well to remember that the devil is limited whilst God is without limit, and that if we belong to Christ there is nothing that can happen to us that will ultimately harm us.

And to conclude, these are Jesus’ words on fear:

And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! – Luke 12:4-5.

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Faith in God’s Deliverance

I had hoped to write this post over the weekend, and knew that as I was intending writing on this subject of “Faith in God’s Deliverance”, I should expect to get resistance in writing it – and I did! I have just been through a few days of intense difficulty and not without doubting and falling short. We are all works in progress and none of us has yet been perfected.

However, this is still an important subject: how we can have the utmost faith in God and that He will work for our deliverance. Even when we cannot see this, even when we are plagued with doubts, we can, deep inside, trust God and in due time He will bring us out of that time of trial. There are so many examples in God’s word of His saints going through truly awful times. Sometimes, as in the case of David, the examples include times of falling and even sin, sometimes times of despair as in the case of Jeremiah, and sometimes simply horrific events occurring with no apparent rhyme or reason such as in the story of Job.

God is Our Shield

God is our shield and will deliver us out of our trials.

Psalm 44 gives us a picture of how the Psalmist dealt with the very dangerous and destructive times that he and the nation of Israel were going through: he remembered God’s working in the times of his fathers and declares his faith that God will perform that work again to restore Israel. It is this trusting in the past works of God, trusting that He is still actively working for your benefit now, and trusting in the time of future working by God for the eventual deliverance, that enables one to persevere in faith.

It is also in this Psalm that we see the lot of the Christian saints – not one of earthly success, wealth and power, but one of self-sacrificial service:

Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. – Ps. 44:22 (see also Romans 8:36)

We are called to suffer but not to be cast away. God will preserve us through trials, and we can reassure ourselves that God is indeed with us even as we battle through our trials. (See Josh 1:9, Matt 28:20).

We will be tempted to sin, we will be tempted to turn our backs on God (Job found temptation came his way even from his wife), as we move along this pilgrimage of closer union with God through suffering. At such times we must remember to “submit ourselves to God and resist the devil” (paraphrased from James 4:7), and once the time of trial has passed we can see a great joy and a wonderful blessing, knowing that God has worked a work in us which could not have been performed any other way.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

James 1:2-4

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

– 1 Peter 1:6-7

God will sometimes allow us to suffer and yet we can have full assurance that we will never be crushed or cast away, and even if the deliverance we have faith for and which we long for does not come in our lifetime, it is no less real for that, and so we can not only live by faith when we are awake but also die in faith when it is our time to fall asleep.

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God Loves Mercy – Thoughts on Hurricane Sandy

Many bloggers and many prominent Christians have spoken on the question of whether natural disasters are the result of God’s judgement against nations and against people. I have felt prompted today to write my own prayerful thoughts following the terrible events from Hurricane Sandy in the US.

Firstly I am praying that I may be sensitive to the fact that some have lost their lives, both in the US and previously in Haiti and other Caribbean islands. Many more have lost possessions, homes and livelihoods. My heart goes out to those affected and my prayers have been and will continue to be with you.

We should be very careful when writing on such a subject that we present God and His nature truthfully. I would be lying if I denied that God is a God that loves justice. I would also be lying if I said that God is never moved to wrath. Yet we should be clear that the primary and all-consuming nature of God is Love. God the Father sent Jesus to save His people from their sins, and if you have, or would, receive Jesus and make Him your Lord and Saviour then you can be assured of mercy.

The Psalmist once spends every other line of a Psalm declaring “His mercy endures forever”.

So does God send natural disasters as a punishment for wickedness? In some instances I believe He does, but I shall qualify that by saying that God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner and that God does not will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God, if and when He is moved to wrath, is not like a mortal man who is in a rage and conceives murder in his heart, but rather makes His power known in order that, perhaps, the people may be brought to turn from wickedness and embrace the fullness of joy that is freely available in Jesus. God does not send trials and disasters as mere punishment, but uses them as a means to bring many to a close relationship with Himself.

A passage which I am not the first to point to tells when Jesus was confronted by some Jews who were advocating that very attitude too many preachers seem to take: that disasters happen because of the victims’ sins.

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?
3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
4 “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Sī-lōam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5

Here it is clear – those affected by disasters of whatever sort are no more deserving of that fate than us all. We cannot point the finger and say “Your sins are to blame.” If we even approach this attitude it must be such that “Our sins are to blame.” We have inherited the curse of sin through Adam, and this has been passed on to every person, you and I included, and part of that curse is the curse upon the earth – hence natural disasters.

It is only through Jesus that we may be saved from that sin and eternal wrath, and the disasters that strike us are not formed in the mind of God to punish us, but are allowed by God and used by God to bring us into closer union with Him and may accomplish the real desire of God which is eternal, intimate relationship with you and I.

And note how God loves to show mercy in the verses following Luke 13:5:

He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
7 “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’
8 “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.
9 ‘And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ”

– Luke 13:6-9

I believe that this passage shows how merciful God is, as the planter is representative of God and the servant representative of God the Son, Jesus, Who pleads with God to spare the fig-tree, representing us, until He has nourished it and built it up. It is here we see that though God is just and must punish sin yet God the Son pleads on our behalf and God the Father shows mercy and puts off the just punishment in order that we may be nourished and fed.

In summary, God is sometimes moved to wrath, yet it is always His first desire to show mercy, and even wrath is used to this end. Natural disasters are the result of a world under sin and the wrath of the devil, but even through these God works things together for good. Our proper response to such disasters is not to point out other people’s sins, but to look at our own sin and repent of it and to show mercy to those who are afflicted.

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The Practice of the Presence of God

God’s Presence is with us Always – Image courtesy of SXU/fotoviva

I am currently reading through The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and it is a profoundly inspirational book.

Although not compiled by Brother Lawrence itself it provides a great insight into his practice of seeking constant communion with God. It details his methods and practices and gives a good inspiration to fulfil the words of the Apostle Paul when he states that we are “to pray without ceasing”. Brother Lawrence seems to have mastered this during his religious life.

A word of warning, though – it appears that Brother Lawrence was devoutly attached to the Romanist Church and the monastic life, and there are aspects of both that make me, as an evangelical Christian, somewhat uneasy.

Yet the descriptions in this book, through a series of conversations and a series of letters, give a good impetus to me to seek to be in greater and closer communion with my God and remain in fellowship with Him.

Brother Lawrence’s view is quite profoundly stated in the opening section of this book:

[He] related that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him

It is too often in the Christian life that our minds wander from a sense of God – yet Brother Lawrence, after many years of struggle with sin and condemnation, seems to have found that by constant prayer he was able to enjoy a peace and joy that is truly the mark of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Brother Lawrence did have times when this conversation slipped, and also had times when upon a reflection after tasks had been done had found himself to have fallen short. In such instances he advises: “Without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord.”

Brother Lawrence would confess his sins and shortcomings and then think upon them no more as he returned to his conversation with God.

So much can be learned from this book and from Brother Lawrence’s experience and practice and I would thoroughly recommend it to your reading.

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We the People of God – Our Citizenship is of Heaven

We are a People once not a people, but now the People of God
As Christians we cannot be separated by politics, culture, locality or language. We are One Body, and our first and foremost loyalty should be to God and then to each other

We cannot, seriously, be consumed in a system that pits Christian against Christian. Yes, we will sometimes (maybe often) disagree in areas where political, cultural or ideological views are divergent, and possibly all three to the extent that much of our political and ideological view is coloured by our cultural heritage. But we must not let that hinder the work of the Gospel nor let it hinder our love for one another.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous theologian, died in the concentration camps. His loyalty was not firstly to his government nor his nation. His loyalty was to God, and he died for an attempt to bring WWII to a speedy end. In that way he showed more love to the many British and American Christians that were suffering in the battle against Hitler. Was he a traitor? No, because his primary nationality, his real citizenship, was heavenly, not German.

In our disagreements over whether the political left or the political right; the capitalist or the socialist; the libertarian or the anarchist are correct or more correct, we must be careful that we do not lose sight of the undeniable fact that we are of the same eternal Kingdom and we belong to God and to each other, and not to the systems of this present world.

Taking self-profession as sufficient and not a cause for argument over doctrinal and practicable ideologies, President Obama is the brother of former President Bush, and they (and we) are a nation of God, not of the world.

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Stewardship – A Vital Principle for the Earth

Current scientific consensus is that the life-system of the earth is becoming dangerously destabilised, and that the threats of climate change, pollution and dwindling resources pose a practical and political issue that is of immense importance.

The view, widely-held, is that the severe imbalances that are occurring are doing so because of the actions of man upon the eco-systems and environments of the planet.

But there are some who disagree.

Some, generally name-called “climate change deniers” (although such terminology is not always helpful given the need for rational debate and well thought-out arguments), say that the changes that are being experienced are not due to man’s actions but are a natural development in the life-cycle of the planet.  These people would be best placed in a non-interventionist bracket.

The non-interventionist policy would be that there is no need for man to take any remedial steps as pertaining to eco-systems or environment, and that much of the “green agenda” is dangerous in itself, either because of the increase in governmental and inter-governmental control, or the negative impact such remedial steps would have on a consumerist-based and consumption-based economic system.

Non-interventionists can be classified into three varieties:

1. The total denial group.  Claiming that the science behind man-induced eco-system danger is flawed, this group asserts that there are no notable changes to the systems of the earth and that therefore, as there is no problem, there does not need to be a solution.

2. The natural cycle group.  Whilst accepting the vast evidence that climates are changing and that the eco-systems of the world are in a state of flux, the natural cycle group asserts that these changes can be exclusively attributed to the natural changes that would have occurred without man’s influence.  Because man is not responsible, they say, then man need take no remedy but just let the planet get on with it.

3. The climate-changing God believers.  Full acceptance is made that the changes to the environment and planet are taking place, and an acceptance is also made that these changes pose a great risk to the survival of the planet and of mankind. Those in this category, however, disown any responsibility to act because it is the work of God, and that instead of looking to address the environmental issues nations need rather to repent of their sins and turn to God.

The science behind the claims of climate change and eco-system strain are either countered or dismissed by these groups.

Yet there is a very important Christian principle which is often overlooked by the non-interventionists, and this is especially relevant to those who claim climate change is the work of God.  That principle is the principle of stewardship.

The Bible is very clear, and in numerous places, that a Godly person should be a good steward of the resources that God has entrusted to him.  Many would take this to mean a faithful tithe to the Church, or even lining the pockets of wealthy and attractive TV presenters (“evangelists”).  Yet stewardship is a far deeper and profound concept that covers 100% of what God has entrusted to us.  That 100% includes all our finances, all our time, and all of the resources that are available to us.  “All things come from God, and of Your own do we give You,” we say after giving our offerings at church.

The vital principle of stewardship brings a new light on the arguments for intervention.  The concept that the earth is our plaything and the resources are there for us to use as we please is not compatible with the principle that these resources are to be used wisely, purposefully and diligently not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those less fortunate.

Whatever the causes behind climate change and eco-system degradation, it is very clear that the consumerist and consumption-based economic system has a poor stewardship record, and that if we are to counter the issues, or even if we cannot and the systems have already reached tipping point, part of our “repenting and turning to God” must be a repentance of the sinful greed and waste that the consumption-based economic system has produced.  Then we may be in a position to properly relate to and steward the Creation in our care.

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The Offence of the Cross

I have been prompted to make this entry in my blog because of the debate about Christianity and homosexuality.  Note that this was the prompt, but I am not going to focus on gay issues as my main point in this post.

There is a difficult, and at times un-Christianly bitter, debate within the Church between those who stand on Biblical principles in moral behaviour and those who suggest that the grace of God and the requirement to love all means that all or any behaviour is acceptable, providing it conforms to the World’s standards of morality.

For example, the liberals would say that a homosexual priest is fine, but a serial murderer priest is not.  The Bible, in fact, and in the New Testament, classes both sins as equal.  The liberals dispute this.

Yet to move beyond the homosexual debate is, I believe, important.  The conflict over gay rights is currently to the fore, prompted by moves in the UK to prohibit Christian principles in the workplace and by moves in the US ordaining openly homosexual bishops.  But the charge is now often brought that the Church is obsessed with “gay bashing”.  Although the debate wasn’t started by conservative Christians, we have risen to the bait and it seems that much campaigning has been focused on this.

But it is important, I believe, to move the debate forward.  The UK, and the world, are being swamped by sinful behaviours, and they are not exclusively to do with sexual behaviour.

My own particular struggle,  with drink and drugs, needs to be brought to attention.  I would take the same approach to heavy drinkers and drug users as I would to homosexual practice, for the Bible treats them as equal sins.  Show love, offer help, but do not shy away from saying such behaviour is sinful.  I have a deep sorrow at my past drink and drug use, and now I would not thank those who said “never mind, roll around on the floor dribbling, God doesn’t mind”.  The truth is: God does mind, He calls it sin.

There are other issues too, such as the oppression and exploitation of the poor.  The degree to which this happens in the UK, from the human trafficking to the exploitation by clothes shops in using overseas sweatshops, is appalling.  Christians need to speak on these issues.

I want to say one more thing: there has been a growing move in the UK to make Church “fashionable”.  To make Jesus attractive.  Sometimes this borders on attempting to con people into becoming Christians.  It is done in the name of “making Church relevant”.  Yet, the Bible is clear that we should “speak the truth”.  We cannot accept the “fluffy God” or the “it’s okay Jesus”.  God, Jesus, is Holy.

We must be clear.  A refusal to obey God will result in judgement.  But God is so loving that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever should believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

If we Christians truly live, breathe, and then speak the Truth, believe me we shall soon find, and rejoice in, the fact that Jesus Christ and His Cross are most offensive to those who refuse to believe.

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Why Doesn’t God Just Sort Things Out?

One question I remember hearing often is this: If God is so loving, why doesn’t He just stop all the wars and come down and make everything okay?

Perhaps, He did.  And we killed Him.

Jesus’ death upon the Cross marks the crossroads of life.  Many anti-Semitic Christians have asserted that it was the Jews who killed Jesus.  Christian Jews sometimes point out that it was the Romans who killed Jesus.  But we are all responsible.  The Jewish authorities orchestrated Jesus’ death, the Gentile (non-Jew) authorities carried the sentence out.  Both Jews and non-Jews bear responsibility.

Now, one may say: “But I wasn’t there.  If I had been, I would have had no part in it.”  Such a statement is understandable, yet profoundly arrogant.  Haven’t you ever said an unkind word about someone behind their back?  Maybe, as your friends laughingly mocked, you resisted for a while, but when you sensed that you’d miss out on the party unless you joined in, didn’t you throw in a smidgen of insult?  Trust me, no, trust God, when He says that “all have sinned”, and that if you had been present at the crucifixion of Jesus, you, like me, would have mocked.

But why did Jesus die?  Surely, if He’s God, He couldn’t die?  Some, such as the JW’s and Unitarians, deny that Jesus is God.  But Jesus Himself claimed to be the great I AM (one of the Names of God).  Thomas cried out “My lord and my God!”  Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.”  Maybe we can’t get our heads around God being three persons but only One God, but then I can’t get my head around the Hadron Collider.  It doesn’t make something not true just because we don’t fully understand it.

Okay, so God, as the Son, came to earth.  Why didn’t He just say: “Okay, I’m here now, stop fighting, stop bickering and we’ll have a party.”

There is the question of sin.  What would have happened if God had said that He would make everything perfect, bring justice and reward everyone.

Well, as God is just, He would have had to reward everyone according to the state of their hearts and their deeds.  Remember: all have sinned.  All are guilty.  All deserve to be punished.  So, God brings Justice and we all stand condemned.  It would have been a literal hell for everyone.

So, because God is loving, He sends His Son, who is One with Him.  God had already shown in stark clarity the method by which sin could be forgiven: only by the shedding of blood.  The Old Testament times are full with the blood of lambs, goats, pigeons and the like.  There is a law: sin causes death.  For sin to be forgiven, something had to shed its blood.

And so, at the Passover, God provides for Himself a Lamb.  A Lamb without blemish.  Perfect, pure, holy.  His Son Jesus.  Jesus’ shed blood makes the atonement.  If we accept that He died for us and believe in Him, we can receive that atoning work of the Cross: we can be forgiven.

We killed Jesus.  But Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  But that forgiveness only comes when we accept the Truth.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by Me.”  Jesus is the only Way of salvation, be you Jew or Greek or Roman or Indian or American or African or Australian.

So, a just God takes upon Himself our sin, a merciful God calls us to respond, and a gracious God offers us all, as many as would respond, life joyful and everlasting.

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