December 2013 Archive
Week of December 1st
FORGIVING AND SATAN’S SCHEMES
I am coming to the conclusion that the importance of forgiving others cannot possibly be overstated. What brought me to this belief was a study of the devil’s schemes, prompted by Paul’s connecting them with forgiving in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11. He is encouraging the Corinthians to forgive, "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes."
It is not difficult to come up with a summary of the devil’s schemes. Many of them are noted in the Bible, and it’s easy to see how they fit in the events of our lives. First, he is a liar (John 8:44). He lies to us about God, others, and ourselves. A personal example might be in order.
I had a much older sister who got married when I was four years old. I don’t remember her living at home at all, but I loved her. So the loss of her presence and involvement in my life was huge. It was huge because the devil interpreted it falsely to my immature heart and mind. He convinced me that there must be something terribly wrong with me, that I was unworthy of love. The lie went like this: "Your sister didn’t really love you, because she left, so no one else really loves you either. Even God probably doesn’t like you very much and, by the way, it’s all your fault." And I grew up believing that lie. It was not a cognitive thing that I put into words, but it colored everything. It was like the background upon which all my relationships and activities, hopes and fears played out. I did not even become aware of it until much later in life.
Satan’s goals are noted in John 10:10. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy." He wants to steal our joy, kill our hope, and destroy our faith. And with these comes a host of collateral damage – broken dreams, damaged self-worth, shattered relationships, alienation, and isolation, to name just a few.
Besides lying, there are other tools he uses to accomplish his goals. He accuses. Revelation 12:10 says that he accuses us before God day and night (to no avail, since the verse also says he has been thrown down). He also plants in our minds accusatory thoughts toward others, producing suspicion and alienation, and toward ourselves producing false guilt and shame.
He tempts. Just as he comprehensively tempted both Adam and Eve, and Jesus, so with us he uses a plethora of physical, emotional, and spiritual temptations. We tend to think of temptations as luring us with things we would want but shouldn’t have. But it doesn’t take much living in the real world to teach us that the temptation to self-pity when things are hard is very real. Pity parties are no fun, but we all succumb to them, at least now and then.
He blinds. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says he blinds the minds of the unbelieving to the light of the gospel. I have always thought this meant he blinds the minds of unbelievers, which he certainly does. But when we are in the midst of that pity party, which amounts to unbelief, the light and hope of the gospel are dim to us at best. We are not immune to his blinding influence just because we are Christians.
He sifts. At the last supper Jesus told Peter that Satan wanted permission to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). When Peter protested, Jesus predicted that he would deny Him three times before morning. I can’t give a spiritual definition of sifting, but from the flour analogy I would say that it is whatever brings to light anything within us that is not presently visible. When the events of our lives shake us to the very core, what is buried there often shows up in bold relief. It is a relief to know that Satan can only sift us as God permits.
He watches and waits. He has all the time in the world and he plans his attacks strategically to affect us in our areas of weakness, during times of vulnerability, or in places of temptation. I mentioned isolation as a by-product of his goals to steal, kill, and destroy. A lion watches the herd, waiting for a straggler or wanderer to become separated from the rest, and then he pounces. (See 1 Peter 5:8.)
So how does forgiving, or more to the point how does our not forgiving connect to Satan’s schemes? Refusal to forgive is a major component in the destruction of relationships. Failure to forgive steals our joy and reduces to ashes our hope that things could ever be better. It opens the door to further lying and accusation. It isolates us from one another, making us easy prey for the devil. It blinds us to the truth that we are not helpless victims, but have the ability to choose to forgive, thereby releasing ourselves as well as our offender from the debt. It tempts us to revenge.
In short, failing to forgive plays right into the devil’s hand in so many ways. It gives him more ground in our lives than anything else, from which he is free to wreak more havoc. There is no more important choice we can make in the realm of spiritual warfare than to forgive others. It sets us free; it frees God to work in the lives of the people who wound us, and it takes away Satan’s platform to continue his nefarious work in our lives. Think about it.
© J.H.Nichols 2013
Week of December 8th
My little grandson is just under a year old and is learning to feed himself. After he has been fed his pureed vegetables and fruit, he gets a handful of Cheerios on his tray. He has become adept at picking them up one at a time and getting them into his mouth, but his little hands get wet and sticky. More often than not, in the course of a meal, several will drop to the floor. The family dog Samson has noticed this new phenomenon and is always hovering nearby, ready to scarf up these stray Cheerios.
My grandson has also noticed Samson’s activities under his highchair and now takes great delight in purposefully dropping Cheerios on the floor for him. It’s a fun game, although he is unaware that too much people food isn’t good for dogs or that he could possibly run out of Cheerios and wish he’d eaten more himself.
This little vignette came to mind when I read the story of the Gentile woman who came to Jesus asking for help for her demon-possessed daughter (see Matt. 15:21-28). He replied that it wasn’t right to give the children’s bread to their dogs. She could not deny the fact that she was unworthy to receive anything from Him, but still found faith enough to note to Him that the dogs do get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table. Jesus commended her faith and granted her request.
As those who represent Christ in this world, what can we learn from these two stories? First, and most encouraging to me, is that crumbs generally fall from the table unnoticed. The people around us, the cashier at the grocery, the hairdresser, the neighbors, business associates, the people we pass on the street, are there and they are watching for crumbs from Jesus (whether they know it or not). As we live our lives in Christ, putting into practice His command to love others as ourselves and to care for "the least of these," we scatter His crumbs indiscriminately. We do not know and will never know when a simple act of kindness, a smile, or a word of encouragement will be just the bit of nourishment someone needs to restore his faith.
Second, and most challenging to me, is the thought that we should be joyfully intentional in dropping our crumbs. Are we watching for and discerning who of those crossing our paths might be needing what we have to offer? Sadly I am far too often too caught up in my own little world to have an eye open for an opportunity to share even a crumb of what I have so abundantly received. Shouldn’t we, who have received so much, take great delight in dropping our spiritual Cheerios everywhere and often?
And finally, while too much people food isn’t good for dogs, there is no fear that too much kindness, love, or encouragement will harm anyone. And while it’s possible to run out of Cheerios and remain hungry ourselves, we can never exhaust the unfathomable riches of God’s grace.
© J.H.Nichols 2013
Week of December 15th
GOOD NEWS FOR ALL OF LIFE
The goal of the gospel is not just to bring unbelievers to Christ. The gospel’s usefulness doesn’t end with salvation. Coming into a saving relationship with Jesus is just the beginning. For every stage in life, from the newest babe in Christ to the fully mature saint, the Bible has more good news than we could ever hope for.
Every step of transformation that occurs in our lives is the result of hearing afresh – and putting into practice -- more of the gospel. Jesus promised, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." We desperately want the blessing of God upon our lives and we may have some vague knowledge of the many promises in the Bible. But when real life hits us, we don’t know how to connect them or make them substantial. We don’t know how to "do" them.
The portion of Scripture that speaks most concisely of blessing is the Beatitudes. They are beautiful and familiar, but they leave unsaid more than they say. In what seems an oxymoron, the notion blessedness is described in terms of brokenness, mourning, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and persecution. These same themes are developed in word pictures in Isaiah 61, filling out our understanding of the blessings of the Beatitudes. Both passages begin with what God does for us, move to what He does in us and finally to what He does through us, both in our immediate sphere of influence and ultimately.
We begin with the realization that there is something desperately wrong inside and that we cannot fix it. The deepest needs of our broken hearts revolve around our bondage to sin, both as perpetrators and as victims. The promise of freedom through the Messiah opens up the possibility that we can be whole.
Through this new-found freedom we see our hopelessness and mourning our condition before God give way to comfort. The promise of new life, vitality, and transformation found in Isaiah 61 begins to replace the malaise of self-effort and stagnation that end in death.
This new energy, however, is not applied to trying harder to achieve God’s blessing, but to relinquishing control of our lives in order to be in position to receive it. This humble submission to the Lord is not servitude but joy, joy for here and now and joy for the eternal inheritance promised us by virtue of our identification with Christ.
Since God sees us in His Son, He sees us as righteous. While we assent to this intellectually, still we see, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, how we lack this righteousness in our lives. And we hunger for it. Producing righteousness in us is God’s job, not ours. And it is not for us that He does it, but for His glory and the extension of His kingdom.
Just as God has extended mercy to us, so we are called to extend merciful forgiveness to others. We can rebuild the ruins of our lives, restore broken relationships, and impact not only those we forgive but also our children, their associates, and future generations by imitating the mercy of our God.
Putting God’s principles to work in our lives gives us greater insight into His character and greatness. Being released from our bondage to sin and its pain produces a desire to see the One who has done so much for us. Our gratitude, faith, and willingness to be purified open our eyes still more to this Lover of our souls.
It was God’s great love that prompted Him to send His Son to remove the barrier of sin between Himself and mankind, Once it was removed, He was then free to see us through the undistorted lens of His love. So also it is as we see others in Christ – as God now sees us in Christ – that we can begin to make peace and effect reconciliation. As we rebuild broken relationships, we demonstrate God’s power to transform individuals, families, and whole communities.
Transformation is always noticed and responded to, whether positively or negatively. God is glorified either way. The things we are called to suffer for Christ’s sake are more than counter-balanced by the prosperity of the soul we find in knowing Him intimately.
Knowing Christ must not be a superficial thing for us, for the Scripture has much to say about the opposites of the character traits listed in the Beatitudes. It is only as we put them into practice that we really live in "the favorable year of the Lord" and thereby contribute to "the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:1).
The Beatitudes show us not only a way of life, but also a progression through life. We are blessed as we see God working these character traits into our lives and we grow in this blessedness as we take each next step revealed to us in God’s Holy Word.
The gospel is good news for all of our lives, from spiritual birth until we have completed the race. The Beatitudes, coupled with Isaiah 61, show us what a blessed life looks like and also demonstrate to some degree how a believer moves from one stage to another as he grows in blessedness. The good news just never ends!
© J.H.Nichols 2013
Week of December 22nd
LET THE DAY BEGIN!
I just opened our Christmas gift from my sister-in-law in Arizona. It’s a very Arizona-ish looking bowl, bright yellow with orange, and blue, and red circles, and an orange edging with a wavy red and blue streak running all around the top. It’s rather large for a cereal bowl, but on the bottom inside are the words, "Let the day begin!"
That’s the way I feel about Christmas. Christmas is God’s alarm clock, waking us to the reality that Light has come into this dark world. The day has begun!
Even before Jesus was born, Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist) prophesied that the One whose way he was to prepare would be "the Sunrise from on high" who would visit those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79). Darkness is the place where movement is slow and tentative; we feel our way hesitantly, haltingly. In the light we are free to advance with certainty and vigor.
Before Zacharias, many prophets spoke of the coming of Light. Isaiah’s prophecy in particular contains many such references. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (60:1). And "I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (49:6). And "You will have the Lord for an everlasting light" (60:19). God is the ultimate Source of all light, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. There is no place into which His light will not go and no time when His light will dim.
King David said, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1). Darkness is the environment of fear; when light comes, fear departs. And Micah said, "Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me" (Micah 7:8). Light is what enables us to pick ourselves up when we fall and keep going, even in the face of opposition.
Jesus Himself said, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8:12). And the Apostle John said, "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5). The birth of Jesus means the Light has come for all time, in every place. Past failures are not a hindrance, nor are future worries an impediment.
In John 12:46, Jesus said, "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness." Light enables us to see, and it also enables us to be seen. And Paul asserts that in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation, we appear as lights in the world (see Phil. 2:15) because of the Light we have received and now reflect.
So pour yourself some cereal and "Let the day begin!" Merry Christmas!
© J.H.Nichols 2006
Week of December 29th
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Happy New Year! It’s an oft-repeated wish this time of year. It’s tacked on to the Christmas greetings we send. We go to parties in honor of the New Year. And why not? Newness is definitely a cause for celebration. We have a whole New Year ahead of us, three hundred and sixty-five all-new days. What will fill them? What opportunities will we have in the days of this year? What decisions will we face? What joys will be ours? What sorrows?
Sorrows? One shouldn’t think of sorrows-to-come at the New Year. This is a time for optimism! Yes, New Year’s is a time for looking at the bright side of things, but we all know that sorrow and pain may come. And optimism alone will not see us through those times. We need more than mere optimism. We need a new way of looking at the events of our lives. We need a new perspective that sees beyond the circumstances at hand.
This new ability – it’s called faith – is one of God’s greatest gifts to His children. It enables us to see our lives as more than a series of unconnected happenings. The author of Hebrews defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). And Paul urges us to use this gift when he says, "In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thess. 5:18). Giving thanks, regardless of our circumstances, is truly an exercise in faith, and enables us to put those circumstances in proper perspective. It acknowledges that God has a plan and is in control of our lives.
Not only does God have a plan for each of us, but that plan is a good plan. Listen to something else Paul said, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). What could be more optimistic than to know that, no matter what happens, God will use it for my good? This is not just looking at the bright side of things and hoping for the best, but an optimism based on the truth of God.
What else is new that we can celebrate with the New Year? We are! When we are born again, we become brand new people. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2Cor. 5:17). God not only gives me a new ability, but he gives me a new me, too.
And the new me isn’t left alone to learn how to use this new ability. The Bible says that God’s mercies are new every morning. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:21-23). With each new day God has provided a unique set of His own gracious acts toward us to help us through this life here on earth. That indeed gives us hope.
This hope is greater than anything the world has to offer; something that even the fiercest optimism of the world knows nothing about. The apostle Peter tells us about it, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Peter 1:3-4). The new things God has to offer aren’t just for this life here and now. They extend on throughout eternity. We can hope for a happy, prosperous life here on earth, and it may or may not happen. But we have absolute certainty that we will enjoy an eternity of new life in the presence of our precious Lord and Savior.
Somehow, in view of all that’s new for me because of Jesus Christ, the New Year and its celebrations seem to shrink in importance. But it is a New Year, one worth celebrating because God has created it for the new me to live in and exercise my new ability with His ever-new mercies to help me. And when it’s done, I will be one year closer to the new hope He has given me. That’s a lot to celebrate. Happy New Year!
© J.H.Nichols 2004