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Archive for April, 2020

Is Satan just a figment of the imagination? Or does he really exist? A Gallup poll some years ago revealed that as many as 70% of Americans believe he exists, but half of that number see him as the sum of everything evil and not as a personal being. So, which is he – a personal being – or just a term used to define the forces of evil in our world?

The Bible certainly portrays Satan as a personal spiritual being. Jesus, during the wilderness temptations, knew him to be a personal being. In that case, one may well ask, “Why would God create someone as evil and abominable as Satan?” The point is that God created him – but not as an evil being. God’s Word describes him as having been created as a beautiful angelic being – the most beautiful of all the angels. He was called “the anointed cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14).

The Bible only lists the names of three angels – the archangel Michael, the angel Gabriel, and Lucifer, who later was called the devil. We are not told exactly how the angels ranked in heaven, but we know that Lucifer ranked high among them. Describing him, Ezekiel 28:15 and 17 state, “You were perfect in all your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you . . . Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground . . .”

The Bible gives us even more insight into this fascinating but completely wicked fallen angel in the Book of Isaiah: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground. . . For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14). God then gives His answer to this strutting egocentric being: “Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15).

Since his ejection from heaven, the devil has set up shop in the world and has established a very well-defined set of goals. According to the Bible he knows his time is limited, his opportunities short-lived, and his sentence already settled and certain. Therefore, in these last days he has dramatically stepped up his efforts to oppose mankind. In other words, he has pulled out all the stops, and goes regularly for the jugular.

His objective is to draw as many people as he possibly can away from accepting and following Christ. When he fails to keep individuals from accepting Christ as Savior and Lord, he will try to cause them to stumble and fall. He will use everything in his bag of tricks in an effort to immobilize or neutralize them so they will not make a positive difference in the world.

Know this: temptations are certain to ring your doorbell, but it is your own fault if you ask them in to stay for dinner. By yielding to the enticements of Satan you can lose in a moment what it took a lifetime to build. Temptation doesn’t sneak up on you. It often comes through a door that has been deliberately left open.

Christians need to know that the closer they stay in their daily walk to the Lord the safer they are. That does not mean the devil has no power on the earth today. What it means is that he no longer has the upper hand, thanks to Calvary. When Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!” – the battle cry of the cross – these words reverberated throughout heaven and hell. Satan and his demon cohorts had been defeated. Christians today share that victory.

Even so, the Christian life is far from one of ease. It is a life marked by conflict, spiritual warfare, and intense opposition. The Bible not only likens the Christian life to war – it actually calls it a war. Satan is presented in the pages of the Bible sometimes as a dangerous wolf, disguised as a sheep. Sometimes he roars like a lion, but more often he comes like a serpent, in all his depravity and horror. Sometimes he even comes as an angel of light. Make no mistake – those who stay committed to Jesus Christ, the Christian’s Commander-in-Chief, will definitely meet Satan on the field of battle.

The Bible also describes Satan as “the father of lies” – but he forgot to patent the idea. That is why he is never too busy to rock the cradle of a sleeping Christian. It is also why he is perfectly willing for a person to profess Christianity as long as he or she does not practice it.

If you haven’t met Satan lately, it is probably because you are traveling in the same direction he is. You would be well advised to turn around and head in the opposite direction because you will definitely meet him at the end of your life’s journey. That prospect is definitely not an appealing one.

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Prior to becoming the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, who was called “Old Hickory,” served as a Major General in the Tennessee Militia. During the War of 1812 the morale of his troops reached an all-time low, and they began to argue, bicker, and fight among themselves. Jackson called them all together and said, “Gentlemen! Let’s remember that the enemy is over there.”

This is the kind of sobering reminder needed by the members of some churches today. Why is this true? They have forgotten that the enemy is over there. They spend their energy and enthusiasm fighting each other. The only way a church can succeed in carrying out its divinely assigned mission is to love and pray for one another, believe in one another, and work together as a team.

One of the most profound comments made regarding the early church came from the lips of a man named Aristides. He was sent by the Roman emperor to spy out those strange creatures who called themselves “Christians.” Having observed them closely, Aristides returned to say to his emperor: “Behold how they love one another!”

If someone were assigned the task of reporting on some of our churches today, the report would likely say, “Behold how they judge and hurt one another. Behold how they criticize one another! Behold how they disagree with one another and fight about insignificant things!”

Nowhere on earth is unity more needed than in a Christian church – and nowhere is it more possible. Sadly, it is not always a reality. No church can have maximum positive impact on its community when political power plays, polarization, and petty disagreements happen on a regular basis within the church family.

To underscore the importance of unity, John 13 tells of the time when Jesus met with His disciples in a second-floor room for a meal in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus noticed that they had come into the room with dirty feet – not surprising in that rocky, dusty part of the world. So, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet. What a scene it must have been.

Hear these words from John 13:12: “When He had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’” Obviously, Jesus had washed their feet, but that is not the answer He was trying to elicit from them. He was getting ready to say to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

It is easy to love Christ for who He is, and for all He has done for those who trust Him. But church members, being human, have different opinions. They can say and do things that have both positive and negative ramifications. It is obviously not easy to love some people – even fellow church members. Yet that is the command that Jesus gives to every Christian. We are most like Him if and when we love one another.

Jesus never said that Christians must agree on all things, or like everything that some of them do. It would not be natural, and it would very likely be impossible for us as humans to do. What Jesus said is this:You are to love one another as I have loved you.”

In other words, as Andrew Jackson said, “We need to remember that the enemy is over there” – not fellow church members with whom we should be worshiping and serving God.

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Even though I will be 89 years old in September I had given no thought to being old until a little over a year ago when someone said to me, “Do you mean you can still drive at night?” Then, after a pause, he added “at your age!” There are people who know your age and are surprised you can still do certain things. Others know how old you are and say to you emphatically, “Don’t ever grow old!”

Two or three years ago I attended a lady’s birthday party that Sanford First Baptist Church was giving their oldest member. She had just passed her 100th birthday. During the course of the evening I was talking with another member of the church who happened to be 99. In the course of our conversation she said, “Preacher, I got my driver’s license renewed last week for five more years. I began wondering what it might be like to ride down the road in an automobile driven by a lady who only lacked a few months being 100.

It has been said that the only sure-fire formula for living to be 100 is to keep breathing! Regardless of our age, most of us are not nearly as old we hope to be. The important thing is not how many years we live but how well we live the years we are given. The right way to grow old, of course, is to grow old gracefully. Just remember this: We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.

Perhaps someone, thinking it was good advice, has said to you, “Don’t grow old!” Those who view old age to be frightening and humiliating may think this is good advice. Let us examine it more closely:

It is impossible advice. You and I can do many things, but there is one thing we can’t do – stop the years from marching on. We can be careful and wise in exercise, in our diet, in our spiritual intake, and in our social involvements, but we cannot halt the aging process. From the moment we are born we start aging.

It is bad advice. When we are told to do something that is impossible it is nearly always bad advice. It leads to frustration and to all kinds of unanticipated problems. When we see someone trying to stay young – using huge amounts of cosmetics and other disguises to conceal the fact that they have used up a huge number of calendars, it is embarrassing. To accept things as they are without resigning to premature old age is wisdom. It is possible for us, with God’s help, to make our current age a tremendous time to live.

It is mistaken advice. Robert Browning lived before any of us were born, but his best known lines may well have been these:

“Grow old with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God:
See all nor be afraid!’”

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Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1630), once said to the Countess of Nottingham, “God may forgive you, but I never can.” This sixteenth century queen was not the first person, nor has she been the last, to refuse to extend forgiveness to another person when it was needed.

For example, several years ago there appeared on a company bulletin board in Grand Rapids, Michigan these words: “To err is human; to forgive is not company policy.” I am glad God does not operate by this policy, or Jesus would never have entered the world with the mission to redeem mankind.

There is an enthralling scene in Luke’s gospel that illustrates the importance of Christ’s mission. The disciples of Jesus had been fishing all night and caught nothing, so Jesus asked Peter to launch out into the deep and let down his nets. Peter probably did not expect to catch any fish, but so many fish were caught in his nets that he had to get help from others in order to bring the huge catch to the shore.

At this point Peter fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter learned two things that day: (1) he discovered the spiritual poverty of his own soul, and (2) that the forgiveness he desperately needed could only be provided by God. Luke does not conceal Peter’s stumbling footsteps. He was impatient, crude, often egotistical, and made blunders. Even so, he would later come to the end of his life with the flags of victory flying and the bugles of triumph blowing.

What made this dramatic change in Peter’s life even more dramatic was what happened on the Sunday morning following Christ’s crucifixion when the mourning women came to Christ’s tomb. The angel guarding the tomb said to them, “Do not be amazed . . . He has risen from the grave . . . go and tell His disciples and Peter . . . He is going ahead of them into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:6, 7).

Why did the angel ask the women to go tell “the disciples . . . and Peter”, for Peter was also a disciple? I believe it was because the angel knew how deeply Peter was hurting because he had denied Christ three times. Also, Jesus still had plans to use him in spreading the good news of God’s love to the world.

When the news reached Peter’s ears of His Lord’s personal word to him, they must have been like a drink of fresh water to a man crossing a desert whose throat was parched and whose lips were cracked. “Did He really call my name? That means He has forgiven me – even after I denied three times that I did not even know Him. It means He still believes in me and wants to use me. O happy day!”

Can’t you just see Peter moving swiftly in the direction of Galilee with his head held high and his arms swinging? He probably was out in front of the other disciples, his heart beating rapidly with exultant joy. His past was stained with ugly deeds, but his future was full of promise and hope! He was on his way to see Jesus. The smile on his face advertised to everyone he met that his heart was filled with joy.

It is only when we come face to face with ourselves, see the ugly deeds of our lives, and feel the hopelessness that Peter felt that we can begin to appreciate the power and joy of being forgiven by the Son of God. No matter how dark our deeds, or how hopeless our outlook for the future, He gives a second chance to all who will accept it. He is in the cleansing business, not the whitewashing business.

We not only need God’s forgiveness, but we need to forgive one another. It is how the world recognizes us as Christians.

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Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem when He gave two of them an unusual mission: “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Tell them that the Lord needs it and will send it back shortly” (Mark 11:1-3).

All they had to say was “The Lord needs it.” This was the password they would have to use. Jesus obviously had previously planned for the donkey to be placed in a certain spot, and the password had been worked out in case of difficulty. The specifically chosen colt was scheduled to play a significant role in Christian history. The owner refused to let it go until the password – “the Lord needs it” – was spoken.

In today’s technological world we make wide use of passwords. There are many things we cannot do unless we use the password that has been pre-chosen. “The Lord needs it” has to be history’s first and most important password. As Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday and Easter this year it is still an appropriate password as we minister to each other in the church, in our community, and together in the world.

Note the preparation that Jesus made. The people He had reached and healed were ready to be involved with Him. Now was the time they were to serve Him who had so faithfully served them. The owner of the donkey had been prepared for this strategic moment in history when Jesus would fulfill the Scripture and ride upon a donkey as the Messiah into Jerusalem.

Those who went ahead and those who followed Him shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10). When Jesus arrived he entered Jerusalem and went immediately into the temple.

The fact that He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey may seem totally insignificant to many people. For the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to ride into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey rather than on a beautiful white horse doesn’t seem to convey the idea of the majesty He so richly deserved. Jesus, however, wanted to declare His Messiahship on His own terms. He was both victor and victim, high and humble, God’s anointed and suffering Servant, Prophet of Power and Prince of Peace.

For the two thousand years since that day Christians have called attention to the events leading up to that first Palm Sunday and Easter. Oddly it all began with the choice of a certain donkey on which Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. Have you ever wondered who the owner of that donkey was? Can you imagine what it was like for him to know that it was his donkey on which the Son of God rode into Jerusalem on the way to fulfill the mission assigned to Him by His Father? And the entire drama would not and could not have happened if the disciples who came to get his pre-chosen donkey had not used the right password.

History’s first password was and still is the most important password ever used – and it hasn’t gone out of style. It can and should be often used today. For example, is there someone you know who is not a Christian to whom you should and can share your faith? Do you have a talent which you are not using to serve the Lord? Are you a faithful steward of your time? Of your talent? Of your wealth?

If so, you need to hear history’s oldest and most important password: “THE LORD HAS NEED OF IT.”

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