Headlock

If you watch wrestling or action movies, you are familiar with the headlock, a choke hold by which one contestant wraps his arms or legs around the opponent’s neck, intending to partially or completely cut off circulation to the brain. The goal is to cause the opponent to loose or nearly loose consciousness. Usually, the poor trapped wrestler will end the hold by slapping the canvass before he or she passes out or dies.

Not being a wrestling fan, that’s the closest I can come to summarizing that choke hold. I do know that soldiers employ choke holds in hand-to-hand combat, even though there’s no canvass for the enemy to slap, to end the contest and save his or her life.

You don’t have to watch wrestling matches or action movies to witness headlocks. Whether or not you recognize his moves, our mortal enemy practices a headlock on his victims, a maneuver with which I am sadly familiar. Our enemy’s headlock allows him to lock us in a vicious cycle of alternately wanting to believe God’s promises, and doubting them because they don’t seem to make sense, or maybe because they seem too good to be true.

My mind, along with every other faculty of my person, as well as the rest of creation, was subjugated to the enemy’s purposes when we failed our Creator through disobedience. According to popular Christianity, once we are saved from sin’s curse through believing in Jesus and accepting His gospel (good news) of salvation through His shed blood, our heavenly destiny is sealed and that’s that. Many, maybe a majority of us, respond to God’s saving grace by planting our bums on a padded pew while the enemy locks our brains with complacency.

According to God’s Word, our salvation by grace through faith is just the opening volley of a spiritual war that will last throughout our mortal lives. By allowing the enemy to through a headlock on us, we fail to prepare ourselves for the rest of the strategies that the enemy has planned for us. We’ll be satisfied with weak, substandard spiritual lives that are more likely to immunize nonbelievers to conviction of sin rather preparing them to receive the gospel.

Romans 12 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which rules out laziness or complacency and mandates spiritual, mental and emotional diligence for the rest of our lives.

When soldiers are in harms way, leaders tell them to keep their heads on a swivel so as not to fall into the enemy’s traps. So break out of that demonic headlock to be ready for anything the enemy has planned for you. How do you know when you’ve succeeded? Don’t worry; the enemy will let you know with a fresh barrage of demonic attacks. But if you’ve truly succeed in breaking free, you’ll be ready.

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My Mistake

While reading Our Daily Bread today, I did a double-take over the author’s prayer at the end. I read it as, “Lord God, we are the source of all that we have.” While that reflects the attitudes of many people, I knew it was wrong. So I read it more carefully the second time.

It actually read, “Lord God, You are the source of all that we have.”

Why did my first reading wave that red flag of error so frantically? Because I’m familiar enough with God’s Word to know a lie when I see it. Now, I’m certainly not a Bible scholar, but I don’t have to be in order to discern error. The Psalmist provided the needed counsel:

Psalms 119:9-11 NKJV How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. (10) With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! (11) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.

I praise God for the infinite wisdom He provided in His Word!

Communion Sunday …

Communion Elements

Or as I prefer to call it, Communion Lord’s Day.

Please forgive me if this comes across as a rant; I assure you it isn’t, as you’ll see if you read to the end. And it’s not a passive-aggressive attack on a brother I love and respect, so please read this in the spirit with which it is intended.

Regarding what we call the day of the week we choose to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, call me a fundamentalist if you wish, but I don’t worship on a day devoted to the Sun god. I celebrate on the Lord’s Day, not Sunday. And every day we gather as the church we join in the communion of the saints, maybe not using the communion “elements,” but with fellowship in God’s Word and His Spirit.

And the “elements” are another bugaboo of mine; the first century church celebrated the Lord’s supper with unleavened bread, not with little cardboard wafers—okay, they’re not cardboard, but they might as well be. And the “wine” we Evangelicals serve as celebrating our Lord’s shed blood isn’t wine in the traditional sense, but grape juice. True, it’s “fruit of the vine,” but not the dilute, mildly fermented kind the Lord used during His Last Supper. But I tend to nit-pick.

My purpose here—believe it or not—is not to rail on today’s practice of the Lord’s Supper, but on a mistake our associate pastor made, and his thoughtless attempt to correct it. Though I have the greatest respect for him, he really put his foot in it this Lord’s Day. Yes, he was on the spot, as our lead Pastor couldn’t make it to preach today. No doubt I would have folded worse than he did, having to get creative to fill the void. But in so doing he forgot this was Communion Sunday, and dismissed the body without the Lord’s Supper service.

That wouldn’t have been so bad, just a waste of the communion elements, but he tried to save an unfortunate situation by having everyone grab the wafers and juice on the way out, without a time of reflection and, if needs be, confession and repentance. As I walked out of the auditorium I passed right by the good folks holding the elements and headed straight to the exit.

Here again, maybe I’m nit-picking, but I felt like the formality had taken over the Spirit on this one. I personally held conversations with two visitors before our meeting, and both were brothers looking for a church home. If I were in their place I wouldn’t be back, based on today’s unfortunate gaffe. But I will be back, because I love the family of God, and God’s word tells me:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)

So, because I call these folks my home church I must forgive the occasional mistake; Lord knows I’ve made more than enough for three people. And I must commend our associate pastor for his normally godly attitudes and practices. If only I had been as mature at his age.

If I were to focus only on the negatives, I would be grossly disregarding Hebrews 10:24, as well as the balance of Scripture. And that would be sin. Then I’d have to examine my conscience and repent before taking the Lord’s Supper, regardless what “elements” the leadership chooses to dispense on Communion Lord’s Day.

Don’t Be a Mastermind

God doesn’t need masterminds, people who are always the smartest person in the room. He is the only Mastermind that the world needs.

God does need mind-masters, or people for whom God’s Spirit leads their thought life. After Apostle James dealt with our need for patience in trials, he summed up the idea of mental integrity:

James 1:5-8 NKJV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

He may as well have said, “If any of you thinks that he is wise, think again, and let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (JT’s paraphrase)

How Should We Behave Toward One Another?

Regarding the way we are to treat one another in the church, Apostle Paul wrote:

Romans 12:10-18 NKJV Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; (13) distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (14) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (16) Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. (17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

While I included the whole passage, the second part of verse sixteen speaks directly to those who would be masterminds: “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” 

Verses seventeen and eighteen build on that command—and it is a command:

  • We are not to seek retribution!
    Don’t we prize our grudges, though? Someone offends us and we assume it was deliberate, so even though we may wear a Sunday smile and shake the offender’s hand, in the back of our minds we seek payback. We all know that’s wrong, “But, this is different!” Instead, …

  • We are to regard what is good!
    Even if we don’t like someone, Jesus commands us to love them. Often that takes the form of burying the hatchet, but not in their backs. Bury it in the deepest part of the sea. If we do that, the last command will take care of itself.

  • We are to live peaceably with all people!
    That doesn’t mean we must live peaceably with all our friends, but even with those we don’t like.
    Here’s a sure tip: Pray for the unlovable, sincerely, passionately, and consistently. We can be sure that if God placed a difficult person in our way, it is to gain our attention; they need prayer more than all our Christ-following friends.

My advice? Pray through James’ letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (Christ-followers are descendants of Abraham by faith). Make those principles and commands your passion, and God will use you like never before. But don’t stop there; take the time to pray and meditate your way through the whole of God’s Word, and through His Spirit you will be the master of your own mind, rather thinking of yourself as a mastermind.

THE WIDOWER’S MITE

Today during the church’s worship service they passed the dreaded, green pouches for the offering. I had, and still have, $20 in my wallet, with no bank reserve (overdrawn, I’m ashamed to say), one and-a-half weeks to go until my Social Security hits the bank, and a quickly thinning larder.

I agonized during that part of the Lord’s Day service, and afterward, on Jesus’ story of the widow’s mites. I almost pulled that evil tender out of my wallet a couple of times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I’m telling you this as a call for help—no, you can keep your money, unless you know God is calling you to give—for the wisdom to know what God expects of me in this, and all situations. I feel like I would give God more glory by setting a match to that accursed $20 bill, than keeping it for the groceries I need. I want desperately to give God a chance to bless me, but fear keeps my hand in a death-grip on that money.

I feel like that bill has turned into an impenetrable barrier between God and me, yet I still can’t bring myself to either give it or burn it. Please lift me up in prayer for the faith to do whatever will glorify my Lord and Savior. Thanks.

Again, please don’t think of this as a plea for funds. God will provide even though I am the least in faith. This is, rather, a plea for prayer that I will grow in faith and glorify Him in my decisions.

And may God glorify Himself in your everyday decisions.

Dratted Tailgaters

The State of New Mexico was reworking I-25 through Raton Pass, so the speed limit through the construction zone was reduced to 35mph. I would have happily obeyed the speed limit, but for a car whose driver wasn’t satisfied with obeying the law and rode my bumper unmercifully.

Being a compliant sort, I allowed him to hurry me along to about 50mph. I mean, the pavement was good for a detour and as it was Sunday, hardly anyone else was on the road, so what was the harm?

Apparently that State Patrolman saw the situation differently, and my lack of resolve to obey the law cost me $85. I wondered why he stopped me, instead of the tailgater, and I voiced my concern to the patrolman. His answer? “You were driving too fast through the construction zone, and shouldn’t have allowed the other driver to influence your driving.” He probably didn’t realize it, but he applied Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Besides, it was a radar trap and I was in the lead, so I got the ticket and learned a valuable lesson.

I wonder why that lesson doesn’t transfer more easily to life in general, and more specifically to my faith-life. Lesson #1: I must not allow the world system to seduce me into disregarding God’s principles for holy living. Many will say, “I’m forgiven, so why should I concern myself with holy living?” Apostle Peter saw the issue a bit differently: 1 Peter 1:15-16 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Sure, we have Christ’s imputed holiness if we are living for Him with our sin-guilt washed clean by His holy blood, but throughout the New Testament He urges us to live not according to the world’s corrupt standards, but by His standards, which is the definition of holiness.

Lesson #2: While tailgating in traffic is unsafe, illegal and stupid, “tailgating” Christ our Savior is by far the safest way to reach our ultimate destination.

Are you a “world-tailgater,” or a “Christ-tailgater?”

For Want of Light

 

On ships of war, the men below decks at night exist in a dim, red world, lest when called to their battle stations in the outer darkness they should succumb to night blindness. In the same way, we must willingly live in relative darkness, so we might fully see what God places before us in His subtle, spiritual light.

Isaiah 50:10-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

10 “Who among you fears the LORD?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD
And rely upon his God.
11 Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment.

Guilty as charged! I would love to be alone in that verdict, but alas, I am anything but.

My confession is true; I have ventured forth into self-generated light, imagining it was from God. I should have heeded Isaiah’s admonition: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Is trusting active, or passive? It is active, as we discern and reject the world’s—and the self’s—seductions. But it is also passive, as we wait on God’s light, as opposed to trying to generate our own.

We live in a performance-oriented culture, and that drive taints the church’s works. We constantly audit our own productivity, and that of others. We encircle ourselves with sparks, walking in the light of our own fire and in the sparks we have kindled.

Let us not turn our work for our Lord into a competition, always striving to make points against “them,” while refusing to acknowledge the fruit “they” bear, lest they pull ahead of us on some celestial scoreboard.

Danger: Quicksand!

Psalms 37:23-24 ESV
(23) The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
(24) though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

To which man does this passage refer? I think it’s addressed to the one who delights in the existing One’s(YHWH’s, Yahweh’s, Jehovah’s, or the LORD’s) Way, which of course is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). If one delights in Jesus, and His Way, the existing One establishes or directs the course of his life. That can be taken as an absolute statement, as one who delights in God’s Way will not easily go against that inclination. If he does, verse 24 and 1 John 1:9 apply, and he will not be cast headlong to destruction, but the existing One steadies and sustains his hand.

I visualize an explorer blazing a path through the jungle, where he encounters a wide mud bog. Being a careful explorer, he realizes the possibility that it is quicksand, and his Guide cannot show him a way around it. His Guide locates a downed log, long enough to span the bog, and just big enough to do the job. As he mounts the log he finds it precarious at best; he needs his Guide’s steadying hand. Being a klutz, he loses his balance and begins to fall into the quicksand, but his Guide pulls him back onto his narrow path.

What an encouragement, that I don’t need to worry about falling into the “quicksand!” My Guide will keep me on His path despite my human weakness, because I delight in His Way. Of course, this promise excludes anyone who insists on delighting in, and pursuing, his own way.

Cogs, Big or Small

Bro. Big Cog

Which is better, a big cog in a small wheel, or a small cog in a big wheel? When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a dad who brought surplus military hardware home from his Navy civil service job. One device was a precision instrument of some kind, and its large gears had the smallest cogs I’d ever seen. Each cog didn’t have to be all that strong because there were a lot of them, and they ran so smoothly that there was hardly any vibration or backlash.

Now imagine that same machine with big gear teeth; its movement would be anything but smooth and its precision would be laughable. Which type of “gears” would make a machine, church, or any organization, function better?

I currently fellowship with a large church that has a well-developed staff and volunteer force. The pastor wisely and efficiently delegates many responsibilities to Spirit-filled, capable people who carry them out with all diligence. It is a joy to behold.

Somehow my church manages to cull out most of those who would be big cogs, or the self-important members that seek power over others who are trying to serve God with their gifts and talents. Everyone is just another brother or sister, with no big I’s or little You’s. Yes, there is a Scriptural hierarchy based on years of selfless service and spiritual maturity, but they are seen as in no way superior to the most lowly members of the body. I present this positive example of a correctly functioning congregation in the hope that anyone who reads this will compare their fellowship with this ideal.

Do I agree with everything those in authority decide to do? Of course not. Anyone who expects their church to conform to their expectations is—excuse the expression—a fool, who would become a big cog, refusing to mesh with the body of believers. That is the sin of vain pride, which is the foundation for all presumption and abuses of authority, and is the sin that got Lucifer ejected from the heavenly assembly.

I sincerely hope that you do not see yourself as “better” than anyone, whether big, or small, cogs. God doesn’t expect us to be humble; He demands it (2 Samuel 22:28; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5).

Through the Perp’s Eyes

While watching a murder mystery on Netflix (yes, I watched a secular TV program), I thought of how predictable such police dramas really are. The detective’s investigation presents certain telling facts to him, or her, as in the case of Miss. Marple, that the audience only knows about because of a change in the music track’s tone. At the climactic expose, the brilliant detective gathers everyone involved in the mystery and dramatically reveals everyone’s motives for committing the crime and all his clues until he points his finger at the perpetrator, who usually makes a silly attempt at escaping.

I wondered what sort of drama would unfold if the whole story were spun through the perp’s eyes. We would witness his disadvantaged childhood and his falling in with the wrong crowd, or the heinous act that drove him to murder. We would watch him plan the perfect murder, and applaud him for trying not to hurt any bystanders. We’d follow the insensitive detective’s investigation draw ever nearer to the poor, misunderstood murderer, hoping against hope that he would somehow escape. And if the program were executed well enough, we might even draw a tear or two when our hero is captured and sentenced to death.

As the prophet Nathan told King David, “Thou art the man!” The world doesn’t call us criminals because we sin, but we’re exactly that in God’s eyes. He sees the murder in our hearts when we hate another, or the inner adultery when we lust after that attractive someone, or our secret idolatry when we envy what doesn’t belong to us. Yet, even though we may be aware of those sins, we excuse them because, “I had good reason for that,” or, “I didn’t do anything really wrong.”

Apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1) First comes conviction of sin, understanding that you are not perfect and are, in fact, a depraved sinner. Second comes heart-felt confession, which includes repentance. Then comes forgiveness and renewed innocence, leading to a changed life.

Quit looking at your life, “through the perp’s eyes,” and see yourself through the Judge’s eyes. It’ll pay eternal benefits.