Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other

It doesn’t matter what “brand” of Christian you are: October 31 is the 500th anniversary of an event that impacts your church’s theology and background. And it’s impacted you.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, in an act of frustration over the way the Roman Catholic Church had veered off course, nailed a document—95 Theses, to be exact—to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

With a hammer and nail, Luther struck the first blow that would grow into the Protestant Reformation. Luther (and those who joined him) did not initially set out to be the 16th-century version of the church hopper. He set out to reform the church (hence, the term “reformation”) and bring it back to the foundation of God’s Word.

Martin Luther was a Catholic monk who saw the Bible for what it is: the Word of God and, therefore, our ultimate authority. He also saw in this ultimate authority the clear teaching that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. Over the centuries, the church veered from these two central truths, placing more faith and authority in the institution of the church. So Luther called the church back to its roots: the centrality of Christ and the authority of His Word.

But to do that, Luther had to “call the church on the carpet” for its errors—and that did not set well with the church leaders. So four years later, Luther was called before the Diet of Worms.  (To be clear, this is not one of those sketchy weight-loss programs involving tapeworms.  A “diet” was a formal hearing, and it was held in the city of Worms.) The purpose of this hearing was to get Luther to recant, but he was fully committed to obedience to the Word of God. He said:

“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”


What are you fully committed to? What calls you to say, “Here I stand, I can do no other?” Would you nail that commitment to the door?

Conviction and commitment should be second nature for the follower of Christ. Commitment to Christ should be so ingrained in us that we don’t think twice about whether we will be obedient to Him. We don’t have to think twice about whether or not we will compromise our convictions—or look the other way “just this one time.”

  • God’s Word does not change—and neither should our conviction to follow it.
  • God’s Holy Spirit does not abandon us—and neither should we abandon our dependence upon Him.
  • God’s love and grace does not fluctuate—and neither should our display of His love and grace to others.

Is your commitment to Christ nailed down? And is it on display for others to see?

One of my commitments is to challenge believers to stand strong in their commitment to Christ. Help me with this by sharing this post with others.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Ruth: All-in Commitment” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

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Wisdom in a World of Fake News

Who you gonna believe these days?

My journalism career did not extend beyond high school. I never wrote hard news. I wrote humorous features, but I do remember learning the basic tenets of writing a news story: You report the facts of the event. (See, Mrs. Knapick, I was listening.)

Times have changed in two ways:

1. News reporters now insert their opinions into the story. Surely, because they know the facts,  they know the right conclusions to draw, right? Hmm, maybe not. It’s dangerous because their opinion usually determines the way the event is reported. Important elements of the story can be downplayed or overlooked if they don’t fully support the reporter’s stance. And worse, they’ve been known to distort the facts.

2. Anyone with a computer can set up a slick-looking digital newspaper. Back in the day, you had to have financial backing, resources, and a major investment in a printing press. Not any more. In our digital age, a guy can mooch off the free wi-fi at McDonald’s, set up a news website, and look as slick as Rubert Murdoch—even though he’s living in his parents’ basement.

But this guy never learned about objective reporting from Mrs. Knapick.

We need wisdom and discernment to separate fact from opinion. It’s not like these news stories are outlandish—like something you’d see in Weekly World News. No, the things they report, the conspiracies they uncover, and the “truths” they expose (that Democrats—or Republicans—are trying to hide) all sound so legit.

Why  would anyone buy into what they’re saying? Because it’s in line with their own opinions or political persuasion.

I’m sure I’m not immune. So again I say, we need wisdom and discernment to separate fact from opinion.

Recently, a friend posted a story about the true history of lawn jockeys. In response to the idea that people who place these lawn ornaments in their yards are racists, this story reports that the lawn jockey speaks of a love for the African-American. The idea is that people along the historic Underground Railroad displayed these as guides for runaway slaves.

  • A green scarf on a lawn jockey meant an Underground Railroad supporter lived in a home and the slave was welcome.
  • A red scarf meant the house was under surveillance.
  • A striped jockey shirt meant the slave could swap horses.
  • A tailed coat meant food and lodging were available.

I’m cynical of a lot of stories, and I was no less cyncical of this. It seems awfully complicated. And in the dark of night how could a runaway slave tell what color the lawn ornament was sporting? So, I went to some sources I have found reliable (like www.snopes.com). The conclusion is the use of lawn jockeys as tools in the Underground Railroad is unproven, and possibly unlikely. I shared this with my friend, who forwarded links that supported the opposite viewpoint.

Without discernment, we believe what we want to believe, and we lean toward those sources that support our presuppositions.

Can I say it again? We need wisdom and discernment to separate fact from opinion.


If you could ask God for anything, what would it be? When Solomon was handed the throne of Israel, he asked one thing from God.

“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9).

You may not be leading an entire nation, but you parent a child … supervise a team at work … speak up in a Bible study. You do something that calls for wisdom. You need wisdom for yourself and those under your influence.

Where do we get wisdom? We gain wisdom as we look to God, even as Solomon  did.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

So how does that help me discern legit news reporting from the yahoos with a website?
I want my heart centered on Christ. I want to be influenced by His kingdom and not my own political leanings. I have found that the more I focus on Christ, the less I am blinded by my own opinions. I haven’t got this down perfectly, but I’m working on it.

Gaining wisdom from God is not a one-time event. We must look to Him and seek His counsel continually about what we should believe and act upon. Solomon is proof. Later in his life. he stopped looking to God, and he foolishly married women he should not have been marrying.

Seeking God’s wisdom and discernment is a daily, even moment-by-moment, endeavor.

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (Jas. 1:5).

 Keep seeking. Keep asking. When you depend on God, seeing things from His vantage point helps you discern the truth.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Solomon: Unfailing Wisdom” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

Does God Control Our Circumstances?

Does God control my circumstances, or are the circumstances in my life just that—circumstances?

Well … uh … yes.

God often uses our circumstances to guide us and show us what to do, but sometimes the circumstances surrounding us have nothing to do with what God wants us to do. Let me give examples of both.

1. God is behind our circumstances.
  • Ruth was not a Jew, but she came to Judah with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth went to find work gleaning in a field, and she “just happened” to end up working in the field of Boaz, a man related to Naomi. In their culture, Boaz could marry Ruth and be the “kinsman-redeemer” for two women in desperate straits. These “fortunate circumstances” brought the couple together who figure into the family tree of King David and Jesus of Nazareth. (It’s worth reading the short Book of Ruth for the full story.)
  • Esther was a Jewish woman in exile, yet she was forced into a beauty contest which led her to become queen of the entire Persian Empire. These circumstances happened around the time a law was created to exterminate all the Jews. Her cousin, Mordecai, challenged her to use her position as queen to save their people. “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14).
2. God is not behind our circumstances.
  • Samuel. God sent Samuel to Jesse’s family in Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Everything pointed to Jesse’s son, Eliab, as the obvious candidate. But God was not behind this.

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (1 Sam. 16:7).

  • David. Saul was king of Israel, but everyone knew David would be king. Everybody. Even Saul, which is why he was set on destroying David. In spite of God’s promise and anointing to be king, David ran from Saul. On one occasion, David and his men were hiding from Saul in a cave, the very cave Saul ventured into to … um, take care of business. All the circumstances came together for David to kill Saul and take the position God had ordained for him.

But David wouldn’t do it. These circumstances were not directed by God. David said, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Sam. 24:6).

So God is in our circumstances—and He isn’t. So how do we know the difference? How do we know when God is using our circumstances to say, “Take action”?

God uses several things to communicate His will to us: the Bible, other believers, and yes, circumstances. But the counsel of other believers and the “nudging” of our circumstances must always be in line with God’s Word.

Always.

Twelve Israelites ventured into the promised land to check out the land they would soon be moving into. But every piece of circumstantial evidence screamed this was a bad move. But God had already told them He had given them the land and He wanted them to move into what He had promised. They were not to worry about the circumstances because the circumstances did not line up with God’s word.

Discerning the “message” of our circumstances is intricately tied to knowing God’s Word. Obedience to His Word makes us sensitive to and in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit.

“Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments” (Ps. 119:66).

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

We renew our minds with a solid diet of reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. And when we follow this diet …

“Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Unwavering faith is not grounded in our circumstances, but in the trustworthy Word of God.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Caleb: Unwavering Faith” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

 

How to Avoid Attacks by Satan

India shows us the key to avoiding spiritual attacks. I’m not referring to anything in the Hindu religion which dominates the country, but rather to a tidbit from their military history.

In northern India, the Rajputs were the warrior class in the 6th-12th centuries. Apparently they took their fighting very seriously. Even the women joined in battles.

History records battles in which the Rajputs rode Marwari horses, horses with funky ears and particularly adept at handling desert heat. What was unusual about these horses was how the Rajputs would dress them up. They dressed them to look like elephants.

That’s right. Elephants.

Some armies used elephants in battle. It does something to a soldier’s morale when a herd of elephants comes charging against him. It’s hard to stand and fight with six tons of elephant charging at you and an enemy on his back chunking spears.

But elephants won’t attack other elephants. So here came the enemy on the elephants and the elephants would stop because …. oh, look at the cute baby elephant! Only it was a horse dressed up to look like an elephant. The horse would rear up, place his front hooves on the head of the elephant, and the Rajput warrior could easily attack the enemy.

If you look like an elephant, you can avoid being attacked by an elephant.

And if you look like the world, you can avoid being attacked by Satan.

Why should Satan attack? His desire is to keep the believer from living for Christ, from conforming to the image of the Son. Unfortunately, too many believers make Satan’s work easy. When we already look and act like the world, he has no reason to tempt or attack.

So if you’re tired of being spiritually attacked, just give in to the ways and enticements of the world. Satan will leave you alone.

But if you do, know this …

You’re no friend of God.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

I’d rather stand with God.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (v. 17).

Yes, it’s a battle, but we don’t stand alone. Jesus stands with us. The Holy Spirit is in us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is with us (Eph. 1:19-20), giving us the strength to withstand temptation even as Jesus did.

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

So no horsing around (pun intended) with the ways of the world. Stand strong in Christ. It’s worth it.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Battle Plan” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

Cheap Gimmicks Will Not Work in Spiritual Warfare

Can we please take the Christian life a little more seriously than this?

Faith is not a breath spray. It is a piece of spiritual armor! When Satan and his angels press their spiritual attack, I need more than minty-fresh breath. I need a shield.

“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” (Eph. 6:12).

When those spiritual forces presses their attacks, my faith—my trust and total reliance upon Jesus Christ—serves to protect me as a shield. I am protected by my confidence in the power and victory Christ has secured for me.  When I take up the shield of faith, I am able to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (v. 16), because I am holding up my unshakable belief in the truth of Christ and who I am in Christ.

Satan and the spiritual forces of evil will attack—and they will attack subtly by diminishing the reality of the battle and the power of biblical faith. He does it with things like “Believe in God” breath spray. The folks behind this may be well-meaning, but I see nothing more than a financial play for the money of gullible believers or the spiritually minded.

They may be after our dollars, but Satan is after our faith. He wants to reduce confidence in God to nothing more than confidence that our breath smells good. Confidence in God has been reduced to confidence in our breath—which simply translates into confidence in ourselves. And that’s dangerous.

Faith is part of the spiritual armor we need, but even the armor has been reduced to a gimmick to secure our money. Parents can even buy a plastic spiritual armor playset.

Oh, sure, it’s meant to teach junior about the spiritual armor, but kids are concrete thinkers. They take things literally, and they will equate the helmet of salvation with something you literally put on your head! And, parents, how do you teach them the armor is symbolic of what God gives us to battle the spiritual forces of darkness? C’mon, we know what kids are going to do with this: they’re going to fight each other!

Maybe this is the modern-day version of playing Cowboys and Indians. “It’s your turn to be Satan! I was Satan last time. It’s my turn to smite you with the sword of the Spirit!”

Yeah, you’re right. I have issues with products like these. We have taken the incredible gifts God has given us—righteousness, truth, the gospel, salvation, faith, His Word—and reduced them to cheap imitations for a buck.

In light of the battle believers are in, I’m sure Satan is quite happy with the way faith has been reduced to a gimmick. I can’t help but wonder what God thinks.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Battle Armor” in Bible Studies for Life.

Before Satan Stakes a Claim …

Just because Satan says it’s so doesn’t make it so.


Few people outside Arizona probably know who James Reavis is, but in the 1880s, he owned over 18,000 square miles in the Arizona Territory. That’s about 12 million acres stretching from Phoenix to New Mexico.

It was a shock to the settlers already there to discover that the land they thought they owned belonged to someone else. But Reavis let them stay—at a price. He sold the settlers quitclaims, deeds that transferred a claim of land from one person to another. Reavis sold quitclaims for $25 apiece, but he kept the water rights. The Southern Pacific Railroad paid handsomely for the right to lay track through his land.

James Reavis became quite wealthy off his land, the water rights, and the quitclaims he sold. There was only one problem.

He didn’t own any of it.

James Reavis may have been a liar and a fraud, but he had facial hair that hipster millennials would envy.

Reavis had forged documents and fabricated an elaborate story of how he inherited this huge land grant. Elaborate, yes, but totally false.

Reavis took in, by today’s standards, over $150 million dollars before one newspaper editor’s diligence proved Reavis to be a fraud. The “Baron of Arizona” was busted. He was sent to prison and died a forgotten man in 1914.


 

Satan tries to lay claim to our lives, but if you are a follower of Christ, Satan has no right or claim to you. Unfortunately, too many people accept the lies of Satan as fact and live defeated.

  • You’ll never amount to much.
  • God can’t love you because of what you’ve done.
  • You tried to live for God but failed, so you’re mine.
  • You can’t stand up to my temptations, so just give in.

Lies, lies, lies.

We act on what we believe is true. Do not accept the accusations and deceit that come from Satan. He is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Bask in the truth of God’s Word. If you are a Christian, you are …

And I could go on. The truth is that you have nothing to fear from Satan—neither his lies nor his power “because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Fear Not!” in Bible Studies for Life.

When Interest in the Paranormal Becomes Normal

Why are we so fascinated with the paranormal?

As I was developing a study on the paranormal for the Bible study curriculum I work on, I was blown away by the wide-spread practice of things associated with the occult and the paranormal. My team developed this poster/visual:

The House of the Devil from 1896 was the first horror movie—but it wasn’t the last.

And then there’s the movies. Movies about ghosts and the paranormal have been around since the earliest days, but these days we’re flooded with them. Just consider the popularity of films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and their three thousand sequels.

Ask someone why they’re interested in the paranormal, and most of them will say, “It’s just for fun. It doesn’t mean anything.”

But they still haven’t answered the question. If it doesn’t mean anything, why the fascination?

Interest in the occult and the paranormal boils down to three reasons.

  1. An interest in powers and forces beyond ourselves.
  2. The potential to use those powers to manipulate our circumstances.
  3. The desire to use those powers to see and control our future.

At the heart of these three reasons is the root problem in our sin nature: we want to be in charge.

God has placed a desire in each of us to seek Him. He is the only power we need, but we seek to fill that need with everything else but Him. Along comes the occult and the paranormal, and it points to powers beyond us that we have the potential to control. I can’t control God, but if I can learn to control these supernatural forces, well, maybe I can get what I want.

There’s a problem with that. The paranormal and the occult never deliver. Never.  And any time we take our eyes off Christ, it’s dangerous.

God offers us something far better: Himself. After condemning occultic practices in the law, Moses said:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (Deut. 18:15).

Look to His Word which He spoke through His prophets. And look to the ultimate Prophet and Word: Jesus Christ.

We don’t come to God as a power to control or manipulate—even though He has all power. We come to God for a relationship. We come to know Him, to walk with Him, to discover in increasing measure the joy and fulfillment Jesus Christ brings into our lives. If we trust Him and rest in His control, we have all we need and will ever want. We don’t need to know the future or manipulate our circumstances. We trust and rest in the One who is Lord over our circumstances and future.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “The Paranormal” in Bible Studies for Life.