Monday, May 21, 2018

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

I like pranks. For some reason my mind is constantly evaluating situations where I can pull a little trick or prank on people. I'm not sure why this is, but I seem to be wired in this way. This past Sunday as I was preparing to leave my office to head into the sanctuary for the evening service, I reached for a paperclip. When I pulled it out of the holder on my desk 18 others came with it. There is no doubt in my mind that one of my sons has picked up dad's bad habit of pranking people and chained my paperclips together. We've all seen pranks taken too far where someone is hurt or really embarrassed. But little, harmless pranks like my son's prank are no big deal and make life more fun. One of the most damaging pranks or tricks ever devised was one the devil pulled on mankind.

In one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, this trick is referenced by one of the characters. The actor Kevin Spacey plays Verbal Kint who is being questioned by police. In the course of his interrogation Kint makes the now famous quote, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Ever since I heard this quote years ago, it has stuck with me. 

There is a great spiritual truth in this statement. If you look at statistics you find that, depending on the poll used, around 50% of Americans do not believe that Satan is a real being. Many believe he is simply a symbol of evil developed by man. From these types of figures we would say that Satan was very successful at pulling his trick on mankind. When many people think of Satan, they think of the caricatures of cartoons from decades ago. These cartoons portrayed Satan as a figure dressed in red with pointy little ears and a pointy tail. He was carrying a pitchfork to poke people being punished in hell or to stoke the flames of hell. It is perceptions like this that helped Satan propagate his trick on mankind. 

The reason Satan wants to pull this all-time greatest trick on us is because if we don't believe that he exists, then we won't believe he is impacting our spiritual lives. We would be more easily led astray than if we were watching out for him. Satan has made it clear over millennia that his goal is to destroy what God has made good and holy. If he can keep mankind fixated on their problems, their toys, their wealth, or their health, then they are not focused on God and what He is doing in and through them. According to the world we live in today, Satan is doing a fantastic job of distracting mankind from focusing on God, much less being leery of an evil spiritual being bent on their destruction.

Some may read this post and think, "How can you really think there is a literal devil?" My answer would be really simple. Jesus Christ, the One I've put my faith in, believed Satan existed by the things He said. Some of those closest to Him, Peter and John, wrote about Satan as if they believed he existed. Possibly the greatest Christian thinker of all-time, the apostle Paul, also believed Satan existed. So why wouldn't I heed words like those written by Peter when he wrote, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

My encouragement to you today is this: Be mindful of the harm Satan can do in your life. Stay close to God through prayer, Bible study, and worship. Focus on God and what He wants to do in your life, rather than the distractions and temptations Satan throws at you. Don't allow yourself to be deceived into thinking Satan isn't a problem for you. Because if you do, then Satan has already successfully pulled the greatest trick ever on you.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

A Walking Bible

Recently my oldest son bought a jar of honey at a local community marketplace. The gentleman who packaged and sold the honey also gave him a business card with the purchase. The card had all the usual pertinent information, but on the backside it had a bible verse. The verse was from the book of Proverbs and referenced eating honey. When my son arrived home he shared with me about the honey and the business card. He asked me if the Bible verse quoted was a real verse or not. I told him I wasn't sure, but rather sarcastically reminded him that he could open his own Bible and check to see. Not to be out done in the sarcasm department, my son responded by saying "Well dad, you're basically a walking Bible. I thought you could just tell me." I've been called many things in life, but a walking Bible has never been one of them, until that particular day. I'm glad my son has such a high regard for my biblical recall, but it is impossible for me, or anyone else, to know every last verse of the Bible from memory.

The underlying truth of the statement my son made wasn't lost on me. He had in his mind the idea that dad knows the Bible very well. One would expect a minister, who studies the scriptures weekly for messages, outside of his own personal Bible study, to be a man with a firm grasp of the scriptures and what they mean. But this idea of being a man or woman with such a firm grasp of the scriptures that we could be called a walking Bible is not just for the clergy. 50, 75, or even 100 years ago men and women had a much stronger grasp of the Bible and what the Scriptures taught. With the invent of the many time-devouring inventions of the last 70 years, mankind has allowed these distractions to devour time they normally would have put towards, among other things, reading and studying their Bibles. With this decrease in attention and time given to Bible study, biblical literacy has decreased. Many men and women who profess to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ have very little understanding of the truths of Scripture outside of what they are taught in a class or hear from the pulpit on Sunday. Don't hear me being critical or cynical about people's lack of participation in the spiritual discipline of Bible study. All I'm doing is stating the facts.

If we as believers want to stand on the truths of God's Word in a world that is falling apart spiritually, then we have to know those truths. The only way we can know those truths in this way is by studying the Bible on a regular basis and outside of participation in church services. If we want to raise children who know how to use their Bibles for more than a coffee table decoration, then we need them to see us studying our Bibles and hear us encouraging them to read it for themselves. Until we get serious about studying the Scriptures, our families and our own spiritual life will suffer. The reason we will suffer is because of the primary effect of reading and studying the Bible. If we know what the Bible says about how we are to live, how we are to treat others, and how we are to interact with God, then we are able to not only know those things, we can put them into practice in our life. Otherwise we are spiritually illiterate Christians groping in the dark for ways to please God and relate to others.

My encouragement to you today would be to make a commitment to take seriously the study of the Bible. Get your hands on a daily reading plan that you like and begin reading. After you start reading daily, then find some Bible study material such as commentaries or books on a particular topic or book of the Bible. If you do you'll find that it will start to change the way you think, change the way you relate to God and others, and change the way you live for Him. Who knows, others might come to you with questions because they think you're a walking Bible too!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

There's someone in my head but it's not me

Over the last 20 years I have gained a great appreciation for classic rock. In high school I listened primarily to country but occasionally listened to classic rock. During college I started listening to more and more classic rock and was hooked. Like any fan of the genre there are certain bands and songs that appeal to me more than others. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd are three of those bands. The other night I was headed home and turned on a local classic rock station and eventually heard Brain Damage from Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. This song has some very memorable lines in it. One that has always intrigued me is the line "And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes." I guess you know you're on the outs if this happens because you're on a completely different page than everyone else around you! The line on this particular night that stuck with me was a line I had heard many times before. The line was "There's someone in my head but it's not me." I can only imagine the lyric was originally composed to represent someone with brain damage of some sort and in the resulting aftermath experiencing voices in their head.

As a pastor it is hard at times to shut off the context with which you look at the world. I'm not sure you can ever really do so. Things are said, things are seen, and things are thought and they are always generally filtered through a type of spiritual filter. You see things as spiritual lessons and examples that can be shared with others to make spiritual matters more relevant. When I was listening to this song by Pink Floyd the other night, no pun intended, this line was stuck in my head. I immediately filtered it as I described earlier and saw this poetic verse in a new light. There is Someone in our head if we are a follower of Christ, but not in a worrisome way as described in this song.

The Bible tells us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then God's Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 4:30). By the Holy Spirit living inside of us we have a guarantee from God that He will always be with us. Now one title given to the Holy Spirit is that of Counselor or Helper (John 14:16). The easy way to describe the counsel the Holy Spirit provides is by helping us to navigate this world, while living a life pleasing to God. We all need help and counsel to make wise decisions on a daily basis. If we are living a life pleasing to God and are sensitive to the leading of His Holy Spirit, then we will find that God will guide us, counsel us, and help us through the Holy Spirit.

It would be nice if the Counselor living inside of us would deal with us like we see in the old cartoons. Instead of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, we'd simply see our Counselor sitting on our shoulder giving us help throughout our day. Unfortunately things aren't that simple. Our desire to receive help and utilize that help requires more effort out of us. To discern, or figure out, what God is guiding us to do, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us or speak to us. This isn't an audible voice, although God could use one if He wanted, but instead it is a prompting or impression from the Holy Spirit. I'm not trying to make this sound like some kind of mystical, transcendental meditation type experience, but it is simply being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. When our spiritual heart is in tune with God and His will, then we are easily led by His Holy Spirit. When we have sin in our life and are spiritually far from God, then we are desensitized to the Holy Spirit and have a harder time discerning His will, His guidance, and His help. If you spend time daily in prayer and Bible study, you will find it easier to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you have a difficult time discerning the Holy Spirit's guidance, then spend time in prayer. Ask God to show you what sin is keeping you from fellowship with Him and then repent. After you get the barriers out of the way, then continue to daily spend time in prayer and Bible study so you can rightly discern God's wisdom and guidance for your life. Then you'll be glad to have Someone in your head!

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