Titus 1:15-16 “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.”
Things are not always what they seem. In a world where solid truth has dwindled away to almost nothing it is not prudent to trust everyone we meet. Instead we must be wary and check the facts carefully . . . and rely on our Great Fraud Detector.
I am reminded of a book I read a number of years ago. Catch Me If You Can tells the story of Frank William Abagnale, Jr., a brilliant con artist. Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one, this young man fraudulently posed in numerous professional capacities. Without significant trouble he masqueraded as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, a Louisiana lawyer, and a US Bureau of Prisons crime agent. Somehow he was able to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes for a short time, but eventually each charade unraveled and he was forced to escape to his next identity. After being caught and imprisoned, Abagnale developed a successful business to help other professionals recognize fraud.
Within the greater Christian community there has long been fraudulent activity. From the time of Jesus, Pharisees and other spiritual leaders professed to know God in special ways and used their elevated positions to control worshippers. They created laws that went beyond what God intended and used them to suppress the community and benefit themselves. On two different occasions Jesus entered the temple and removed by force those who were oppressing the people.
In more recent church history there have also been those who have used their leader status for personal gain. In the late Middle Ages, certain clerics, preying on peoples’ fear of death, fraudulently implemented the sale of indulgences, which were supposed to protect the sick and elderly from eternal punishment. Many spent hard earned cash to purchase what could never save them based on promises from leaders whom they wrongly trusted.
Even today there are those who preach fraudulent doctrines. They deliver false messages of salvation by works, of Christian wealth, or of the equality of all religions. They betray their listeners by pointing them to hopeless and misleading doctrines – ones that do not call the hearers to a pure faith in the Lord Jesus.
Frank Abagnale failed in each of his masquerades. Over time it became apparent to the genuine professionals that his actions and words didn’t fit the part he was playing. He often had to flee when the game became too hot.
We also can detect fraudulent religious leaders by comparing their words and actions to the truth of the Scripture. Imposters in the church may acknowledge God with their words, but a careful study of their beliefs and deeds will eventually show that they are promoting false doctrines.
Things are not always as they seem. So if you don’t want to be duped like the victims of Frank Abagnale, be aware of the danger, check the facts carefully, and rely on our Great Fraud Detector – God’s written word.
All children of God are called to be witnesses of the salvation He has provided for the world. There are millions of people inhabiting the globe who are in slavery to sin and need to hear about the way to freedom through Jesus Christ. What often keeps us from sharing this good news? Second Timothy 2 gives four roadblocks that we must overcome in order to have an effective witness.
2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
Roadblock #1: When we set out to give testimony to the things God has done for us, we embark on a spiritual war. There is an enemy who wants to keep the truth from those who are his prisoners. Those who are hurting the worst may be so entrenched in Satan’s lies they will not want to hear the truth even from those who deeply love them. Others think they are fine and don’t see their need at all. The messages and motives of God’s messengers may be misunderstood and literally, at times, all hell can break loose. As soldiers in God’s army we must be prepared to endure hardship without backing down from our calling, while continuing to love those who are hurting. This can only be done as we stay in constant contact with the Lord through the Bible and prayer.
2 Timothy 2:4 “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.”
Roadblock #2: In a world of many distractions, it is easy to become entangled in the web of constant activity. We sign up for every call for volunteers whether in school, work, or church instead of evaluating what it is God has called us to do. We waste time sitting in front of the TV or scrolling through social media, liking pictures and reading posts to be more informed about what’s going on in our circle of friends. While none of these things is wrong, we often take them to the level of our life’s calling. These “civilian affairs” drain our time and energy and take us away from the battles our commanding officer has called us to fight.
2 Timothy 2:5 “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”
Roadblock #3: Sharing our faith with those around us must be done according to the rules. We tend to think a person will come to Jesus because of our knowledge and our ability to formulate our thoughts well. But this is not the case. The Spirit of God is the One Who makes inroads into a person’s heart. We are just the conduit for this power. We must study to show ourselves approved unto God. We must pray daily for our friends and family members, asking God to do the work in their hearts. Then we must be available to speak as the Holy Spirit leads us. He will give us His words and His timing to break through to those He is calling.
2 Timothy 2:6 “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”
Roadblock #4: In order to share in a spiritual crop, we need to plant the seed. So often fear or feelings of inadequacy keep us from doing what we can do and we miss the opportunities that are all around us. First Peter 3:15, says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” If we want to have an effective witness, we must plant the seed! This is hard work and can take a lot of time, but the rewards are amazing!
Each of us is called to tell others about our sure hope of salvation in Christ. It is not an easy job and there are many roadblocks, but we are guaranteed success by focusing our hearts and minds on the One Who leads the way. Endure hardship, don’t become entangled in civilian affairs, run according the rules, and start planting the seed. Be assured that God will use your effective witness to bring many people to Him.
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
There is SOMETHING in our house!
Of course, there is furniture, appliances, decorations, and people, but I mean SOMETHING else that shouldn’t be here. No one would know about it because it hides itself very well during the day, but at night this SOMETHING does its dirty work.
The past few mornings I have come down to the kitchen to be greeted by a mess. Over in the plant corner, potting soil and leaves are scattered all over the floor and the plants have holes exposing their roots like the SOMETHING has been digging around.
I have wracked my brain to figure out what the SOMETHING is. Could it be a mouse? Do mice dig in plants? Could it be a toad that snuck through an open door? But there is no toad hiding in the soil. (See An Unpleasant Intruder for more on this possibility!) Could it be a bat that found it’s way down from the attic? I really don’t know, but it is freaking me out! All I really know is we need to catch the SOMETHING and get it out of here!
I have no qualms with these kinds of mysteries happening outside in the yard. Wildlife abounds and is part of country living. But to happen inside the house is unacceptable.
We live in a world that is infested with all sorts of false beliefs and evil influences. Satan, the father of lies, has used deception from the beginning of time to turn people away from God. The deceiver disguises himself as an angel of light and smoothly twists the truth to ensnare the world and put it in bondage.
As Christians we are surrounded by ungodly influences. We can’t escape them. That’s part of living in a fallen world. But, oh, what a mess, when believers allow Satan’s falsehoods to penetrate their own hearts. Children of God can let down their guard and develop unhealthy relationships. They can get busy and stop seeking the truth daily. They can believe they are beyond falling to the enemy’s schemes. And before they know it the SOMETHING opposed to God enters their own dwelling and starts digging holes in their faith, threatening their spiritual health.
The victim may not even know the enemy has entered until tragedy strikes. By then the SOMETHING has done his evil deeds. The believer is weakened by her lusts, lacking in her faith, and struggling to survive. What a mess!
How do we ensure that this devastation does not happen to us?
- We must seek to walk closely to God on a daily basis through prayer and Bible study.
- We must develop Godly friendships with those who will challenge and keep you accountable to the truth.
- We must pray that God will reveal any personal weaknesses the enemy could use to infiltrate your mind and heart.
- We must always be on the alert for signs of any dangerous thought patterns or unhealthy activity that could lead to trouble, and immediately take care of the problem by calling on God for wisdom and strength.
We live in a deceived world. Evil influences are dwelling all around us. But for heaven’s sake keep alert. Take wise precautions or “your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The SOMETHING opposed to God may enter your house undetected and you will find yourself in a big mess!
1 Thessalonians 3:12 “. . . and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you . . .”
The flowers and herbs had been sitting on our porch for over a month. I had been bitten by the gardening bug and bought them with the full intention of planting them in pots to liven up the side porch. But I had put the project on the back burner as more pressing tasks became necessary. Finally, I found a brief window of time to transplant them and was all set with hand shovel, watering can, fertilizer, and extra potting soil.
I filled the largest pot with soil and made holes where I thought each plant would look best. Then gingerly I began to remove the plants from the store containers. It was a little difficult, as my delay had caused the roots to grow out of the hole in the bottom of the plastic and some of the plants were stuck fast. Reaching a particularly difficult one I tugged a little harder, and then tried cutting the plastic from around the imprisoned herb.
All of a sudden, without warning, I heard a popping sound, and out of the container from under the stems popped the head and front legs . . . of a toad! His body hung over the side of the plastic like a jack-in-the-box clown. Screaming, I almost dropped the plant, but managed to hang on until my heart stopped beating wildly. This unpleasant surprise had taken me completely off guard!
Isn’t it interesting how you can be involved in the normal affairs of life when, suddenly, a doubt about God or even a good friend can pop into your mind? Have you ever wondered where those thoughts come from?
Recently, I have been struck with how many times God’s servants have had to defend themselves to other believers against false accusations.
The Apostle Paul spent chapters in some of his letters explaining and reasoning with his spiritual children against false rumors that were being spread about him. In Paul’s absence the enemy planted seeds of doubt in the believers’ minds as to his motives for sharing the gospel message, his accuracy in presenting the message, his methods in sharing the message, and his desire to return to them and help them in difficult times. Though at first the accusations may have seemed silly, over time it would be natural for questions to pop into the heads of the those who were being bombarded with these allegations.
Similarly, John, one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote to a beloved friend, Gaius, on the same matter. He said, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words . . .”
This should not be surprising to any of us. From early on in creation Satan used this tactic even against God Himself. When Eve was standing by the forbidden fruit, the serpent asked pointed questions to cause doubts about God’s wisdom and goodness to pop into her mind. As she mulled over these accusations, she came to erroneous conclusions that God was holding out on her. She decided to eat of the forbidden fruit, convincing Adam to join her, and the whole world has suffered ever since.
The Bible talks about unity amongst believers over and over again. This is crucial to our well being and to the spread of the gospel. Yet this is the very thing we often struggle with. Out of the soil of even the deepest of relationships can pop ugly doubts about motives, commitment, beliefs, intentions, or more. Nothing is sacred! The enemy will stop at nothing to separate those who would stand together fighting against him.
The best defense against this tactic is to be aware. Do not be surprised when an ugly doubt about a fellow believer, or even God Himself, pops into your head. Instead of allowing these accusations to stay and fester, seek the truth. Pray that the Lord will cause you to increase and abound in love for one another. Be patient and forgiving, always giving the benefit of the doubt. Because very likely your doubtful thoughts are just unpleasant toads sent by the enemy to surprise you and ruin a relationship that is meant to glorify God.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Whoever came up with this saying was not thinking clearly. While physical attack is very harmful, vicious words can also produce much pain and devastation. In fact, words are often a tool of the devil.
When you enter into a successful spiritual ministry of any sort, be alert. It is very likely that you will experience some type of verbal opposition. Over and over this is seen throughout the Bible, and yet we are often so surprised when similar things happen to us. When we are hit with opposition it is easy to become discouraged and feel like our hard work is a failure. In these times it is important to remember that the work is not really ours. It is our job to be faithful and God’s job to bring the results.
Paul and Silas entered the city of Thessalonica with a very recent history of suffering and mistreatment in the nearby town of Philippi. Most would have been tempted to return to the safety of home and hearth feeling as if they had done their time of service for God. But Paul and Silas were different. God gave them a boldness to continue preaching the gospel message to all who would listen despite the difficulties.
As they came to Thessalonica, Satan’s most successful tool to hinder their ministry was the flurry of accusations that these messengers were out for their own benefit, greedily seeking glory and fortune from men.
After Paul and Silas had spent only a very short time in Thessalonica, the malicious words stirred up the religious leaders, creating painful persecution. Paul and Silas were again forced to run for their safety. It may have seemed that the missionaries’ ministry was coming to a quick end, but things were not what they seemed. God was still at work.
Paul assured the Thessalonian believers in a letter that his visit to them was not in vain. God had chosen them and opened their hearts to receive the message of salvation for what it was – the word of God – through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Paul went on to remind these new believers of the truth regarding the accusations against him. None of them were true and he only had their best interests at heart. By recalling the round the clock labor and the hardship they endured so as not to be a burden, the believers could be witnesses of the upright and blameless behavior the missionary team exhibited. Paul expressed his deep longing to come back to them, but lamented that again the enemy, Satan, hindered a visit.
I have noticed that one of Satan’s greatest hindrances to gospel ministry is harmful words. So often those who should be working together for the cause of Christ develop difficulties because of disagreements or misunderstandings that occur within their circles. The words can come from the outside but often they come from the inside. Opinions are spoken in haste or taken out of context, feelings are hurt, disagreements occur, and unity is threatened. This is why it is so important to be careful about reacting prematurely to things we hear. Do not believe everything and go straight to the source if you have any concerns or questions. Don’t go around talking to others and spreading the poison. Be kind and considerate when you don’t agree on menial points, and be willing to work together despite differences.
Above all, don’t be discouraged when it seems a ministry has hit a wall because of false words and accusations. Remember that this is a regular tool of the devil, but God is bigger than this hindrance. Pray even more about the circumstances and trust God for the results. It is his responsibility to bring the fruit.
Sticks and stones break your bones and words can also hurt you, but don’t be discouraged. God knows the truth, He examines hearts, and He will be your witness. So don’t turn back. Grasp the courage that only God can give and continue on. For those who are truly seeking to please and serve Him selflessly will someday see that, like Paul, their labor was not in vain despite the opposition.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
There’s a war going on out there. How are you going to win?
This mindset is prevalent in so many areas of life. Students compete for the top grade point average and class ranking. Athletes compete for the highest jump, the lowest time, or the most wins. Businessmen and women compete for lucrative deals and influential positions. We crave the benefits and the honor of being recognized for rising to the top and nothing will stand in our way to achieve this goal. There is not much room for encouraging and building others up because this could cause us to lose our edge.
Recently our local high school held its yearly awards ceremony. I was amazed at the talents and gifting of our seniors and other students as they each walked the aisle to receive award after award. But our neighbor was the the most inspiring honoree of the evening.
Every year an individual is added to our school’s Wall of Honor. Adorning the wall are pictures of alumni military personnel, great coaches, influential teachers, successful businesspeople, and missionaries who have represented the school well. This year the honoree was chosen for a different reason.
Since the early 1960s, Steve Myers has dedicated a huge portion of his time to encouraging our student athletes. In the past five decades he has attended thousands of athletic events to cheer on our teams. He has run the chains for all the home football games and made it a priority to build up the players after wins and losses alike with a hug or kind word.
The school honored these consistent acts of selflessness this year with a plaque that will hang on the Wall of Honor as a constant testimony to all who pass by.
There is a spiritual war raging in the world today. Many are fighting and many are hurting from wounds received in battle. And even though we know from the Scriptures that God will win this war, we are simply called to battle on. We must be faithful to use the weapons that God has provided for our parts in the battles that rage around us.
One of the most important things we can do as we help other believers fill their places in these battles is to encourage them. Whether we are fighting behind enemy lines in hand-to-hand combat, whether we are on the front lines holding the enemy back, or whether we are behind our own lines taking some much needed rest, each of us can encourage one another to continue faithfully in the fight. Often that is all a fellow soldier needs to help them remember that what we are doing is important and necessary.
The future is bright for the many graduating seniors, but there is a war going on out there. How are you going to help win the war?
Your name may never be placed on our school’s Wall of Honor next to Steve Myers’ plaque, but those you encourage will have your name written on the wall of their heart.
1 John 2:14b “…I have written to you young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
One of our favorite past times around here is watching an old sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. After many years of watching, Andy, Aunt Bea, Opie, Floyd, and Otis all seem like old friends. And, of course, everybody’s favorite character is the braggadocios, bumbling, yet lovable, deputy, Barney Fife. He takes his job seriously, though Andy has to bail him out of trouble more times than not.
Regularly there are scenes where Barney draws his gun from his holster, only to misfire his one bullet at the wrong time and the wrong place. The other day as we watched, Barney was teaching a friend of Opie’s the art of removing the gun from the holster so as to be prepared when a crisis comes.
Though Mayberry’s deputy is not very good at executing his own advice, he does have the right idea. As an officer of the law it is important to keep your weapon handy and to be adept at using it. When the bad guy comes around, you will be prepared and ready to defend yourself along with the town citizens.
I couldn’t help thinking of Barney’s advice when I read today’s verse. John has been writing to a church that was being overrun with incorrect teaching. There were false teachers contaminating the truth with lies. John spends much time defending the truth of the gospel, and helping his spiritual children to feel confident in their position in Christ.
He has given the readers tests to help them discern whether or not they truly know God. He then assures them of his personal confidence in their belief. He says, “I write to you children because your sins have been forgiven. I am writing to you fathers because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
When it comes to overcoming the evil one, it is important to be quick on the draw. We do not use a revolver in a holster to protect ourselves from the attack of this enemy, but the word of God. The way to be alert and prepared to recognize when a false teacher speaks lies is to be very familiar with God’s Word. We must know it. We must have it available. We must be quick to draw it from our memory and use it to defend the truth.
I think Barney needs a little more practice with his gun. But I’m thinking that we could all use some more practice with our weapon. Study God’s word diligently – that way when someone tries to get you to believe lies you will be quick on the draw. The Word of God will abide in you and you will overcome the evil one.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Your first reaction when a crisis occurs is crucial. It could mean the difference between life and death. Years ago when I took a first aid class we memorized a checklist of things that we needed to do in a crisis. The very first thing on the list seemed a little basic, but I soon realized how important it was.
Over and over again the instructor had us practice what we should do. Immediately upon arriving at the scene we were to scream, “Call 911!” From there we were to begin the other techniques we had been taught.
At the time I wondered about the huge emphasis on screaming, “Call 911!” Wasn’t that obvious? Years later 5-year old John-Keith had an accident involving a knife slicing the lower part of his eye. I realized then why it was important to train yourself to respond correctly with even the simplest of things. If you are not prepared mentally for a serious accident, you often react with the natural human default response – panic!
If the crisis you are facing is of a spiritual nature there is also a default way of handling the problem. The world’s way of dealing with these kinds of struggles includes anger, aggressiveness, lies, revenge, gossip, and power struggle.
But those who belong to Jesus do not fight their battles in this way. We are to use weapons of a different kind. God’s method has divine power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Him.
These kinds of struggles occur regularly in a world that is full of evil forces and we must be prepared to combat them appropriately. Ephesians 6:10-19 gives us the methodology that will help us be successful when spiritual crises strike.
• Live a life of righteousness.
• Be ready to share the good news of salvation.
• Stand firm in faith.
• Protect your mind by guarding it carefully.
• Follow God’s Word consistently.
• Pray at all times.
Trust me, I know! When John-Keith injured his eye I went into panic mode because it had been years since I had practiced screaming, “Call 911!” Thankfully, Aunt Christine was there and had the presence of mind to make the crucial call that perhaps saved John-Keith’s eyesight.
How much more important to be ready for a spiritual crisis. The importance of preparing and living God’s way cannot be overstated. Without daily practice we will naturally respond with the world’s methods and our opportunity to be involved in a spiritual victory will be lost. In fact, our response to this type of crisis may just be the difference between spiritual life and death!
Mark 1:35 “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”
You’re too busy not to pray!
Communicating with God through prayer is crucial to our spiritual condition for many reasons. Along with reading the Bible, prayer connects us with God. It is how we talk to Him and relinquish our cares and worries. It is how we ask for guidance and for help. Prayer is a weapon to be used in spiritual battles and the way we release God’s power in our lives. Why then do we have so many excuses for not doing it?
Many would say they don’t know how to pray. Others feel they are not good enough. But often the excuse is lack of time. We live in a busy world that claws at our availability. So many things need to be accomplished and time is of the essence. Here and there we may throw out a few words to heaven, but much of the time it is in passing as we run to the next activity.
We make light of this omission with the thought that God will understand our busy lifestyles. Yet we miss an important point. We need God the most when we are the busiest.
It was Martin Luther who said,
I have so much to do that I will spend the first three hours in prayer.
This great hero of the Reformation and of our faith recognized that he was too busy not to pray!
Luther was not the first to recognize the importance of committing a busy day to God. Jesus Himself made this His practice.
After visiting the home of Simon and healing his mother-in-law, the town heard of Jesus’ presence. When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. It was a busy night as Jesus healed and cast out the forces of evil.
For many of us an action packed and late evening would be the perfect excuse for skipping our time of prayer, but not so with Jesus.
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place to pray. Humanly speaking Jesus must have been physically exhausted. He had just spent many hours dealing with people and problems. He had enraged the wicked spiritual world by casting out demons. No one would have blamed Him if He had just stayed in bed a little longer. Yet we see His perfect example. He made the effort to speak to His Father about all that was going on. I wonder what they conversed about?
This was a great encouragement and example for me. Instead of using our busy lifestyles as an excuse for skipping a regular prayer time, we must use it to push us towards even more time with the One Who can help us correctly navigate all the pressures that life brings. This is the way that we can get life in perspective and bring God glory.
Do you have a busy week coming up? It will be worth the time and effort if you follow Jesus’ example. After all . . .
You’re too busy not to pray!