Sunday, July 27, 2014

Resist The Devil — James 4:7 and Other Verses by Craig Keener

James contrasts the peaceful wisdom which is from God (3:13, 17-18; “from above” was a typical Jewish way of saying, “from God”) with the contentious wisdom which is from the devil (3:14-15). Then he warns his audience not to try to hold both perspectives as if they were compatible. Those who try to follow both God’s and the world’s wisdom at the same time are spiritual adulteresses (4:4).

Submitting to God and resisting the devil (4:7), then, is rejecting the world’s evil way of treating one another and preferring the gentle approach that comes from God. To adopt this new way of treating others requires repentance (4:8-10).

1 Peter refers to a situation in which Christians are being persecuted (1 Pet 4:12-16); in 1 Peter 5:8-9, the devil apparently seeks to crush believers by seeking to turn them from the faith. Resisting him therefore means withstanding the persecution.

In the context of Ephesians 4:27, one resists the devil by refusing to deceive or stay angry with one’s fellow-believers (4:25-26); in the whole context of Ephesians, this is part of “spiritual warfare” (6:11-14, 18).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30 ESV)
The mind is the sanctuary where our thoughts are formed and where both holy and unholy actions originate. The world around us with all it's messages that are contrary to God, dominate the media, arts, and entertainment industry. Both conservative and liberal media often send out messages that are in opposition to the Kingdom of God. To be Kingdom minded is to be heavenly minded. Someone who is heavenly minded, contrary to popular belief is of more earthly good, than those with a materialistic anti-supernatural mindset.

The gospel changes our minds when we believe it. Our worldview and our way of thinking about relationships, culture, life, and death, are radically affected. We were created by God for his good pleasure, and to worship and know him. Unlike the atheistic worldview we have a purpose and a reason to live. As created beings in the image of God our lives are significant no matter what our station in life is.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV)

We were commissioned to subdue the earth, to be fruitful, and to multiply. God gave us dominion over his creation, but we must also take dominion over our minds to be used for his glory. But a mind that is not renewed by his Word and Spirit becomes darkened. And God is light and he has called us to walk in the light. If we choose to walk in darkness we will not be able to use our minds to love God, and "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." - Bobby

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Spiritual Transformation: Part Two

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4 ESV)
Those who pray fervently on a consistent basis will experience positive spiritual transformation in their lives over time. Devotion to Christ is the foundation of prayer. Meditation fuels the kind of prayer that leads to the contemplation of God. King David gazed at God in the temple. This gazing at God can only happen as we spend time in silence, focused on his presence. Contemplation is not something that we can make or will to happen. This experience of God is a gift which only occurs when we make ourselves available to him. David's experience in the temple is a good biblical example of contemplation.

There is a negative spiritual transformation that is the result of a passive approach to the Christian life. Those that refuse to establish a daily time of Bible reading, prayer, and deep reflection on truth will not become mature Christians. Their formation will be by earthly things, by a world system that is opposed to the holiness of God.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)

It's important to develop good spiritual habits. Take some time each day to meditate on a small portion of Scripture. Read it out loud to yourself several times, slowly. Then turn the verse or verses into a personalized prayer. It's good to keep a journal with you during these times of devotion. Seek opportunities during the day, and go back over the chosen passages of Scripture. Be still and quiet your soul as often as possible, and pray. Ask God for the help of his Spirit to stay focused on him. Positive spiritual transformation only happens when we actively pursue the knowledge of God and his presence. - Bobby

Monday, July 07, 2014

Spiritual Transformation: Part One

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

Jesus has called each of us as his followers to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This is a reverential fear, with a sense of awe of the Glory, and holiness of God. This working out of our salvation begins after we first trust Christ for deliverance from our sins, and make him the supreme object of our affection. Regeneration (the initial salvation experience) happens in a moment, but spiritual growth is a lifetime process that is called sanctification. The indwelling life of Christ is the power source for a changed life.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:27-29 ESV)

This spiritual transformation of our lives is worked out in the community of believers, and through private prayer, and devotion to live according to God's word. The Lord never called us to work out the salvation of others. But, God has clearly called us to encourage and teach those who are willing to receive instruction from the Scripture. Without illumination from the Holy Spirit we are powerless in our attempt to change ourselves morally or to help others in this process. Prayer is the most powerful means God has given us to see the spiritual eyes of others open, so that they too can experience transformed lives. - Bobby

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Trip To India by Josh Higbee

Looking out over the foothills of the Himalayas at 7,800 feet, there are no words to describe what it is like– no matter how articulate you are. I could take a picture and you could see a small piece of the puzzle, but that would not even begin to substantiate the entire experience. Not only are there no words to describe leading unreached people to Christ, but there is no way to capture that in a photo. Why? This is a spiritual and supernatural event. This is not merely a feeble, almost futile, attempt to share what I saw in India but far more than that, it is a battle cry. It is a cry for unity in the Church and mobilization of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. My story is nothing more than a grain of sand buried beneath hundreds of feet of other grains of sand stretched across billions of miles of the pristine shoreline that is all of redemptive history. My prayer is that this would not just encourage individuals but stir a deep passion for the nations and an urgent call to action. My sister is an artist and she once told me that a piece of art is good if it makes you think. As an article on the surface level I hope my story makes you think, but in a metaphysical dimension. I pray it also brings about real and active heart change that manifests itself in tangible obedience for the entire world see.
Atlanta is about 200 miles from Birmingham where I call home. It is a drive I am very familiar with having lived in both cities and made frequent trips to and from over the years. I had heard many people who have traveled to India talk about what it is like to be in a country of almost one and a half billion people. The only thing you can say to help people imagine is two words, “people everywhere”. From the city we flew into to the city we were to begin our journey in was about 200 miles. The entire ride, “people everywhere”. Imagine driving from Birmingham to Atlanta with the entire two hundred mile stretch lined with villages and slums. What would normally be a 2 or 3 hour drive in America took about 6 to navigate through poor road conditions, people, traffic, livestock, construction, and everything in-between.
To my surprise it wasn’t the amount of people that got to me; it was the amount of poverty. There are upwards of 148 million people living below the official poverty line, which would be those living on less than $1.25 a day. That is well over half of the entire population of the United States. As you can imagine, there are hundreds of millions more living on not much more than that. The level of poverty will absolutely rip your soul out. After reading the statistics and seeing it firsthand, I am convinced that the human mind cannot fathom the magnitude of the poverty in India. All the statistics on the internet combined could not put into perspective what it is like to see, touch, and smell the experience. It will completely redefine any perception you have of the word “poverty”. As immense and as overwhelming the abject poverty of India is, it does not hold a candle to the eternal greatness of our God. Ask Him who alone is generous and gracious to share a glimpse of His compassion for the world with you and see what happens.
The objective of our specific trip was to make our way into the mountains, hike to villages, and share the good news with as many people as possible. Due to plans falling through and a number of obstacles that came out of nowhere to stop our progress, we were forced into a small three day window of opportunity for these hikes. Our first day was spent getting to the home stay and asking locals about the area. We had no idea where people were and had to figure out a plan of action on our own. Our second day in one word could be summed up as utter “rejection”. We tried to go to a nearby town thinking our best shot was to try the most populated areas first. We were shut down by people left and right until we were finally told by someone that nobody there wanted to hear what we had to say. We left dejected and confused. There was a profound sense of urgency between the three of us as we scrambled to rework our game plan. After all, we only had one full day left and were rapidly running out of options.
On our third and final day there, we woke up early and had our devotion. After that, we all sat and talked about a new strategy but there was something very different in the air that morning and we all felt it. A seemingly cliché but eternal truth about God that kept coming up throughout the week was simply how His love never fails. It is impossible. We collectively came to that realization that morning. The more we thought about it, the more we saw how helpless we were without the Spirit’s direction and how prone we are to not only wander, but fail on our own. This resulted in very intense and concentrated prayer. We all found ourselves on our faces crying together, lifting our pleas to the throne. After getting ourselves together, we geared up for a full day of hiking. We were at a disadvantage not knowing how far these villages were or where any people would be. As we would soon find out, we would not have to travel very far to, quite literally, stumble upon God’s work.
We picked the trail closest to our home stay to start with and see where that would take us. It only took us about 20 minutes to reach the first village. At first glance, there was not much going on. I spotted a man about fifty yards or so up the ridge looking down at us from his house. I pointed him out to the group and we almost had to crawl to get up the steep incline to his house. As he came out to greet us, his wife and daughter were coming over from the field where they had been working. They all had huge smiles on their faces and were very excited to meet us. To our pleasant surprise, they immediately invited us in for tea. We followed them to their living room/ bed room/ dining room where we couldn’t help but notice the calendars on the wall with the face of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on them. These were also among Hindu posters, which was a very confusing sight. Before they could even retrieve any tea from the next room, we asked them where they came from. They told us, essentially, that they had gotten them from a prayer conference about an hour and a half drive from where they lived, and had been waiting for people to explain the meaning to them. To say we were excited would be a cosmic understatement, but we were excited!
For their sake, we will call them Gary and Ashley. Gary and Ashley are both in their late twenties and have two young children. They had both been raised in deeply Hindu families and culture, but over the years had grown scared of their idol worship. They began to encounter physical manifestations of spiritual warfare and they came to the conclusion that the idols they were worshiping had evil power attached to them somehow. They grew increasingly scared as the attacks became more and more prevalent and alarming. One night as they were all sleeping, Ashley told us that she was physically thrown out of bed by something. Gary told us that he had been seeing a shadowy figure around his property. They were so scared and confused that they traveled miles through the mountains to a nearby city to have a number of tests done to see if there was anything medically wrong with them. They showed us all of their paper work from these tests and they all their results were normal. It was at this point that we began to realize what we had gotten ourselves into. We had wandered into the heart of a real demonic stronghold and some thick spiritual warfare.
After hearing their story, we were able to share the entire gospel and answer all of the questions they had. They were eager to hear and believe. We spent about two or three hours discussing and explaining everything we would think of. We explained repentance and they asked us if we would take all of the idols they had hidden in their walls and were too scared to remove and burn them. We gladly obliged (Understatement! Again, how do you begin to put into words…?). They showed us the places in their house where there were deep rectangular holes in the wall covered up by pieces of fabric where they had tried to hide the idols out of sight. They were too afraid to uncover them, thinking they were possessed by evil spirits. We had no problem taking care of that for them, so we took all the Hindu posters, idols, and offerings outside. Let me tell you there is nothing in this world sweeter than the smell of burning idols. We buried the remains on the other side of the property and that was that. After the idol roasting we had lunch, prayed together, and baptized them.
Gary asked us to pray over their property while we were there, so we split up and prayer walked around the ridge where they lived. I went and found a nice quiet place to pray by myself and praise the Lord for what He had accomplished. As I was praying I peered out across the Himalayas at 7,800 feet of elevation and it hit me like freight train. It was one of the most powerful and profound moments of my life thus far. I began to scratch the surface of what the Lord had been working out since before I even started planning the trip. Who can fathom His wisdom? Just thinking about it made me weep tears of joy and elation. Before the tears could even fall off my face, the cool mountain breeze would barrel around the ridge like an invisible tidal wave and dry them, as if the Lord Himself were wiping every one of them from my eyes. It was the climax of the whole trip for me, and a moment I will never forget even throughout eternity. In a moment of peace I felt pure delight and satisfaction. No matter how crazy things in my life seemed to be, I knew God was in control. But even more importantly than my life, that He was using our brokenness to advance His kingdom to the ends of the Earth and establish His throne and dominion in the hearts of men. What a privilege it is be included in the work of the Lord!
I have not done a good job if this piece doesn’t expand your thoughts, but as a consolation let us examine our hearts. Even if my writing lacks thought provoking prowess, what concerns me more is the posture of our affection. Are we giving our hearts to the kingdom of this world in our convenient and comfortable culture or risking everything for the sake of the world? Many times we think opposition from the enemy looks more like a direct attack, when I am convinced it is the opposite. The enemy is crafty and cunning and would rather serve the world to us on a silver platter as he did to Christ in Matthew 4 and watch us turn from God and give ourselves to temporal pursuits that appeal to us. As David Wilkerson once said “he (the devil) wants to get the fight out of you”. Guard your hearts, Church and don’t let fickle desires dictate your devotion or quell your passion. The only way to find true joy and a heart for the nations is by fervent prayer, a life saturated in the word of God, and to fight for your joy daily. A.B. Simpson was known in his prayer time to go into his office, clutch a globe, and weep for hours. God is not in heaven scouring the Earth for the strongest, most fit, dynamic, intelligent, ambitious, and adventurous people to carry out His will. He is searching for the obedient. It doesn’t matter how much or little you think you have to offer, it simply takes a willing heart for the Lord of all power, wisdom, and intention to work wonders that will be passed down for generations until He returns. How do we accomplish the great commission? We obey it.