Sunday, April 24, 2022

Who is Stronger?


Is Satan powerful? We place a lot of blame on him for the problems in this life, and deservedly so. He is responsible for the entrance of sin into the world, and since sin is the reason for all our problems, Satan bears much of the responsibility for the fallen condition of humanity. 

But just how powerful is the devil? The Bible identifies him as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), and the god or ruler of this world (John 12:31). He certainly is strong, and to underestimate his power is a grave mistake. Some people choose to play around with occultic activities, and I believe this only gives Satan an even greater opening to temp us. 

Paul gives us a glimpse into the devil’s power in II Corinthians 4:4 when he wrote, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” According to that verse, our adversary has the ability to blind people to the truth of God. Unbelievers remain right where he wants them—clueless as to their need for saving from their sin. That seems to indicate that he is quite powerful. 

What chance do we have if the enemy wields so much power? There is good news. Just two verses later Paul would write, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v.6).” Did you see that? Satan may have the power to blind people and keep them in darkness, but God has the power to shine the light of truth out of the darkness and reveal Himself to any skeptic. 

So who is stronger, God or the devil? In his book Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, John Piper said of this passage, “the blinding effect of Satan gives way to God’s light when he says, ‘Let there be light.’” When God speaks, the power of Satan ceases.  

To quote John the Apostle, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).” Satan has been permitted by God to exercise some authority, and this is because God wants us to freely choose Him; if there were not a choice, we are not really choosing God. Our Lord has loaned power to the enemy so that we can make a choice in our free will, but ultimately God is stronger. In fact, Satan has no power within himself, only that which has been temporarily granted him from heaven. It is similar to Jesus’ statement to Pontius Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above (John 19:11).”

So never underestimate the power of the devil, but understand that he has only brought a knife to a gunfight. God’s Holy Spirit residing in the life of a believer gives us the power we need to resist the enemy’s attacks, so we can walk in confidence knowing that Satan is strong, but God is stronger. 




Sunday, April 17, 2022

Is God a Narcissist?

Throughout the Bible God tells us that He is the grandest being in existence, and that we are to love Him, praise Him, and serve Him. This has long been used as a negative critique of God, as atheists tell us that God is a giant narcissist demanding to not only be loved, but to be constantly told how great He is. 

People that demand to be treated as if they are superior are off putting, and those who insist on being lauded with praise are downright annoying. It comes across as childish, like a person who is insecure and thus needs to be reaffirmed by everyone else. Is this really how God is? And if so, wouldn’t that be a character flaw, and thus make Him imperfect? Is God like the Evil Queen who asks, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” 

God said through Isaiah that He will not share His glory with anyone else. When giving the Ten Commands God said, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them (Exodus 20:3-5)…”

Is God an insecure narcissist, an egomaniac that needs us to shower Him with praise in order to feel better about Himself? Absolutely not! God does not need praise from us because He is fully satisfied in Himself, whether we acknowledge Him or not. But God understands that our response to His greatness is what is best for us. Here is the thing: God loves us, and He wants us to be blessed. Therefore, God tells us exactly what to do in order to be blessed. The fact that He also happens to be the source of our blessing does not negate the fact that He wants us to be blessed. Acknowledging and worshiping God is good for us, so God tells us to do it. 

To quote John Piper in Desiring God, “He Himself is uppermost in His own affections…God would be unrighteous if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable…If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.” 

What Piper is saying is that God is not being arrogant, He is being honest. We are put off by braggarts because they are either embellishing or lying, or even if they are telling the truth, they are deficient in other areas. God has given us an honest assessment of Himself—there is nothing like Him in all the universe—and we would do well to recognize that and yield our lives to Him. Jesus said He is the only way (John 14:6), so this isn’t a time for modesty. 

If God were a seatbelt, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

If God were an oxygen mask, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

If God were an antibiotic, He would be cruel to not tell us He could save our lives. 

But God is not a seatbelt, an oxygen mask, or an antibiotic; He is the Savior of the world, the only one who can save us from our sins and give us eternal life. Don’t reject Him for being honest. Embrace Him because there is no one else that can save. 


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Fourteen Days of Happiness

One of the most powerful and feared Muslim rulers of the Roman era was Abdalrahman. According to the classic book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, there is a monument in his honor that bears this inscription from his own mouth: “I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen. O man! Place not thy confidence in this present world!”

It is hard to imagine that such a wealthy and powerful ruler would say at the end of his life that he only had fourteen total days of happiness. From the outside looking in one might think the life of the rich and famous is all happy all the time, but this shocking confession blows that thought out of the water. 

All people have a desire for happiness, and we certainly want more than fourteen days of it over the course of our lifetime. When we are experiencing moments of happiness we hope that it will last forever, but inevitably it ends. A child spending a day at Disney World exclaims, “I don’t ever want this day to end!” But it will end. The vacationers laying on the beach remark that they could stay in that spot forever. But they can’t. While seeking these moments of happiness is good for us, the knowledge that they are temporary—finite minutes on a clock or days on a calendar—makes us yearn for a deeper, more lasting happiness. 

As long as we live we should pursue happiness; obviously that should be done within the confines of holiness, for nothing that is unholy can bring true happiness. We serve a happy God, and “the joy of the Lord” should be “our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).” In our moments of unhappiness—be it sadness, mourning, depression, or whatever—we can be reminded that in the next life happiness will be all we know. And even in our moments of fleeting happiness, we can still take comfort in that same fact: in heaven we will always be happy. 

The reason we are not always happy now is sin. Before the flood, Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Evil robs the world of happiness. But in the eternal state we could rework Genesis 6:5 to say, “The emotion of man’s heart is only happy continually.” 

The person who is happy exclaims that he never wants this moment to end, but it will. However, in heaven we will say, “I don’t ever want this feeling to go away,” and it won’t. Happy Christians reflect a happy God and attract unhappy sinners. We should strive for happiness, but even when we do not feel happy, we can remind ourselves of the eternal bliss that awaits us on the other side. Along with Abdalrahman, we will place not our confidence in this present world. But if our trust is in Jesus, our happiest moments here are but a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.     

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Bow and Arrow of the Bible

Have you ever shot a bow and arrow? I remember the plastic bow and the suction cup tipped arrows from my childhood, but I also remember the actual bow and arrow set we got in Cherokee, North Carolina. I remember setting up targets with my brother and trying to hit the bullseye. I never mastered the bow and arrow but I remember having fun as I tried.

There are two interesting archery terms in the Bible that we often miss because one word is Hebrew and the other is Old English. One of the most popular Hebrew words that we possibly use without fully understanding is torah. We use this word because it refers to our Old Testament, and is often translated as law. When Jews today speak of the Torah they are referring to the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis-Deuteronomy. But the word torah comes up throughout the Old Testament and speaks of God’s law.

Psalm 1 describes the person who wants to be happy, and verse 2 says, “But his delight is in the law (torah) of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 119 also speaks of the person who wants to be happy, and it begins by saying, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law (torah) of the Lord!”

Although we translate torah as law, it actually comes from a verb form which means to direct, to guide, to aim, or to shoot forward. This is an archery term because it referred to a person who would aim his arrow at a target and shoot it towards the bullseye. Over time the word evolved and became applied to the teachers of the law. When teachers teach their students, they have a goal in mind; they want their learners to grasp the subject, so they direct their students towards the end goal. So God’s law is something that we are supposed to be shooting for.

But there is another archery term that is familiar to us. The Old English word sin translates a Greek word that means, “to miss the mark.” Etymologically, this word was used in archery by the person who stood near the target during competitions. The archer would aim his arrow towards the bullseye and take his shot, and the spotter would either call out, “you hit the mark,” or, “you sinned.” This is amazing when we realize that one of these words is Old Testament and Hebrew, and the other is New Testament and Greek, but when brought together they give us a picture of humanity.

Romans 3:23 famously tells us that, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Every single human, from the best of us down to the least, has sinned. We cannot hit the bullseye, no matter how hard we have tried. Some have sought to earn heaven by being a good person. We pull an arrow from the quiver, line it up towards the bullseye of right living, and shoot our best shot. But the devil has assigned himself the role of spotter. He shouts out with great delight, “You sinned!” And even though he is the father of lies, he is telling the truth when he calls out our sin. God’s standard for us is perfection, but all it takes is one missed arrow to forever separate us from His presence. 

This is where the sacrifice of Jesus comes into play. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus is the only person who never sinned. He never missed the mark. But God took all of our sin—our imperfections and shortcomings—and laid them upon Jesus when He went to the cross. When Jesus was crucified God the Father was dealing with our sin. 

Now anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord can be saved because God will transfer our sin to Jesus’ account. Now we can truly be happy by delighting ourselves in the torah of God because it is not based on how well we keep it. We will still miss the mark, but our sin has been dealt with. This frees us up to do our best without fear of separation from God. We can now find His law to be enjoyable and for our own good, as it points us to God’s great character and amazing grace.