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Spiritual Battles …

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We love superheroes don’t we?  I recently dressed up as “Pastor America” and visited the little kids at our school.  They were duly impressed.

It’s interesting that the world so readily latches onto the idea of someone stronger, faster, and more powerful than us who can step in battle the evil villain.  Whether it’s Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel or whatever… we seem to be insatiable when it comes to dreaming about this battle of good vs. evil – and in particular, the power of good to rescue us from the power of evil.  Where’s that come from?  It’s actually rooted in Truth. In History. In Reality.  In the Bible.  Spielberg, Lucas and the others get this idea from the Bible, whether they realize it or not.

The Apostle Paul warns the Christians at Ephesus, and us.

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. – Ephesians 6:12

In other words, we are in a spiritual battle – whether we like it or not. The challenge for us is that we often dismiss the spiritual realm altogether.  We buy into the greatest trick of the devil as he attempts to convince us that he does not exist.  And if we do believe in a spiritual realm, often we just don’t know what to make of the demonic side of that spiritual realm.  We don’t want to overemphasize the activity of demons and spiritual forces of evil, such that we blame “the devil” for the fact that our bank balance is low, for example.  But we can’t dismiss the fact that the devil and his demons are real and are active causing trouble in our lives – especially because we are believers in Christ. (See: 1 Peter 5:8)

The Bible gives us so many warnings about how the enemy:

  1. tempts us to sin,
  2. distracts us from God’s will,
  3. and inflicts suffering.

Speaking to the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns that some of the people in his church had fallen into the “trap of the devil” and that he had “taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26).  This doesn’t mean that the devil possessed those believers, but that he had set traps for them, and they walked into those traps, unwittingly doing the will of the devil.

An interesting thing about our sin is that God uses our sin to get us to repent and turn to Him.  He desires to restore our relationship with Him as He forgives our sin.  The devil, on the other hand, uses our sin to cause us to distance ourselves from God in shame, and even turn away from belief in God, turning to false religions.  Paul told Timothy The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. – 1 Tim. 4:1.

Finally, while I believe the devil cannot possess Christians who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, through faith and baptism (see: Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 6:19), I do believe that he can harass and oppress Christians, and that he readily does.  Scripture is full of stories showing the activity of the forces of evil against believers and unbelievers alike.  (See Matthew 17:15-18).

But what we always see in Scripture is that God is more powerful than the devil.  Jesus is always able to cast out the evil spirits (Matthew 17:18).  They must always obey Him!  In fact, they recognized Jesus and His authority over them before even Jesus’ own disciples did! (see Mark 1:24).

The demons are well aware of the power of the Son of God over them.  The question is are you?  Do you realize how powerful the Name of Jesus is over any power of the devil or darkness?  Do you realize the miraculous authority over darkness that you possess as a follower of Jesus who bears His Name?

When people at our church are baptized, we give them a candle lighted from the flame of the candles on the altar.  We tell them that this light symbolizes the Light of Christ that has come into the world … and the Light that they now carry into the world as a follower of Jesus.  What I don’t think we often realize is just how powerful that Light is over the darkness.

Friends, if you and I are in a spiritual battle – that cannot be fought with flesh and blood.  Then the only way we can “take our stand against the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-18), is to call upon the Name and the power of Jesus.  This is the authority that is given to us, and which we take up when we put on the Armor of God.

Imagine a frail elderly person who has been commissioned as a crossing guard at an elementary school.  They do not possess the power within themselves to stop a moving car or truck. (Nor does any mere mortal, for that matter.) But the stop-sign that they have been given in their role as crossing guard gives them the authority to stop those moving vehicles.  They simply hold up the stop-sign, and the operators of the vehicle recognize their authority and stop.

It’s the same with demons and the devil.  When you and I call upon the Name and the authority of Jesus, the powers of darkness must obey! 

What spiritual battles are you facing right now?  Don’t be surprised if that relationship struggle, or that challenge at work really has an invisible spiritual battle being waged underneath – a battle for your inner peace and joy, if not for your very faith.  Don’t let the enemy trick you into trying to win that battle in your flesh.  Do what you can in the earthly realm, for sure.  But turn over the spiritual battle to Jesus and His angels to fight in the spiritual realm on your behalf.

In the Name of Jesus,

Pastor Augie.

If you’d like to hear my recent sermon on “Miracles of Deliverance,” click here.

No Word From God Will Ever Fail!

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Six times in Scripture God did wondrous things through the wombs of unlikely women. In His mercy, He brought forth sons, born to women who had given up hope of ever having children:

  1. Isaac born to Sarah and Abraham (Gen. 11:30; 21:1-2).
  2. Jacob born to Rebekah and Isaac (Gen. 25:21).
  3. Joseph born to Rachel and Jacob (Gen. 29:31; 30:22).
  4. Samson born to the wife of Manoah (Judg. 13:1-3).
  5. Samuel born to Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:5-6, 20).
  6. John born to Elizabeth and Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5-25, 57) cf: Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope.

Barrenness meant sadness, shame, and even ridicule for women in Bible times. Childlessness was even considered to be a curse. Yet in His mercy, the Lord did the seemingly impossible through these barren women. He opened their wombs and brought forth sons who were significant in the story of Israel. This is a reminder that there’s hope for you even when things seem impossible!

And God did something even more amazing, not through the womb of a barren woman, but through the blessed womb of a virgin, named Mary.  This would be even more miraculous than a birth to a barren womb, as this conception did not involve an earthly father, but would involve the power of the Holy Spirit.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

God speaks His Word through the angel Gabriel, and Mary conceives an even greater Son.  What Child is This? the Christmas carol asks.  The answer is: this Child is The Greatest Son, not only in the history of Israel, but in the history of mankind!  Mary herself was amazed at the possibility of this occurrence, to which the angel responded with some of the most profound words in Scripture:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

Wow, how true.  Then Mary’s response forever changed history as she humbly surrendered to God’s will saying …

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:38

God had sent His people “redeemers” in the form of kings and judges throughout Israel’s history.  But as with all things earthly, their redemption was limited, and eventually faded.  But they did serve an important function at a critical time in history.  And, perhaps more importantly, they served the function of pointing to Jesus.  Theologians refer to this as “typology.”  In its most basic sense, this means that something in the Old Testament prefigured something that Jesus Christ would more completely and more thoroughly fulfill in the New Testament.  (For some examples of “types of Christ” in the Old Testament, see this BibleStudyTools.com article.)

One wonderful example of an Old Testament type of Christ is the judge Samson.  Samson was born to a mother who, being barren, should not have borne a child … just as Mary, being a Virgin, should not have borne a child.  And yet, by God’s mercy, Samson did some amazing things in his rescue of Israel! Similarly Christ did some amazing things in His rescue of God’s people.  Christ’s mighty acts, however, were not ones in which He displayed His power, but in which He withheld His power, in order to accomplish His Father’s greater will.  Here are some ways in which Christ did an even greater job of rescue than Samson, demonstrating His strength through sacrifice, rather than through might:

  • Where’s Samson ripped apart a lion, Jesus had the strength to rip apart Satan. But for our salvation, He allowed Satan to rip Him apart and pierce Him through on the cross, suffering God’s judgment in our place.
  • Whereas Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to kill the faithless Philistines, Christ had the strength to wipe out the countless people who scorned Him and rebelled against God – even calling down legions of angels if He desired; but instead, He allowed himself to be crucified by a makeshift cross, bearing all of humanity’s sin and dying for those who sinned against Him.
  • And whereas Samson was blindfolded, beaten and mocked, in his last act he demonstrated his strength stretching his arms out to bring down the ceiling on Israel’s enemies … He pointed to Christ, who also was beaten and mocked, but in His final act, He withheld His strength as He stretched out His arms on the cross! Nonetheless in that act, He did crush our enemies of sin, death and the devil and finished the work of our salvation.
  • And whereas Samson put the gates of the city on his back and brought them to the top of the hill, Christ put all of our rebellion and sin onto His back and took it up the hill of Calvary to atone for it.
  • But where we really see that Christ is the greater rescuer, is that after his work of rescue, Samson died. Christ, however, did not stay dead. He rose triumphantly over our sin and death on the third day. Christ is The Greater Rescuer indeed.

The comparison of Christ with Samson is particularly important when you consider that God chose to rescue His people, Israel, not through an army, and not through sophisticated weapons of war, but through the mighty acts of one man – Samson.  How similarly wonderful, and yet more remarkable, is how God chose to rescue His people of every nation, tribe and tongue throughout all the world and over every age, through the mighty acts of one man – His Son.

All of this was to fulfill the Word of God, as the Angel Gabriel said when he came to Mary, “For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

May you find strength and hope in knowing that even the impossible is possible with God.  He rescued His people, Israel, and He rescued you in Christ!  May your faith be strengthened, knowing NO WORD FROM GOD WILL EVER FAIL!

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope

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Often the names of characters in the Bible have a specific meaning, perhaps relevant to something in their lives.  Zechariah the priest, father of John the Baptist, is no exception.  Zechariah’s name means: “God Remembers.”  We see God “remembering” in two ways in Zechariah’s life.

First, God is remembering Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who remain childless at what the Bible describes as a “very old” age (Luke 1:7), by giving them a son. The angel Gabriel meets Zechariah in an area of the Temple reserved for priests, and gives him a message:

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” – Luke 1:13

Secondly, we see God remembering His promise to His people to send them a Savior.  Zechariah knows his son John is being called to be the forerunner of Christ and to point people to Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So as soon as John is born, Zechariah proclaims a long “song” of praise extolling the faithfulness of God in remembering His people and fulfilling His promises.  This section of Scripture in Luke 1:68-79, is known as Zechariah’s Song and is sometimes used in the traditional liturgical service of Matins as the Benedictus.  Here’s a short excerpt where we see Zechariah proclaim how God has remembered His people:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. … and to remember his holy covenant” – Luke 1:68, 72

What’s interesting to note is what transpired between Luke 1:13 and Luke 1:68.  You see, when the angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth was going to have a son, Zechariah responded in disbelief:

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Luke 1:18

For someone whose name means “God remembers,” he seems surprised, doesn’t he?  Has he forgotten how God brought children into the lives of the barren wives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  God may have a long memory, but Zechariah’s seems short.

The truth is, we worship a God that always remembers.  More than that, when He remembers, He acts!  That’s important, right?  If I just remember our wedding anniversary, but do nothing about it, my wife doesn’t really consider that remembering.  And just as I would be insulted if my wife were surprised that I remembered our anniversary, God is not pleased when we act surprised at his faithfulness.

So the angel Gabriel takes away Zechariah’s ability to speak until John is born. But when John is born, Zechariah makes up for lost time, and uses his first mouthful of words to proclaim a beautiful song of praise!

Shouldn’t that be our response to our faithful God who not only remembers, but acts in faithfulness to His promises?  Rather than be surprised at God’s goodness, we should be anticipating it with a confident hope!  We should reflect our expectation of God’s faithful action in our prayers, in our words to others, and even in our own actions!  That’s why the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians at Rome, and us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Zechariah, once he’s able to speak, clearly expresses this confident hope in God’s faithfulness through the Holy Child who will be born to Mary.  May we do the same this Advent season, and always.

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Responding to Conflict

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It’s amazing how the book of Genesis, written so long ago, shows us so much about God, but it also shows us so much about ourselves as well.  In just the first couple dozen chapters we see stories of rebellion, anger, deception and wickedness on the part of people, but we also see our God respond with intervention, provision, promise and love.  Not much has changed.  We are the same people behaving in the same sinful and rebellious ways and God is the same God responding with mercy and love.

So when we read the account of Isaac’s sons Jacob & Esau in Genesis 25, we see conflict.  It’s nothing new.  In fact, it’s ancient.  But it still rings true.  Just in this week’s news we saw a tragic shooting in Pittsburgh that took the lives of 11 Jewish citizens in what should have been the safety of their house of worship.  Yet sadly, this sort of news has become the norm.  Clearly as a people, we still need to learn about our human propensity toward conflict.  But even more we need to learn God’s direction in light of it.

The brothers Jacob and Esau wrestled from the time they were in the womb:

“The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” – Genesis 25:22, NIV

The weight behind the Hebrew word here translated “jostled” is a bit stronger than that – it’s more of a struggle or fight.  You could say they were trying to “crush” each other!  And even when they exit the womb – Esau comes out first, but Jacob is seen to be grabbing onto the heel of his brother (Genesis 25:24-26).  What does this tell us?  Conflict is something that is “baked-in.”  It is part of our human nature – you can see it, with Jacob and Esau, even inside the womb.

I am sure you are no stranger to conflict.  The question is not whether conflict happens in your life, but how do you respond in the face of it?  In Sunday’s message (You can listen to it here, and download the sermon slides here), I shared ways to deal with conflict.  The key is not to let the devil gain a foothold and then use our anger against us.  We are warned in Scripture:

“… Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

The devil doesn’t need to “possess” people who are in conflict – he simply uses that conflict to twist the truth and create bigger deceptions and misunderstandings.  Our puffed-up human pride and our equally large fear and insecurity will do the rest!

What is the answer to conflict?  There only is one that is effective – Love.  Any true resolution to conflict is going to be born out of two parties acting in love – and that’s usually the result of one party acting in love first.

I shared a video clip during Sunday’s sermon that showed the power of a hug, in response to an act of terrorism and aggression following the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Notice the smiles in the video.  It’s contagious, isn’t it?  But notice something else very important about a hug … an embrace takes two.  For two people to resolve conflict, both parties must respond in love.

And that’s what our Lord wants for us!  He has made the first move.  He has opened his arms to us in love, as Jesus died for us on the cross (Romans 5:8).  In that act He ended the conflict that existed between God and humanity!  And in so doing He extended an open and willing embrace for all who would receive it.

How will you respond to Christ’s love, ending the conflict between you and God?  There’s a bad response, a good response, and a better response.  The bad response is what so many choose.  Even though Jesus came to earth in humility, (Just as Jacob finally came before Esau in Genesis 33:3-4) suffered and died to end the conflict between mankind and God, so many people still choose to remain enemies of God. They refuse to end the feud, even though the battle is over.  Clearly, that is not the right choice.  A better response is to do what Martin Luther discovered in the season of his life that would lead to the Reformation – surrender to God.  Luther finally realized that he was no longer an outcast trying to earn God’s love, or an enemy needing to cower in fear.  The answer for him and us is simply to receive God’s grace.  That’s a good response.

But an even better response to Christ’s love is to show it to others!  So often, I think that we readily receive God’s humble gift of forgiveness to us …  but then we fail to share that forgiveness with others!  I don’t mean that we don’t tell them about Christ’s forgiveness.  Sometimes we do that, but then we still fail to forgive that person ourselves!

Jesus warns against this kind of action in Matthew 18:21-35. He tells a parable of a man who is forgiven an extremely large debt, but then immediately after that won’t forgive someone who owes him a mere pittance by comparison.  What I see too often in myself and in others is that we readily receive the grace and mercy of God…  we even tell others of His great mercy…  but then we fail to show mercy to others, choosing to keep the conflict alive.

May this not be so with us.  May we not only be recipients of God’s grace, but purveyors of that grace to others!

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

Let Us Start to Rebuild

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Scripture:  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

Observation:  The name Nehemiah means ‘Yah(weh) [the Lord] has compassion.’  He was the post-exilic governor of Judah, and the main character in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah himself rose to high standing during the reign of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes I (464–424 bc). He was designated the ‘cupbearer to the king’ (Neh. 1:11). This honorable position involved tasting wine for the king to ensure it was not poisoned.  This meant he was a trusted advisor and had the ear of the King.

Nehemiah’s work in Jerusalem began when his brother Hanani visited him in Susa. Nehemiah asked about the condition of the returnees and learned that the people of Jerusalem were troubled and the walls of the city were broken down. This broke his heart for his people.  Nehemiah, like many exiles, had made Persia/Babylon his home following the exile.  But now he felt strong ties to his roots.

After prayer and fasting, he approached Artaxerxes and asked permission to rebuild the city. Permission was granted and Nehemiah left with royal edicts to authorize his effects (Neh. 1:1–2:10).

Even with the king’s permission and blessing, Nehemiah faced all kinds of opposition… from surrounding provinces, and even from the Jewish people.  Why?  They were threatened by the rebuilding and afraid.  Nevertheless it was real for Nehemiah.  It mean that he and his workers were mocked verbally, and even with force.  Bottom line is that Nehemiah had every reason to quit.  But he was so devoted to the calling of the Lord to rebuild, that he was not disuaded and continued on.

It’s important to note that Nehemiah did not just rebuild the physical city of Jerusalem, but he also devoted himself to restoring the religion and faith of Judah.  He revived their faith in and faithfulness to God.

Application:  Don’t those two have to go together?  What good is it to have a physically strong body, but have a spiritually empty soul?  Likewise Nehemiah didn’t just want to put up new walls on the city, but re-establish the spiritual health of the people of Judah beginning with Jerusalem.

These days in our country, there is so much brokenness – if not because of the physical destruction caused by hurricanes and floods, because of the spiritual destruction caused by battling opposing ideologies and the hectic pace of life.

It’s time to rebuild.    Most obviously we need to rebuild broken roads and electrical grids.  But we must also rebuild relationships.  We need to see our neighbor not as our enemy … but to see the brokenness as our enemy.    And we must rebuild our spiritual health – by returning to the Lord.

I love what we read earlier in Nehemiah “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (Neh. 1:10)  To me that means that God is always rescuing His lost people – and He will rescue, restore and rebuild us even now.

Prayer:  Help me turn my heart to you God, and begin the rebuilding today – starting with me.  Restore my spirit and renew my strength.  And allow me to be a part of rebuilding your people.  In Your Name.  Amen.

To learn more about the #LifeJournal reading plan I am using, see this post: Rev Augie’s Blog – Daily Bible Reading.

Confidence on Judgment Day!

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JesusReturns

Scripture:  “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:28

Observation (Background): The Book of Hebrews is in many ways a discourse on how Jesus is the fulfillment of all things Jewish. (In fact, Hebrew is not only the language spoken by the Jews, but is another way to refer to the people themselves.)  In Chapter 1, the writer shows that Jesus is superior to the angels – He is the very Son of God.  Yet, in Chapter 2, He is also human, like His “brothers.”  In Chapter 3, He’s portrayed to be greater than even the great patriarch Moses – who in his prophet & priestly role was really just a type & foreshadow of the Christ who would come.  in Chapter 4 & 5, Jesus is compared to the great high priest who was chief among Israel’s priests – even greater than Melchizedek, the first high priest who predated the Hebrew people themselves! In Chapter 6, Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (the father & first of the entire Jewish nation) – through whom the world would be blessed.  In Chapter 7, by comparison again to Melchizedek, Jesus is shown to be even greater than the Jewish “Law” and the bearer of a new and “better covenant.” (7:22). Through Him, the old covenant now made obsolete (Chapter 8:13).  Now here in Chapter 9, Jesus is shown not only to be the high priest, but the sacrifice Himself – able to enter the Most Holy Place by his own blood, and in fact we, His people, are able to enter eternal life forgiven of all our sins by that one and the same blood!

Application:  I love how this verse (Hebrews 9:28) connects with the sermon I preached just this last Sunday “Who Will Escape Judgment.”  It states so clearly – and even more comfortingly – that while indeed Christ is going to appear a second time to judge the world, He is really returning to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him!  In other words, yes – Jesus is going to judge and remove all evil (see today’s Life Journal readings from Isaiah 13 to 15 – the judgment upon Babylon, Assyria, Philistine and Moab is but a “type” and foreshadow of the judgment that will come at the Last Day!)  And yes, the unrighteous will “face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  But perhaps most importantly, God’s holy people will receive the reward of their faith – salvation!  We will not only be saved from our sins … but saved from a life of sin in this broken and hurting world!  For me, this is just confirmation that those who are in the faith, need not fear Jesus’ return, but rejoice at the promised fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation through Him.

Prayer: Lord, help me not to fear Christ’s return, but to look forward to it with hope knowing that my salvation is secure through faith in Jesus and my baptism into His Body.  Dear Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

Brexit, Presidential Elections & Righteousness

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“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord….” – Jonah 1:1-3a

The decision of British voters to leave the European Union has been described as “seismic.”  Just like an earthquake, there will be several aftershocks, and time will tell the extent of the destruction – whether there will be economic collapse  or just rumbling & rattling.  Either way, Britain has decided to go its own way. This is not unlike Jonah, who decided to go to Tarshish rather than Ninevah where the Lord was sending him.

It makes me wonder – how often do you and I try to go our own way?  Where does this leave us?  How do we know which way to go?  Taking a “vote” is one way to decide.  But as we have been seeing more and more at the polls, direction is being decided by such a slim margin: 52-48, in the case of Brexit.  We see it in our Supreme Court votes, so often something like: 5-4, 4-3.  We see it in the polls for the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election in November: Hillary is out ahead, then Trump.  There has got to be a better way to decide where to turn.

Let me suggest Paul’s words to the young pastor, Timothy: “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22)  What if you and I, the British, and the next President were to make our decisions about which way to go based, not on “the evil desires of youth” (which could be anything from outright lust and covetousness – to innocent & naieve ignorance) but instead on righteousness, faith, love and peace?  What if we were to choose which way to go by first seeking the Lord and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33)?  What if we were willing to put our own selves, with our ambitions and desires, aside and seek the greater good and the Lord’s purposes?  We might just find that we would go to Ninevah first!  … Rather than make the Lord drag us there.

Pray:  God, we ask your hand upon the people of the United Kingdom and the European Union.  May you make good out of this transition.  We ask your hand on American voters & politicians.  May we decrease the rhetoric, and increase our pursuit of love and peace.  And for each of us.  May we seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness, and in so doing, may You increase our faith in You.  Amen.

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