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Tearing his costume off!

costumeIt’s that time of year again… Halloween… with all the “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treat” alternatives.

But as Christians we have such a diversity of “views” regarding Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

For some, there’s a casual nonchalance… like, “well, you know, life goes on and I don’t know how any of this religious stuff works so… whatever.” For others there’s a nearly unhealthy terror and fascination about darkness stuff, almost like the constant making of gestures to ward off the “evil eye” of the Enemy, lurking in every dark corner.

This Halloween, I just want to put something out there with which you are welcome to agree or disagree, embrace or cast away as you feel led…

If we accept that the scriptures of the Holy Bible are true, then we accept that “intelligent others” exist… including both angels and demons. We are told that Lucifer exists. We understand that creatures of darkness, demons, roam the world and seek our harm. All right then. That is a simple statement of fact, one fact of life, not to be focused upon to the exclusion of all else. In fact, a great deal of the impact of the Incarnation and coming of Jesus’ Kingdom has to do with His having freed us from that dominion and domination.

Nonetheless, we “deal with the devil” every day in some form or another. He seeks to rob us of our joy, our peace, our focus on love, light, and truth. THAT is his primary purpose. Not simply to “get us to do bad stuff of darkness”, but rather to “stop us from focus on light and good”.

I once had a pastor phone me and ask, “Is it necessary to name a demon in order to cast it out? Do you have to know its name?”

My immediate answer, thinking he was involved in some ministry of major occult deliverance, was, “Um, no. In fact, you seldom know the name, unless they reveal it. In general, we know the names of very few demons, and the studies needed to acquire that knowledge are not ones I recommend to anyone unless called to that type of ministry very specifically. Why do you ask? What is the need?”

And he went on, clarifying… He did not mean specific entity name, he meant things like,  lust, or greed, or covetousness, and so on.

Ah, I got it. Well, the answer, in my experience, was pretty much the same. When temptation is consistent and methodical, and a spirit is oppressing one’s soul, the real “power and authority” for its dismissal is that of Christ, of love, of light, and the power of the Cross. One releases one’s hold on the temptation, rebukes the darkness itself, and grasps Jesus instead. Often, one may not even recognize what the darkness was, until it is gone and light fills that part of the heart. There may simply be the sense of something being “off”… or the recognition that one’s heart and attitude is far from that of Christ within. Then, back away from that shadow, release it, rebuke it, and intentionally turn towards light, love, and Christ. When one is under the influence of the shadow itself, the discernment can be fuddled, and recognition impossible.

We deal with such mundane interactions with shadow all the time. We take them in stride.

But we seldom recognize them as “suits” or “costumes” worn by the Enemy, Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

If we did, at least many of us, would run off screaming in terror. (Please note: the enemy certainly DOES do some more “dramatic manifestations”, especially when doors are opened through occult or arcane practices. Recommendation? Don’t do those things.)

But this Halloween I just wanted to take a moment and recognize that the pitchfork, horns, and pointy tail costume of the “scary Devil” is far less common than his ordinary business suit, flowered frock, or jeans and T-Shirt. We’re perfectly willing to recognize the Enemy in the dramatic, but far less likely to grant him the credit he deserves in the mundane. Even though it’s still well and truly him and his who are at work.

Here’s the Apostle Paul with some timely teaching to the Galatians…

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. [Galatians 5:13-26]

That’s not a bad list of “Devil Suits”. And we see them all the time, don’t we? In our homes, our communities, even our churches? Paul gives the antidote, even before naming the toxins…

Love your neighbor as yourself, and SERVE one another in that love. (Bear in mind, the Lord’s clarification of “who is my neighbor”.) Don’t freak out. Don’t get focused and fascinated. Just love, serve, and trust Jesus in both His authority and His love.

Let’s defrock the devil, and send him home!

Grace to you, Gentle Readers!

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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Sermon Seeds

 

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Light Bulbs and the Scrupulous Christian

Flight 401While we’re on the subject of aviation…

Here’s a story that I just find amazing. Tragic, and I tell it with tremendous reverence and respect, for many lost their lives here… and improvements in safety resulted to benefit all of us, but it is nonetheless amazing.

On December 29, 1972 or thereabouts… a light bulb… a little green light no bigger than you would use for your Christmas tree, blew out.

That light bulb was intended as a safety device, indicating when the landing gear nosewheel  of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, on final approach from New York into Miami International Airport, was properly deployed and locked into place. Because it did not light, the captain (pilot) and crew did not take the risk of landing, but decided to change the bulb instead, as they also tried physically to see if the nosewheel was down or not.

That decision was not the problem. That wasn’t a bad decision at all. The problem was… this light bulb… changing this light bulb… became the overwhelming focus of all attention by the flight crew in these critical minutes as they bypassed the airport, and the bulb refused to seat properly into the switch. Perhaps that should have absorbed ONE person, the co-pilot actually attempting the installation. But it captured the focus of him, the pilot, and the engineer as well.

So, when a control yoke was accidentally bumped, and the autopilot’s command to maintain a 2000 foot altitude got switched off, and the control yoke slipped into a slightly downward position slowly decreasiing their altitude… no one noticed. The light bulb still hadn’t clicked into place, and it was too dark to see the nosewheel directly. Foot by foot, they inched towards the ground until proximity alarms notified them that they were about to hit the swamps of the Florida Everglades below them. They were unable to recover in time. While 75 souls survived, 101 did not.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A little while ago I wrote of “Aglets”, of the enemy’s strategy of trying to “throw us off our game” in seeking and following the life and path that the Lord lights up to walk with(in) us. Temptation, sin, in the enemy’s arsenal, has a two-wave payoff for him. This is especially true for a Christian who may be unclear about what his agenda (and God’s agenda) truly is.

Without getting bogged down in a lot of hassle and detail here, I’m just going to say a thing, and if it rings true for you and your Spirit affirms it, that’s fine. If not, cast it aside.

But, for myself, God’s agenda is to love us, and embrace us in such a relationship of intimacy that we respond with reflection of His love back to Him, and we refract His love outwards towards others. We focus on the joy of intimate relationship with Him… Jesus in us, we in Him, together we in the Father, Holy Spirit indwelling… such that His will becomes our own. In and as that happens, our gaze upon others becomes the communion of mutual sacredness, as we grow to love others as He loves us.

The unique feature to such a worldview is, our gaze is always focused on Him, or on others. We know and we rest in our reliance on His provision for us. As we become filled with life, and learn truly to live, our words and acts become His, and those of the Father. We learn to love with His heart.

Right… so… the enemy’s agenda? To take all that… NOT.

Just that simple. The enemy is not nearly so concerned with “getting us to do BAD things”… as it is simply to focus on ourselves, love ourselves, please ourselves, pay attention to ourselves… and become so myopic as to shadow and darkness we never think of looking towards Love Himself, or refracting any outwards at all.

God wants us loving outwards. The enemy wants us desiring inwards. It’s about that simple.

So… it really doesn’t matter much to him if he gets somebody to commit murder, cheat on their wife, or swipe a server’s tips from a cafe table… as long as temptation can get someone to think about pleasing themselves alone, treating God like an absentee landlord, and treating other people as objects for their gratification. Another way to put it, his agenda is to entice us to violate our own conscience, without a lot of regard for the content of the violation.

He gets a “boomerang” effect, a “double tap” out of this if… first, he can entice someone do harm to themselves or another, and second, if he can get them to feel hopelessly ashamed, guilty, and defensive about it. Then he can not only leverage people against loving relationships through successful temptation to the FIRST sin, but that secondary rebound effect can alienate caring relationships even further.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what has this got to do with Flight 401?

Bottom line, the light bulb was important, yes. That blown out bulb was a bad thing, the light not coming on rightly prevented a whole planeload of passengers from arriving in Miami’s terminal on time because the landing had to be bypassed. Right. But the light bulb was being dealt with, could have safely been dealt with as a matter of due course in operating the craft safely.

THAT is where this went so wrong. The bulb didn’t just become a part of operating the craft safely. Somehow the bulb became the overarching task and mission of the entire flight crew, RATHER than continuing to operate the craft safely. This single wrong element, this bulb, became sufficient distraction to draw everyone’s gaze from the real task at hand, and tragedy resulted.

All too often, conscientious Christians and others of good will and conscience, do something wrong, offend someone, fail to meet their own (or others’) standards of acceptable conduct… and get utterly hung up there. They can become obsessively fixated in guilt over what they’ve done. They may become hypervigilant against ever experiencing similar feelings again. They can become so concerned about ever committing “sin” that they avoid engaging any one or any thing in any situation where they do not feel they have absolute control.

Ironically… the fault of “scruple”, the misplaced FEAR of potential sin, can be as strong a deterrant to actually living and doing in the will of God, as wanton recklessness itself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what am I saying? That we should never examine ourselves or our conscience? That we should just live a wild laissez-faire lifestyle of license without conscience or accountability? That, as some people argue about those who focus primarily on the grace and love of God, since we are “covered by the Blood” anyway, we should just go do anything we feel like at any time, because after all, what the heck?

Um, no… none of that. But scruple doesn’t assure any greater union with the will of God than does license. Rather than constant anxiety and fear of offending God through our frailty, I find three stratagems far more effective.

First, trust to the relationship between the self and God. Our loving King Father is not going to let us get far beyond our legitimate boundaries without calling loudly to us. The conscience is quite a reliable interface between us and Our Father and Lord.

Second, when our will conflicts with Our Loving King Father, yield to Him. “Obedience is better than sacrifice”, and He means this. For one thing, um… He’s God, and in a battle of wills or anything else, He’s gonna win, as long as we don’t leave the arena. For the other thing, He’s a loving Father and perfectly willing to deal with us in whatever way we demand, whether as prodigal returning to celebration, or defiant brat hauled home by the collar. (I’ve been both… trust me on this.)

Third, deal with past sins the same way He does… forget them. Time absorbs into Him like water into blotting paper. It dries, and it’s gone. He embraces us, as we are, as we’ve been, as we will be.. utterly and totally. We may disappoint ourselves from time to time, but we NEVER.. EVER… disappoint Him. We can’t, we simply cannot surprise Him, and you have to be surprised to be disappointed. Did we stumble and fall? OK. Did He help us stand back up, brush us off, and help us process the experience? OK. Then, are we ready to walk on and carry on with our task in/with Him? Good! Let’s go!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I refuse to get distracted by burnt out bulbs. I refuse to add icing and give a secondary payoff to the enemy when I’m careless or willful enough to stumble into one of his snares. THAT is not where grace is, where light is, or where I want to invest my limited time, breaths, and heartbeats.

I’d rather hold our wondrous Lord King Love Father’s hand, and truck on down the road.

How about you?

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Tripping over Aglets

screwtape 1Don Merritt made a fabulous comment on the preceding post that made me roar with laughter… certainly not at DON… but at myself, and frequent memories of the dilemma he poses here.

His comment brought to mind this passage from The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis (and if you’ve not enjoyed this work, you’ve missed a wondrous joy in this Kingdom!)

MY DEAR WORMWOOD, The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XIV)

For the Christian (Believer, Disciple, Minister… anyone) who is determined to grow in grace and truth in Christ, one of the most frustrating and ironic features of this life is the apparent inevitable aftertaste of pride in moments of grace.

Here is Don’s comment, that dropped the pebble for these ripples…

  1. I’ve tried that challenge in the past, and when I did, I had a new appreciation for old Ben Franklin, for when I began to succeed, I discovered that pride got the better of me. Yet, a challenge is a challenge; let’s see if I can keep my tongue under control and my pride under control at the same time… but must I try this all on my own? Can I get His help on this one?

I laughed because I live in that same mantrap. I seek to yield to the transformation, the regeneration, from old to new man in Christ. In those moments where I manage not to sabotage the effort, and the Lord actually gets to let Jesus be Jesus in me, the enemy can hold up a mirror to my face in a heartbeat and go, “Lookie Lookie here! Behold your Self and glory in your nanosecond of selflessness!”

Ugh! And I feel as defeated as ever. The second thought comes hard on the heels of the first… “Well, if that’s what it’s always going to be, this endless cycle of futile irony, why even bother to try?”

And that’s when the Lord cuts in with His accustomed clarity to say, “Because the mirror wasn’t yours, and that’s not what it’s about anyway. I’m not ‘keeping score’.”

Lewis says it so much better than I can, I’m not sure how I dare comment on it, but my heart’s response to Don’s comment (from my own ironic reflections) were three fold:

  1. God truly isn’t keeping score on “seconds selfless”, “seconds prideful”. Rather, there is simply LIFE in the time we fill from Life Himself, rather than focused on ourselves. Self-feeding is like trying to fill a bucket by siphon from the same bucket… eventually it all just dries up. The very SEEKING to be pleasing to Him, to transform, to perform in accordance as His child, heir, ambassador, prince… the HEART of that desire, is itself the source of His pleasure. He’s not nearly so concerned with how “well we perform” in such things, as He is that we simply truly and sincerely desire to perform so in the first place, and commit our steps in that performance (faith through committed action, not just lip service).
  2. God and grace are contagious and radioactive. The more often, the more deeply, the more reflexively we walk in grace (the more we let Him be Him IN us, not just WITH us), the more of Him we transform into. Therefore, each and every occasion of grace we “commit” (even if followed by a pride backlash), bears fruit of transformation in us (even if only for seconds at a time).
  3. (And this one was/is just sheer joy at the humor of Jesus). The enemy will play his games, but we ourselves have to decide whether to let him win at them! The Lord showed me this little ploy… this Lewis/Merritt/me ironic backlash strategy as being the enemy losing his unending battle to focus us on ourselves rather than light, and responding afterwards with a “sour grapes” tactic of “tying our shoelaces together” to trip us up as we walk on. The Lord seemed to say, “You just ignore that, laugh at the trip, and carry on as if irritated by gnats or a mosquito.” Every time we do this, when we refuse to give the enemy the further and secondary payoff of our failing to thank God for the ORIGINAL moment of grace, and acknowledge the joy and wonder of being His… when we focus on our shadows instead of our Light… the enemy feels like he regains some territory. IF, on the other hand, we walk on through the shoelaces, stumble or not, retie them (Grab those aglets!) setting things straight again… then as this happens time after time:
    1. Our legs grow in strength and resistance to tripping, and
    2. The enemy’s “ties” become weaker and weaker. Eventually, the things that readily tripped us up, tempted us to pride and self-adoration, become commonplace non-issues. The tripwires become as spiderweb and gossamer.

Now, this is not to say we ever get where we are “trip proof” and “sin free”. I sure haven’t, and I’ve not met any but One who ever has. But I can say, I DO know, the tolerances get smaller and smaller. The issues more sensitive and the conscience much more responsive to grace.

Given time and practice, we can come to wound one another vastly less, and flow grace forth vastly more. The enemy still plays his games and we still get to grow and strengthen, but the “playing fields” get much much smaller, and more private. The relationship with God gets stronger and stronger, and more intimate.

Anyway, bottom line… Keep on keeping on, retying our shoes as often as necessary, and laugh at the prank intended as a disastrous distractor. Jesus always knew the trip was there, and He steadies our elbows every time, when we let Him.

Grace and joy to all! The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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