The Ultimate Temptation

cross against blue sky

Jesus was tried, tempted, and tested throughout His ministry here on earth. In order for Old Testament prophecy and all of God’s laws to be fulfilled, His Son had to go through the most awful agony and torture anyone in history has every known. Jesus, as man, could not dodge or skip anything that was sent His way. He had to be brought through all of this to fulfill His Father’s will. But He was never worried, perplexed, or concerned, because He knew that He was doing His Father’s will, and He knew that His Father would never send Him into something that He could not handle or that would cause Him to fail.

On the other hand, the devil (the ultimate deceiver) had deceived himself into believing that he actually could cause Jesus to fail. He was determined to find an area, one little place, where he could cause Jesus to slip and fail. He tried with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He tried with each of the groups of religious leaders. He tried through Jesus’ own family. He even tried through Jesus’ closest disciples. Yet he could not seem to find the right place. Then he saw what he perceived to be a potential weakness, when he saw Jesus praying in the garden. “And [Jesus] went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:35-36). If these verses are read quickly at face value, they make it appear that Jesus did not really want to go through the agony that was to come. And that He did not want to die (at least, not in the manner foretold). But read the verses carefully again. The last part of verse 36 stands out: “…nevertheless not what I will, but thou wilt.”

Jesus never did anything except what His Father told Him to do. He never cared what the people thought of Him, whether good or bad; He only wanted to please His Father. He was never out to fulfill His own will.

This did not stop the devil from trying to persuade Jesus to do otherwise, and he proceeded step-by-step to try to get Him to beg His Father to deliver Him from enduring the cruelty that was to come.

The devil also used one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, Judas, to deliver Him up to the religious leaders. When they came to arrest Him, Jesus could have slipped away, just like He had done at other times when His life was threatened. But He resisted and stood strong against any temptation or desire to flee. Another disciple, Peter, tried to use violence to prevent Jesus’ capture. Jesus stood against this temptation also, saying to those present, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

Jesus knew He could give in and save Himself, but He also knew that if He yielded to any kind of temptation, His Father’s Word would return void.

Then the devil had Him tried illegally before the Jewish leaders in a trial that was rigged before it even began. With His vast knowledge and His connection with His Father, He could have easily confounded them with the truth and set Himself free. But He continued to stand against this temptation too. Even when He was sent before King Herod, and then Pilate, who found no guilt in Him and had full authority to set Him free, He remained mostly silent. Throughout all of this, despite the beating, mocking, scourging, and being forsaken by those closest to Him, He still stood by what He had prayed earlier: “…nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Jesus’ ultimate temptation came when He was hanging upon the cross at Calvary. The devil knew that time was running out for him to get Jesus to fail. Up to this point, all of his attempts had been thwarted. Yet he still held onto the belief that Jesus just might give in. Jesus was physically beaten by order of the Jewish leaders, and then once again by the Roman soldiers. He was scourged to the point where most individuals normally would have died, and then had a crown of thorns shoved down onto His head. He also had to haul a heavy wooden beam for quite some distance. Finally, He was hung on that beam with nails (spikes) driven through the area of His hands and feet. He refused anything to dull the pain or lessen the suffering and agony that He had to go through in order to redeem every man, woman, and child from sin.

Not only did He have all of this physical agony, He also had the indescribable burden of bearing all of the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. Yet He continued to stand steadfastly against the temptation to seek His Father for just a little relief from all of this.

Even with the scoffers and skeptics railing against Him as they passed by, He did not succumb to the temptation to leave the cross and the agony. “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (Matthew 27:39-43). His intimacy with His Father and His desire for the world to be able to freely have this same close relationship was greater than all of the temptations He endured.

Finally, Jesus reached the point where He knew that all that needed to be fulfilled had been accomplished. After exclaiming, “It is finished” (John 19:30b), He willingly gave up His life. Note that He gave up His life. He did not take His own life, as in suicide. Once again the devil failed. Not only did Jesus withstand the ultimate temptation, but three days after He was taken down from the cross and buried, He rose victorious from the grave and ascended (returned) to His heavenly home and His Father, God!

Jesus defeated the power and control of sin over our lives through His sacrifice of Himself on the cross. He made it possible that no temptation should ever overcome or defeat us.

He demonstrated the absolute necessity of prayer and knowing God’s word in order to avoid succumbing to temptation. When we yield to Him and develop an intimacy with Him, then whatever we are tempted by will no longer hold the appeal it once had. Instead, He becomes our greatest desire, and we will want to please Him. Jesus told us several times in the Bible to watch and pray. When we ride a raft down a swift-moving river, we should not wait until we are being thrashed about among the rocks and rapids to start looking for the paddles or oars and the guide on how to safely navigate through rough waterways. In the same way, we should not just wait until temptation comes and then desperately seek God for victory and deliverance from it. Jesus wants us to be prepared by continually trusting and following Him.

We are most vulnerable when we wander away from Him. When we take our eyes off of the cross and put them onto our self, our temptations then become more than we can bear.

Jesus’ success came because He did the will of the Father, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore, our success will only come when we do not do our own will, but our Heavenly Father’s will also.

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Powered by The Light

Electricity created from light is an amazing source of energy. If we were to stop and think about what causes this to happen, it just doesn’t seem logically possible that a light source, such as the sun, or even something as simple as a desk lamp, could recharge a phone, operate a calculator, or cause a small motor to spin. On a much larger scale, light from the sun can generate enough electricity to provide power for a single home all the way up to a small city, and even more. In fact, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to find something that does not have light as a power source.

While solar power is a rather cost-effective energy source, it lacks the large volume of power that more conventional sources of power (such as coal, gas, or hydroelectric) could generate for the same amount of physical space. Since the output of a solar or “photovoltaic” cell (the component that converts light into electricity) is not powerful enough, it cannot be directly connected to the device that needs power. A common method to accommodate this shortfall is to use a battery. The battery becomes the actual power source while the solar cell recharges the battery. This allows the device to continue operating for a limited period of time when there is no light source.

car battery

A similarity exists between solar cells, batteries, and true believers in Jesus Christ. When we yield to Him and allow Him to work in our life, He becomes the light source that recharges us spiritually, by means of the Holy Spirit. As long as we desire to be in His presence and do the will of our Heavenly Father, we are made strong spiritually. But when we do our own will, and manage in a way that we feel is best, we then move out of His light and into darkness. The more we are in darkness, the more that we are working in our own strength and power. Furthermore, we are not able to generate or produce enough of our own light to keep ourselves charged.

The result?—we soon run out of power and become spiritually dead.

The solution?—stay in The Light.

The means?—through prayer, reading and dwelling on God’s Word (the Bible), and by being obedient to it.

Therefore it is imperative for us to yield to Christ in a real relationship. The more we yield our self to Him, the more we are able to walk in His light. This will, in turn, keep us fully charged with His power and will enable us to carry out God’s will. A solar cell must be in a good source of light to generate electricity. In a similar manner, we must remain consistently in His Light for the Holy Spirit to work through us. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Let us walk in His light and keep ourselves out of the darkness.

The Peace of God

boat in fog

Many people feel that they have some form of peace in their lives. But what most are experiencing is merely peace with their own conscience. This is not the peace of God. Some think that when their anxiety level eases up, they have found peace. And others have what they call peace just because they don’t bother to think! But not one of these forms of peace can compare with the peace that God brings. They will not make your soul content.

The peace of God is the kind of peace that “passes all understanding.”

How many people realize that peace is what they are trying to find? Some think it would be nice to find it, but they don’t really pursue it. Yet they spare no effort in pursuing other things they feel are desirable. The search for peace for many others does not begin until they have become disillusioned and worn-out. Then they will often search for just enough peace to enable them to sleep at night and perhaps dream of a way of escape.

Real peace, according to God, relates to His attitude toward man. The “peace of God” refers to a state of total contentment because the mind is at rest. This, in turn, puts the conscience in a state of blessedness and tranquility. This only happens when man gets into the right kind of relationship with God. A person who is not right with God can never turn his mind anywhere but on himself. But man cannot begin to have peace with God until he comes to the point of seeing, and then stating, that God is righteous in requiring the death of Jesus Christ as payment for man’s sin against God.

“Peace of God”—what does this mean? It can be called a condition of the heart, where those who believe in God know that He is always watching over them. But the peace of God cannot come into your heart until you realize that you are guilty of sinning against God. If you have sin in your life, there can be no harmony between you and God, or even with your fellow man.

No true peace can be had until sin’s curse on your life is taken away.

Those who realize that they are sinners [someone who transgresses the law of God] can come to God and tell Him how sorry they are for their sin. If they are sincere, He will forgive them and have mercy on them and save them from sin. Then they can experience what His peace is. But no mercy is promised to those who will not admit that they are wrong. The only way to find true satisfaction for the heart, mind, and conscience is to have peace with God. Any other form of peace is false and deceptive. True peace never involves deceit. Once you find this peace with God, then you can finally achieve peace within yourself and with others. But “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21).

The state of peace between God and man was made possible by Jesus giving up His life on the cross.

All mankind had gotten into a terrible, sinful condition, which was highly offensive to a holy God. This made it absolutely necessary for Jesus to give His life as the only way to save mankind. For those who, in turn, give their lives to Christ, He becomes the Prince of Peace, and God the Father is the God of Peace.

We don’t have to be disturbed concerning what to do about our troubles and our sins, because Jesus already took them all upon Himself when He hung on the cross. He paid the ultimate price (giving up His life) for our sin against the heavenly Father, and now we don’t have to pay it ourselves. In fact, the cost is so enormous that we never could pay it. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). When we come to understand this, then our sins will not be able to overcome us anymore and deprive us of peace. We can come to the point where we can live in a state of true peace with God.

But don’t start running after peace—run after Jesus, and His peace will follow you. He is the only source of real peace.

When Jesus left Earth to return to Heaven, He told His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace He gives is nothing like the peace the world gives. His peace drives out trouble. Jesus told us to not to let our heart be disturbed out of its relationship with Him. In a world always at war with God, can there ever be real peace? Jesus also told His disciples: “These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The world hated Jesus, and it still does. It hates His followers too. But, even in the midst of all this, He has assured us that we can have peace.

It is not usually the big things which upset us the most, but the ordinary, little, everyday things that disturb our peace continually. What can we do about this? We need to lay out all our troubles before God. Whether we are confronting little difficulties, or large ones, like sorrow or death, we need to hear Him telling us, “Let not your heart be troubled.” The picture of real peace can be seen by looking at the life of Jesus while He was on Earth.

Jesus is not the least bit worried about the difficult situations you find yourself in. But if you worry about them, He won’t get involved in your situation—because you are determined to handle it yourself. Then you get what you deserve. We are to live in Him, but we get disturbed, because we do not take Him into consideration when we look at our difficult situations.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

What is the case with you? Are you trying to find peace with God? Why haven’t you found it yet? Could it possibly be because of your unbelief? To find God’s peace, you need to have faith in God. The more you have faith in Him, the more peace you will have from Him. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Choking the Word

thorny plants

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them…” (Matthew 13:7). “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

The parable of the sower was one of the first parables (simple stories to teach a moral or deeper truth) that Jesus began to teach the people. In this parable, He was talking about a sower of seed who had distributed it among different kinds of ground. The seed here represents the Word of God. While each of the types of ground that the seed landed upon is important, the focus here is just on the thorny ground. When the Word is sown or distributed among thorns, or the cares of this world, then the Word is choked and has little usefulness.

Many today have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and they usually want to read His Word, the Bible. But they don’t want to yield to what His Word says.

They are driven instead by a desire to succeed. They have obtained many material goods and are determined to enjoy them.

They spend much of their free time entertaining friends, neighbors, and themselves. When approached by someone about God, they will readily mention that they are Christians, and might even quote a verse from the Bible. Yet, if the conversation turns to something deeper, they are quick to change the subject and move on to something else. Their lives are shallow and restricted. They may regularly attend a church and read the Bible some, but they find no real time to do what God says. They always have something else that needs to be done. (But if the Bible was an action-packed movie or a television show, they would easily make some time to watch it!)

thorny cactus

When thorns surround and choke a healthy plant, its growth will be significantly stunted. While it may still be green and appear to be thriving, it will never reach its proper fullness of growth unless the thorns are removed. In fact, it can’t grow anymore, because the thorns have taken control. The plant is basically helpless and will eventually succumb to the thorns. Unless something greater than the thorns comes and removes them, the plant will then wither and die.

When we allow thorns—the cares and pleasures of this world—to take over our life, then God’s Word no longer holds real importance to us. It may reach our heart, but we don’t grow, due to thorns like our job, our home, our vacation overseas, our vehicles, our friends, our movies, our television—on and on the list goes. But our relationship with God must come first. Our main focus should be on Jesus Christ, not social media, the Super Bowl and World Cup, or what restaurant our friends are eating at right now.

“…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 emphasis mine).

When we yield to Him and let Him pull out these thorns, then His Word will become clearer and we will desire to read it again. The more we eagerly want to know about Jesus, the more He will reveal Himself through His Word. The more we learn about Him through reading His Word, the more we will want to do what He tells us in His Word.

When Jesus sows His Word in our heart and we allow the thorns of the cares of this world to choke it out, we are saying that we do want Him, but we also plan to continue to do everything our way by ourselves. He then becomes like just another material item we own that we can proudly boast about to others.

Let Jesus be the source of your care, concern, and pleasure, not this world and all of its sources of temporary satisfaction.

Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21 emphasis mine). Go before Him in prayer and make Him your treasure, yielding the thorns over to Him. Then His Word will be able to blossom abundantly in your heart and give you real satisfaction.

Coveting or Content?


(flickr photo by jaguarmena shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license)

Versus

“Let your conversation [lifestyle] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for [Jesus] hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).

Paul appeals urgently here to Christians to be content with what they have. Since we are still traveling through this world, we are still subject to the trouble it can bring. Coveting (an excessive craving or longing for some part of this world’s wealth) is the opposite of being content. It also includes envying anyone who has more than we do. But Christians should not find it hard to resist coveting, because God Almighty has already promised that He will not forget His children—He will take care of them. What possible reason could we have to covet, therefore? In fact, this kind of promise should keep us from worrying about anything, not just being fearful of doing without.

Let your life be free from covetousness…”
“Covetousness” is commonly called “the love of money.” …they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Don’t wish you could have more than God has already given you. And don’t fall into the trap of coveting what God has given someone else. Why not go and rob that person’s house and take what you want for yourself if you feel this way? This is how God sees it when we covet what others have.

Be content with such things as ye have…”
How can Christians keep from coveting? Let what you have satisfy you. Stop craving other things just because they are newer or different or you don’t have one of that kind already. People who covet are never satisfied with their present state of affairs. They are always looking ahead to see what else they can acquire, before they have even enjoyed what they already have. This kind of attitude gets worse and worse as the years roll on if nothing is done to restrain it. What do we really own here, anyway? We know that none of it will go with us when we go to be with the Lord. Whenever you confront tight circumstances or have a need, be confident that our God will be with you and He will provide.

God arranges it so that we have just enough money to use in this life as we make our way toward our heavenly home. We already know that we have treasures waiting for us in heaven. That should be all we need to know in order to be content with the ordinary things here.

Realize also—if we Christians can’t be content here, we won’t be content in Heaven either. Look at Adam—he was discontented in the Garden of Eden—Paradise itself!

But then look at Paul. The great apostle found himself with nothing and was held very low in the estimation of others in his time. But he had already learned to be content in any and every state he might find himself in. Christians have good reason to be content with their present lot in life. God promised that He “…will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” God is not a man that He should lie (see 1 Samuel 15:29). If He promises something, He will follow through on what He said. If we truly believe in God, we know He will not only always be with us throughout our life, but even when we die.

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [riches]. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:24-26).

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought…”
“Thought” here means “anxiety”—which is just what Jesus wants to protect us from. There is nothing wrong with giving thought to the future. It is appropriate to give some thought to the things of this life at times. But if we entertain thought as anxiety, or anything that causes care or concern or trouble, that is wrong. When we let our cares and troubles become our supreme concern, then anxiety arises and interferes with our devotion to God. We need to “Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians. 4:6).

Jesus’ disciples were being warned in Matthew 6 not to be greedy, and not to be anxious about how their needs would be provided. What difference is there between God’s people and those of the world, if we worry all the time about how we are going to be taken care of, like they are always doing? Does this show that we trust our God? Can’t we depend on Him to provide our needs here, no matter what they may be?

“Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”
“Meat” refers to all kinds of food when used in the Bible, while “raiment” refers to clothes. Jesus told His disciples to take “no thought” about how their wants and needs would be supplied. If God can give us life, surely the same God can see that the body He created is fed properly! And won’t He provide clothing for this same body as well? Or is our body merely a receptacle for receiving dainty food and wearing fashionable clothing?

The apostle Paul wrote: “…godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content…O man of God…follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness…do good…be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for [yourself] a good foundation against the time to come, that [you] may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:6, 7, 11, 18, 19). Let’s be content with what we already have. If we have Jesus, we already have everything anyway! He is our source of supply or support—all that we need.

Never forget His promise to us: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

“Fear Ye Not!”

Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea

“…Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever” (Ex. 14:13).

“Fear ye not”, Moses ordered the people of God. Yet here they were, with no weapons, facing the mightiest army on Earth at that time. But their lack of weapons really did not matter, because they had no courage to stand against the Egyptian army anyway.

“Stand still”, Moses then ordered them. They were not to even try to fight, or to help God out in delivering them. What they did need to do was to just stand quietly, reining in their fear, panic, and confusion. That was how they could ‘help’ God!

“See the salvation of the Lord”, Moses told them next. But how could Moses be so sure himself that God would deliver them? He knew there was good reason for hope that God would intervene. His courage and confidence came from seeing the supernatural cloud that had come with them. He also knew that God always positions Himself in between His people and their strong enemies. “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them…” (Exodus 14:19).

The Lord frequently leads His children into very difficult situations from which they are unable to see any way of escape. And they would not have judged this to be a good idea if God had asked their opinion in advance. But God’s cloud always guides them in the direction He deems best.

You may also be in a difficult situation right now, from which you can see no way of escape. Do not worry, do not fear—if God leads you into the situation, then it is appropriate for you, and it will prove to be justified in due time. God will use it later as a way to show His grace and power to you and to others.

Most people tend to place situations between themselves and God. But the man of God places God in between himself and the difficult situation. Has God said “Go forward!” to you? Then watch Him clear the way and lead you, along with other men and women of God, the way a shepherd guides and cares for his flock. His way will be a way unknown to you. But if He chooses to put you in dire straits, He will also be the one to lead you out again.

Where else could Israel go but up? And that is just where their deliverance came from. You may be doing what you should to follow God and make your way to Heaven, and still find yourself troubled every direction you turn. Some of the Israelites cried out against Moses, because they were so afraid. They acted like the same God who had performed miracles to get them this far could no longer perform more miracles on their behalf. Others who were afraid cried unto God in prayer. But this was good for them, because they needed to learn to cry unto God, and no longer rely on Moses or themselves.

kneeling in prayer

Why does God still bring His people today into trying and difficult situations? so that we will go on our knees at once, seeking Him for answers and deliverance. When we cannot find a way to get out of the trouble we find ourselves in, we need to rise above our fear, and use it instead to spur us into prayer. We should never permit our fear to stifle our hope and faith in God.

“Stand still,” instead of trying to fight or flee in order to save yourself. Be a good soldier of God and wait to receive further orders from Him. Then carry out His orders once He gives them to you. Settle yourself to put all confidence in God no matter what situation He has led you into. Then you will see what a great deliverance He is going to accomplish on your behalf!

Hold your peace. Don’t raise your hand to the enemy. Don’t even shout against him. God will do the work needed without any help from you. It is wise when times are hard to keep your spirit calm and quiet. This puts you in the right frame of mind to do the work you are supposed to do and to consider God’s work.

If you can’t figure out what to do, don’t do anything. Stand still until God tells you your next move. It is His concern to defend those who believe in Him and to direct them. “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).

“Fear ye not!”

Bribing the Enemy for Peace?

money passed in handshake

“Then Menahem smote [attacked] Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him…and all the women therein that were with child he ripped up. In the nine and thirtieth year of Azariah king of Judah began Menahem the son of Gadi to reign over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted [demanded] the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.” (2 Kings 15:16-20).

The nation of Israel was at one of the low points in its history, both morally and spiritually. Many years earlier it had split into two kingdoms, with Judah comprising the southern half. Menahem, the current king, did not want to lose his standing as leader of the people and the land. Sadly, though, he had not even been chosen by the people. He had simply killed the previous king, who had only ruled a month, and took his place! The people’s objection to his rule was further established in verse 16, when he readily attacked the city of Tiphsah and all of its inhabitants (including child-bearing women, in a most vicious way) just because they refused to allow him into their city.

Instead of seeking and trusting God, Menahem took matters into his own hands—he leaned to the wisdom of man instead of God.

When the king of Assyria came against the land of Israel, Menahem chose to bribe the king rather than attempting to fight Him. Then he ordered all the wealthy individuals of the land to pay the bribe, whether they liked it or not. It is sad to note that this was all that the Holy Spirit chose to make known of his life to future readers of God’s Word, like many other leaders of the land.

How many believers in Christ today try something similar when our enemy, the devil, attacks us? We may not actually kill a leader, or attack a city and its people, but we still attempt to bribe or pay off our enemy. We even try to force other believers to pay the bribe for us! How many pastors and ministry leaders are guilty of trying to bribe the enemy with the funds from their church or ministry?

Throughout the Old Testament, the history of the children of Israel has demonstrated for us what happens when our faith is not totally in God. Over and over, the Israelites turned their eyes off of God, and onto themselves and their problems instead. They allowed their problems to reach the point where they became blinded to the fact that God actually could, and wanted to, deliver them from these problems and situations. They became so caught up with deception from the devil that their leaders started bribing the enemy to bring peace. As long as they kept averting the tests that God was bringing on them via the devil, the more the tests continued.

We cannot bribe or placate our enemy, the devil, to gain peace, whether we are ministry leaders or not.

The devil is the master of chaos, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Our only hope is to give our situations and circumstances over to Him. Giving even as little as a fraction of an inch to the devil results in him taking control of much of our lives. There is nothing that we could ever give to the devil that would satisfy him to leave us alone. It is foolishness to think that we could ever have peace with, much less overcome, the devil in our own strength.

When the ‘king of Assyria’ or any other ‘king’ comes against us spiritually, our solution is to turn to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. He has already paid the price and won our victory through His sacrifice on the cross. The price He paid was not a bribe or tribute. It was a final sacrifice and a finished work. There is nothing more we can ever do to improve or build upon His sacrifice for us. Jesus has already defeated the ‘king of Assyria’; all we have to do is trust in faith in that victory for ourselves. “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).

The Devil is my Taskmaster?

ancient slave driver

“The devil is my taskmaster; I will always be in lack. I aimlessly wander in dry, barren meadows; he drives me through raging rivers of unrest, he wearies my life. In accordance with his nature, he deceptively sends me down the wrong way deeper into sin. Though I travel on the sides of the mountains of life, peace, and happiness, I am filled with anxiety and dread from the evil that still lies all around me: for the devil is always near me; his club and his dagger they distress me. God has abandoned me with no sustenance or help in the presence of my enemies; He cares nothing about my health and well-being; my cup is empty. Surely iniquity and ruthlessness shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will never be able to live in the house of the Lord for even a day, much less forever.”

If an anti-Bible was ever written, it would probably render Psalm 23 like this. Sounds depressing and rather dreadful, doesn’t it? Yet, for millions around the world, this is close to being the narrative of what their life seems like to them every day and night. They hope for a better tomorrow and it never seems to come. Or it does come, but with a hefty price—leading to more regret and disappointment.

The devil plays for keeps. Jesus said, “The thief [the devil] cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). One of the devil’s greatest attributes is deception. He never acts fairly. Once he has a person deceived, his efforts to keep him from having eternal life with God become easier. In fact, the devil is so enamored with deception that he has deceived himself into believing that he can overthrow the Lord God! Throughout the Bible, his attempts to destroy, oppose, or corrupt the works of God are recorded. Yet he thinks God is not aware of how he operates, as if He is powerless to stop his nefarious efforts—the very Lord God who is the Creator of the universe!

The devil believes that, by corrupting as many of God’s creation (the human race) as he can, he will be able to coerce God into compromising and allowing sin to continue to exist.

If this could be, it would nullify God’s very existence and open the door for the devil to take the place of God in return. The devil does not care about anyone or anything on this earth. He loves to exploit the human race for his own gain. He likes to keep people content and distracted with both the cares and the pleasures of this physical life. Entertainment is one easy means of diversion, which keeps us from knowing the devil’s ultimate motives. At the same time, sin, which the devil heavily encourages, also takes its toll in the form of pain, disease, corruption, and ultimately, destruction. So, by living in his fold (or world), we are both satisfied and dissatisfied, happy and miserable, strong and weak, and so on, until we die. We are never complete, and there is always emptiness in our hearts.

The devil would have us believe that we are living in the gray area between good and evil, and that we decide which side we will ultimately end up living on. But the truth is that we are already living on the evil or dark side by default. We are living on his pasture and the lush green grass that we see is only a facade; underneath all of this is dry and barren ground, full of unsatisfying weeds. We are subject to his terms and demands. His burdens are hard and his yoke is heavy. We are slaves to his system.

shepherd-biegun-wschodni-8636(https-:unsplash.com:@biegunwschodni)-compressed

Yet God never intended for us to be under the devil’s care. Let’s look at the real Psalm 23 as God inspired David to write it:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

God wants to be our Shepherd and, in return for our obedience and submission to Him, we will not lack, because He will provide. He won’t let His sheep (those who have surrendered to Him) become sickly and starve. He will bring them to the land of plenty and lead them to the still waters of rest. He will restore them and keep them in a path of wholesomeness because that is His nature. He is their defense, and evil will not be a concern as long as they love Him with all of their heart. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). He will bring them to a plateau and shelter them from those who are against them. He will cleanse them of pestilence and protect them from irritation. As a result, truth and compassion will spring forth from them and be with them continually. God will not turn them away from abiding in His presence forever. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

The devil wants us to think that his way is best. He doesn’t care whether or not man trusts him, or loves him, or hates his very existence, since man is already stuck on his side.

The only way out is to stop trying to make it on our own, and to give our heart and life to Jesus instead. When we surrender our ‘self’ to Him and repent (give up completely and turn the other way) of our sinful ways, then Jesus will reach down and pull us out of the devil’s pasture and place us into His own. He will care for us as a true shepherd cares for his sheep. Of course, the devil will still come like a wolf to try to steal us away and destroy us, but now we can call out to The Shepherd, who will come to our rescue (unlike the devil). Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (John 11:28-30). Do you want to follow a cruel, selfish, and heartless taskmaster, or a loving and compassionate Shepherd, who has even given His life for all of His sheep?

For more about making Jesus as your Shepherd, click here.

Riding Against the Wind

bike riding

Riding against the wind is one of the things I despise the most when I ride my bicycle, (although riding up a steep hill would have to be second on the list!). No matter what I try to do, like shifting to the lowest gear, or hunching over close to the handlebars, etc., I still struggle to move forward. It seems like I spend eighty percent of my effort and energy trying to push against the wind. Yet, even though I am weary upon arrival, I have found over time that the extra effort has gradually strengthened my muscles and developed my body in areas I may not have developed much otherwise.

Although the wind will continue to impede my travel, I am now more physically equipped to handle it than I was before. That is, I will be as long as I don’t avoid the wind, the hills, or other forms of resistance. When an athlete, such as a football player or weightlifter, stops building up his muscles, flab and weakness result. He will soon find that his weight no longer contains a large percentage of muscle, but rather fat. He won’t be able to run or lift great weights like he used to, although his food intake will still be strong. He will also find that trying to rebuild those muscles will require much more effort than the first time he began building them.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we face the same responsibility to strengthen our spiritual bodies. Satan will continue to buffet us and bring about great resistance as we develop and increase our relationship with Jesus. But we can’t let this hinder us from pressing forward, like riding against the wind.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God wants us to stand, not fight, against the ploys and schemes of the devil. It is normal human nature to want to fight, but when we have Jesus as the Lord (master, governor, ruler) of our life, we operate with a godly nature. Therefore, when we stand against the enemy, we do not stand in our own strength, but in Jesus’ strength—when we let Him be in charge. Actually, we must let Him, since we are dealing with a spiritual matter much, much greater than our frail human body.

To “stand” does not mean to stay in one place and do nothing but gaze at the trees and clouds, or wait around to be overtaken by some disaster. It means to resist or hold yourking of the hill ground. In wrestling, your opponent must try to move and pull you away from the area that you are trying to hold. Your goal is to resist all of these attempts, and not to fight back. It is like the game kids used to play called ‘king of the hill,’ where one person has to keep from getting pushed or pulled off of his position on a hill by the others at the base. If he fails to hold his ground, someone else will take his place. In return, the person who just lost his position will now attempt, along with the others, to remove the successor.

So how do we press onward and stand against these efforts of the devil to dislodge us? The answer is simple: through prayer. The Apostle Paul was referring to prayer when he gave this analogy of the armor of God. The simple act of prayer produces the best results when it comes to holding our ground against the devil. One of the greatest things Jesus told His disciples was not to fight against the devil in battle, but to “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Now what was Jesus doing prior to this? “…he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed…” (Mark 14:35). After He told the disciples to watch and pray, what did He do? “…again he went away, and prayed…” (Mark 14:39a). If Jesus—the very Son of God, the One who was in constant communication and communion with God the Father—needed to pray, how crucial it is, and even more so, that we must pray!

girl praying

Prayer is one of the easiest things we can do, and yet, in our own strength, we make it one of the hardest. But it is our own laziness that makes prayer such a chore. Prayer is an uphill challenge to us when we have allowed the devil and his minions to gain ground through our lack of prayer. When we don’t exercise frequently and build our muscles, we lack the strength to overcome any resistance we may encounter. If we don’t watch and pray often, the very act of prayer becomes more and more of an effort. This eventually leaves us wide open for temptation and sin. At the same time, we should never bring prayer to the position where it is the solution alone. Jesus Christ and His victory at the cross is the real solution; prayer only opens the door of our heart to the solution. We don’t worship prayer; we worship God.

Remember that the victory over sin’s power and control has already been won through Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are not to conquer, for He has already conquered. We are to stand in faith on His victory. He has already fought the devil and won. (And we, in our physical bodies, can’t fight a spiritual entity like the devil and win anyway.) Notice how many times the word “stand” is used in the passage from Ephesians. Now count how many times the word “fight” is mentioned. The devil will gladly fight and bully our unprotected self, but when we put God’s armor on, the devil sees God, not us, and he flees.

man riding bike

When I ride my bicycle against the wind, I use the strength that I developed in my muscles to pedal harder. At the same time, I reduce some of the resistance by crouching closer to the handlebars, keeping my body as close to the bike as I can. I do not throw my bike at the wind in an attempt to fight against it. I do not take a large stick and stab at or slice the wind. I never yell at or curse the wind either. And, most importantly, I do not give up and run away from the wind, or hide somewhere until it passes. God expects us to develop ourselves through prayer, and then stand against the enemy when he comes. He wants us prepared when we pray by utilizing the armor He has provided. Never are we told to fight or flee, but “having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13b).

Little is Much

 

 

kneeling at cross

 

 

“And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered…Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass…And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark 6:35-44).

Jesus had been teaching the people in a solitary part of the region for much of the afternoon. They had come because they were hungry, not for physical food, but for the truth (spiritual food). The people sought Jesus because they knew He taught the truth. Even though Jesus was physically tired at this point, (since He had originally come with His disciples to this desert location for rest), He was strengthened by the people’s desire to hear and learn God’s Word.

Jesus’ disciples, however, grew more concerned with getting physical food for the people than about them hearing the truth.

As the evening drew near, the disciples urged Him to send the people away to find something to eat. The idea never occurred to them that perhaps Jesus could provide for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Of course, Jesus was fully aware of their concerns. “When Jesus then lifted up [His] eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do” (John 6:5, 6). Surprised (and perhaps shocked) at His response, the disciples immediately looked to their own selves to provide food for this great assembly. (Some scholars believe that there could have been over 15,000 individuals present). They replied, “…Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth [several thousand of dollars worth] of bread, and give them to eat?” (Mark 6:37). They really believed that Jesus might be out of His mind at this point, because He was expecting them to meet all of these people’s needs. They had probably expected Jesus to respond, “You’re right, we really ought to send them back to the nearest villages and let them get fed there.”

Jesus wasn’t fazed by all of this though. Instead, He let them see for themselves just how little they had for such a great need. If they hadn’t known what they had begun with, then the full depth of the miracle that Jesus was about to perform wouldn’t have been realized. After they took the smattering of provisions (enough for only a few to eat) over to Him and had the people sit in an orderly manner on the grass, He blessed and broke the bread, then the fish, and gave them to the disciples to be distributed among the people. Notice that He never gave any of these provisions directly to the people Himself—it was always through His disciples. In the end, there was so much distributed from the hands of Jesus that everyone was able to eat and be filled. No lack was mentioned and a dozen basketfuls were still leftover.

How many times do we believers in Jesus Christ go to Him first for our needs, both great and small? When Jesus is trusted solely, a small amount yields an overabundance.

Trying to meet a great need by ourselves is the same kind of problem as the disciples trying to feed the whole multitude with the tiny provisions that were available. Jesus never told them to go and buy all of the food, or to take the loaves and fishes and give everyone just a crumb or two of bread. (We won’t even try to determine how much of a portion of those two fish they would have to give!). That is why Jesus told them “you give them something to eat.” He knew that in their hearts that they would say “We can’t; He will have to do something!”

God wants us, as His children, dependent upon Him for our needs. When we look to our self, we take our eyes off of Him, and meeting our need becomes more and more insurmountable to us. The need doesn’t have to be just for food. It can also be in other areas, physical or spiritual. “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The problem comes when we limit God. The disciples tried to limit God, as in the example above of the five thousand being fed, by implying that the people needed to leave in order to be fed.

They felt that Jesus was so absorbed in teaching and healing the people that He had forgotten about the basic needs of the people and that He needed the disciples to remind Him of this. How often do we limit God, or put Him “in a box,” by saying that He can meet these particular needs, but He probably won’t be able to meet these other needs? How many times are we impatient with God meeting our needs and end up taking care of them ourselves? How many times do we hurt or insult God by not having complete faith in Him?

We must remember that God is always in control of the situation; we are the ones that lose control and become anxious. We are to place our needs and circumstances in the hands of Jesus and let go, not picking them up later when He doesn’t respond or do anything in our anticipated timeframe. If we take back the needs that we laid in His hands, we are effectively saying that we don’t fully trust Him in everything and that we will take care of it ourselves. Again we are back to limiting God. [Cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Remember that the disciples never even asked Jesus to provide for the people’s needs. How much more will He respond when we really do ask and fully believe?