Your True Strength—the Joy of the Lord

A beam of sunlight shining through grey clouds on a body of water between two low mountain ranges[Image Credit: Davide Cantelli/Unsplash]

“Make no attempt to leave, thirst and mull over your spoiled gruel and keep it all for yourself, regardless of how much worse another’s condition is: for this night is full of sinful revelry to our Lord the devil: make every effort to feel sorry for yourself; for the misery and disappointment of the devil is your weakness and hopelessness.” Doesn’t this fictitious passage from an “anti-Bible” sound depressing? Yet it could describe just another day and night in the life of many people today. Why is it that way? It is from to a lack of real joy in their hearts.

We most commonly equate joy only with happiness. We can have happiness along with joy, but happiness is not all that joy is. Happiness is only a temporal and often conditional state of mind or being. It will come and it will go. We humans have often proven ourselves capable of going from happiness to misery in an instant. But real joy holds fast, regardless of our current condition or situation. The fact is that true and lasting joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.

Here’s that verse from the “anti-Bible” again, this time in its proper biblical form: “…Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Here the Israelites, who had been in captivity in Babylon over one hundred and sixty years, were just now returning to Jerusalem. While they were removed from their homeland for such a long period of time, they had been kept from really knowing the law of God (the first five books of the Old Testament—basically the “Bible” of that period). When, at long last, the people were able to hear God’s word read and explained to them again, they were grieved in their hearts and down in spirit as they became aware of their ignorance and disobedience.

As a result, Nehemiah, the governor of the land, made this proclamation to the Israelites, in order to encourage and remind them that it was a time of renewal and restoration of God’s covenant.

He and the priests did not want the people to focus on their failures, but on the One who could bring them out of their hopelessness and helplessness.

The “joy of the Lord” in this verse means reliance on the unfailing nature of God. But when men build their hope up on this sinful world, they will be disappointed every time. Joy is one common thread woven throughout the whole Word of God. It is not based on what we do, or don’t do, or only on our current circumstances. Joy is something that Jesus places within those who have committed their heart and life to Him. Joy is not found in what Jesus does, but in Jesus Himself and His unfailing nature.

When Jesus came to this Earth as a man, He didn’t just bring a smile to someone’s face and then move on. That would only be happiness. Instead, His life became the perfect example of joy. No matter what trial or situation He went through, He put “the joy of the Lord is your strength” into practice. He did not wonder or agonize over how, or if, He was going to make it through. He put His whole trust in His Heavenly Father instead, who always made His joy complete. He knew without any doubt that failure was not part of His Father’s nature.

Open Bible laying flat on hardwood table with hands folded and resting partially near lower portion of book[Image Credit: Pixabay]

How can we have the joy of the Lord? Simply by keeping His commandments and obeying His Word. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:9-11).

How do we effectively keep His commandments? By not trying to physically accomplish them in our own incomplete capacity. Obedience to God’s Word is not like a collection of merit badges that we must try to earn in order to be in right standing with God. Due to our inherently sinful self, it is impossible for us to fulfill all of God’s law and requirements in our own strength—although untold millions have tried to, always without success. That is why He sent His Son to Earth—to be our source of strength. Jesus is fully qualified and capable of fulfilling all God deems necessary to be in right standing with Him. Instead of trying to do everything to be obedient to God by our own efforts, we should look to Jesus—which is just what God has wanted from us all along. All the way from creation to today, He has wanted man to trust and be dependent on Him alone.

All too often we focus only on misery, doubt and disappointment, which are inspired by the devil. But they only keep us in bondage.

No matter how hard we attempt to overcome the trying circumstances that we are in or will be going through, we will never be totally victorious without Jesus Christ. We can even be the happiest and most joyful-looking people around, but that is not lasting joy. True joy is Jesus Christ. He alone is our strength. Always turn to the One who cannot fail. He will carry us through, regardless of the difficulty of the trial or situation. Then we will know for ourselves that the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

The Masquerade

Photo of costume masks hanging on display

“Hey, Mitch, what are you wearing for the masquerade?” a voice yelled out from one cubicle. “Mitch, is the bell going to toll this year?” said another voice bursting out of one of the offices, followed by uproarious laughter. Mitchell began to hurry as he walked to the city planner’s office. He had often regretted his choice of dressing up as a Liberty Bell two years ago, ever since he first stepped foot in the annual gala. The masquerade ball, hosted by the city to benefit the abused children’s home, was one of the biggest events of the year. People from all over the region and even other parts of the world would attend, wearing some of the most elaborate costumes ever seen.

When Steve, the city planner, saw Mitchell at the door, he interrupted the others’ conversation. “Mitch, I know “gala planning” is not regular city business activity, but I’ve got to press you into going this year. I’ve heard you’re still reeling from the reaction to that bell costume a few years ago, but people loved it.” The others in the room readily agreed. “Look, you’ve got to remember that this whole event is for the children,” Steve pleaded passionately. “Oh, before I forget, here are the reports I wanted to give you. Don’t be a devil and let them ‘fall’ off the back of your motorcycle this time.” Mitch initially returned the quip with a sheepish look, but then followed up with a devious smile.

When Mitch woke up early the next day, his day off, he could hardly wait to get downtown to the theatrical supply outlet. He knew that if he was going make a big splash this year, his outfit would have to truly be out of this world. The clerks were few, but their knowledge was phenomenal. He eventually had enough supplies to make a dozen devils. After racing back home, he began composing all the elements for his breathtakingly ‘devilish’ design. His pinstriped suit was black and flaming red, his pointed boots—deep cherry, and his face, hands, neck and ears were all painted bright red. Even his hair was dyed a flaming red and spiked, complete with two curved horns. With pitchfork in hand and faux fangs in his mouth, he could have scared the devil himself! “Ha! Let’s see them in hysterics over this. I’ll have them hiding under the stage in sheer terror!”

man with devilish appearance with red candlelight underneath face

He arrived at the hall hours early, but the line to get in was already over two blocks long. “I can’t just stand here all afternoon,” Mitch thought as he surveyed the crowd. “Even fifteen minutes will take away most of the effectiveness of this outfit.” After driving around awhile, he discovered a place he could slip in unnoticed. He gloated to himself about how he just parked and passed hundreds of people in only ten minutes. “Why, I didn’t even pay the admission. My, my, how evil I am!”

Once inside the auditorium, Mitch was stunned by how lavishly the building had been transformed. After severely startling three people and causing another to faint, he decided to sit in a darkened corner and nap until the crowd really filled the building. Loud trumpet blasts from the band soon awakened him, so Mitch decided the time was now right to make his entry. Assorted screams and gasps emanated from those at the tables he passed as he made his way over and sat down. All eyes were on him as he slowly lifted his head and looked around, or so he thought.

But, across the vast room, there was another man drawing the attention of almost everyone in sight. His eyes captivated anyone who looked at him. They were totally enamored with him. It seemed that everything he said or did left them in awe. But he had no costume. He was simply dressed impeccably instead. No suit in the world could even remotely come close to the one he wore. Even his hair was styled perfectly.

Mitch was crestfallen. He had one of the most striking costumes in the building, but it was no match for this individual. He tried parading about with a vicious sneer and an evil laugh that would chill anyone’s spine, while shaking and pointing vigorously with his pitchfork, but to little avail. Almost everyone gravitated toward the slick and amiable stranger. Finally admitting defeat, he decided to leave. On his way out, he passed near the man of the hour. As he glanced over in the other man’s direction, he paused as he was conversing with the multitude and remarked: “Hey, nice outfit. I appreciate the publicity.” Mitch nodded in return, finding himself totally unable to speak. He finally broke free from the hold this guy seemed to have on him and managed to leave. But the man’s words continued to ring in his head. He blurted out, “Who does he think he is, the devil himself?” as he walked toward his motorcycle.

When the word ‘devil’ is mentioned, the most common image that comes to mind is some creature resembling Mitch in his outfit. This is just what the devil wants us to believe. While there is no denying that the inhabitants of the underworld are grotesque, the fact of the matter is that deception is not usually presented by slimy, repulsive, obnoxious and horrifying creatures. We are, instead, most easily fooled by what is familiar to us. As master of lies and deception, the devil loves to make himself and his work look extremely appealing, while at the same time, it is breaking us down and destroying us.

If someone quickly ran up to us in a terrifying costume with arms waving about and a deep growl in his voice, we’d most likely flee for our life. We wouldn’t calmly stand there and engage him in pleasant conversation. Yet the devil himself, or one of his demons, can casually stroll up to us in a fine suit with fine speech and great charisma and we are totally mesmerized. When the devil came to Eve back in the Garden of Eden, he did not scare her into disobeying God. He was subtle and pleasing, and he even used God’s word (incorrectly, of course) to deceive her.

The devil uses any available means that will make us more susceptible and vulnerable, such as alcohol, drugs (legal or illegal), pornography, audio, video (like certain kinds of music, movies, video games, and television) and even what we eat.

As our resistance goes down, a door opens spiritually for his ‘helpers’ (demons) to enter our life. We may not always be actually occupied by these spiritual entities, yet we may still allow them to control us. This is why the Bible warns us to keep far from evil. Look all throughout the Old Testament and you’ll find instances where people fell for the devil’s charm and deception and became corrupted.

The point is, we are not to be fooled. The Bible speaks of the devil as “transformed into [masquerading as] an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) and as a roaring lion, [who] walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is also mentioned as one who “cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). The devil plays for keeps, using anything and everything within his power to try to deceive us and bring us down. But we don’t need to fear him, since his power over us is only as great as we allow it to be.

When Jesus sacrificed His life at the cross, He took away the devil’s power and authority over the children of God. When we stand on that finished work of Jesus and His victory on the cross, then we can have victory over the devil too. The key to victory is to increase and deepen our relationship with Him. Just saying that we have received Him into our heart is not enough. We must follow up and cultivate that bond through prayer and reflecting deeply on his Word. On the other hand, the less time we spend with God, the more vulnerable we become to the devil’s subtleties. As a result, we actually give him power over us, because we have turned our eyes off of Jesus and onto whatever the devil cleverly tries to slip in. He knows he has already been defeated by Jesus, but continues to do his best to keep this revelation away from us.

Don’t be entranced by his masquerade as a suave, savvy and reputable being. Keep your focus on Jesus instead, and leave it there, and you won’t be fooled when the devil masquerades in front of you.

Spiritual Property Theft

a graphic of a masked thief of intellectual or spiritual property evading a policeman

(Image credit: Montage by author, unmodified graphic by Mohamed Hasen/Pixabay)

Josef enjoyed his work as senior engineer at Applied Technological Counter-analysis Systems. He emigrated to the United States from Europe more than 35 years ago and became a U.S. citizen several years later. He had always considered the United States to be a place of innovation and promise. Numerous patents were in his portfolio, along with electronic part designs and technical drawings for potential government communication equipment.

His son Giorgio is a professional musician and filmmaker whose name can be found on more than 26 different albums on the market. Many of his films have successfully made their way through the global film market, including more than 10 documentaries which have been nominated for, or have won, top awards. Josef’s daughter, Maria, an artist, author, and website designer, has also won numerous accolades for her work. Many of her books have risen to the national bestseller lists.

But over the past several years, Josef has grown increasingly aware of unusual activity both at work and at home. His biggest suspicion arose after an unexpected visit by several old classmates from the college he attended in Europe. Their visit was congenial, and all were very eager to examine his design work and read many reports he had archived long ago. One claimed to be researching material for a documentary he was writing, but whenever Josef inquired about it, a vague answer was the only reply.

His son and daughter also discovered their work in parts of the world where they have no distribution network. Maria was visiting an Asian country recently where she discovered a painting of hers for sale. She was alarmed that the signature on it was not hers, and that there were ten more just like it! She had never painted more than one of any of her works at any point in her career. Another time, Giorgio heard a song that he wrote and performed being played on a child’s music player, with no credit being given to him. It was a low quality counterfeit of one from a major toy manufacturer. They have even found some of their movies, books and poetry redistributed under someone else’s name.

The final straw came when Josef’s employer recently approached him about a design he had drawn up for a government contract the company had secured. That design had taken him many weeks to put together. Now the company wanted to know why a foreign manufacturer had not only already put the design into actual production, but had also released it for sale to the wholesale industrial market. After much consultation and collaboration with the government and the company’s legal department, Josef found that he, his company, and his children had all been victims of intellectual property (IP) theft.

This story is fictitious, but the actual concept is all too real. IP theft is a serious and difficult crime to combat that has been increasing steadily for several decades. Intellectual property basically consists of ownership of an intellectual creation, i.e., something that a person comes up from his own mind. It can include, but is not limited to: formulas, logos, books, movies, software, works of art, inventions, copyrights, trademarks, patents, literature, trade secrets, and client lists.

Losses due to IP theft add up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually. As nations are becoming more globally connected, IP theft will only continue to rise. While economic loss is a significant part of the problem, the negative impact on creators of intellectual property can be just as great also. The vast amount of creative labor now being exploited is already incalculable. As technology advances by leaps and bounds, it won’t be long before no amount of government intervention will be able to fully reign in all of the counterfeiting and piracy of goods and ideas.

Yet an even greater kind of thievery has already been active for many centuries, which could be called “spiritual property” theft.

This happens when the devil counterfeits what God has created or instituted. The devil, once known as Lucifer, was the greatest of the angels and the choirmaster of Heaven. He tried to capitalize on his superiority by attempting to commit mutiny against God Himself. This resulted in him being thrown out of Heaven, along with a third of the other angels he also managed to deceive. Ever since then, he has surreptitiously continued to try to thwart and overthrow God. As the great deceiver, he makes every effort to make a nearly identical replica of the works of God in order to deceive us. He knows that he cannot successfully attack God directly, but he can attack through us, who were created “in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1) and are the dearest to His heart.

The devil constantly tries to get us out of God’s hand. He wants us to give up, turn against God, and come back into his world. Then he can boast to God about how His plan doesn’t work. The world is really just a battleground between the devil and God, with us caught up in the middle! This is why “spiritual” property theft is a far greater offense than anything else in this world. The Bible says “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10).

The devil cannot create anything original; therefore he mimics, duplicates, or outright steals the works of God.

Thousands of years of experience observing the human race has made him extremely knowledgeable about man, to the point that he knows even more about us than we know about ourselves. He well knows how to deceive us to the point that we might even believe that he is Jesus Himself. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Therefore, as believers in Christ, it is imperative that we rightly establish ourselves in our relationship with Him. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). We are to look solely to Him, not some cheap imitation who will only lead us astray. Jesus is true and genuine; all else is just a lousy counterfeit. When He sacrificed His life on the cross and then rose again, He took away the ground for the devil to stand on. Jesus warned us to “…take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” (Luke 21:8).

With intellectual property theft, the value of the created item or idea is reduced as more and more pirated items are acquired, up to the point that the original creation becomes worthless. When we fall for the fake material that the devil promotes as genuine, in place of the real work of God, we do the same thing spiritually. We ultimately make God and His Son of no worth and thereby nullify our relationship with Him. The answer to spiritual property theft is Jesus. Let’s draw near to God in prayer and really seek His face, desiring of Him only that which is true. The more time spent with our Creator and in His Word, the less likely we will be led astray by the imitations of the devil.

Savior or Swine?

pig close-up

“…they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech [beg] thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought [begged] him that he would suffer [command] them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.” (Luke 8:26-39).

We have a two-sided situation here. One side leads to deliverance, victory, and a new life. The other leads to lust for material gain, bondage, and death for all eternity. Looking at the narrative in this manner can alter our overall viewpoint.

Jesus had just crossed over from the west side of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. They had battled it out with a storm of near-hurricane proportions and Jesus had to rescue them because of their unbelief. No sooner had they come ashore than a man possessed by possibly six thousand demons (an incomprehensible amount, to say the least!) approached them in all of his devilish might.

evil eyes

This man was in real bondage. He had no home, no clothes, no control over his own body. He lived in a graveyard among the dead and was compelled by the devil to go into the wilderness, which was also devoid of any real life. He had been bound by demons a long time. Such are the results when we allow the devil to have his way in our lives. He will not take over just our left hand, nor will he be satisfied with just our left hand and our legs. He will not even quit with just our left hand, our legs and our stomach. If you let him into your life, he will take over all of you—from the hairs on your head to the soles of your feet. And he just might bring along a few thousand more of his devils to help keep you under his control.

The only human help this man received was chains and fetters. That primitive solution was rather useless in his day, nor has it improved in this age. We just give the “chains and fetters” more appealing names. The demons broke all of man’s physical restraints as if they were just made of paper.

Man’s help did no good, since he was suffering from a spiritual problem, not a physical one.

It takes a spiritual solution to solve a situation like this—which is why we must let Jesus take care of the problem. We cannot expect a physical solution to solve what is basically a spiritual problem, like addiction to drugs (legal or not), alcohol, lust, pornography, or pride, adultery, demon possession, etc. Man’s solutions try to control the problems; God’s solutions solve the problems.

Jesus was not deterred the least bit by these demons, because He had authority over the situation. In fact, they knew who He was before He opened His mouth. How sad when demon spirits acknowledge what the religious leaders would and could not! The leaders had studied the Bible most of their lives, yet they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the promised Deliverer (even after His death and resurrection). The demons possessing this man were truly terrified when Jesus appeared on the scene. They thought He was going to order them to their prison in the bottomless pit. So they begged Him to send them into some swine nearby instead. Jesus granted their request, and then the whole herd rushed into a nearby lake and drowned.

Some may see this as odd and may even sympathize with the pigs. The reason Jesus allowed this lies in God’s laws given long ago when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:7). Pigs were considered unclean for the Jews and were forbidden in the land.

These swine owners were violating God’s law, and even making a living off of it.

Now read the real irony: “…the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.” A man had just been delivered from thousands of demons by Jesus. Yet the locals wanted Jesus to leave, because their livelihood had been ruined! They cared not one bit about this man. As long as he remained in demonic bondage, no strangers would dare to venture through that area (and discover the illegal swine being raised there).

Are you like this demon-possessed man, struggling to be free, yet receiving nothing but more bondage? You may not have thousands of demons raging inside of you, but you may still be under the devil’s control. Or are you like the locals whose livelihood was derived from something directly against God’s law? They had no concern about the horrible agony, torture, and bondage the demon-possessed man was going through. But the locals reacted with great fear over what Jesus had done for him. They did not want their sinful livelihood exposed. They valued material gain more than victory over bondage, sin, and death. They rejected the Savior of the world for a multitude of swine. In the end, Jesus left. The Bible never mentions Him returning to that region.

person set free

When Jesus freed this man from all of those demons, he was truly set free. The next mention of him, he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind…” (v. 35). No follow-up treatment, no prescriptions, no therapy, and no long-term counseling. He went back to his home city eventually (the city of the swine owners), proclaiming what wonderful things Jesus had done for him. Jesus is also able to set you free, if you will only come to Him. And “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

cross silhouette

Jesus was led by His Father (through the Holy Spirit) to cross a raging sea in order to set one person in desperate need free. Jesus could have remained on the opposite shore and left him that way. But Jesus loved him so much that He was willing to endure a treacherous journey to deliver one man from demonic control. The swine owners and all who came with them to meet Jesus could have been set free from their bondages that day as well, but they refused, and told Jesus to leave.

Jesus also came to deliver you from the bondage of the devil. Which will you choose: the Savior, or the swine?

For more information about giving your life to Jesus, click here.

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.

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.