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.

Are Pieces Missing in Your Puzzle?

missing puzzle piece

Have you ever felt like your life is one big puzzle—like you were born as a thousand-piece puzzle—and each year, thousands more pieces have been added?

Even though your parents might have assembled some of this puzzle for you as you were growing up, does it seem like you have had to figure out the rest by yourself? Have you tried really hard to put your puzzle together, only to have a major event, or even a tragedy, come and break apart hundreds of the assembled pieces, like a large puzzle on a table that has been pushed partially over the edge? Or did you ever feel like someone put all of your pieces into a box abruptly, and then shelved them out of sight for several months, or even years?

Maybe you feel like you aren’t able to figure out where many of the pieces belong, and everybody you ask for help doesn’t want to be bothered. Or, even worse, they do ‘help’ by forcing pieces of your puzzle into the wrong place! Maybe it seems like someone slips in and steals the very pieces you need when you aren’t looking.

Have you reached a point in your life where you just can’t seem to find the final pieces that would make your puzzle complete? In fact, do you even know what the finished puzzle of your life is supposed to look like? Does anybody know?

closeup of incomplete puzzle

There is someone who does know you and the way your puzzle will turn out, even better than you know yourself. This ‘someone’ is God. He knew you before you were even conceived. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee…” (Jeremiah 1:5), the Bible tells us. When God created human beings, it was never His intention for them to function solely on their own. God wants you to be dependent on Him. The problem often is that, knowingly or unknowingly, you left Him at some point; but He will never willingly leave you. “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). If He ever does withdraw from you, it is only because you do not want Him. This means that you want to do it your way, or do it by yourself, instead.

missing piece of puzzle

When you look at your life as a complex puzzle that you can’t totally assemble, you are looking at it from the angle of your own strength and understanding.All of your struggles and fears or worries and confusion come from trying to solve a situation that you can’t possibly solve by yourself.

Even if you go to someone else to help solve your puzzle, you are still sidestepping God. The only way to achieve complete satisfaction—real and lasting happiness and victory over life’s situations—is to surrender your life and all of your attempts to solve this puzzle by yourself over to God.

photo puzzle missing pieces

God is the only One who knows what the picture on the puzzle of your life will look like when it is complete. When He first formed you, He did not include the final ‘missing’ pieces of your puzzle. He did this because He wants to be the One to complete your puzzle. He wants to fill that void in your heart that nothing else can fill.

No matter what you try to do on your own to make your puzzle complete, without Him, it will never work.

You might try to cut up a piece from another puzzle and force it in, or you may try to make your own pieces. Either way, improper replacements will only leave you feeling empty inside in the end. Let Him complete your puzzle in the way that He knows is best. No other way will satisfy.

If you are interested more about completing your life’s puzzle with God, click here.

Fine Castles Are Not Made With Wet Sand

sandcastle with wave

When I was a child, my family preferred to go to the beach whenever possible for vacations—not so much for the sun or to swim, but more to take in the refreshing air and relaxing sounds of the surf. I never cared to go swimming, never wanted to ride on the waves, or even to go wading in water higher than my waist. This is mostly due to one small detail—not being able to swim! My particular fondness was building sandcastles. I enjoyed creating grand structures in the sand, particularly in forming them dangerously close to the water’s edge. I doubt that any king would have wanted to reside in the ‘castles’ that I formed though! In fact, I think he would be in a constant state of fear, considering how close these ‘fortresses’ would be to the incoming waves.

I would naturally build some kind of retaining wall, perhaps even two or three, to help protect the ‘castle’ that would eventually rise up from the sand. (I’m using the word ‘castle’ loosely here, since the end result of my endeavors only vaguely resembled anything a self-respecting monarch would live in!) I have found that, no matter how carefully I would take handfuls of dripping wet sand and try to construct something with them, when I finished almost nothing resembling a building remained. It did not matter how hard or how fast I tried to use the sand. The mixture would soon just dissolve into the sand around it, if not first swept away by an incoming wave.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might [show] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Have you ever thought about the fact that our own works we do for God are much like building fine castles with handfuls of wet sand? They ultimately prove to be futile, without any lasting merit. It doesn’t matter how much work we do on our own to try to make ourselves right before God. In His eyes, these efforts are worth nothing more than a pile of wet sand. If we decide that we are going to clean ourselves up before we come to Him, we are just wasting our time.

beach with person

At the beginning of each new calendar year, we have lots of great ambitions to lose pounds and pounds of weight, read numerous books, fix everything broken in our home or vehicle, visit places all over the world, maybe even clean up our lives and make ourselves right with God, as well as with everyone else. Yet, after just a few months (or even a few days), these great ambitions soon fizzle out. We find ourselves in the end not much better than we were the year before. Why does this happen? because we do it all by our own strength and effort. To put it bluntly, God does not need our help (or even us, for that matter). Whenever we try to do God’s work for Him, or try to help Him with His work, we are doing it without Him. Yet it is only by the grace of God that we can even be here today.

What is God’s grace? Many views and explanations have been put forth. But, in a nutshell, His grace is His perfect love (something we, as finite beings, can’t truly understand) and favor for us that makes Him willing to overlook our faults and shortfalls, even though we don’t really deserve anything but death eternally in Hell. Grace is continuously flowing from Him, but that does not mean that it automatically flows over or covers us. We need to first accept it, and then to be obedient to His commandments and His will.

We can only do this by accepting the sacrifice that His Son, Jesus Christ, made on the cross over two thousand years ago for our sins as our own, done for every man, woman and child who ever lived.

There is nothing we can do by ourselves to earn His grace or favor. No human being, or even the angels above, can earn His favor.

We need to come humbly before Him instead and yield our lives to Him. We need to turn completely in the opposite direction in our sinful ways, willing to totally forsake them. We can’t remain in their shadow  and also be successful with Him.

At the same time, this needs to be a continual effort. Whether you accepted Christ and became a believer decades ago, or only just recently, you need to come humbly before God, our Heavenly Father, daily, and yield to Him. For many, the act of surrender is considered a one-time event. But God expects it every day. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 emphasis mine).

This is not some type of asceticism, but rather, not allowing our old sinful self to continue to control us. If we are not surrendering ourself to God every day, we are operating on our own plan. Then all our efforts become just futile works, not worth much more than elaborate castles built of piles of wet sand. This ultimately will lead us to boasting about our works, thereby leaving God out of the picture.

Don’t try to please God with your own works, thereby nullifying the finished and complete work of Jesus at the cross. Yield to God instead, and trust Him do all of the works for you.

–James Pangburn

Board Games and Jesus

game_card_1

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” Luke 9:23-25

When I was growing up, I was always open to playing a board game. But many times, when I couldn’t find a second player (since I am an only child) I would resort to my alternate lineup: me, myself and I! Trying to play objectively with myself (as a whole, not the specific player) as an imaginary player was interesting. Usually, the games came out about equal regarding which one of ‘me’ would win (although Scrabble was definitely not in my lineup as a solo game!). A fairly basic and typical pool of games was played in our home, consisting of: Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, Parcheesi, Payday, Easy Money, Mousetrap (one of my favorites), etc. Most of these are rather lengthy and involved, so they would often run late into the night. They therefore weren’t played as often as I’d have liked. Two games had a set of cards obtained individually either by a particular roll of the dice or a number spun on a wheel. Depending on the particular game, it could send you to a specific space on the board, require you to pay or collect a certain amount, or obligate a player to share half of the wealth gained or pay half of the loss acquired at a later time. The cards most prized exempted you from sharing your wealth or paying most fines, etc., for as long as you held the card.

Many people continue to carry the game-playing mentality into real life all through their lives, long after childhood ends. To them, Heaven becomes just a goal they are trying to win, and Jesus Christ becomes merely the means of obtaining their goal.

They feel that when they “get saved,” they are on the winning side and the game is almost finished.

Accepting Jesus is seen as their ‘get-into-Heaven-free’ card. As long as they keep out of ‘real’ trouble and do what they feel is right, when they die they can just hand their winning card as their entry pass to the angel at the gates of Heaven (or to Peter, as some have been taught). Then off they go to their magnificent mansion (or cloud) high above the sky.

The concept of surrender, sacrifice, and obedience never has entered their minds (or they did not want it to enter their minds). A growing movement believes that when you accept Jesus into your heart, God removes all sin from your life permanently. Some groups go to the level that even the whole concept of sin has been done away with.

“Sin is only in unbelievers. Jesus came and took care of all sin, and therefore when I gave my heart to Jesus I became free from sin forever” has become the general (but not literal) cry of this crowd. Even mention of the word ‘sin’ in a believer’s life is taboo, because they feel that this brings something back into existence that has been eliminated.

But in reality, these views are quite far from the truth. In his determination to keep us from following God, the Devil figures that if he can’t stop us from giving our lives to Christ, he will twist God’s word (the Bible) into something that sounds pleasing to our old self. If we listen, it will keep our new self from growing in the knowledge of God. Meanwhile, he creates the illusion (of which he is a master) that we are pleasing God all along. At the same time, he succeeds in keeping us out of a true relationship with Jesus (and ultimately out of Heaven). This paradox grows greater every day, especially as the Bible is forsaken for alternative teachings, or for what the latest bestselling author has to say, or for an ‘offend-no-one’ message in a church (or what once was called a church!). So much of the Bible has been taken out of context lately that it recently reached the list of banned books used as a guideline for schools, libraries, booksellers, etc.

The truth of the matter is, that when we give our hearts to Jesus, our old self, commonly known as ‘the flesh’ (the part of us that wants to live for the sinful pleasures of this world) has to give way to Jesus. The process is not optional, nor is it an easy one. Choruses are sung about “surrender” and “giving our all to Him,” about giving Him our lives and letting Him use them for His purpose, etc. Yet very few ever stop to ponder in their hearts what’s really being said or meant.

Jesus can’t be the Lord of our lives if we continue to be the lord. Our ‘self’ or ‘the flesh’ enjoys the idea of the joy, peace, and power He gives us when we accept Him. But it absolutely balks, almost in sheer rebellion, at having to yield totally to Jesus.

As a result, we have this determination and zeal to serve Him in our spirit, the opposite of our flesh, but the dominance of our flesh drives us to follow the sinful passions of this world.

God is a holy God, and He cannot allow any sin in His presence. So the Devil comes along and gladly offers to redefine sin for us! This satisfies our sinful flesh, and we no longer allow more of Jesus into our lives so we can become what God wants us to be. This begins our downfall as a believer in Christ.

The spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) within us cannot cohabit with our sinful flesh. Either the flesh goes, or He goes. He expects us to forsake our sinful ways, not accommodate them.

This world is no longer our true home; therefore, we should not continue to live our lives as if it is. God has a much, much better place for us. Nothing rots, decays or grows weary there. Due to sin, this present world is corrupt and dying, and never will provide true satisfaction. But as long as we continue to allow the world to dominate our flesh, we will never have real peace, and ultimately will die with it.

This doesn’t mean we have to allow ourselves to be tied up and left in a locked room, or abandoned in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat, and then cry out, “Jesus! I’m all yours now! Do whatever you want to me!” Instead, we need to stop trying in our own self or flesh to please Him, to do His work for Him as if we are going to win an extra turn or bonus points in the game. We need to allow Him the freedom to use us in the way He wants to. This doesn’t mean He’ll automatically send us to an unknown land where we don’t know the language or anyone at all, and they don’t know, or even want, us. Rather, it demonstrates to Him that we are open and willing to do His will, whatever it may be. If we refuse in one area, then He won’t use us in all areas. It’s like being in total control of a country, except for a small minority in the backside of the capital city that is holding out just in case something goes wrong. If that is the case, then you’re not in total control of that country. Ultimately, God wants us to surrender our authority over ourselves. When we “surrender all (as the popular chorus goes), all means 100 percent, not 50, not 85, or even 99 percent.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33

I ask you now, how much of your life are you going to yield to God? Are you going to allow your old self to reign? Are you going to continue playing life as a game, living like you please, flaunting your get-into-Heaven-exemption-card when troubles arise? Are you going to continue singing “I surrender all” when you are not surrendering all (or even some)? Are you spending time reading and studying God’s Word and communing with Him in prayer?

Prayer is not just a time of presenting our needs and petitions to God, but rather a time to align ourselves with His will.

As we surrender and submit ourselves to Him, we’ll find that the sinful (and even non-sinful) pleasures and desires of this world are not so pleasurable, and are actually appalling.

Let the finished work of Christ by His death on the Cross be the target of your faith and belief, not the latest self-help book, or ‘Christian’ fad on the Internet. Jesus loves you and wants all of you, not just whatever portion you can easily or conveniently give up to Him.

–James Pangburn

A Tool Yielded

collection of antiques

“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” 2 Tim. 2:19-21

When was the last time you used a tool? If you are like many individuals, you would probably say it was when you repaired _______ [fill in the blank] with a screwdriver, hammer, wrench, saw, etc. a few days, or weeks, or even months ago. Yet many do not realize that they actually use tools all the time. As I type this illustration, I am using a tool commonly known as a computer; even the keyboard I am typing on is a tool. When you looked at your social media site today or called someone, you probably used another common tool—a cell-phone (or mobile phone).

When you write something, whether it is with a pen, pencil, marker, crayon, or the stylus on a smart phone, you are using a tool. If you are cutting carrots, mixing together a cake batter, sawing a tree, laying asphalt for a road, or sewing on a button, you are again using a tool (or multiple ones).

old pipe wrench

When you give your heart to Jesus and establish a personal relationship with Him, you are allowing God to use you as His tool. This means that you need to yield to Him for the best results. Since man-made tools are inanimate objects, when you use a tool for the purpose it was designed for, it naturally yields itself to that purpose. A screwdriver doesn’t suddenly bend its shaft into a U-shape as you press it against a screw head, and then restore itself back to its original position afterward. A pen won’t draw the ink back into itself in the middle of writing a note. A computer or smart phone won’t jump out of your hand or off of your lap or desk and change the oil in someone’s vehicle. Neither will a golf club jump out of your hands in the middle of a swing and start chasing the birds around the golf course.

When we resist doing what God intends to do with us, it is like a blender full of liquid refusing to spin when the power is applied. All that will happen is that the motor will burn out, or a fuse or circuit breaker will stop the power from operating it. It seemed to think it had a right to decide for itself and refused to spin its blades. All that is affected is us (or the blender).

God is not affected and neither is the operator of the blender. Unless we give up and yield to God, He will just use someone else to accomplish the work and will put us though this process again and again at a later time until we do ultimately yield to Him.

quill pen

Many times we think we can ‘help’ God more if we do His work without Him or without His approval. Ever seen a doorknob fall out of a door, roll over, and start pumping out someone’s swimming pool? How about a fire extinguisher that jumps off of a wall and starts sewing your clothes? These examples may sound humorously absurd, but that, in essence, is what we do with God. He may use us as a tool in one area, and then we decide that we know what will help Him even more, and go work on something entirely different and unrelated in another area.

When we do something for God, or reach out to someone for Him without seeking His will first, we are no longer yielding to Him, but are putting our own interests before His instead.

We are no longer putting our total trust in what He is doing in or through us, His tool. We should be living our lives with so much concentration on Christ that we are not even aware that we are being used as God’s tool.

Yield yourself as a tool to God your Heavenly Father, and He will use you in the way that He knows is best for the benefit of His kingdom. Don’t resist or flee from Him (read the book of Jonah in the Bible) and miss out on the blessing He has for you.

–James Pangburn