Casting Away Our Garment

A color slide of a pair of seated beggars in Alexandria, Egypt.

Many of us have at least one item in our possession that we hold onto for security. It might be a particular article of clothing, a piece of jewelry, an official document, some kind of correspondence or a card, or it could even be just a toy, book, or stuffed animal. For some, it is not a tangible object, but is instead found only in the heart. Whatever it is for each of us, we value it greatly and refuse to let go of it.

While it is not necessarily wrong to have something to fall back on in times of distress and uncertainty, it is a real matter of concern when the reason or need for this item is removed—yet we still continue to hold onto it anyway. Some will never give it up for the rest of their lives.

There was once a blind man who sat along the highway outside the city of Jericho in the Middle East begging long ago. How he became this way, we are not told. He had a garment with him that he would have used during the day to collect support from travelers passing by, and at night for protection from the elements.

When Jesus was leaving the area on His one and only trip to Jericho, He walked in the vicinity of this blind beggar. The man already knew who Jesus was and what He was capable of doing, because we read in the book of Mark that “…when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47).

Now Jesus could have passed by him and kept on going, but this was not in God’s plan. So “…Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they called the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; He calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:49,50 emphasis added). We know this piece of clothing was essential to his well-being as a beggar outside of the city. For him to throw it aside meant that he no longer needed it.

The beggar could have brought it with him when he went to Jesus, as a precaution. But, by letting go of it and throwing it aside, he fully demonstrated that his trust was in Jesus to set him free of his blindness once and for all. Even after Jesus healed him, he did not go back, pick it up, and resume sitting by the roadside. Instead, he “followed Jesus in the way (verse 52). He wanted to be with the One who opened his eyes, the One he knew would be true to His nature and His word.

God wants us to let go of whatever we have been clinging to for our security throughout our life. He wants us to give it up totally, toss it aside, and believe in Him to make us whole and to set us free. The blind beggar cast his garment aside before Jesus even touched Him, because he was already believing that He would restore his sight. This beggar was capable of believing God and doing this over two thousand years ago, and we are just as able to do the same thing now—thanks to the victory Jesus made possible for us through His sacrifice on the cross.

Where is that “old garment” you have been depending on right now? Is it still in your possession, even after He has delivered you from your physical or spiritual blindness? Or is there something you are keeping by your side ‘just in case’ things do not work out? If so, cast it away now and leave it behind forever; you do not need it anymore. Do not let doubt and unbelief take away the deliverance Jesus has made possible in your life. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

 

[Image credit:Brooklyn Museum]

Look Up to Me

upward view of a rope with knot at end hanging down from a large tree

The young woman ran wildly among the trees near the shore of the island in a frenzied attempt to escape a pack of wild dogs chasing her. After making a sharp turn to the left, she suddenly slipped into a patch of quicksand. The dogs picked up a new scent along the way, thankfully, and shifted their pursuit to another creature, which quickly began to run in the opposite direction. But the woman now had a new problem to deal with, and it was not waiting for her to figure out a solution.

Slowly but surely, the sand was pulling her in deeper and deeper.

At first, she thought it was not a serious problem, and began grabbing any nearby objects and branches. She quickly determined that this was pointless, since everything she pulled broke off or slid in with her. So she attempted to wade her way out, and even tried a light swimming maneuver. Both proved hopeless as her body became more engulfed in the thick, soft ground.

Since she had not seen anyone else around to help her, panic set in and loud screams emanated from her mouth.  

Meanwhile, the burly captain of a boat tied to a dock around the bend nearby had heard her shrieks. He dropped everything and ran as rapidly as he could to the place where she was trapped. He saw a large tree with sturdy branches hanging over the young woman, so he picked up some strong, thick rope lying not far from where he was and quickly climbed the tree. He crawled cautiously out to the place right on top of where she was stranded. After securing the rope tightly, he made a crude loop for her to grab, and slowly began to lower it down.

By this time, the woman was at the point of utter desperation. While her arms thrashed about in sheer terror, she frantically looked around for something, anything, she could get her hands on—only to discover nothing anywhere nearby.

Feelings of doom and death flooded her mind as she began to give up hope.

She thought about her husband she had recently married, and how he would handle the loss and emptiness after her departure. Her mood shifted to gloom as she brooded on the idea that she would never see the smiling faces of the children they would have had. There would be no home to spruce up for him or anyone else each day. In fact, there would be no more days to see anything, since she was sure her life was about to end.

She moaned loudly in hopelessness and agony as she realized that all prospects of rescue were gone. All she could think of was her terrible misery.

Suddenly, right above her head, a voice bellowed “Stop looking at yourself. Look up to me!”

The young woman looked left and right but saw no one. Thinking she was becoming delirious, she groaned louder. Again, the voice thundered: “Stop looking at yourself and look up to me!” The woman was more startled than anything else, as she turned her head around in all different directions. It wasn’t until she finally glanced upward that she noticed the rope dangling right beside her.

“Take the rope, put your arms in the loop, and lower it around yourself,” the captain hollered sternly. The woman grabbed hold of the line and pulled the loop under her arms and held onto the rope, while the captain used the leverage of another branch to slowly pull her up to the limb he was perched on.

“How can I ever thank you? I thought it was the end for me!” she exclaimed breathlessly as she sat beside him. “How in the world did you know I needed help?” The captain was silent while he helped the woman climb down the tree.

Then, as they walked back to his boat, he paused and remarked, “I heard your call in the beginning. I knew you couldn’t make it on your own. So I dropped everything and ran to where you were.”

With that, he motioned her to join him, saying “Come on, you can clean up, and then I’ll take you to the other shore.”

How many in this world today feel trapped like that young woman—not in quicksand, but in their own pain, desolation, and anguish? While trying to escape from one dangerous mishap, they end up stuck in another instead. And all too often, for many it is their last.

The problem is that they only keep their eyes on themselves and their circumstances, looking to themselves alone for the solution. They therefore end up struggling and trying all kinds of unsuccessful methods to get free from the bad situation that they are trapped in.

They leave God out of the picture, so their life becomes hopelessly lost. Eventually they reach a point of feeling like there is no one else around who could really help, and no way out.

Depression and despair set in and their outlook becomes grim. After one more desperate cry for help, they slump down defeated, and all but give up. They finally concede that their dilemma is greater than they are able to solve.

This is when they finally hear a voice from deep within their soul crying, “Stop looking at yourself and look up to Me!” Here is their solution. When they looked at themselves alone, their bad situation had no hope of ending well.

Only when they look up to Jesus will they find the answer that will save them.

The means of rescue is hovering right above them, like it was with the young woman in this story—if they will only look up and not look to themselves. As long as they stay focused on their dire condition, they will never be able to make their way out on their own. If they refuse to turn their eyes toward Jesus and depend on Him for their deliverance, they will continue to sink deeper in their sorrow.

When Jesus hears the desperate and sincere cries for help from our heart, like the captain of the boat did, He immediately comes to our aid.

If we put our trust in Him, He will extract us from the mire and pull us up to a secure place. He will even clean off our filth. And not only that, He will also invite us to follow Him to the other shore. All of this He willingly does, even though we don’t deserve any of it.

Do you find yourself running away from one problem, only to find yourself trapped in another, unable to find a way out? Have you been trying to free yourself, and all of your attempts have only made the predicament even worse? Then quit focusing on what you are going through and how you will solve it yourself. Look up to Jesus for your help instead. He is your only solution and He is listening for your call for help.

“…for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

He is lowering your rescue rope right now, waiting for you to put your trust in Him, so He can deliver you from your difficulty.

 

[Image credit:Matthew Maaskant/freeimages.com)

“God Is For Me”

Wood cut by Gustave Dore of Sennacherib's Army is Destroyed

How often do we go through our walk with the Lord, thinking that there is no place where we feel like our enemies would not gladly engulf us? It seems as if every time we turn around, a new hurdle, hindrance, or attack comes against us. In some instances, even what we say is twisted and used against us. We may seek help frequently from those we know around us, but it does little to ward off the trials we encounter daily. In the midst of our tears, we find ourselves calling out to God, unsure what our next step should be.

King David, one of the greatest leaders ever of a kingdom, struggled with the same sort of problems we often encounter today.

This same David single-handedly defeated the mighty giant Goliath—the powerful strongman of the same Philistines that David came up against when he wrote Psalm fifty-six.

Every day, he faced these enemies. In verse two he said, “Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.”

Later in this psalm David said, “Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul” (Psalm 56:5,6).

If this was the whole thrust of this psalm, we could easily declare his situation utterly hopeless, with no solution in sight.

Thankfully, he did not indulge himself in worrying about despair and sufferings, as seen in the rest of this passage: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise His word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me…When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me. In God will I praise His word: in the Lord will I praise His word. In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me. Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee” (Psalm 56:3,4,9-12).

David’s attitude through all of this is clear: he trusted in God and gave Him praise. We cannot go wrong when we turn our situation over to God and let Him handle it.

Remember, it is not our faith that bring results; it is His faithfulness. The psalmist declares “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (Psalms 36:5) and “Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth” (Psalm 119:90).

Notice what he also said in Psalm fifty-six: “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (verse 1). When we are fearful of those around us, or in the situation coming at us, then we have slipped out of trusting in God and have started focusing on our self. See what happened to Peter when Jesus called for him to step out and walk on the water. “…He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31).

When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. Yet, even then, he still cried out to Him to help him—and Jesus did!

Peter could have floundered around in the rough water trying to save himself, or called on the others in the boat to help him. Instead, he put his trust in the Lord again to deliver him from drowning.

Three times in this short psalm David stated that he put his trust in the Lord. Four times he gave God praise. The more God repeats something in His Word, the more that we need to heed it.

Even though the Philistines were coming against him, David placed his trust in the Lord and His Word. His situation was desperate, but he remained confident that God would take care of Him, and praised Him before the victory even happened.

If Israel’s mightiest leader could cry out to God and trust in Him, so can we, as believers in Jesus Christ—the son of David, and the Son of God!

The victory Jesus won through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross became our victory too. By putting our faith and trust in His finished work, we no longer need to be worried about what our enemies want to do to us.

Jesus already defeated the enemy—all we need to do is to rest in His victory, confident in Him that He will save us. David said, “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me” (Psalm 56:9 emphasis added). 

Even the Apostle Paul affirmed in the book of Romans, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 10:31 emphasis added).

Therefore, when problems mount against you, or the enemy is close at hand, do not run away or hide in fear. Cry out to the Lord and believe in Him. Give Him praise for who He is and what He is going to do. Do not doubt or let your faith in Him waver. Put your trust in Him alone and let Him take care of the circumstances. Keep David’s words in mind, “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).

 

[Image credit: Gustave Doré/public domain]

My Joy and Your Joy

sepia photo of man with arms raised standing on rocky ground facing towards large body of water on cloudy day

“These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled” (John 15:11).

The Joy of Christ

“My joy” here means the joy that is Christ’s. This is what He desires for His disciples to possess, by which He can then, as a consequence, guarantee that we will be truly blessed. And what was His joy?—absolute self-surrender of Himself to His Father—the joy of doing what the heavenly Father sent Him here to do. He declared, “I am come to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9).

His joy was the joy of self-sacrifice in continual obedience to His Father.

Jesus also said, “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 fearful” (John 14:27). And just as Jesus gave the disciples His peace, He gave them His joy—the joy of self-sacrificing love. He said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled” (John 15:11). The love of Christ was not the ordinary kind, but the highest kind—the kind that is the greatest and most free from concern, resulting in the greatest self-sacrifice. And the greater the self-sacrifice is, the greater the joy is. Both were perfect in Christ—because He had the joy of perfect self-sacrifice.

Christ’s Confidence of Success

Jesus also had the joy of steady confidence in coming victory and success. He never entertained the slightest doubt concerning the ultimate success of His mission and the result of His coming into this world. But no one else has ever been tried as severely as He was. He was rejected and crucified by His own. But, in spite of this, His joy remained poised and serene. It did not destroy His happiness, nor His confidence in God the Father. His faith in the justice and successful outcome of His cause was never shaken.

The source of the joy Jesus had, and the joy of all His followers, is the joy of union with Him and the Father, of obedience to Him and His commands, and of love to Him and each other.

It is the joy of self-sacrifice, even to the point of suffering and death. It is also the joy of His perfect confidence of the righteousness of their cause and principles, and of total victory in the end. Consequently, the joy of the disciples and their Master came forth from the same source which flows out into an ocean of joy without end.

Christ the Example of joy

Jesus pointed out the source of happiness to His disciples. Both by His rule and His example, He revealed that the only path of real joy is the path of duty. We need to walk this path as He did. We need to dwell in Him as He dwelt in His Father. We need to obey as He did and love as He loved.

We need to be willing to sacrifice ourselves as He was willing to sacrifice Himself.

Then His joy will be in us, and ours will be fulfilled in Him and in ourselves. This is when His joy will be ours–while still being His own. The joy of our Master is fulfilled in the joy of His disciple. And the disciple’s joy is satisfied in his Master.

The Self-sacrifice for Christ

The sacrifice of self at the request of Christ is the path to the highest, most superb, and most godlike joy and gladness of which our human hearts are capable. If His joy is ours, then we can rest assured that our joy will last. We’ll find that it will be filled up to the highest measure of its capacity. It will be elevated and will move forward, always going on to fuller possession of His joy. Our joy will be able to maintain a deeper calm of pure and continual ecstasy. This will create a settled and heavenly bliss for all to whom the Lord has said, “…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

Jesus was the most perfect, beneficial, and inspiring example to His disciples. In one sense, His joy in relation to believers is an illustration of this, while also being a very efficient aid to achieving the same ourselves.

He helps us so that we can help ourselves—by careful imitation of Him as our example.

Jesus prayed that our joy may continue being fulfilled until it is the same as His joy. The question is, will we permit Him to introduce this joy of His to us? And will we continue on to the point of self-sacrifice to obtain the ultimate joy—like He did?

 

[Image credit:Bjørn Heidenstrøm/Flickr]

He Will Never Do It Again

graphic displaying Jesus and Simon the Cyrene carrying cross up hill with a red 'no' circle overlay on top of picture

Many years ago, I heard a song that said, “If He had to do it all again, He’d do it all again.” The song’s overall message tells how great the love of Jesus is. It is true that He loved us so much that, even though there was nothing in us to deserve it, He came to Earth to take away our sins and give us a new life by dying on the cross for us. This song implied (with no expectation of it actually happening) that Jesus’ love for us is so great that He would willingly come and die on the cross again to redeem us. But, in reality, though this never can or will happen. Jesus became fully man when He came to Earth to die for us.

No man can die more than once, including Him. It is therefore impossible for Jesus to return again to die again to redeem us from the curse of sin and death.

When Jesus was on the cross, He made a statement in His final hours that completed God’s plan for the salvation and victory for everyone in the world, past, present and future, who will believe Him. “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up [His spirit]” (John 19:30 emphasis added). He fulfilled all of God’s requirements found in the Old Testament. Throughout His time here on Earth, He satisfied every expectation His Father deemed necessary, in order to re-establish the relationship with Him that man lost due to sin.

Before all that God’s Son accomplished on the cross, sin could be covered only temporarily by the sacrifice of an animal in our place. Therefore, people had to continually go before a priest, who would take the item a person brought to be sacrificed and present it before God on his behalf. There was no real means for someone to go freely before God by himself. A priest and a physical sacrifice had to go before him.

Now Jesus’ finished work on the cross enables us to freely come before God through Jesus as our Great High Priest.

He fulfilled the role of the priest, and He also gave His life as the final and ultimate sacrifice. There is no longer a need for us to offer up an animal, as was previously required.

This is the reason that it is impossible for Jesus “to do it all again.” What He did for us on the cross was final. If He had “to do it all again,” it would mean that the first time was incomplete. It also suggests that when He declared “it is finished,” everything was not accomplished after all, and therefore Jesus made a mistake. To carry this train of thought out even further, for Jesus to be in error would mean that His heavenly Father is wrong as well, since Jesus is always fully obedient to what His Father tells Him. This would contradict the nature and existence of God therefore, resulting in total chaos!

When Jesus came in person to this world to provide the way of deliverance from the curse of sin and death, it was once and for all.

The love of God and His Son for man is so immense, perfect, and infinite that there is no need whatsoever for a ‘repeat performance.’ On the contrary, we need to accept His finished work at the cross as our own, based solely on the first and only time He did it. Jesus is coming back to this Earth again. This time, though, it will not be for another attempt at redeeming man, but rather in judgment for those who have rejected His initial offer of salvation and deliverance, when He died on the cross on their behalf to free them from the power of sin. Everything man needed to come to God was completely provided for then. There is no point in standing around waiting to see if Jesus will ‘do it all again.’ We need to yield our heart to Him now, based on what He has already done on our behalf, while we still can!

If you want more information on how to accept this finished work Jesus made possible during His time here on the Earth for yourself and receive external life, please click here.

 

[Graphic credit (without red slash and circle): raphael/Pixabay]

The Next Move Is Ours

 

In every board game, such as checkers or chess, the first player makes a move and then another move always has to be made, alternating back and forth until the game ends. Whether you go first or second, your opponent will always have to move one of his pieces to another space after you make your move.

While the work Jesus does is not a game, He does expect the same kind of action from us. In many areas during His time of ministry here on Earth He made the first move. Then He expected man to make the next move after Him.

Let’s look at a few examples. We find the narrative of the death of Lazarus in the book of John. Jesus was informed by Mary that her brother Lazarus was sick to the point of death. Jesus could have just said the word and healed him, like He had done on many other occasions. But this time, He chose to wait until after Lazarus died before He traveled to Bethany where he once lived.

When Jesus finally did arrive, Lazarus had already been dead and buried in a cave for four days. At this point nobody believed there was any hope for him. But that did not matter to Jesus, for “with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). When He reached the opening of the cave that had been sealed with a large rock, Jesus told those present to “take ye away the stone” (John 11:39). He made the first effort in regard to raising Lazarus from the dead; now they were to make the next move.

Jesus could have moved the rock Himself, but He wanted to see how much they really wanted Him to work in this predicament.

If they were not willing to take the simple step of removing the barrier to the cave, then why should He continue? “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid” (John 11:41). After a brief prayer to His Heavenly Father, “He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.” (John 11:43-44a). Then “Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44b). It would not have been difficult for Him to go one step further and free Lazarus from his burial cloth right then, but that was not the focus here. Jesus expected the next move to be made by them.

Another example is found in the eighth chapter of Luke. “…behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as He went the people thronged Him” (Luke 8:41-42). Common sense says that Jesus should have ordered the crowd to turn aside, rushed over to the ruler’s house, and healed his daughter while she was still just sick. But Jesus does not follow human common sense; He is only obedient to what His Father desires. Therefore, He allowed Himself to be delayed. When He finally arrived at the ruler’s residence, the man’s daughter was dead.

This time, Jesus did not tell anyone to physically do something. He expected them to: “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole” (Luke 8:50).

The next move was in their hands. Jairus needed to believe that Jesus could bring his daughter back to life. In verses fifty-four and fifty-five, at least one of those present followed through and trusted in Jesus’ faithfulness. “And He put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and He commanded to give her meat.”

Look at one more example found in the fifth chapter of John. In Jerusalem, there was a pool of water that was stirred up periodically by an angel. Whoever entered in during this time would be healed of his infirmity. One man present had been afflicted with a disease for at least thirty-eight years, yet he had not been able to enter into the water in time to be delivered from his condition.

“When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me” (John 5:6-7).

Obviously, the man wanted to be healed; he was just at a loss as to how to do it. But Jesus came along and made the first move: “Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8).

At this point, the man could have replied, “But sir, I have been trying to walk for some thirty-eight years now and nothing has happened. Could you just pick me up and place me in the pool when it is stirred again?” Yet, in the next verse, the afflicted man believed in the words of Jesus and he made the next move. “And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked…”

Time and time again, we find that God will move first, and then hand it over to us to trust in Him and make the subsequent step. He leaves us with the choice to either obey His request in order to have our victory and deliverance by faith, or to stand still in doubt and unbelief, missing out on the blessing He has in store for us.

The bones of Lazarus might still be sealed in a cave, a synagogue ruler’s young girl would never have seen her thirteenth birthday, and a man might have died next to a pool of healing water if those present had not obeyed the Lord’s command.

Jesus isn’t going to make all of the moves for us. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). He will often leave a portion for us to do, in order to try our faith in Him. Whenever the Lord moves first in our life, we need to remember—the next move is ours.

 

[Image credits:channah/Freeimages;Devanath/Pixabay]

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.

Want to Build a Fire?—Let Go of the Wood!

Two recently cut sections of a small tree

The woodpile grew rapidly as Leo and his dad finally cut up the old tree in the far end of the backyard. The huge tree fell eight years ago after a Nor’easter hit the region. It did not really obstruct anything, but had become an eyesore and home for many critters that raided the trash bin. Leo felt torn between holding onto the old tree and breaking it down for the fire pit. He had lots of fond memories of climbing and hiding between the various crevices of its larger branches. Sometimes when he was upset, he would sit on its large trunk pondering the meaning of life, or, at least, what little he knew of it.

The crisp Fall morning grew warmer as the sun climbed across the sky. Leo’s dad urged him to pick up his pace if they were to finish the tree before sunset. As Leo picked up a small bundle of cut branches, his mind wandered back to the time when the tree became his snow fort. It was impenetrable as long as he kept below the trunk. One time he failed to, just as a hard-packed snowball slammed into his forehead. Then he recalled the five-hour emergency room visit and head bandage.

A chain saw cutting a tree trunk

“Leo!” shouted his father over the chain saw growl, “if you don’t get that wood stacked immediately, I’m going to….” His voice disappeared as the growl changed back to a snarling roar. Leo quickly abandoned reminiscing and resumed his vigorous collecting and stacking of cut branches. Then the noon chime sounded on his watch, and he recalled the day when the neighbor’s dog slipped into his yard, chasing what Leo thought was a black cat with a white stripe. After a few minutes assisting the dog, a pungent ‘fragrance’ filled the air. Leo grabbed a broken branch from the tree and chased the dog instead, shouting, “Get away from here, you crazy dog! That’s not a cat!” but to little avail.

Lunch was a brief break before he and his dad prepared a crude fire pit in a sandy clearing. “That ought to help keep the fire in one place,” his dad remarked, while turning toward the house. “Leo, start stacking those logs while I go for the water hose and then get the fire underway. And I want results this time.”

Leo grabbed a tiny section of trunk. The day had become quite warm by then. This, along with his dad getting the hose, reminded him of the time when his friend came over to help build their version of a water park. They drilled holes in the newly-fallen tree, and were going to put sprinklers in at various intervals—until he broke the drill.

“Leo! What is taking so long? What’s going on in your head?” his dad angrily interrupted. “Stack the logs in the pit so I can get a fire going! How hard is that?”

Leo sighed, grabbed more logs, and stacked them down while his dad stuffed wood scraps all around the logs in the pit. He then turned one branch into a torch, lit it, and started setting the scraps on fire. Initially, Leo kept adding more of the old tree to the pile, but before long, strangely enough, he decided to take a few logs back and lay them aside nearby. Then he just stood staring at the newly-started fire and retrieved a few more branches that by now had begun to catch fire. It seemed like he wanted to get rid of the tree and all of the problems it caused, but at the same time, he didn’t want to completely let go of it.

A bonfire at night with large flames

“Leo! Come over here for a moment,” his dad motioned. Leo hesitantly walked a short distance from the fire. “Now you and I, along with everyone else around here, want this tree removed, right? Yet ever since we began, you have been daydreaming and taking your time. I’ve finally reached the point where we are able to burn the tree and get rid of it. But here you are, holding onto some of the logs. You’ve even gone so far as to pick them back up from the fire!”

“But I…” Leo started his defense.

“Look,” his dad interrupted, “we can’t get this fire going if you won’t let go of the logs!”

As believers in Christ, we are often guilty of doing the same thing with God—not with wood and a fire, but with leaving our problems and concerns at His altar. So often we want God to take care of our situation, but our unbelief won’t let Him. We go to the altar, commit our needs before Him, and leave. Then, after a few days, weeks, or even just a couple of hours, we return to the altar to retrieve what we left there. We never give God a chance to do much of anything. As a result, we become down in spirit or depressed. We may even complain that the problem doesn’t go away. Maybe we never truly wanted to give up the concern in the first place. We were moved in our heart to let go, but our old self, or “the flesh,” rose up and overruled—denying us the victory.

As our Heavenly Father, God wants us to come to Him with our needs and concerns. In fact, He will often allow, or even bring about, problems to affect us, to bring us to the point of committing them over to Him. In His love for us, He wants us to come to Him first and leave all of these things with Him. When we take them back (or never give them up in the first place) we are not allowing God to work in our lives. In essence, we tell God that we want to be free of the situation—but only on our terms and in our time frame.

Looking up a a stone cross with clouds behind

When Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for us, it was a complete, finished work. There will never be a return trip and another sacrifice, much less multiple sacrifices. He did everything required and was victorious, so that we can be victorious. But we must lay our concerns on the altar and leave them there, putting our complete faith and trust in Him and His victory at the cross. Don’t be like Leo, and hold onto, or, worse yet, retrieve the logs from the fire. How can we start a fire, if we don’t let go of the wood?

Have You Reached Your Dead End?

A pale rust covered block wall indicating a dead end

Once you were in bondage to sin, but a way was made for you to get free. You acknowledged the price paid, and were then granted your release from captivity. The enemy was forced to let you go. Now the world you are in is a beautiful place. The burdens that weighed you down are gone. You triumphantly travel down the road of victory, eager to tell others what has transpired in your life. It’s a happy journey! You feel like nothing can stop you anymore.

But what is this obstacle ahead? It looks something like a great channel of water. You cannot safely cross it, nor go around it. To make matters worse, the one who released you from captivity is now in hot pursuit and threatening to capture and destroy you. You can’t go forward, left, or right. You certainly can’t go backward either. Even standing still can only be for a limited time. You have hit a dead end.

You thought that, by following the One who led you out of the depths of sin, you were now free from all kinds of problems and difficulties. Yet it seems like everything is going against you. So what do you do?

The first inclination is to doubt, complain, and murmur about your circumstances and leadership, just like most of those around you.

But this never solves the problem and only worsens your relationship with God (although it hasn’t stopped anyone to this day from trying!). Or you could just continue to trust in the One who led you out. He is in direct communication with God and surely will know what to do next.

The Israelites encountered this kind of situation when they left Egypt several thousand years ago. For years, they endured the bondage of the Egyptians, which continually grew more harsh and demanding. God heard their eventual cry for freedom and raised up Moses—one of their own—to be their deliverer. In due time, the Egyptian leaders finally let them go, and God led them out into the wilderness through the obedience of Moses. During this time of exodus they rejoiced greatly. The weight of Egypt and their taskmasters was gone at last. They also had the glorious visible presence of God with them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

But all of this joy ceased when their journey abruptly ended at the Red Sea. They immediately descended into murmuring and complaining also—first against Moses, and ultimately against God Himself. In fact, what they really wanted was to kill Moses for leading them out into this wilderness to die. To make matters worse, the Pharaoh of Egypt changed his mind, and now the whole Egyptian army was rapidly gaining on them, intending to permanently end this migration! Even if they were capable of building a bridge or some type of watercraft to cross the water, there was absolutely no time. They (like you are at this very moment) couldn’t safely travel in any direction. They were truly at a dead end.

A yellow street sign displaying the words 'dead end.'

Did God abandon them and leave them to their own devices for survival? Did He tell them: “I delivered you from the bondage of the Egyptians. Now, go figure out the rest of the way for yourself”? No! He made a way that was completely unexpected by everyone. But first, Moses had to be obedient to God and not give in to the unbelieving crowd around him. Then “…the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:15,16).

Moses did as God commanded and the millions of Israelites went across the Rea Sea just as dry as they were on the shore. The Egyptian army believed in God less than the Israelites did, which they demonstrated when they hotly pursued the people right through the parted waters! They could have stopped on the shoreline, or even have just sent a small company—but no, the entire army went forward! As a result, after Moses led the people across the waters, “…the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them” (Exodus 14:25-27).

God led the people across a great sea without so much as a sandal getting wet! He even took care of their oppressors (who might have survived if they had only feared God). Therefore, if God can open a dead end for millions of people, and bring them through safely, He can certainly bring you through your impossible situation right now. God has allowed you to reach this point to show His faithfulness. God wants you to believe in Him for the impossible, to expect the unexpected. If you trusted Him for what you or someone else could accomplish for you, then there is really no need for Him in the first place. But He already planned a way out for you long before you reached your present dilemma.

When you try to solve your problems on your own, you will always reach a dead end.

In Proverbs 3:5 God said, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” He sent His Son to sacrifice His life on the cross, not just to save you from being eternally lost when you die, but also to make your life right now victorious in Him. Jesus has already fought and won the war; all you are expected to do, as a believer in Him, is to put your complete trust in Him to bring you through the battle you are facing right now.

Throughout the Old Testament, when the Israelites went before God in unbelief, they encountered impossible situations. Yet when they cried out to God, repented, and put their trust in Him, He changed their impossible situations. Take your eyes off of the impossible, and place your faith in the victorious and finished work of Jesus at the cross. Make His victory your victory, and watch the dead end you are facing turn into an open pathway.

“And I Sent the Hornet before You”

 

A graphical image of a hornet.

Many times in our walk with God He will use something small, or even unseen, to bring about a great victory for His glory. One example of this occurred thousands of years ago, after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and were entering the land that God had promised for many years to give them. One thing remained though—the occupants of the land did not simply leave after their arrival. God ordered the Israelites to destroy the people of the land because they were idolaters who worshipped everything but God Himself. They loved the creation more than the Creator.

Some may think that God is an evil tyrant who kills on a whim and has no compassion for anyone, yet He is quite the opposite. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 emphasis added). He never wants any of us to die eternally lost. The depth of His love no one can fathom. What is overlooked here is, that God’s love and longsuffering had given these people the opportunity to forsake their disobedience and rebellion for hundreds of years—but they never did. Noah and his family did not build the ark in a few hours, and then God immediately destroyed everyone else with a flood. God continued to give the people time to change their evil, rebellious ways and turn to Him. There could have been many more than just the members of Noah’s family in the safety of the ark, but the people continued to refuse the offer from a loving and merciful God—only to die in the rising waters.

When the Israelites arrived, they did not just set up camp until God gave them the land as their inheritance and then wait for the enemy’s arrival to see if they were as evil as described. No, they went forward in battle in the name (or unfailing nature) of God, with Joshua as the captain of the host leading the way.

But while they may have fought and defeated their enemies, they were not the ones who actually drove the occupants out. The real victor was God. And He did it in ways not known to the Israelites.

“And I sent the hornet before you, which [drove] them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow” (Joshua 24:12). One insect sent a whole army to flight! Although some scholars believe this may not have been a literal hornet, it still shows that God uses a simple means that is not conventional to us to accomplish His task. Now look at verse thirteen: “…I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (emphasis added). Notice that the land was given to them, cities were already built, and crops were already growing—and were ready to eat. Even the very enemy they came against was brought out before them to be eliminated. And all of this was carried out without any work of their own. God, in His faithfulness, did it all Himself. Why? Because they trusted in Him, obeyed His commandments, and because of His immense love for them.

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

This was the key for their victory. As we read throughout much of the Old Testament, whenever the Israelites forsook God and His Word, they were defeated in battle against their enemies. Yet when they cried out to God and repented of their rebellious ways, He would come in and deliver them. If they did not overcome and destroy their enemies, then their enemies would overcome them, due to the Israelites’ compromise and worship of their enemies’ gods. As long as the Israelites turned away from God and followed idolatry, they would walk in defeat, and ultimately in bondage to their enemies.

These verses apply in our own life spiritually as the children of God. We must remember that our success comes from trusting in God and obeying His Word, the Bible. Then God will drive out our enemies by means not seen, and He will provide for our needs through no part of our own doing. All He wants is for us to love and serve Him, and Him alone. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). We may never know how many ‘hornets’ have gone before us and driven out our enemies, but we do know that when we truly and wholeheartedly follow Him in trust and obedience, He will always go before us and bring victory.

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).