Monday, October 31, 2016

Pursue Love

Jon Bloom post:  The Greatest Act of Spiritual Warfare

Love flourishes and grows in relational soil rich with trust. As long as sufficient trust is present in a relationship, love is likely to be healthy and resilient. But if trust erodes, love withers. Too much erosion and it dies. 
Satan knows this. Which is why he works diligently, subtly, and insidiously to incite and encourage the erosion of our trust in one another. He wants to kill love. 

Most Powerful Apologetic

Since God is love (1 John 4:7–8), it is no exaggeration to say that love is the greatest thing in the world. Love is the omnipotent cohesive core of intra-Trinitarian relations and the explosive impetus for the triune God putting his glory on display in creation (John 17:24–26John 1:1–3Colossians 1:15–17John 15:9–103:35). 
Love motivated the Father to initiate his plan to redeem lost, rebellious people (John 3:16). Love motivated the Son to lay his life down for us (John 15:13). Loving God and other people were the greatest commandments under the old covenant (Matthew 22:36–40) and remain the greatest commandments under the new covenant (John 14:1515:12). 
Love is the single greatest distinguishing mark of a disciple of Jesus (John 13:35). The one who is born of God and knows God loves (1 John 4:7). Love is the foremost fruit the Holy Spirit bears in us (Galatians 5:22–23). Love is more excellent than any gift or miracle of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). It does not matter how spiritually gifted we are or how much we achieve or how much we sacrifice in Jesus’s name, if we do not have love, we are nothing and gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 
Christ-like, sacrificial, forbearing, hopeful, enduring love is the greatest apologetic to the existence and nature of God on earth. It is more compelling than brilliant, well-reasoned arguments (which can be brilliantly countered) and more powerful than signs and wonders (which can be counterfeited — Matthew 24:24). And any Spirit-filled Christian of any gender, ethnicity, social class, age demographic, intellectual capacity, or spiritual gifting can demonstrate love. 
Christian love is the force most threatening to Satan’s kingdom and therefore what he seeks most to disarm and destroy. 

Satan Takes Aim at Trust

But when Satan attempts to kill love, he frequently aims at trust. He knows better than we do how trust can affect love.
The more we trust someone, the easier it is for us to love him. We feel confident in and safe with those we trust, and we can bear with a lot of their idiosyncrasies, foibles, and even sinful stumbles. And we tend to be far more willing to receive correction from them. 
But it’s harder for us to love someone when we lack trust in them. We are more guarded and prone to question their judgment. It’s far easier to see potentially serious moral issues lurking in their idiosyncrasies, foibles, and sinful stumbles, and we are much quicker to suspect sinister motives when they bring us correction. A trust deficit usually results in strained relational distance, and broken trust usually results in a broken relationship.
This means our relationships are quite vulnerable. It does not take much to damage trust and cool our love for another. We are incredibly finite beings whose sin natures have a monstrous sized ego, making us highly prone to take offense. It only requires a misunderstanding or presumption to begin changing the prescription lenses of our trust in one another. When trust begins to erode, love begins to wither. And when love begins to wither, the greatest evidence of the reality and nature of God on earth becomes obscured. 
That’s why Satan is always trying to erode our trust in God and one another. He’s seeking to obscure the glory of Jesus by killing love. If he can do that, he can render our gospel witness impotent, fragment our churches, and isolate us, making us increasingly vulnerable to his temptations while keeping us preoccupied with justifying ourselves and suspecting others. 

Pursue Love

More than anything — anything— we must “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We must pursue love with a jealous zeal for the glory of Christ and the good and advance of his church. We must be doggedly determined and unswervingly committed in our pursuit of love because Satan will aim at our trust in every relationship in effort to destroy or at least severely weaken love, especially our relationships in the church. We must not let him outwit us or be ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). 
We must beware of allowing minor differences to grow out of proportion in our imaginations. We must resist assigning sinful motives to others’ actions based on our assumptions. If we suspect sin may be present, we must not remain silent, allowing those suspicions to fester. We must not trust our perceptions, but ask clarifying questions with humility. And if we become aware that someone has something against us, we must go quickly to them and seek resolution (Matthew 5:23–24). 
Wherever we have damaged relationships due to trust erosion, particularly with other Christians, Christ and the apostles call us to pursue reconciliation — to pursue love. It’s not an option. We must live at peace with all as far as it depends upon us (Romans 12:18). 
In cases where severe damage has been done due to very real serious sin, we must seek sound pastoral counsel and facilitators skilled at peace-making. But most of our trust erosion happens due to common-to-man, garden-variety sins of pride, exacerbated by uncharitable judgment, gossip, slander, and resentment, which Satan encourages and exploits. 

Punch Him in the Mouth

It’s possible that the greatest act of spiritual warfare we can engage in right now, the greatest blow we can deal Satan, is pursuing love by humbling ourselves and seeking reconciliation with an estranged or relationally strained brother or sister in Christ. Who knows what breakthroughs might be achieved by such obedience? 
Love is the greatest thing in the world, because God is love and love comes from him (1 John 4:7–8). To love is the greatest commandment God ever gave us. And the glory of Christ, the proclamation of his gospel, and our testimonies as his disciples are at stake in the way we love one another.
So let us pursue love with all our might, and in doing so punch Satan in the mouth. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who We Are in Christ

David Mathis post:  Christians, This is Our Night 

Halloween is not too haunted for true saints. This is no night for God’s “holy ones” to run and hide, but rise up and revel in the power of our sovereign Christ. This is not the devil’s day, but ours. No concessions, no treaties, no retreat. No call to fear, but an invitation to feast.
Originally “All Hallows’ Eve” may have been an annual commemoration of the seemingly super-holy, the Roman “saints” (Latin hallows, “holy ones”). But under God’s kind providence, a monk named Martin came to our rescue when he went trick-or-treating on October 31, 1517, at the church door in Wittenberg. Eventually Luther labored with a horde of others to liberate God’s people from a host of medieval misconceptions — including the assumption that only some, not all, of Christ’s people are “saints” (Romans 1:71 Corinthians 1:2; and 2 Corinthians 1:1).
Claiming All Hallows’ Eve truly belongs to believers does not mean we celebrate death or darkness. Far from it. We celebrate our Savior’s victory overdeath and over everything demonic. We mark Christ’s triumph, through death, over sin and Satan. “Through death he . . . destroy[ed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
“Halloween is not the devil’s day, but ours.”
As Christians, with open Bibles, we have a theology tall enough and thick enough for every ounce of Halloween, and every other day of the year. This is not a night to moan and fret, but to rejoice with confident smiles and treats in hand. And with open ears because the harvest is ripe for rehearsing precious truths — or teaching them for the first time — about the undaunted dominion of Christ and what it means for us as his people.
So, Christian neighbors, join me in leading our homes and churches out of fear and into joy. The harvest is great, and Halloween is a striking foil — for teaching our kids, and reminding ourselves — of who we are in Christ.

1. We Are a Victorious People

Start with Jesus and his victory. All things were created in him, through him, and for him — “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:16). And at the cross, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus reigns supreme over Satan and every demon, both by creation and by the cross. He commands unclean spirits and they obey him (Mark 1:27). He is Lord even over the mental movements of Satan’s minions (Revelation 17:17).
First we marvel at our Champion, and then that he would have us join him in his great victory. Not only did he crush Satan’s skull at Golgotha, but he makes us a victorious people, to stomp with him. We put our own feet on the skull. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
“Christians with open Bibles have a theology tall enough and thick enough for every ounce of Halloween.”
To be a Christian emphatically does not mean that we don’t suffer, face persecution, or even find ourselves to be the objects of demonic attack in this life. But it does mean we will win (Revelation 3:21), not in our own strength, but in the power of God’s Spirit. The decisive battle has been won. The final match is just a matter of time.
We are a victorious people in the world’s single most important war and party with the apostle Paul, 
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)

2. We Are a Courageous People

Because we know victory is assuredly ours in Christ, we can be of good courage. Not only has our Sovereign dealt Satan the deathblow, but he does not leave us to fight alone. He promises to be with us (Matthew 18:20), and says to his covenant people, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Because Jesus has won, and is with us, we don’t flee from the devil, but take Christ up on his promise. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We know that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and so we boldly defy our adversary on precisely the night when he would most like for us to cower and take cover.
The devil may rage, his lackeys may plot, but “he who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:14), and invites us to smile confidently with him.

3. We Are a People on Mission

In Christ, we are not a cloistered, cowering people, perpetually on the defensive. Jesus gives us a mission: “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We are no longer of this world, but sent into this world, with the backing of the King’s boundless authority (Matthew 28:18), on history’s great offensive, thrashing joyfully against the darkness. As Jesus prayed to his Father about his saints, 
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15–18)
“Let’s boldly defy our adversary on precisely the night when he would most like for us to cower.”
Our great high priest doesn’t pray for our removal from the world, but for our reaching of it — rescuing fellow sinners from “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our mission is to free our captive neighbors and coworkers, family and friends, who are “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
We pray with Paul “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel . . . that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19–20).

4. We Are an Intentional People

But being on mission doesn’t mean being na├»ve. Precisely the opposite. The commission calls us to intentionality and vigilance for the sake of the cause. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). God has given us a manual for war, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
And in all our care and consciousness, we lean against the backstop of Christ’s pledge: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). We buy candy, turn on porch lights, make apple cider, and bring the warmth of a happy face into an otherwise cold night because we know he has promised “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

5. We Are a Generous People

Finally, by being Jesus’s people, we are becoming increasingly generous people. He fills our hearts and opens our hands. Even on this night, we “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). We have resolved to make the sacrifice to give “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Mark this: unbelieving humans are not our enemies. The devil and his demons are the foe. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
“Chase away the darkness by turning on our porch lights and giving out the best of treats.”
We look upon the nastiest costumes and vilest of revelers with the mind and heart of Christ. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And we chase away the darkness by turning on our porch lights and giving out the best of treats, not the stingiest.
Jesus came to destroy Satan, all his works, and all his ways (1 John 3:8). He has delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). Be strong in him and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10), and on this All Hallows’ Eve, take your stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). 
After all, this is our night.