Three Avenues of Spiritual Attack and What To Do About Them

Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:  Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.

Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).

1.  Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”

Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?

2.     Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.

Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.

3.   Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”

Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so?  Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism?  How about your kids?  When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?

Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.

O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink Tho’ Pressed by Every Foe

A wonderful hymn with rich words and simple melody

O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink –

Bathurst/Glaser/Mike Murphy of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, GA

Click Here to Listen to MP3
O for a faith that will not shrink, Tho’ pressed by ev’ry foe
That will not tremble on the brink,
Of any earthly woe, of any earthly woe

That will not murmur nor complain, Beneath the chastening rod
But in the hour of grief or pain,
Will lean upon its God, will lean upon its God

A faith that shines more bright and clear,
When tempests rage without
That when in danger knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt, in darkness feels no doubt

That bears unmoved the world’s dread frown,
Nor heeds its scornful smile
That seas of trouble cannot drown
Nor fiery darts defile, nor fiery darts defile

Lord give us such a faith as this, And then whate’er may come
We’ll taste even here the hollowed bliss
Of an eternal home, Of an eternal home
We’ll taste even here the hollowed bliss, of our eternal home

When You or Your Teenager Deal with Doubt

This morning I came across this helpful blog post from Christianity Today that helped me in my parental calling. I thought I would pass it along to you.

Steve Jobs, Back to School, and Why Doubt Belongs in Your Youth Group Curriculum

Have You Settled the Issue Regarding Your Assurance of Salvation?

Both our struggle with sin and pressures from suffering can unsettle us deeply. The only remedy is to know with equal depth the unbreakable love of God for us in Jesus. Reflecting on Romans will promote a cross-based, Spirit-given assurance of salvation for all believers in spite of sin (8:1-17), suffering (8:18-30) and death (8:31-39).

Here are some encouraging words from saints of old on assurance based upon their study of Romans 8…

Assurance sets a child of God free from a painful kind of bondage. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt is a paid debt, the great disease is a healed disease, and the great work is a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small.  In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm during times of grief and sorrow, not afraid of bad news, in every condition content; for it gives him a settledness of heart.
J.C. Ryle

The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us.  In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts:  ‘Abba, Father.’
Martin Luther

I grasp thy strength, make it mine own, My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then comes down, Darkness, and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw, from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe, Thy mighty grasp of me.
John Newton

When You Doubt the Father’s Love

John's Gravesite - Ephesus in Turkey

Recently, I stood at the foot of the grave of the Apostle John and thought about these wonderful truths that he wrote about the love of God.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
– 1 John 3:16
Here’s a prayer of confession I prayed of all the ways I doubt the Lord’s love.

Holy and gracious Father, the highest court in the universe has declared us completely forgiven, totally accepted and forever loved. Yet we come today to ask your forgiveness for all the ways that we have not lived in the security of Your love and care.  When we find ourselves in a cauldron of adversity and difficulty,  we easily succumb to fear and despair. We are seduced into believing the lie of the Viper. Like the serpent of old, we question: ‘Did God really say?’ We doubt Your Word, Your goodness and Your provision.

Then, the Law scolds us reminding us of how unworthy we are of Your love. Our past and present sin screams of our frequent failures in loving You. Death thunders at us and threatens to cut us off from your love. The devil deceptively roars at us saying ‘You are angry at us and will destroy us.‘  But in the midst of these confusing voices, the Spirit of Your Son cries in our hearts:  “We are more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ who loves us. Help us to hear His voice yet again! AMEN.

Tombstone of St. John

Learning Faith in a Risen Savior from a Doubter like Me

In First Person: Doubting Thomas is synonymous with one who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence. Doubting Thomas now serves as a succinct way to describe a skeptic. I’m sad about that because I am Doubting Thomas. My name is Aramaic and it means twin. You might read about me in the New Testament and hear my Greek name – Didymus. Some people call me the Great Apostle to the Parthenians or the Missionary to India, but honestly I would rather be called Doubting Thomas. It reminds me of God’s amazing and sovereign grace in stooping to rescue me and grant saving faith to a doubter like myself. May I tell you a bit of my story.

I grew up a commercial fisherman around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, a carpenter turned preacher from Nazareth, came to Capernaum and challenged me and several of my friends to become His disciples. For three years I followed – I was a loyal, outspoken, courageous and oftentimes a rather pessimistic follower of Jesus, but nonetheless I was closely attached to Jesus who loved me in spite of myself.

DOUBTING THOMAS: The day my world fell apart.

We had just finished a very moving Passover seder and we retreated to our normal place for evening prayer – the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s usually a very quite, peaceful place. Not that night. All of sudden there were torches, swords, and soldiers. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss. The soldiers grabbed Jesus and whisked him away. Fear overcame me and I fled trying to save my skin. Our worst nightmares became reality on Friday. I watched at a distance as they spiked Jesus to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha . As Jesus’ life drained away, so did all of my hopes and dreams. Maybe some of you here today have personally experienced the shock into which intense grief plummets you, like it did me on that Friday long ago. The next days are a blur. On Sunday I was so disillusioned and full of despair that I just couldn’t bring myself to gather with my friends for our evening meal.

Monday morning, the disciples came barreling into my house: “Thomas, we were in the upper room. We locked the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appeared saying ‘Peace, Shalom.’ Then he showed us his hands. There were scars where the nails had been. He pulled back his tunic and showed us where the spear penetrated his side. But he wasn’t weak or sick or dying. He was alive. Jesus is risen from the dead!”

“I don’t believe it.” “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re hallucinating and seeing only what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die. Guys, he’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!” Peter pleaded with me. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”

With an edgy, icy, cynical, angry, unbelieving tone:  I emphatically said: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” But over the next week my anger, despair, and disillusionment subsided. My life was about the change in an incredible way.

Transition: I was on the road to a despairing, cynical unbelief but Jesus rescued me. Let me tell you about the night when Jesus challenged me to “stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer.”

THOMAS THE BELIEVER: The day my life changed forever. – It was Sunday night – one week after Jesus’ purported resurrection. I was eating with my friends in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stood among us and greeted us, “Shalom, peace be with you.”

All the blood drained from my face. For a minute I thought I was going to faint. Jesus turned to me and spoke without any hint of ill will or frustration, “Put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for me to examine. I initially recoil and step back. Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Then, Jesus reaches out and put a hand on my shoulder. Then all I could do was fall on my knees and proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

What are the practical Implications from my life? What can you learn from a doubter like me? 

What was it about Jesus that dissolved my doubts into a living, vibrant faith in my Lord? Basically five things: What I saw, what I heard, what I said, what I didn’t do and what I did.

WHAT I SAW – Oh the remarkable evidence that our Lord supplied us of His resurrection. He graciously appealed to our senses. He showed us “His hands and His side.” He exhorted us to see and test that he had a real body and was not just a disembodied spirit. “Handle Me and see,” were His words, — a spirit has not flesh and bone, as you see Me have.”

WHAT I HEARD – The way He spoke to us upon His resurrection. “Peace” and not blame—“peace” and not fault-finding—“peace” and not rebuke–was the first word which I heard from my Master’s lips after His resurrection. He could have rebuked me sharply, but he dealt very gently with me. My life is a testimony to how kind and merciful Christ is to those who doubt. Jesus bears with the infirmities of all His people. How do you respond to people when their faith is feeble and their love is cold?

Remember my case and be compassionate and tender. Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His flock. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away. Happy is that Christian who has learned to deal likewise with his brothers.

Secondly, it was absolutely startling to hear Jesus quote my very words. Jesus challenged me to take the test that I had suggested.

WHAT I SAID.  Don’t miss the lesson I learned that day: Jesus did not rebuke me or prohibit me from calling him God.  For me, the bodily resurrection of Jesus proved His divinity. The Apostle Paul would say to you this day of resurrection: Christ Jesus… “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”

Some claim that my confession of faith is the greatest recorded in the Bible. However, you need to know that my confession was weak in that it depended on sight. Remember Jesus words to me, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Faith which results from seeing is good; but faith which results from hearing is more excellent. Blessing is promised to those who come to faith without the aid of sight. The Apostle Peter writes in I Peter 1:8-9: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Have you personally believed? Have you come to a place in your life where you call Jesus your Lord and your God? Faith is not taking a blind leap in the dark. I come to you this morning as an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus. My own skepticism and unbelief ought to serve as testimony that the resurrection of Jesus was not an illusion induced by wishful thinking. IT HAPPENED.

Why does it matter? We daily rest our sinful souls on Christ alone with confidence, as one who is perfect man as well as perfect God. He is man, and therefore can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is God, and therefore is “able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Him.” Those of you who look to Jesus by faith, and can say with me, “My Lord and my God” have no cause for fear in this life or the next.

WHAT I DIDN’T DO. I was absent the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, and consequently I missed a blessing. Mark well how much Christians may lose by not regularly attending the public assemblies of God’s people. I was shut out in the cold chill of unbelief, while others were warmed and filled with an encounter with the resurrected, living Christ.

We shall all do well to remember the charge of the Apostle Paul—to not “Forsake our own assembling together, as is the manner of some.” (Heb. 10:25.) The very assembly for prayer and praise from which we stay away, may be the very gathering that would have cheered, established, and relieved our burdened hearts. My life stands as a testimony to this fact!

WHAT I DID. I WENT OUT FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME. The inspiring commission which our Lord conferred upon us. When you’ve got good news, you’ve gotta tell somebody. We heeded Jesus’ last command – to make disciples of all ethnic groups. By God’s grace, I first went to reach the Parthenians – most notably the present-day countries of Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Ultimately, I was sent to the great country of India. In 52 AD, I began preaching Christ, establishing churches, and winning to Christ the Brahmins of India. Many have since followed in my train: William Carey, the father of Modern missions heeded God’s call to India and said: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”, Francis Xavier “Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ.” – Henry Martyn – “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.”, and Amy Carmichael – “You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving.”

Jesus had told us not to be afraid of those who can kill the body. For me personally, My day came to hold onto this promise of His. It was off the east coast of India. In the year 72 AD near present-day Madras, I was thrown into a pit, then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin. You say, wow what a sacrifice!

Have you seen your hopes and dreams destroyed lately? Are you being tempted to doubt God’s provision, God’s goodness and God’s plan? Take a cue from my life:

I was a bruised reed that Jesus didn’t break. He snatched me from the fires of despair and unbelief. He wants to do the same for you!