THE WRESTLING MATCH

I took on my friend Luthor. Once. He was youth pastor where I served. He had been wrestling some of the high schoolers and said to me, “Let’s go.” I was a decent athlete, so I figured I had a chance against this state champion. Wrong. When I was worn out after four minutes, he decided to pin me–and it was over.

The Bible says that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but we do wrestle. I want say two things:  whom we wrestle and how. Important. Wrestle the wrong person and lose–like me. Wrestle the right person the wrong way–still lose. Wrestle the right person the right way–have fun winning!

WHOM?

Whom do you think? The pastor, the partner, the government, the boss? They can be used by the enemy–they are not the enemy. The more we fight peripheral battles, the more Satan wins. The reason the people of God are often ineffective against the darkness is because they are not engaged against the darkness. They think their biggest fight is next door, or the person at church who neglects them. Listen to yourself talk. That can tell you whom you are fighting.

Now listen to Jesus and the apostles: The “thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10a). Sounds like the enemy to me. Peter wrote, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). He’s bent on devouring you. I’d call that an enemy. Let me say it plain: you are wrestling Satan, not saints.

HOW?

The mindfield. How you think determines winning or losing. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The mat is the mind. We are commanded to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

So how does Satan wrestle? With accusation, intimidation, temptation, and deception.

He accuses us to make us feel guilty, so we hopefully get discouraged and lose the match. He’s so bold that he even accuses God. When going after Eve, he asked cynically, “Did God really say…?” When God bragged about Job to Satan, he responded with, “Does Job worship God for nothing?”

He intimidates us to make us run. He uses fear tactics: “You’ll never get over that problem.” “You’re a wimp, and everyone knows it.” When we agree, fear and guilt control our lives, and we are neutralized in the battle.

He tempts us like he tempted Jesus. He deceptively offers us pleasures that turn out to be prisons. Short-term gain means long-term pain. Notice that Satan does not use physical force. We are not coming against raw power; we are in a thought battle.

He deceives us by offering one thing and giving another, by telling us lies hoping we will believe him. He changes the price tags. Eve bought the lie and bit the apple. Disaster. Sin weakens us and brings us into Satan’s playground. When he deceives us into getting angry, it gives him a foothold (Eph. 4:27). When he deceives us into withholding forgiveness, we are tormented (Matt. 18:34) and rendered ineffective. He fights dirty and tricky, and the naive lose. Those who know who to fight and how will win! Be a winner!

HOW REACHABLE IS GOD?

Friends make themselves easy to contact: “Call me any time, and I mean it.” We don’t want to overuse that privilege, but we believe it. It demonstrates love at both ends, our friend’s availability and our boldness in bothering in the middle of the night. We apologize—they take it as a compliment.

How humble of God to put Himself within reach. He says, “Connect anytime.” “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jer. 33:3). He loves staying in touch with us. We don’t have to go to a holy place or change clothes. We simply call. In fact, God says that “before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).  To get to the president, you’d go through guards and desks and memos and security checks. To get to the creator of the universe, you call. No office hours. He doesn’t take days off or leave for vacation.

I called Orlando, a finance manager and member of our board. I asked if we could meet up that day. He said, “That wouldn’t work; I am in Hawaii.” I said, “Orlando, why did you answer the phone?” He responded, “Because I have learned to make myself available to people.” What a humble response.

On the hill (D.C.), there are people who are known for their inaccessibility. Really hard to connect with them. Don’t return messages. Does that make them more important? It makes them one thing–hard to reach. It might be pride.   

The more important you are, the less available you are to normal people. The CEO of Apple can’t be accessible to everyone. Some people must choose their contacts because of their high-level job. The lower you are on the totem pole, the less likely you isolate yourself from common folk. You are the common folk. So where does that put Orlando? And where does it put God?

“God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in time of need” (Psalm 46:1). 911 is used for emergencies. So is 46:1. God has chosen to make Himself available to the needy. David wrote, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice…” (Psalm 18:6). Thanks for listening, God!

When we see Jesus carrying a towel and basin and washing the feet of the disciples like a lowly servant would, he just put a face on God. When we see him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we know what God is like. When we see him submitting to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the religious leaders, then submitting to death itself, we understand that God is humble. He makes Himself available–not to the high and mighty but to the low and needy.

Important people usually only make themselves available to other important people. God does the opposite: He “is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Makes me love God more. How about you?

I’M AN EVANGELICAL

…who believes that Pentecost affects everything. Passion and Pentecost form one inseparable whole. Pentecost does not complete the work of the cross–it personalizes it. Jesus said, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 15:14). John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). What revelation! He just summed up the Bible. Four verses later the Father said to John, about to baptize Jesus, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit showed up at Pentecost–and never left. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Was that for show? It kept happening as the Spirit was poured out (Acts 8, 10, 19). From the reading of Paul (I Cor. 12 & 14), we would assume that they continued to use this brilliant gift to build themselves up and to worship. It was not used for communication. When Peter got up to preach, it was not translated because all who gathered apparently understood his Aramaic.

I am an evangelical who believes that Pentecost can still be experienced. I speak in tongues because it is in the book. When my friend Graeme invited me to speak at his church in Arizona, the bishop Howie Wennes heard I was coming. He called Graeme and asked, “You’re not becoming charismatic, are you?” Graeme responded, “If it’s in the book, we want it. If it’s not in the book, we don’t want it.” End of discussion.

Paul writes that “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (I Cor. 14:3). I don’t know too many people who are overdosing on encouragement, who need a little discouragement in his life. The gift of tongues was reserved for God’s New Covenant people to walk in continual encouragement as they live out their life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How do I know it is a gift that builds up the one exercising it? Because I feel better when I speak in tongues? No, because the Word of God tells me it happens. Take it on faith as you do the rest of the Bible. Evangelicals who have tolerated the gifts at best or spoken against them at worst are not as evangelical as they profess. They have managed to talk themselves out of some blessings that are meant for them and for the whole body of Christ. And remember–wrong use is not an excuse for disuse. Correct the abuse and get on board. We all need a personal Pentecost.

The book, Empowered Evangelicals, can help solid Christians who love God and His Word to step into the life of the Spirit more freely. I would like to connect with pastors who are evangelicals, because I am one. I just happen to believe that the full blessings of Pentecost belong to me and to all in the body of Christ. Did I hear an “Amen!?” I would like to pray with pastors (and all others) who are hungry for more and believe it can happen through the work of the Holy Spirit!

WHAT DOES WEAKNESS LOOK LIKE?

FIRST WHAT IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE!

.Letting others run over me (but it may)

.Always talking about my weaknesses (which puts too much focus on ME)

.Inappropriate sharing of personal failure, such as sexual sins in a mixed crowd

.Self-deprecation (as if to say, “Look at how bad I’ve been,” which some take joy in)

.Being vulnerable with the wrong people at the wrong time for wrong reasons. Think Hezekiah.

.Foolish tempting of the Lord, like taking risks He has not called us to (jumping off the temple).

WHAT DOES WEAKNESS LOOK LIKE?

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom.8:26). That must also mean that the Spirit doesn’t help when we are trying to be strong. In my fear as a recovering Pharisee, I wanted to look strong, even though I knew I was weak. Trust me–that does not welcome the Holy Spirit.

“God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (I Cor.1:27). God has a marked predisposition toward the weak. How comforting can you get!

“I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling” (I Cor.2:3). The mighty apostle modeled weakness for all to see. He didn’t try to sound eloquent or look powerful. Impressive!

“Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (I Cor.12:22). Weakness is built into our anatomy.

“It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (I Cor.15:43). We go from great weakness to great strength. Great. The reverse is also true. Look out!

“Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor.11:29,30). Weakness helps us to identify with the weak. What kindness!

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12:9,10). Weakness is actually a weapon of war. It displays the power of God.

“He was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power”(2 Cor.13:4)). Weakness was modeled most clearly in the cross, the power of God unto salvation. Weakness goes the way of the cross, the way of self-denial.

TRUTHS ABOUT WEAKNESS

God can turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Halleluia!

Weakness brings me God’s grace; it also encourages relationship and fellowship.

Weakness overcomes the devil, who would rather see me glorying in my strength.

Christ’s time of greatest weakness demonstrated God’s greatest power. Do you suppose that works for you as well?

God uses weakness to shame proud people.

Weakness encourages dependence upon God and interdependence with others.

Weakness facilitates healing (Js. 5:16) and brings the Spirit’s help.

 

Fear had made me want to look strong. Confidence in God allows me to live with my weakness. I became more vulnerable as I learned to deal with my pharisaism.  Self-righteousness chokes out vulnerability, because self-righteous people are in hiding, as I was.  When I started coming out, I discovered that vulnerability was really safer than running. Welcome to weak!

5 FACTS ABOUT SONS!

Ladies, if we men can be a bride for Christ, then you get to be sons of the Father. Home is meant to be the closest thing on earth to heaven. For many, it is closer to hell. Even with good families, we can be left with love deficits and the feeling that we are not truly valued. Many carry these thoughts throughout their life. If we want to understand God’s Father love, we need to grasp sonship. Stick with me!

Paul writes to the Romans, showing the difference between living by the law and living by faith through the work of the Spirit. He uses the word “law” twenty-three times in Romans 7, showing the futility of a “we try harder” mentality. We can’t pull of the holiness thing by resolve. It brings a strong inner tension. How can I win over sin? Chapter 7 ends with Paul feeling enslaved.

Chapter 8 breaks out with a different reality: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How? The Spirit is mentioned 22 times, demonstrating God’s answer to human effort. He writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (“adoption”). And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The  Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory” (8:13-17).

 

  1. SONS WIN OVER SIN.

It is received, not achieved. Paul had done well by human standards, but it was all effort. Then he traded the merit system for the mercy system. He got to shed his performance mentality by going low and received status as a son by faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. SONS ARE LED BY THE SPIRIT.

The Father leads His kids step by step into their appointed destiny. We don’t have to make it up as we go. We are guided. Call it the GPS of the Spirit. And it works. Sons prove their relationship with the Father by the Spirit’s guidance (13). The inner compass is a Person.

  1. SONS ARE FREED FROM FEAR.

They have a family–for ever. Sin left us feeling guilt, shame, and condemnation. We wondered if the cycle could change. It did. We are forgiven, cherished, valued, and appointed to represent a good, good Father.

  1. SONS HAVE A FATHER AND A FAMILY.

We discover that we belong. We’re on the inside, not the outside. Slaves have a boss, not a father. They are unsure about their future. Sons have an inheritance, because the Firstborn shares His with us. We are called co-heirs. Glorious future. John Wesley described his conversion as exchanging “the faith of a servant for the faith of a son” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on Romans, p. 167). We learn to say, “Abba” and receive His love!

  1. BEING SONS GIVES MEANING TO SUFFERING.

Present hardship only reminds us of what is to come. Short-term pain will be translated into long-term gain. I get it!

WISE–AND OTHERWISE

Wisdom is a grandfather telling his grandchildren, “Life wouldn’t be so hard, if you didn’t think it was going to be so easy.”  Wisdom is Andrew at 12 saying when he saw we might run out of orange juice, “Give me the smallest glass.”  Wisdom is cleaning the toilet, not complaining to the gas station manager about the filthy room, which my friend Per did.

We need wisdom. A mom says, “Help, we’ve got a teenager in our home.” A girl says, “I married a prince. Last week he turned into a creep. I know I can’t trade him in, but…?” We all face pressing problems that require wisdom.

So Paul was traveling through Athens, the city known for its philosophers.  Luke wrote that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). Impressive. Good at talk; terrible at wisdom. Athens was one of Paul’s most disturbing missionary experiences. He didn’t write from prison, “Dear Friends in Athens.”  He ran up against human wisdom in its grossest form. He went on to Corinth shook up and determined to have only one message in his pocket–Jesus Christ crucified. He discovered five things about wisdom:

Wisdom is found in the cross.

Sounds like a theological statement.How is one person dying on a cross wisdom? Wisdom is what resolves the hardest of conflicts, like Jews and Gentiles hating each other. The cross heals us of guilt and shame and breaks strongholds that counseling doesn’t touch. One sacrificial Lamb got the job done that all the good advice of a million people couldn’t begin to address. Paul said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).

Wisdom is discovered in weakness.

Wisdom is my number one son emailing his siblings to confess that he had not been the kind of elder brother that he wanted to be. That was followed two weeks later by number two son doing the same. Vulnerability releases grace. Weakness builds relationships.  Paul wrote after leaving Athens, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling…” (I Cor. 2:3). Weakness brings unity;  strength creates divisions and competition.

Wisdom is illustrated by power, not words.

We tend to think of wisdom as well-chosen words or solid advice, and that can be an ingredient. True wisdom goes beyond words to works:  “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). Paul said that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (I Cor. 4:20). The Gospel is not good advice–it is good news. It is “the power of God unto salvation.” (normal length here: two more paragraphs).

Wisdom comes by revelation.

Reason does not come up with God’s wisdom. Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). So whom do we go to for wisdom? Those open to revelation more than reason. Students at Carlton College used to go to a mentally challenged woman with the brainpower of an eight-year old, because she had the gift of wisdom. Stephen Hawking has a high IQ, but the Bible calls him a fool, because he doesn’t believe in God. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:27).

Wisdom is given by the Spirit.

“If anyone lacks wisdom, let him…study…speak to smart people…ASK” (James 1:5). Wisdom comes to people who know they do not have it. Solomon asked (I Kings 3:9-12). Daniel asked (Daniel 2:18). All can manifest the fruit of wisdom developed as we submit to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. And some are given the gift of wisdom according to I Cor. 12:7. So if you are needing wisdom, Paul gives you five ways:  Focus on Christ’s death, embrace weakness, believe in God’s power, open yourself up to revelation, and ask to be filled with the Spirit.

 

“WHO ME? DENY MYSELF?”

That’s meant for medieval mystics. They had no earthly possessions, ate a meager diet, and  had none of the pleasures we know about. “Deny yourself” fits their mentality better than ours. We have family and work relationships. We honor one another and expect to be treated in kind. When that does not happen, a bell goes off. Someone is crossing a line. I have a right to be listened to, valued for my contribution.

Picture Jesus on his way to the cross, being devalued, ridiculed, spit up, whipped, mocked. He had said to would-be followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We easily criticize the millennials for their entitlement mentality. We often embrace the same outlook if we are disrespected, ignored, or criticized, as if we deserve better treatment. Jesus didn’t.

To go the way of the cross is to embrace pain and maybe mistreatment. It means to be overlooked when you thought you would be admired. Those who learn how to accept this road as normal Christianity are the holiest people on earth–and therefore the happiest. Joy comes most fully to those who don’t aim for it, who learn to choose short-term pain for long-term gain, who don’t say they deserve more than what Jesus got, who know they are aliens here and at home in the new earth, who embrace Peter’s word that we rejoice in the coming kingdom, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Marriage problems escalate because we thought it was going to be easier than this.

Self-denial is not only meant for desert monks but for contagious Christians. It’s for people who desire a marriage twenty degrees above average, who would like to transform their workplace from a smog-infested atmosphere of negativism into a pleasant environment for friends.

People who don’t know how to deny themselves

.are taking themselves too seriously

.ride the up and down roller coaster of living by their circumstances

.take up offenses on a regular basis

 

People who have learned to deny themselves

.are hard to offend

.don’t feel entitled to having things go their way

.consider a hard day a really good day

 

It took the disciples several years to get it. Once they got it, they lived that way–and died that way. Thank God for their examples of how to really live. Andrew, our oldest, named his son Elliot to remind his family that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” People who deny themselves stick out, like Phil and Margaret, Karen’s parents, who have lived this way most of their life. Rubbed off on Karen, and by God’s good grace it is finding expression in our kids. I told them, “Serve. Don’t expect to be served. When you go to your friend’s, do the dishes. Servants have responsibilities, not rights. Accept your responsibilities without claiming your rights, and happiness sneaks up on you.” So go ahead–deny yourself!

6 THINGS ON MY “NOT TO DO” LIST!

Yes, I have a “to do” list. Almost as effective as my “not to do” list.

1  I WILL NOT BADMOUTH THE GOVERNMENT.

President Trump was voted into office. He’s there to stay for a while. Our scriptural mandate is to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (I Tim 2:2).

2  I WILL NOT BE DISCOURAGED.

I let discouragement in the door a few years ago, and self-pity came in the back door. Stayed for two weeks. Hard to get them out. When I face things with the potential to get me down, I lock the door to discouragement. Think John the Baptist and Elijah. When they gave in to discouragement, they said and did dumb things. People are counting on you. “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Life gives us “good” reasons to be discouraged. God gives us more reasons to stay encouraged.

3  I WILL NOT HOLD ONTO MY MONEY AS IF IT IS MY OWN.

What I release comes back to me; what I hold onto I lose. “Give, and it shall be give to you…” If you need it more than me, you’ve got it (I John 3:17).

4  I WILL NOT SAY STUPID THINGS, like,

“This is a really bad time for a flat tire.” You don’t know; it may be a great time. The last two times with car trouble, I managed to hold my tongue and thank God. The first problem fixed itself. The second problem, a dangerous flat on the freeway. I was able to pull over. Started to change the tire with an ineffective jack. A young man joined me and without asking got his jack and changed my tire in twenty minutes. I pulled out $30 and said, “Thank you.” He said, “I am not taking any money. I didn’t stop for that reason.” I thanked him again, shook his hand and asked his name. He answered, “Muhammad.” I said, “Thank you, Muhammad,” and he hurried off.

5  I WILL NOT COMPLAIN.

I don’t control the weather, I live with it. I will not complain about weatherman, as if I could do better. I will not complain about the food, about the people I work with, the wife God has given me, the governor whose policies are different (God, forgive me). Complaining does damage and God NEVER blesses it. I will not complain about neighbors who don’t like what we are doing at the Ranch. I will bless them instead. (It’s working).

6  I WILL NOT THINK THAT GOD OWES ME A GOOD DAY.

I will not expect that because I am a follower of Jesus the day will go smoothly, people won’t try to take advantage of me, or that I won’t encounter material or relational issues. I will not assume that suffering is for backsliders. I will not expect that the challenges God gives me mean that it will be easy. Could be hard, but it will be good!

LIFE AS A 73-YEAR OLD

I’m trying not to let it get me down. It’s hard to get back up. My train of thought often leaves the station before I do. And my memory is not as sharp as it used to be, and neither is my memory. Like somebody said, so far this is the oldest I’ve been.

My brother-in-law asked if I wished I were younger. I love this season. I have  experience, which should amount for something. I have learned from mistakes, well some of them. Here’s why I like getting older. But first a couple negatives:

 

  1. The knees are not working like they used to. That slows me down.
  2. Total recall is a thing of the past. Used to be good at names. Forget that. But it’s okay, because I can’t hear as much anyway.

More positives:

  1. My children still look to me and Karen. I may be wiser in my old age.
  2. Legacy. Generations of righteousness adds up. So thankful for those who preceded me.
  3. Mentoring is a joy. I love giving away what God has put in my heart.
  4. People sometimes expect less and hopefully we can surprise them and give them more.
  5. The Biblical culture favors age over youth.
  6. I can still exercise. My kids push me, so I push them.

Jeremiah was lamenting the fall of Jerusalem and the judgment of God upon the disobedient nation. It was a sad day in Israel when “elders are shown no respect” (Lam. 5:12) and “the elders are gone from the city gate” (14). One of the curses for disobedience Moses reviewed with the nation about to enter the Promised Land was that God would send them “a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young” (Deut. 28:50).

Fears sometime accompany the journey into old age: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Psalm 71:9). But God promises: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). Our society and our families should take their cue regarding care for the elderly from the Ancient of Days. He does not ignore them in their times of need and show favoritism to the youth.

Two words for the elderly:

YOU ARE STILL NEEDED.

You connect the generations. I know you don’t always feel honored. Not your fault. God honors you, and I hope your children do. Karen and I are deeply grateful for the prayers of Phil and Margaret, her parents and my champions. We call them daily to connect and to pray together, which they do with passion, even though they don’t remember all the names. When Margaret was wondering why she was still around, I said, “We know why–you need to pray for us.” She shot up her hands in the air and began to pray.

EXERCISE YOUR BODY.

You’ll live longer. “Sedentary” will not help you. Karen’s parents (93 & 92) exercise before they get out of bed in the morning. I admire their desire to keep on keeping on. Don’t check out before you check out!