Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Holding on

In 1 Peter 5:8, we find these words:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

The past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of this verse and the reality that believers in Christ Jesus have a real adversary. How easy it is to forget that we have to contend with a real devil—he is not a myth. Of course, I can’t prove anything empirically. I have no photos, no eyewitness accounts or DNA evidence that I can produce. Nevertheless, I know the devil is real for two reasons: 1) Because the Bible tells me so, and 2) Because of the kind of thoughts, feelings and emotions my wife and I have been experiencing.

Currently, except for weekly piano accompanying responsibilities that I have at our church and at our local area’s community college, I am unemployed. This current period of unemployment is the latest chapter in a saga that has gone on much too long. My personal story is no secret to those who have known me long and have known me well, but it is much too long to share in detail here (if you really want to know, talk to me in person, when you have an hour or two to spare). Suffice it to say, years of significant disappointments and unanswered questions have had negative effects on both of us, to the point that both my wife, Catherine, and I have been struggling with negative thoughts and feelings.

Believing in the sovereignty of God over everyone and everything, I know the circumstances that have come upon my family have come from the hand of a loving God, who is also my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ. However, I also know these negative thoughts and feelings that Catherine and I have been experiencing are not of God, but bear the unmistakable marks of our “adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, whom Jesus called a “thief” who “comes…to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

The best book on trials and suffering that I know is the Bible book of Job. One thing we learn from Job is that it is possible for both God and the devil to be at work through the same events. Job’s story allows us in behind the scenes to see that the devil was at work in the catastrophic trials that fell upon Job. Yet, these same trials came about by God’s permission, enabling Job to correctly proclaim that “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). God had, in effect, taken away Job’s health, cattle and children. In the same way, even though the Bible teaches me that my family’s circumstances have come about by the will of God (God “has taken away”), it also teaches me that the discouragement, depression, doubt and despair that Catherine and I have experienced as a result of these same circumstances are from the devil.

It is no wonder then that Peter, speaking of our adversary, writes, “Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:9a). Why should believers need to be exhorted to be firm in their faith? Because our faith is the object of the devil’s attack. The devil seeks to undermine our trust and confidence in God and God’s word. That’s what the old serpent did in the garden of Eden; that’s what’s been happening to me and my wife. At first, I thought it was just me. Then I found out Catherine has also been having a terrible struggle that she’s been keeping to herself. It turn out both of us have been tempted to doubt God’s care and love. Both of us have been tempted to doubt the efficacy of our prayers because certain prayers have gone so long unanswered. We’ve both been tempted in different ways to give up hope. Our faith has been under attack.

But, I read this word: “Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). So, this is what I will do, and will encourage Catherine to do: In humility, I will acknowledge that this current period of unemployment and the prior long years of career-related disappointments have come from the hand of our heavenly Father who loves us. I still don’t understand why, and I won’t pretend there is no anxiety about the future, but we have here in the text an invitation from our mighty God—a God who cares for us—to cast our anxieties upon Him. I won’t question God, because He knows what He’s doing; rather, I will choose to obey Him.

There’s something else we must do: “Be sober-minded; be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). There is a devil, and he is real. Therefore, we need to be “sober-minded”—alert, aware and vigilant—and “watchful”, so that we do not fall prey to the enemy of our souls. The way we can obey God’s command in 1 Peter 5:8-9 is to purposefully, and stubbornly cling to God’s word. God’s word is true, regardless of what happens to us. His word is true even when we can see no evidence that our prayers are being answered. The Bible remains true even when the circumstances of life threaten to smother us to death. God’s word is true!

Maybe you find yourself in circumstances similar to me and my wife. I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand. God knows what He’s doing, and you can trust Him. God also cares for you. You can tell Him your concerns. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Get alone so that you can freely pour out your heart to God. Finally, be alert and aware of the work of your enemy. Don’t take the devil for granted; he is real, and he will literally kill you, if possible. Misery loves company, so the devil doesn’t want to go to hell alone, and multitudes are following him to eternal misery. If the devil can’t get your soul, he’ll content himself with rendering you powerless and ineffective in the Lord’s work. Don’t let him do it! “Resist him, firm in your faith.” Stand pat on the word of God. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4).

Say, like the late Dorothy Love-Coates (1928-2002), “I’m holding on, and I won’t let go of my faith”. Enjoy this recording, and be encouraged.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Amazing Promises

Lately, I’ve been thinking about prayer. There are some tremendously amazing promises in the word of God, addressed to believers, in regards to prayer. They’re almost too good to be true.

But, they are true!

Below, I’ve printed several Scripture passages that never fail to grab my attention each time I read them. Even when you apply the necessary scriptural parameters and conditions, what God promises in these passages to the believer who prays is simply incredible!

I wonder, are we (am I) desperate enough for definite answers to prayer that we are willing to pray as if we really believe God’s word is true?

Read and meditate on the passages below. Then, “go into your room and shut the door and pray…”


5“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

16“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”


14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


22And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”


1Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread, 4and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

5And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”


3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

1 JOHN 3

18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19By this [i.e., our love] we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

1 JOHN 5

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

“From within, out of the heart…”

Have you noticed all the fear, hostility and anger in the air of late? From the ongoing debate over national health care to the furor over the news that President Obama was going to address the nation’s schools, many Americans seem deeply upset.

I can imagine someone responding, “Of course, we’re upset! It’s because of all the [take your pick] liberal/socialistic/communistic/unconstitutional/anti-Christian/evil policies being forced upon this country by the Obama Administration!”

Apparently, it’s all the fault of President Obama.

Perhaps. But, I don’t think all this commotion is about policy. Whether at town hall meetings, on radio talk shows, at Internet blogs, or in reader comment sections in the newspaper, there is a level of public hostility, animosity and pent-up rage being directed at this President like I’ve never heard or read about before. Just last night, as our President was addressing a joint session of Congress regarding his proposals to overhaul healthcare, a congressman from South Carolina shouted “You lie!” Heckling directed at the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress by a congressman is simply unprecedented. That is, until now. No, this commotion is not simply about policy differences, conservative versus liberal, or because of a heightened sense of partisanship.

Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). All this contemptuous language that we are hearing and reading about daily is but a reflection of the contempt, hostility and anger that, unfortunately, resides in the hearts and minds of many white people in this country. Some may object to my singling out white people, but haven’t you noticed that practically all of these angry people all across America are white? I’ve not seen any black people on the news, ranting and raving at town hall meetings, have you? Predominantly, we’re talking about angry white people.

Which brings me to this unavoidable conclusion: I think what is fueling much of this rage and anger is nothing other than latent white racism. It’s not the only thing, but it is playing a significant role in the furor.

Latent—adj., “present but invisible or inactive; lying hidden and undeveloped within a person or thing, as a quality or power.”

Some people seem to believe racism is mainly a thing of the past. They think, sure, there may be a few hate groups here and there, out on the fringe of society but, for the most part, racism is a dead issue. Well, first of all, there are more than just a few of these “fringe” groups, and the number is growing. But, secondly, the 13th, 15th and 24th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and several Civil Rights Acts, only made certain overtly racist acts illegal, and helped to dismantle the various forms of institutionalized racism that we had in this country. Racism, however, was never eradicated from our country, because racism is not a law written on paper, racism is a sin which resides in the human soul.

Having been “black in America” for 46 years now, I think I know a bit about racism. For the most part, the racism that we see in old black-and-white newsreels is gone. Racism today usually doesn’t parade around in white hoods, burn crosses on lawns, or lynch black men for being with white women (although it still, on occasion, hurls the “N-word” at black people). Today’s racism is much more sophisticated than the racism of the not-so-distant past. Today’s racism is very subtle and, therefore, hard to define. Because it’s so hard to pin down, it’s also very easy to deny. But, my sense, as a black man in America, is that the election of Barack Obama—an intelligent, highly educated and articulate “man of color”—as President of the United States has caused many white Americans to show their “true colors”, stirring up what has simply laid “hidden and undeveloped within”.

White America, the primary beneficiaries of America’s legacy of racism, has never truly acknowledged the sin of racism and turned wholeheartedly away from it. That has been the ongoing problem in the United States. White society just want blacks to forget about “it” and pretend it never happened, while at the same time they continue their practice of sophisticated, subtle racism. The Bible speaks of repentance. To repent is to turn around and turn away from sin. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13). Until there is a true turning away from racism by white America, there will never be true racial healing, and God will not heal our sick nation.

Jesus spoke what I believe is a relevant word regarding the racial tension that exists between whites and blacks, tensions which have always been present in our country: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Black people in America, historically, have been (and, to a degree, continue to be) on the receiving end of racism. And, contrary to what some may think, the effects of racism on black people are real, not imaginary. My white fellow-Americans, when it comes to racial reconciliation, according to Jesus, the ball is in your court.

There is also a part that black Americans must play: We must be willing to forgive. Black Americans shouldn’t assume all whites are racist, because that’s not true. In every conflict with whites, blacks shouldn’t simply assume racist motives are at work. Too many of us carry around a racial chip on our shoulders. We have to let that go. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Personally, I’m not going to let white racism stand between me and God. If we black Americans are not willing to forgive, there will never be true racial healing, and God will not heal our communities.

I’ve stated it before: I do not believe that abortion or homosexuality are the greatest sins in America (they are sins, but not the greatest sins). For the most part, abortion and homosexuality are the sins of unregenerate or unsaved people (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Racism, however, is alive and well, unrepented of and without remorse, within the church, among those who profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. I firmly believe, next to unbelief, racism is America’s greatest sin because it is one of the sins-of-choice of far too many of us who claim to be Christians. It was so at the founding of this nation, and it still true today.

I’m not optimistic that racism will ever be eradicated. Until Jesus comes back and permanently rids this world of sin and all its evil effects, there will be racism. Nevertheless, there is something God’s people—Christians—can do: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The church should be the one place where there is no racism. Christians have no business joining in all the angry, hate-filled, contemptuous speech that is out there. Stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk and, instead, get in God’s word. After all, we’re supposed to be followers of a “more excellent way”.
Photo: Bradley C. Bower/AP