CAUSE & EFFECT IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD

How we live affects our ability to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit on the one hand and avoid entanglement with evil on the other.

One of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read was M. Scott Peck’s Glimpses of the Devil. Peck was a clinical psychiatrist and author of several bestsellers in the 1970’s and 80’s including, The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie. Glimpses is the full account of the exorcisms of two of his patients.

With degrees from Harvard and Case Western Reserve, Peck did not see the Devil behind every mental disorder. In fact, until the day he met Jersey, a patient profiled in the book, he did not believe in the Devil. His experiences with her and another patient convinced him not only of the reality of personal spiritual evil, but also of cause and effect in the spiritual world.

“There are two states of being,” Peck wrote, “submission to God and goodness or the refusal to submit to anything beyond one’s own will—which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil. We must ultimately belong either to God or the devil.”[1]

Science is always catching up with scripture, and Peck the twentieth century scientist, had caught up with things the Apostle Paul taught in the first century about the spiritual world.

Some things we do provide an avenue for evil influence in our lives. Practicing falsehood, indulging anger, and habitual stealing, “give the devil a foothold,” Paul wrote.[2] But who, or what, is the Devil?

The Devil is a hateful, violent, twisted being that despises God and loathes people. He is attracted to sinful behavior like flies to garbage, laying his larvae of spite, lust, and greed to hatch into maggots of bitterness, violence, sexual predation, and avarice. Thus, his evil influence in life spreads like the stench of a landfill on a hot summer day.

As the Devil’s influence swells in a life that makes room for it, so the Spirit’s effect wanes. The knowledge of God’s presence, the strength to withstand temptation, the wisdom, discernment, healing, prophecy, and other manifestations along with love, joy, peace, patience and self-control fade when we ignore Him and indulge evil.

The Spirit of God is gentle, pure, and quiet. He does not go where he is not welcomed.[3] We can choke his influence by our hard hearts.[4]  He grieves over sin in the life of a believer the way a parent is saddened by a wayward child.[5] But when he is welcomed he brings sweet fruit.

Welcome the Spirit of God into your life. Make room for him daily through meditation on Scripture, worship with the Psalms or other spiritual songs, and prayer. Abide in Christ, trusting in his completed work for you on the cross and obeying his commands, and his Spirit’s influence and power in your life will grow.

[1] From the Preface.

[2] Ephesians 4:27

[3] John 20:22

[4] 1 Thessalonians 5:19

[5] Ephesians 4:30

SURPRISED BY THE FACTS Reflections on Mass Shootings

This blog began as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Where to begin?

With compassion for the citizens of Sutherland Springs, Texas? Yes, of course. Their suffering staggers us. Like the open casket at one’s first funeral we shudder to approach it. But for me it’s more about Pastor Frank Pomeroy.

Every pastor shares the soul-shredding grief of sudden death in his congregation and wonders, “How will I comfort them?” But who will comfort Pastor Frank and strengthen him to serve what remains of his congregation as he mourns his daughter and comforts his wife? I pray for him, that Jesus Christ the brutally crucified death conqueror will meet him in power and in his congregation as each one comforts the other.

What about gun control? Violence as entertainment? Hardening soft targets? The inescapable reality of evil? The biblical case for the use of force? Please click the links for my thoughts on those things. Writing on these topics has helped me, and I hope you, process these events from the biblical worldview perspective.

What about outrage at the Air Force bureaucracy that failed to post the shooter’s criminal record, the one that might have prevented purchase of the weapons?  I did not give this much thought at first. As we have known since 9-11, terrorists and murderers only have to succeed once. Law enforcement systems must be 100% perfect to prevent crimes, an impossible standard. Someone will always find a loophole in the law, or bypass it altogether.

At least that was my thinking when I began writing.

This blog started out as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Under reporting of mental illness and or criminal backgrounds is a major factor in five of the six mass shootings in the last decade (the jury is still out on the Las Vegas shooter).[1] Each murderer was enabled either by laws meant to protect the mentally ill, or by lack of communication between bureaucracies, or by over protective, enabling family members, or some combination thereof to obtain the weapons, plan, and carry out the massacres. The Virginia Tech shooter, the Charleston shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the Roseburg shooter, and the Sutherland Springs shooter never should have been able to purchase the weapons they used.

I suspect that there will be some restrictions on gun sales and production that come out of these recent tragedies, particularly of semi-automatic rifles with large magazines initially designed for the military. And that is probably not a bad thing. But it will not solve the problem if we fail to address our inadequate mental health system and criminal background reporting requirements.

[1] Jihadists terror attacks not included as their motives are different.

FACING THE EVIL AMONG US The Las Vegas Massacre

My gut double-clutched as I heard the newsman’s report on Monday morning radio: “Over fifty killed, over five hundred wounded.” As John Stonestreet said on Breakpoint yesterday, we weep for the suffering and we call evil by name.[1]

That’s what I want to do today, help us face the evil.

Law enforcement will sift out a motive, and the debate will rage again about gun control, but in the end, these will not speak to our deepest fears. Remember that in 1995 Timothy McVeigh used a Ryder rental truck, fertilizer, racing fuel, and diesel fuel to kill 168 people, injure 680 others and destroy 25 buildings. On 9-11 Islamic terrorists killed almost 3000 with box cutters and airliners. No amount of investigation or new security will bring these people back.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation and the debates, the question will remain: Knowing something like this could happen again, how are we to deal with it on a personal, day-to-day basis?

The Reality of Evil

Historian David McCollough made this comment after 9-11, “We have for a long time now chosen to see everything in shades of gray. We have eschewed the idea of a clear line between right and wrong, good and evil. I think this event changes that.”

Paul called it the ‘mystery of iniquity’. Evil, how it works and why it torments us, is a mystery. But it is not a myth. It is as real as the thunder of a falling tower and as terrible as the rattle of an automatic weapon, and it resides in our hearts too.[2] Each generation must come to grips with the reality of evil.

The Mandalay Bay shooter was not always evil. He was a baby at his mother’s breast. He was a little boy playing sandlot baseball. But something happened and he turned. He was a free moral agent and made a choice to nurture the evil inside and let it grow.

The Bible teaches us that we have a choice.[3] The question is, what will we do with the evil within?

Salt to a Rotting Culture

Were all of us more truthful with ourselves we would admit violence in our entertainment is just as poisonous as pornography. The more we consume it the less we abhor it and the more it becomes a viable option for calming our inner demons.

No one knows what evil drew the Las Vegas shooter to that hotel high ground, but nothing is more certain than that he saw violence as his only response.

Evil comes from within, but it is nurtured by corrupt culture. Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. Surely that means that we have a role in reshaping our cultural taste for violence.

Find True Security

Stories are already emerging of people who made narrow escapes, or left the venue like John Rich of Big & Rich, before the shooting began. But ultimately, safety has nothing to do with where you are or what you are doing. Safety is found in God alone.

I’m not suggesting we ignore security precautions. I’m just saying that five minutes or five seconds one way or the other is often the difference between life and death. And none of us knows which side of that count we will be on when we walk out the door.[4]

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ, God doesn’t want to know your plans for tomorrow. He wants to know your plans for today. Will you trust him with all that you are for all of eternity?

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”[5]

Let your grasp of who he is be so firm, and your understanding and respect for his power be so immense, that no evil on earth can intimidate you.

[1] http://www.breakpoint.org/2017/10/breakpoint-mourning-wake-las-vegas/

[2] Matthew 5:19

[3] Ephesians 4:26-27; James 1:14-15

[4] Psalm 103:15-16

[5] Matthew 10:28-31

GOD’S LOVE AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

“I love you,” I blurted out on one of the first dates with the woman who would one day be my wife.  I’ll never forget how she replied.

“I love chocolate cake. What does that mean?” She was skeptical of a guy who would say he loved her with so little understanding of who she really was.

The Bible says “God is love.” Few people would argue with that. But most folks think God’s love is no different in kind or strength than my wife’s love for chocolate cake.

It’s much more powerful than that.

An old song says, “Love is a many splendored thing.” But when it comes to understanding the love of God it is perhaps more accurate to call it a many splintered thing. God’s love has been cut from its frame of reference, hacked to pieces by well-meaning people and heretics alike.

So let’s try to put it back in the frame with a few key concepts.

First, God’s love is sacrificial. The Apostle John, who penned the words, ‘God is love’ spelled it out for us.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9). John also wrote the very familiar, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

That tells us that God’s love is sacrificial, but a sacrifice for what?

In his excellent book, The God Who Loves, John MacArthur points out that God’s wrath is also part of our frame of reference. “We have forgotten that “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). As Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “We do not believe in that kind of God anymore.”[1]

We can decide not to believe hurricane warnings either, but that won’t keep them from coming ashore.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” [2]

Ever been party to the suppression of the truth? Anytime? Ever? I have. All of us have and are deserving of wrath. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23.

The love of God cannot be understood apart from the wrath of God. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact neither one can be fully appreciated without the other. God’s hatred for sin and evil is the back side of the coin of his love. He wouldn’t be loving if he didn’t hate evil, including the evil that is inside each one of us. Only the power of his love could overcome our sin and absorb his just wrath against it.

God’s love is sacrificial because it absorbed the wrath that we deserve.

If you’ve looked for a job lately you know that the benefits are almost as important as the salary. We know we’ll be paid. But will we be covered?

That’s another piece of the frame.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love ‘has us covered’. “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”— Then the Psalmist lists the benefits and the first on the list is: “who forgives all your sins…”

God’s love is not only sacrificial; it is also beneficial in that it makes us guilt free.

Guilt is the great crippler. Guilt stunts God-given potential. Guilt saps courage, binds us to the past, and alienates us from God and one another. A guilty mind can’t think with power. A guilty heart can’t love with abandon. Even if there was such a thing as an insurance policy for sin, a guilty soul could never do enough to cover its own deductible.

But the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins…” God’s love frees us from guilt.

If you are feeling burdened by guilt remember, God loves you so much that he’s paid the debt, absorbed his own wrath against our evil, and removed our shame. Take your sins to him and ask for forgiveness. He will give it. He’s got you covered.

[1]MacArthur, J., F., Jr. (2003, c1996). The God Who Loves. (10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ro 1:18–19). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.