No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Today’s verse is 1 John 1:9.

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Okay, I’ll be honest, even though I’m probably going to reveal how much of a terrible Christian I am (lol). I didn’t think of grace and peace and repentance when I read this verse this morning. In all honesty, the very first thing I thought of when I read this verse is the well-known Monty Python skit, The Spanish Inquisition.”

We grew up with Monty Python, and I think it’s all pretty hilarious. But this was one of those that sticks with you.

Obviously, it’s a humorous take on a real historical group that did horrible things to torture confessions out of innocent people. It was founded in 1480, and it became well known for forcing confessions out of people. Monty Python’s group had some fun with this in a couple of skits, trying to force confessions out of people with terrifying orders of “poke her with the fluffy pillows!” or “put her in the comfy chair!” I still remember laughing as I watched these crazy guys wearing red poking this old woman with a pillow, chanting, “Confess! Confess! Confess!”

Forced confessions aren’t real. They never are. Maybe in the movies. Or if Jack Bauer is interrogating you, then they’d be real. But in real life, whenever you force someone to confess something, generally you can’t trust it.

Have you ever said you’re sorry for something and didn’t really mean it? I know I have. I have definitely apologized to someone simply to placate them, when deep in my heart I wasn’t sorry at all.

If you’re not really sorry for something, isn’t it a good idea to forgo apologizing for it until you actually regret doing it? Until you have an earnest wish not to do that sort of thing again? Apologizing for it before you really feel sorry about it is dishonest. Saying you’re sorry before you mean it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

If we’re sorry for something, that means we change our minds about our actions or our thoughts; changing our minds about our actions or thoughts means that we realize they were wrong, that they’ve hurt others, and that we are committed to never repeat those thoughts or actions again. It doesn’t always mean we’ll succeed. But we can certainly try.

That’s what the Greek word for repentance actually means. I don’t know if I’m spelling it right, but it’s transliterated metanoya. A change in thinking. People would have you believe that repentance is this giant, overly emotional show of deep feeling. It’s not. It’s a quiet change deep in your own heart and mind that shows you’ve thought about what you’ve done and come to the realization that it was wrong. And that you’ve vowed to stop doing it.

What’s more, repentance is between you and God. It’s not something that other people should get involved in. It’s not our responsibility to make other people confess their sins. One, because we can’t. Two, because we can’t see their hearts or minds to know if their “confession” is real. Three, we have our own sins to repent from, so how can we judge others for theirs?

Now . . . is it wrong to call a friend out on their sin when they know it’s wrong? No. It’s our responsibility as Christians to keep each other accountable. But if that friend still refuses to repent and turn from what they’re doing, you’ve done everything you can and now you have to give them up to God.

It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

But I can tell you this. When you repent — seriously turn from the things that you’ve done — there’s a change in you. We think we’re so smart. We think we’re so wise, living our lives the way we want to live. But we don’t know anything. We are so happy doing what we know is wrong because it makes us feel good, but the Bible isn’t kidding and God isn’t making up the fact that what we sow, we’ll reap. A harvest of it. The exact same thing we planted in abundance much later down the road.

Doing what feels good now even though we know it’s wrong will result in consequences for ourselves, our families and our friends years down the road.

But God is in control; He knows what He’s doing. (Goodness, I think this should be the slogan for this silly devotional blog since I swear I write it down every morning. Maybe it’s because I’m trying so hard to believe it.) But on top of that, He also knows what we are doing. He knows what we are thinking. He knows when we’re really, honestly sorry. And He knows when we’re faking it.

And when it all comes down at the end, it won’t be the Spanish Inquisition we face. It will be Him.

Marching to the beat of a different . . . faith?

Do you ever stop to think how different Christianity is from every other faith out there? It’s really interesting, actually. Maybe I should clairfy what I mean when I say “Christianity,” though, because a lot of times people don’t actually know what it is.

Christianity isn’t a religion. When I talk about Christianity in this post, I’m talking about the faith explained in the Bible. I’m not adding anything to it. I’m not taking anything away from it. Biblical Christianity is different than any other religious system in the world. And if you don’t believe me, just study them.

I’m not a world religion expert by any means so I’m not going to launch into an explanation of every one of them, because for every religious leader in the world you’ll find a different religion — even if they supposedly belong to the same type of faith system.

But what I’ve experienced or studied about other religions usually is something like this:

  • There’s a God but He’s distant and doesn’t care about us.
  • Or there’s no God, no heaven, no hell and everything ends when we die.
  • Or there is a God and He has a plan but we have to cower before Him and sacrifice (our lives, children’s lives, unbelievers’ lives) to please Him.
  • There is no God. Just nature. And we live the best we can and die and come back again to try once more until we reach perfection.
  • Or God exists and Jesus was a prophet who did a lot of good things, and we have to do good things too to get to heaven.
  • Or God just loves everyone so much that He can’t stand to be separated from anyone, so everybody goes to heaven.
  • Or (here’s the real kicker) God exists, Jesus is His Son, the Bible is true but you must follow church ritual and tradition to be saved.

I know there are a lot more. But it seems to me that these sum up the vast majority of religious systems out there. None of them are biblical. Some come close, but if you add or subtract anything away from Scripture, it’s no longer viable. This is biblical Christianity:

Romans 6:23

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 We’re not perfect. Our world is fallen, and our spirits are evil, separated from God through our rebellion. And although I have spoken to a number of people who think God is unfair for letting the whole human race take the blame for Adam and Even’s mistake, I don’t think anyone else would have done better. We’ve all fallen. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all let our pride get in the way of our relationship with God. And that’s no different than what Adam and Eve did. They were our best shot, and they blew it. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

We sin. We die. BUT. God gives us eternal life. And it’s free.

Free means free. You don’t have to pay for it. How could you? What do you own? What do you possess that God hasn’t given to you? How can you have anything worth trading for eternal life?

But it’s not just free — it’s a FREE gift.

Gifts are supposed to be free. Gifts don’t have strings attached.  If someone gives you a gift and expects you to pay for it, it’s not a gift; it’s a joke.

But the other thing about a gift is that you have to accept it. Anybody can give you a gift, but it doesn’t do you any good until you take it. It would be like someone giving me an Amazon Gift Card (yay, Kindle!) and me leaving it sit. What’s the point of that? That’s books someone’s given me, and I just leave it sitting on a table or under a Christmas tree? Why would I do that? Is it going to add itself to my account sitting there? Is it going to pay for the books I want just sitting there? No. It doesn’t do a thing until I take it, claim it, and use it.

The most important part of this verse, though, is how we are given this free gift of eternal life. Through Jesus Christ.

Jesus paid the price for our gift. He’s the one who offers it to us freely. He could charge us if He wanted to. He could demand that we reach a certain standard in our lives before we are worthy to accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be free. And He could expect us to pay Him back after we accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be a gift.

Don’t you see how different this kind of faith is?

God loves us but He’s perfect, and we’re not. So the only way to make us perfect so we can talk to Him was to send Jesus to pay for our sins with His death, so He could offer us the opportunity to have a relationship with God and with Him (and with the Holy Spirit, but it’s way too early in the a.m. for pheumatology). Everyone can believe it. There’s nothing we can do to earn it. There’s nothing we can do to lose it. And the only requirement of us is to accept it.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.

Spring in Kansas (a.k.a. Bipolar weather in a state where the only constant is the wind)

Autumn is my favorite season, if I had to pick one. And I enjoy cold weather (although I’ve lost my fondness for it by this point). But there is something remarkable about spring. There’s something magical about watching the world coming back to life after it’s been sleeping for so long.

Spring is a beautiful reminder of how God works, I think. After a long season of struggling and discouragement, He renews everything and everything gets another chance to live again. It’s hard to remember though because winter can seem so very long. But spring always comes one way or another (although in Kansas, it seems to hang on longer every year . . . . blizzards in April?).

I guess to someone who has never lived in a bipolar place like Kansas, our winters might surprise them. We aren’t known for getting intense amounts of snow like New England. We aren’t known for consistent artic temperatures like Alaska. If we’re known for anything, it’s for our weather’s confusion. It’s not unusual in a Kansas winter to have the temperature vary 60 degrees in a day. This past winter, we had a 95-degree difference in less than a week. One day the high temperature was around -20 (without figuring in the wind) and less than a week later, it was like 75.

To someone who has never experienced Kansas weather, I think this state might confuse and frustrate them. Because when you’re ready for snow and ice, Kansas gives you fog and rain. And when you’re ready for rain, Kansas gives you a drought. And when you’re expecting a drought, you get tornadoes and hail the size of soft balls. In the winter, especially, the weather never does what it’s “supposed” to do. The only constant in Kansas weather is the wind (unless a tornado is on the way; then when it gets quiet, you need to run for your basement).

So I can imagine how frustrating it might be to someone who has experienced winter in other more consistent places. For example, if you live in New England, you know you’re going to get snow. And you know it’s going to be cold. Oppositely, if you live in California, you know the weather is going to stay in the 70s and be dry and beautiful.

Here? We freeze our butts off for a week and then we see the sun and can run around without a jacket on. It’s like the weather loves to show us a glimpse of warmth and then revels in dashing our hopes with a blizzard that leaves us buried in snow, topped with ice and finished off with freezing fog. And if you didn’t know that that’s just the way Kansas weather is, I could see that it might discourage you.

Life is kind of like that, though. Don’t you think? James 1:12 says this:

 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 Those of us who’ve lived in Kansas for a long time know that if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait it out. Because our winters might be frigid and artic and frustrating, but our summers are hot and humid and fierce. If you’re not a winter person, just wait for summer because it will come.

I’ve found my relationship with God to be very much like Kansas weather. He never changes, of course. He always stays the same, and it’s me who does the changing. But there are times when stuff comes into my life that I don’t like. And it’s not necessarily because of anything I’ve done (although sometimes it is, and I’m just dealing with personal consequences). But most of the time, life just happens. Kind of like the weather. And at that point, I have two choices in how to respond to it — I can pout and be difficult and blue and unhappy; or I can just press on, doing the best I can, knowing that the weather will improve if I just give it time.

Trials and testing in our lives as Christians give us an amazing opportunity to put God to the test. If we are able to keep trusting Him even when nothing seems like it’s going right, we will be blessed. Now . . . notice that this particular verse doesn’t exactly imply that we’ll be blessed while we’re struggling. It actually seems to focus more on the fact that we’ll receive a reward when the trials/testing are over (this specific reward, the Crown of Life, is something we’ll be given when we get to heaven). But in any case, patiently enduring trouble that comes our way gives us the chance to know God for who He really is.

It’s kind of like stargazing. The best time to stargaze is in the winter. The night is clear and the stars are brighter. The only trouble is you go numb if you spend too much time outside looking up at the stars. But it’s worth it because you can see the stars and planets better than any other time. And if you wait until you’re comfortable outside, you won’t get as good a view.

If you wait until you’re comfortable in your life, you won’t get to know God very well because you don’t “need” Him as much as you do when you’re struggling.

I enjoy winter. I like snow (when I don’t have to drive on it), but by the end of the season I’m ready for it to go away. I’m ready for spring. I’m ready to watch the world come back to life, and there is something so wonderful about seeing flowers burst out all over trees, seeing grass climb out of the ground, seeing wheat growing in the field across from my home. It’s wonderful because it reminds me that God has kept His promise to return life to the Earth, and it encourages me because it reminds me that God will keep His promise to me.

Trials and testing don’t last forever. Just like Kansas weather, if you don’t like it, just be patient and try to make the best of it. Because it’s guaranteed to change.

There’s a reason General Patton has never been a cartoon character.

Sometimes I forget that we’re fighting a war.

Life is pretty good, really. I have enough to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, a car to drive. That’s more than most people in the world can say. All in all, I live an incredible life. I have everything I need and most everything I want too. And I’m so very thankful. But living so comfortably makes it very easy to forget about the war that we’re fighting.

No, not in Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya. I’m talking about the invisible war between good and evil, God and Satan. It’s a strange war because it’s already won; it’s already over. But we’re still stuck in the middle dealing with an enemy who won’t quit even when he’s been defeated. It’s easy to forget about this war when you’re comfortable and when you’re not struggling. And then sometimes its hard to remember it even when troubles come your way and we blame God for our pain.

Fighting a war isn’t something that we should forget, especially when we have an enemy dead set on destroying us. And if he can’t destroy us, he’ll do what he can to wreck our lives and our testimonies. And if we’re not ready for his attacks, he’ll catch us unsuspecting and we’ll fall.

I don’t feel like I’m really communicating well this morning, so I’ll just go ahead and let the Bible speak for me:

Ephesians 6:10-11

 10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

I’ve read this verse over and over and over again all my life, but today the phrase all strategies of the devil really stood out to me.

Satan is a student of us. He’s a student of me. He knows my weaknesses and my insecurities. He knows exactly what to throw in my path to make me doubt God, to make me doubt God’s plan, to make me doubt what God has for me. Satan knows exactly how to get to me. And if I’m not ready for him, if I’m not prepared for his attacks, there’s a danger that I might start believing him.

This verse reminds me that Satan is a strategist. He has a playbook on each of us and knows exactly how we’ll react in most situations. He knows how to manipulate us. And if we don’t know the Scriptures well enough, we’ll end up following him, even if we don’t realize it.

Please don’t think though that because he’s a defeated enemy that we don’t have to take him seriously. That’s ridiculous. Defeated enemies are ten times more dangerous than ones who are winning.

We also need to remember something very important. Culture has taught us that Satan is a cute little creature with horns and a tail and a pitchfork. Comics make light of him. Cartoon shows joke about him. No one takes him seriously. And I think that’s one of his manipulations. Why should we be concerned about a cute little cartoon character in a costume?

No. Satan is an angel. One of the most powerful angels ever created. Beautiful. Awesome. Raw power. Intelligent. And so very very dangerous.

If you read Scripture, you know that even the archangel Michael wouldn’t rebuke Satan; I think that’s in the Revelation. Do we even have any concept of what that means? In the book of 2 Kings, chapters 18-19, one angel completely annihilated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. 185,000! And, of course, there’s the story of the angel of death who crossed over Egypt and killed every firstborn. Angels are creatures we don’t want to mess with. And Satan was the most powerful of all of them. And just because his pride got him kicked out of heaven doesn’t mean he lost any of his power.

Satan is a brilliant warrior, an incredible strategist, and a forceful leader of an army of demons. Not taking him seriously is foolish.

So what can we do?

If Satan really is as powerful as Scripture says, how do we deal with him when he comes after us? Fortunately, this is a question that God has provided an answer for. Not once. Not twice. But three separate accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Satan came after Jesus when He was on Earth, tempting Him to do things He knew He shouldn’t do. Satan tempted Christ to turn stones to bread when He was fasting. Satan tempted Christ to throw Himself off a building to demonstrate His power and control over the angels. Satan tempted Him to worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. And every time, do you know what Jesus did?

Did He call down fire from heaven? He could have. But He didn’t. Did he wave His hand and make Satan disappear? He could have. But He didn’t. Did He punch Satan in the face? He could have. But He didn’t.

Jesus quoted Scripture.

For every thing Satan tried to convince Him to do, Jesus had a Scripture verse ready that told Him why He shouldn’t do it.

Why did Jesus allow Himself to be tempted? Why did Jesus let Satan do this to Him? Well, I think it was to give us an example of how to handle temptation when it comes.

Satan is a strategist. He’s hell bent (pun intended) on taking as many of us down with him as possible, and he’s going to throw everything at us that he can to get us to turn our backs on God. And even if our eternal souls go to heaven, Satan can pester us and bother us until we turn our lives on Earth into unproductive, miserable messes. But if we know Scripture, if we take the time to immerse ourselves in what God has said, when those times of temptation come, we’ll have a weapon that both protects and defends us. Why do you think the Bible is called a Sword?

So how is Satan tempting you today? Is he tempting you to worry? God says don’t be anxious for anything. Is Satan tempting you to stress out about things you can’t control? God says that even if a situation is bad, He can make it beautiful if we trust Him. Is Satan tempting you to make a foolish decision because you feel lonely? God says that He never leaves us.

God is truth. The Bible speaks God’s truth. And it’s the only weapon that can tune Satan out. It’s the only force that can stop him.

So get in it. Read the Bible. Memorize it. Learn it cover to cover. And be ready. Because if Satan hasn’t come after you yet, he will, especially if you want to do great things for God. And when he comes after you, remember the verses that you’ve learned, remember the promises that God has made, and believe them. Don’t just say them. Don’t just memorize them. Believe them.

Then Satan has nothing to say, and he can’t hurt you. Not because of your own power but because you’re putting your faith and trust in the power of God. And compared to God, Satan really is little more than just a cartoon character.

Make like a tree and leaf

Did anybody go outside to watch the “supermoon” come up last night? We did. My folks came out and we watched it rise. I can’t say it looked a whole lot bigger than it normally did, but it was startlingly red. Then, it decided to go behind some clouds and we couldn’t see it anymore. But waiting for it to rise was interesting.

I am always amazed at all the sounds you can hear outside if you just listen for them. I live out in the middle of nowhere so there’s no city noise. So you can hear the wind blowing a rusty-hinged gate a mile away. And you can hear the chug-chug of the enging running the oil derrick a couple of miles away. And you can hear packs of coyotes howling in the distance. But the loudest sound that pretty much overrules everything (if it’s not a car driving down the blacktop) is the wind in the trees. A rushing, whispering sound, it silences most other noises until the wind lets up.

I love trees, and it’s sad that we don’t have a lot of trees in Kansas in comparison to other states. They make it easy to spot a road or a house or a creek or river from a distance though. It’s unusual to see a tree standing off in a field by itself. Usually, a tree will grow either because it’s been cared for or because its location provides it with everything it needs to flourish. Kind of like in an oasis. You don’t see lone trees in the desert unless they’re at an oasis where they can get plenty of water.

I’ve already rambled on longer than I’d intended to this morning. What I’m trying to say is that a tree planted beside a river never has to worry about running out of water. It can be unbearably hot. The air could be dry. But the tree will still have access to what keeps it strong and healthy and productive.

It’s the same with us and our relationship with God.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
   Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
   Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.

At first I thought the reference was wrong because it made me think of Psalm 1:2-3.

2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
      meditating on it day and night.
 3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
      bearing fruit each season.
   Their leaves never wither,
      and they prosper in all they do.

But they’re obviously different. It’s just God using two different writers hundreds of years apart to say the same thing. And when God takes the trouble to repeat something, it’s a good idea to listen.

Trees can grow without being planted beside a river, but if they aren’t they have to get their water from somewhere else. They have to rely on rain or human care. Well, what happens when it doesn’t rain enough? Or what happens if people don’t take care of them? And, those of us in Kansas know about weather issues. What happens to a fruit tree in a hailstorm? Or what if we have another April or May blizzard (I’m not exaggerating)? All its fruit is destroyed.

The comparison between trees and people is so clear, so perfect.

If you trust God, you’ll be like the tree planted at the riverside. You’ll have everything you need to survive — and not just survive but flourish — even when everything goes wrong. When you lose your job. When you lose your family. When nothing makes sense. When people let you down. If you trust God, that confident hope you have in Him will see you through any difficulty. People relying on their own strength will wither and dry up. And though you may not be surviving in the best circumstances, you’ll still be at peace if you trust God.

And, what’s more, God will be able to use you. Even when it seems like your life is spinning out of control, if you can hold on to God and His promises and trust that He knows what He’s doing, He will take your faith and use it to accomplish something amazing.

Trees have it easy. It’s not like they can move. They can’t decide one day that they don’t want to be planted by a river anymore and the next day get up and change locations. We do that all the time, deciding that God can’t be trusted and following our own ideas or opinions. We need to be like a tree. Planted. Solid. Rooted. So deep in God that we can’t move away from Him, that we can’t help but trust Him.

All God wants is our trust. That really is all that He wants. It’s all He’s asking for. And it’s all we need. Unfortuately, though, with my stupid human pride, it’s the hardest thing for me to give. Because I really think I know better most of the time (I know I don’t, but try convincing my deceitful heart of that). So it’s a daily struggle for me to stop trying to figure things out and stop trying to plan everything and just let Him do what He wants to do.

But what’s nice about that is if you’ve left Him, we can always come back. You don’t have to prove yourself to God. He already knows your heart and your motivation, and if you truly desire to come back to Him and trust Him, He knows. And He’s more than happy to give us a another chance, no matter if it’s a second chance or a forty-second chance.