Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember who your enemy is

I’m always shocked when a good deed turns sour. Have you ever seen that happen? Have you ever watched something that started out good become so twisted and backward that it turned into a weapon? Before your eyes, an idea that was meant to help people became a tool to tear people apart. A pure, simple request can into a major issue that has people at each others’ throats.

Do things like that just happen? I don’t think so. It takes craftiness and skill to turn a pure, innocent idea into a raging tool of destruction. And if we as Christ-followers don’t keep our eyes open, we’ll be tempted to think that craftiness and skill comes from the people around us rather than its true source—our enemy.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:12.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I posted recently about how predictable Satan is, but I didn’t really talk about how sneaky he is. And personally I think he takes great pride in how he can take someone’s good deed or someone’s good intention and twist them into something hurtful.

Maybe you’ve never seen him do it. It’s masterful. Completely evil but totally masterful. Say you want to buy flowers for a loved one. You have the best intentions in mind. You want to show that person how much you care. Well, when you get to the florist, their delivery people have a bad day and don’t drop the flowers off when they’re supposed to. So the person who was going to get the flowers late in the afternoon on a Monday gets them early instead, when he/she is in a meeting. And it interrupts them and breaks their concentration, and their whole day ends up spiraling out of control, and they’re angry about it when they were supposed to be happy. And that makes you angry because you spent your time try to do something nice for them, and it didn’t work.

That’s a pitiful example, but you get the idea. You can start with the best of intentions, but Satan can twist circumstances and (if they’re not paying attention) people’s perspectives to turn the kindest deed into a personal attack. When that happens, you have two options. You either go with your gut or you do what you know is right. Believe it or not, those two don’t always go hand in hand.

When somebody hurts your feelings, what do you do? When someone treats you like you’re stupid, how do you respond? When you feel like the person talking to you is talking down to you, what do you say in return? My reactions vary from sharp words to full-on tears, depending on who I’m dealing with. If it’s somebody who already intimidates me, you can bet I’ll be crying if they raise their voice at me. It’s embarrassing, but it’s true. If it’s someone I view as a peer or a friend, sharp words are likely, as much as I hate to admit it.

I don’t like being talked down to. I don’t like being treated like an idiot. And I really don’t like being interrupted when I’m trying to explain something. Maybe that’s pride. I don’t know. But it’s like pulling teeth to get me to back off and react with humility when someone is talking over me. But here’s the evil genius of the entire scheme: Most of the time the person talking down to you is only reacting to your tone. Or they’re just reacting to the tone of the person they talked to before you.

How many conflicts could have been ended before they even began if we just remembered that most people don’t want to fight? I mean, who really loves confrontation anyway? Yes, there are some difficult people out there, but generally speaking, people don’t want to fight with each other. They want to get things done. And getting bogged down in misunderstandings is a waste of time. Satan knows that. Why else does he keep turning us against each other the way he does?

He knows how it divides people and hurts people, and he loves to turn us against each other, especially if the people fighting are Christ-followers. Because the more he can drive us apart, the less effective we will be in accomplishing God’s purposes.

So the next time you find yourself embroiled in any kind of conflict, take a moment to just breathe and remind yourself that the person you’re talking to isn’t your real enemy. They’re doing the best they can in the situation, and maybe they started at you with sharp words, but sharp words in return aren’t going to help calm anyone down. Somebody has to back off. Maybe it should be you.

Satan wants us to fight each other, but it’s our choice whether to go with it or ignore him. Trust me. We’d all be better off if we ignored him. So stow the sharp words. Get your perspective back where it belongs, and remember who your enemy is.

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Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

The danger of a predictable enemy

I love big cats, and even though I would probably say tigers are my favorite, lions just seem majestic. But if you think about it, lions aren’t really strategists. Cats aren’t strategists in general, I don’t think. They’re really pretty straightforward. If they want to attack something (or someone), they usually just wait for the right moment, launch themselves at it, and maul it. Then, sometimes they eat it. Other times they drag it up to your porch step to share.

Big cats like lions make a lot of noise. They sound ferocious. And if they ever get a hold of you, they can do some serious damage. I’m not a student of cat science or animal science, so maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because I don’t know for sure. But my observations show that cats are somewhat predictable, big or small. If it’s something they don’t have to work too hard at, they’ll try to achieve it, but they’re far too full of themselves to try it for long if they can’t succeed.

So all the zebras in Africa really need to know is how to keep running because lions only have one attack–charge in swinging. If they can evade long enough, the lion will tire out and give up. But most of the time, the zebra’s stamina gives out before the lion’s does.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:8.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

I had a particularly difficult day on Wednesday. Just a number of different circumstances all piled up on top of me and conspired to sour my mood about a lot of different topics. And before I knew it, I was on the verge of shutting down completely and just going home and going to bed.

But I couldn’t. I had responsibilities at Judgement House, my church’s outreach. I had to be there to do my part. And that’s when I remembered that everything in my day had probably blown up and gone crazy for one reason: distraction.

I don’t want to be one of those people who blames every scary shadow on Satan, but I also don’t want to be oblivious to the plain and simple truth that we have an enemy. I’m not sure we as Christ-followers really get that half the time. It’s so easy to buy into culture’s idea of Satan–a goofy character in a red suit with a pitchfork. And who takes a character like that seriously?

Satan is out there, and he hates us. The Bible says in a number of places that he is out among us, looking for people to hurt, looking for opportunities to pull us away from God and to harry us until we make bad choices that will remove us from God’s umbrella of blessings.

Just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t give you the right to give up. Just because you’re having a rough time at the moment doesn’t mean that the rest of your life will be rough. Just because two hours out of your day were awful doesn’t mean that you need to see the rest of your day through the same lens. But Satan wants to make you think that way. He wants nothing more than to ruin our perspectives on God and on what God wants for our lives.

And it’s the same tactics he has used against us from the beginning of time. He wants to make us doubt God. He wants us to go after our own desires, our own plans, our own wants and forget about what God is doing.

Satan is nothing if not predictable.

So how does that explain why I keep falling for his underhanded, dirty tricks over and over again? Well, the way I look at it is that he wears me down, and I let down my guard. And once I’ve stopped expecting him, he’s free to walk in whenever he wants. That’s the danger with a predictable enemy; they can only breach your defenses if you let down your guard.

I nearly let him in yesterday. I nearly opened my ears to him and let him carry me away on the waves of overwhelming insecurity and feelings of uselessness. All lies, I know, but they’re so easy to fall for. I just had to remember that the only way I could fall for them is if I let myself. That choice is up to me, whether to let my guard down or shore up my defenses so I can keep on fighting.

The Holy Spirit lives inside me. God has offered me His strength, and Satan can’t stand against Him. So when I stopped focusing on my failures and my weaknesses and started focusing on how awesome God is, Satan and his stupid lies faded into the background.

So remember, if you’re a Christ-follower, you have an enemy out there. It’s not your mean boss or your unfriendly coworkers or your next door neighbor. We don’t fight against people. Satan is our enemy, and he will do anything to trip us up. But the only way we’ll fall for his tricks is if we allow him into our lives to begin with.

Sun almost set - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Never give up.

I avoid hatred. I don’t think hate solves anything. Ever. It’s one of those emotions that can move you to do terrible things, and if you get into a lifestyle of hatred, you will become a miserable person. And even Scripture tells us that we’re never supposed to hate another person. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done to us or how they’ve treated us or how they’ve treated someone you love, hate never improves the situation. It just makes you miserable.

But what about our enemy? Our real enemy. Not Osama bin Laden or any of the men and women who have done such evil things to each other. Not people. Because people are never our enemies. Satan is. And he hates us so very much. Is it okay to hate him?

And the moment I start talking about Satan many people may start rolling their eyes because we don’t like to think about him as a real person who’s truly after us. But he is. And he’s not some costumed clown in a red suit and pitchfork as our culture would like to believe. He’s not a man in a suit. He’s not a terrifying monster. He’s brilliant and he’s beautiful and he’s alluring, and he knows us better than we know ourselves.

And he tears people apart. And he takes things that are good and corrupts them. And he gets in between people who are making a difference and tempts them to hurt each other, and before you know it, they can’t even talk to each other anymore. He fills our heads with lies, and because we are broken people we listen. And the only consolation is that God is big enough to take the situations that Satan had destroyed and can still do something great with them.

Paul and Barnabas are a good example. They disagreed about a young man named John Mark. You can read it in Acts 14:36-40. But they fought about it so much that they split up because they couldn’t work together anymore. Did their ministries end? No. God still used them. And maybe some would say that it was God’s will for them to go their separate ways. But I don’t think it’s ever God’s will for us to be in conflict with another believer. Not like that. Not the kind of conflict that splits you apart and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

God still used Paul and Barnabas separately. They still did remarkable things around the world. But as far as we know, they never reconciled. Now they’re together in heaven. I wonder how that went when they spoke to each other again for the first time in so long.

Sun almost set - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun almost set – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Micah 7:7-8.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help.
    I wait confidently for God to save me,
    and my God will certainly hear me.
Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
    For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.

Satan is going to throw everything he has at us. I don’t think any of us really understand how much he hates us. What we have to do is to realize what is happening.

Satan hates us and wants us to fall. He wants us to go to pieces. He wants us to focus the sum of our disappointment and our fears and our loneliness on each other. If he can’t separate us from God (and he can’t, by the way), he will manipulate us and use us to hurt each other, to drive each other away. And we’re so good at rationalizing that we are always in danger of listening to his temptation and supporting it with our own reasoning … so it makes sense to us. And we think we’re doing something good, but we’re really just playing into his hands.

But if whatever path you’re choosing to act on contradicts Scripture in any way, don’t do it.

So what if you’re in the position of watching people give in to Satan’s taunts and threats?

Pray.

And if you know them well enough, confront.

And if that doesn’t change anything … let them go. God will take care of it.

Quite “by accident” this morning, when I logged into Biblegateway.com to get the verse, it was set on The Message as the translation. I use the Message sometimes because I like to get the feel of a whole passage. This is the whole context of the verses for today:

But me, I’m not giving up.
   I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
I’m waiting for God to make things right.
   I’m counting on God to listen to me.
Don’t, enemy, crow over me.
   I’m down, but I’m not out.
I’m sitting in the dark right now,
   but God is my light.
I can take God’s punishing rage.
   I deserve it—I sinned.
But it’s not forever. He’s on my side
   and is going to get me out of this.
He’ll turn on the lights and show me his ways.
   I’ll see the whole picture and how right he is.
And my enemy will see it, too,
   and be discredited—yes, disgraced!
This enemy who kept taunting,
   “So where is this God of yours?”
I’m going to see it with these, my own eyes—
   my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter.

We have an enemy, and he hates us. And he’s going to do everything he can to break us down and tear us apart, and there are going to be days when he succeeds. But God is bigger. And God is stronger. And God is going to make everything right again. And Satan is going to see that. Actually, Satan already knows that.

It’s up to us not to give up. It’s up to us to keep doing the right thing. To keep living lives that please God, living according to the Scripture, living according to the Spirit. And God will work everything out.

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.