Whose side are you on anyway?

I thought the nation was divided before, but I hadn’t lived through this November. And here we are, more than a month later, and we’re still reeling. So is the rest of the world. And the only thing that’s certain is how uncertain everything is.

The last year has been about taking sides and switching loyalties and who you support and why. And once everyone made up their mind about all that, it turned into a mud-slinging event, where everyone who disagreed with everyone else made an extreme effort to offend as many people as possible. The last year has been one side against the other, and I’m not sure anyone actually won.

People are really good at taking sides down here. It’s a common topic of conversation, especially around election time. Are you on Donald Trump’s side? Are you on Hillary Clinton’s side? No? Then you must be on a third-party candidate’s side, right? Which one? Who’s side are you on?

If you side with someone, that means you agree with them. That means you believe the same things they believe and support the same causes they support. You stand for what they represent. Right? Isn’t that how it works?

That’s the thought that kicked me in the head during a worship service at my church a few weeks ago. “Our God” by Chris Tomlin is one of those classic worship songs that I never get tired of singing, and I love the way my church sings it. Loud and bright and joyful, because it’s so very true. But as the words of the bridge left my mouth, I stopped.

In case you aren’t familiar with the song, the bridge lyrics are: “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?”

Bold words. Powerful words. And true, because they’re based on Scripture. Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And if you think about it, who wouldn’t want God on your side?

This is God we’re talking about. Maybe I speak for myself, but having God on my side sounds like a pretty fabulous idea. I mean, if God is on my side, that means I’m right about everything.

If God is for us, that means He supports us. He agrees with us. He stands for what we represent. Right? As we understand the concept of taking sides, isn’t that what it would mean?

That’s how we live. That’s how we treat God sometimes. We look at Him like He’s some genie in the clouds, who exists solely to fulfill our wishes. He’s all-loving, and that means He supports us in every path we take. And He wouldn’t ever correct us or discipline us or discourage us from making a choice He doesn’t like. He’s a good God, after all.

Personally, I’m not sure a god who lets us get away with everything can be classified as good. Children who are allowed to get away with everything aren’t usually liked. Parents who let their kids get away with everything aren’t usually considered role models. So why do we think God is different?

But God is on our side. That means He agrees with us.

Maybe not. See that tiny little two-letter word, if? That’s a huge word. If. It means the statement that follows may not be true. It means the statement that follows is conditional.

If God is for us. If God is on our side. If means He may not be.

So what do you have to do to get God on your side? What price do we have to pay? What task do we have to accomplish?

The answer isn’t easy, but it’s very simple.

If you want God on your side, you need to be on His side.

See, God isn’t overwhelmed by our greatness. Compared to Him, we’re less than fleas. He doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11), and our fantastic attempts to doing good don’t impress Him (Isaiah 64:6). We can’t convince God to be on our side through our own merit.

And, frankly, why would God want to be on our side? What can we do for Him? What can we offer Him? He’s God! Maker of the Universe. Inventor of gravity. Creator of quasars and feathers, to quote singer Chris Rice. He can do anything. He can be anywhere. He knows everything. Time has no meaning to Him.

We are nothing. And the only thing we can offer Him is our hearts.

Exodus 32:26
So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Who’s on God’s side? That’s the question we should be asking. Who represents what God stands for in our culture? Who agrees with God? Who supports God?

There are only two sides that matter, God’s side, and the world’s side. I don’t have a side. Neither do you. Neither does the President or your senator or your town mayor or your teacher or your annoying little brother or sister.

Whose side are you on?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose sides. But this world isn’t perfect. And we do. But when it comes to who you support or what you choose to do or how you choose to do it, you only have two choices for what side to take. You can either choose to do what the world says is right, or you can choose to do what God says is right. There’s no middle ground. There’s no third party.

If you want God to be on your side, you have to be on His side first.

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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.

War

Did you know that we’re fighting a war? It’s a war that’s been raging for thousands of years, and anyone who believes in Christ is a soldier in it. Satan has been struggling with God for thousands of years. It’s a war that we can’t really see, though, so it’s easy to forget about it. And the combatants are the stuff of science fiction movies — demons and such — so they are easy to dismiss. But just because we forget or refuse to believe that a war is being fought all around us doesn’t make it any less real.

I was told once that our lives are a war and every day is a new battle which we either win or lose.

Please forgive another popular culture reference. I’m a huge fan of the show 24. Every season, Jack Bauer saves the nation in a 24-hour span of time, and every episode (which is one hour out of that 24-hour span) he wins a battle against terrorists or he loses a battle. Like in one episode, the woman he’s come to love is killed. That’s a loss. But in another episode he kills the man responsible and finds the information he needs to win the war. That’s a win.

Life is very much like that.

Every day we have a choice to either do what God has called us to do or to ignore what God wants and do what we want. Our actions and our choices will determine if we win the battles we face every day. It can be daunting, though, because sometimes the battles we face are difficult. There can be hard choices, and sometimes it’s easier to lie. Sometimes it’s easier to cheat. Sometimes it’s easier to be selfish. Sometimes it’s easier to just do what feels right. But battles are never supposed to be easy. Even the dictionary defines the word battle as a hostile encounter or engagement between opposing military forces. There’s nothing easy about battle. There’s nothing easy about war. So what makes us think that the easy way out is the right way out?

I know that I have lost more than my fair share of battles for a variety of reasons. But every day is a new day, and God’s mercy is new every morning. And when I wake up I try to remember that and set my sights on winning the battle for the new day.

But no matter how many battles I win or lose, it’s very encouraging to know that God has already won the war. The battles that we face today are just minor skirmishes while we’re waiting for God to come back and get us.

I love what Romans 8:35, 37 say.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Not just victory. Overwhelmning victory. And it’s ours through Christ.

How we fight our battles here on earth will determines the blessings we have here and in the life to come, but no matter how many times we fail (and, boy, do we all fail) God has already won the war. He loves us and He saved us, and through Him the victory is already ours. Satan is just throwing a temper tantrum right now because he can’t have his way and he knows it.

But there will come a day (soon) when we won’t have to fight anymore. When all the battles will end and we can enjoy life the way it was meant to be.

But until then, don’t let down. The Bible tells us how to live, so we should do as it says and keep fighting for what is right, no matter how difficult it might be. God will always make a way for us to do the right thing. And on the days when we lose, there’s no shame in seeking help to get back on our feet. Everyone loses battles.

And whether you win or lose, God still loves you. And that’s pretty encouraging.

Samurai pretty much rock

I am a student of Japan. I have always been fascinated by their history, their culture and their people. I’m not sure where this fascination comes from, but ever since I was old enough to know what a samurai was, I’ve wanted to know more. And on that same note, I love armor. Armor is a terribly fascinating study, especially the armor of the samurai.

Medieval armor was interesting, yes. But the samurai, to me, were on a different level.

I know my writing habit is what drew me to first begin studying Japan and the samurai, but the more I study it, the more it intrigues me. I actually even bought a book called the Code of the Samurai which is actually a translated text about bushido; it’s actually a really good read and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about the rules by which the samurai lived.

I think one of the things that fascinates me the most about samurai armor is that they all look different. Google samurai armor sometime and see what you come back with. They are beautiful examples of craftsmanship. Art, really. Passed down from generation to generation, each one symbolizing something in that particular family. Medieval armor is different; it all looks very much the same. Why else do you think people had to come up with heraldic symbols and colors? They couldn’t tell each other apart. But not samurai. The samurai were all unique and you could identify them by the armor they wore.

The verse this morning is familiar. One of those ones that gets quoted a lot but it’s one that people actually don’t really think about because it’s kind of freaky.

Ephesians 6:12-13

12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Other translations say that we fight against spiritural forces. Creepy huh? Do you ever think about that? About the fact that there really is spiritual warfare going on all around us? And no, you children of the 80’s, not Spiritual Warfare as in the awful old Nintendo game where you wandered the streets and converted nonbelievers (anybody remember that? Ugh).

There is a battle going on around us every day that we can’t see. It’s a struggle for our attention, our faith, our belief. Demons and angels. God and Satan.  God already dealt Satan a blow he can’t recover from; when Jesus died on the cross it ended Satan’s hold on us (we have to choose it, though). But Satan hasn’t backed down yet. He still thinks he can win, so he’s throwing everything he has at us.

But God has given us everything we need to resist him. God has given us his armor.

I don’t usually do this, but I’m including the rest of the verse.

Ephesians 6:14-17

14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[d] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[e] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Truth. God’s righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word. Those are the pieces of armor that God has given to us to fight against what Satan throws at us. If we wear them, nothing can hurt us. But do we use them? It’s rare. I know I don’t always use my armor when I have the option. I’d rather fight and struggle through a situation unarmed, but that usually ends up injuring me and the people around me.

Would a samurai have forgotten to put his armor on before he left for battle? Unlikely. His armor was the symbol of his family, his heritage, his honor . . . . and, let’s face it, folks, it was just common sense.

So we who are Christians need to remember that every day is a battle. And we’re not fighting against what we can see. We don’t fight against our coworkers (no matter if they annoy us) or our family (even if they frustrate us) or our government (even though The Man is getting a little big for his britches). We are fighting the remnants of a war that God has already won for us.

So don’t forget to put your armor on. It serves a dual purpose, after all. It keeps you safe and you look totally awesome wearing it. =)

samurai warrior in armor

Samurai, circa 1860