Heroes, Villains, and Overcoming

Heroes, Villains, and Overcoming

Conflict. It’s essential in fiction.

Sherlock needs Moriarty. Batman needs the Joker. Wesley needs Prince Humperdinck.

Without conflict, our hero remains—ordinary.

Gandalf still wears gray. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy remain in England. Harry Potter grows up without that scar.

Many question God regarding evil—why He permits it. Why did He create Satan when He knew the trouble he would cause? Why did God create man when He knew Adam would fall? Why doesn’t He stop the terrible things that happen in our world each and every day?

We know He can.

But Satan is not God’s equal, nor His nemesis. Satan is merely a fallen angel whom God has temporarily given limited elbowroom.

When Satan rebelled, one third of the angels followed him.

Two-thirds remained faithful. Pure. Holy.

The overcomers.

Let’s train with the angels this week:

  • Overcome your unbelief. “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24 NIV) Where is your faith shaky? Ask God to strengthen your weak spots.
  • Overcome your enemy. “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:13) The demonic host? Nothing but fallen angels. You are a son or daughter of the King.
  • Overcome the world. “ . . . for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 Jn 5:4-5) Don’t roll over and play dead for the culture. Show the world something better.
  • Overcome evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Revelation gives a list of rewards for overcomers:

  • The right to eat from the tree of life (2:7)
  • The crown of life (2:10)
  • Hidden manna and a white stone with a new name (2:17)
  • Authority over the nations and the morning star (2:26-28)
  • White clothes; name in the book of life permanently; acknowledged by the Father (3:5)
  • Pillar in God’s temple; God’s name written on him (3:12)
  • The right to sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21)

Though Adam’s sin brought a death sentence to all mankind, Jesus overcame, and for those who bear His name, He asks the same.

He asked Esther to overcome Haman, David to overcome Goliath, and Elijah to overcome the prophets of Baal.

He also asked Samson to overcome his flesh, Saul to overcome his insecurity, and Solomon to overcome his foolishness.

Shed ordinary and train to be an overcomer. Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Heroes, Villains, and Overcoming

Memory Verse: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Meditation Passage: Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21

Just Do It: Shed ordinary.

Tweetable:

Shed ordinary and train to be an overcomer. Click to tweet.

In The Weeds

Weeds

Weeds

I hate them.

They’d taken over the backyard to such an extent I was ready to cement it. Patches of weeds sprouted between decorative stone and invasive Bermuda runners held the flowers captive.

I abandoned yard work when I started on my master’s degree. Thankfully, my husband thrives on such projects while I’m holed up writing theology papers. He’s been working since March to clear the weeds. He’s moved wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of rock, set down thick black plastic, and covered it with rock again. The black felt the landscapers used? The weeds shot through it years ago.

The darn things shouldn’t even be here. They’re part of the curse handed out when Adam and Eve sinned. Thanks, guys. So, today, we’re training in the weeds:

  • Pull them: Weeds come with the territory for the unsaved, but if you’re a believer, they need to go. It amazes me how even a weed can be attractive. Many have the tiniest of flowers and who doesn’t love dandelions? But—they’re still weeds. They don’t belong in your heart. They take up space, food, and water that should go to something fruitful. So, pull them—and get the roots.
  • Cultivate fruit: Weeds grow anywhere. Fruit, however, requires cultivation. There’s another reason we work so hard to get rid of the weeds and maintain a perfectly landscaped yard. A well-kept lawn, blooming flowerbeds, and carefully staked gardens not only give edible goodies, but also add a touch of beauty and joy to life. Who doesn’t love to sink their toes into a carpet of St. Augustine, breathe in the sweet smell of honeysuckle, or bite into a homegrown tomato? How much better is spiritual fruit? Weeds make me groan.
  • Choke them: In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of weeds, “The one who received the seed that fell among thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22 NIV) But Neil Sperry says the choking works both ways. A healthy lawn will choke out the weeds. Cultivating a godly character, walking closely with Him, and practicing spiritual disciplines will choke out the bad stuff. Much of sin can be killed by starvation. Feed what’s good, and let the weeds die.

Clean up your spiritual landscaping. Address your weed problem. Pull the large ones. Cultivate fruitful plants. Choke out the rest with neglect. Take your workout into the yard this week.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: In the Weeds

Memory Verse: “The one who received the seed that fell among thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22

Meditation Passage: Genesis 3:17-19

Just Do It: Choke out the weeds.

Tweetables:

Clean up your spiritual landscaping. Click to tweet.

Failure: “. . . and Peter”

Failure: " . . . and Peter"

Told you so.

Words Peter never heard.

Jesus had warned him. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31 NIV)

Talk about failure. Peter had blown it. Big time.

Fell asleep while Jesus was praying. Three times.

Sliced off some guy’s ear. Really?

Then, denied Jesus. Three times.

Yet, Peter receives a personal resurrection appearance (1 Cor. 15:5), one of the first that Easter Sunday. Not only is he fully restored, but he is later commissioned.

Let’s train with Peter this week:

  1. Remember Who is praying for you and what He is praying for. “I have prayed that your faith may not fail.” Pride. Self-sufficiency. Independence. Let them fail. Hold on to your faith—in Him.
  2. Pray for yourself. “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Did you notice Peter failed to pray three times before he denied Jesus three times?
  3. Don’t quit. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Repentance was in order, but so was ministry.

God knows you will blow it. He may even give you a heads-up.

But even if you blow past the guardrails, He is there.

Waiting.

And He calls you by name.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: How to Follow Failure

Memory Verse: “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16: 6-7 NIV

Meditation Passage: Luke 22: 31-34; 46; 54-62; John 21: 15-23; 1 Cor 15:5

Just Do It: Get up and pray.

Tweetables:

Told you so. Words Peter never heard. Click to tweet.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Get Your Hands Dirty

Nick and Joe.

Wealthy. Respected. Godly.

Sitting together. Outside the city. Like a couple of unwelcome cowboys tossed out of the local saloon. Why? According to Mosaic Law, they were unclean from contact with a dead body. Purification required:

  • Separation “outside the camp” (Numbers 5:2-4)
  • Seven days of uncleanness with purification rites on Days 3 and 7 (Numbers 19:11-22)
  • A wait of one month before celebrating the Passover they missed during their “campout” (Numbers 9:6-11)

Does it count if the dead body you handled resurrects three days later?

So, here sat Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two members of the Sanhedrin, tapped for undertaker duties. Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost said this:

Christ made preparations for all events associated with His death, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. This word (secretly in John 19:38) may indicate that Jesus had arranged with Joseph to make arrangements for His burial to fulfill Old Testament prophecy . . . It may well be that Joseph had hidden himself away in the recesses of the garden where he could witness the events transpiring on Golgotha without being observed. At the moment Christ cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and dismissed His spirit from his body, Joseph was ready to proceed with the burial.” (From Dr. Pentecost’s book, The Words and Works of Jesus           Christ)

Makes me wonder how it all went down. Did Jesus tap Nicodemus too? Did Joseph? Or did Nicodemus catch wind of it and volunteer to help? He brought seventy-five pounds of spices. That took some prep.

Did Jesus Himself come to them on Day 3 and perform their purification rites, or was purification a moot point? Did Jesus celebrate Passover with them the next month?

Can you imagine the next Passover for any of these disciples?

What can we learn from these two? Let’s train at the tomb today:

  1. No task is too small when the Master is asking. We all have our Esther moments of “for such a time as this.” We hope for a glamorous, mountain-top event. Yet, for Nick and Joe, two big fish in the Jewish pond of Jerusalem, the task was undertaker.
  2. Public perception means nothing in light of the big picture. Two prominent members of the Jewish council camped out with the lepers for the weekend. “Outside” the in-crowd for once. I don’t think they missed it.
  3. True cleanliness often means getting our hands dirty. Relationships trump ceremonial cleanliness. People died. Uncleanness wasn’t bad. Uncleanness wasn’t sin. Uncleanness simply separated one for a time. True cleanliness of heart means meeting people where they are, whether it’s a bloody cross or outside the camp.

Can you picture the two? Beneath the stars. Safe from arrest by their own uncleanness. Waiting for the Passover Lamb.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout for the Week: Get Outside the Camp

Memory Verse: “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone . . . who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Numbers 5:2 (NIV)

Meditation Passage: John 19:38-42

Just Do It: Be willing to get your hands dirty.

Tweetable:

True cleanliness means meeting people where they are, whether it’s a bloody cross or outside the camp. Click to tweet.

Worthy is the Lamb

Worthy Is The Lamb

 

 

 

“ ‘What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.” Matthew 26:66 NIV

Worthy.

We define it as good. Deserving of respect, praise, or attention. Having value. Estimable. Meritorious.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the Sanhedrin meant, like Inigo Montoya to Vizzini in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Perhaps Father God was messing with the opposition as He crafted the ultimate play on words that eventually became Scripture.

Because if anyone was worthy to pay the penalty for our sin, it was Jesus.

Mankind fell through Adam.

Yet, sinful man could not pay his debt.

A perfect sacrifice, one without blemish was required.

Enter Jesus, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

Perfect.

One with the Father.

God with skin.

The Sanhedrin saw an adversary, one deserving punishment for blasphemy.

We see a Redeemer, the God-man who willingly took our punishment.

Worthy? Absolutely.

Of death? Thankfully, yes, because His death brought us life.

“Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53: 4-5

Training Tips: As you train this week, consider:

  1. What makes Him worthy? (Who He is? What He said? What He did?)
  2. Of what is He worthy? (Death? Allegiance? Worship?)
  3. What is He worth to you? (Time? Money? Relationship?)

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout for the Week: Worthy is the Lamb

Memory Verse: “ ‘What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.” Matthew 26:66 NIV

Meditation Passage: Matthew 26:63-68

Just Do It: Give Him what He’s worth.

Worthy. Like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, it’s not what the Sanhedrin meant. Click to tweet.

Strong Willed: The Garden of Gethsemane

Strong Willed: The Garden of Gethsemane

It’s my fault. When we had children, I prayed for strong wills. My thinking was, once they were properly trained, our kids would not waver in their allegiance to God.

But, oh, the training.

Isaiah 14 hosts the “I will” passage, the one where Satan declares the desires of his heart:

  • “I will ascend to heaven.”
  • “I will raise my throne above the stars of God.”
  • “I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.”
  • “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds.”
  • “I will make myself like the Most High.”

Not surprising that the first one to sin throws similar bait to Eve, “and you will be like God . . .” (Gen. 3:5 NIV)

Adam and Eve bit, and our wills have circled ourselves ever since.

Until.

Until Jesus came and gave us a better way.

The best way.

His way.

So, let’s train in Gethsemane this week: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

If you’re a believer, thank God that Jesus’ will now lives in you. A strong will is not the issue. You have one. His. The battle comes in making flesh submit to it. Because flesh carries a toddler mindset and loves to throw a fit when it doesn’t get its way.

Training Tips

  • Remember who God is.
  • Remember who you are.
  • Choose an area in which you battle.
  • Brace for the tantrum. Let His voice drown it out.
  • Bring the flesh into submission. Allow His will to triumph.

Prepare your heart for Easter. Spend some time in the garden.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Strong Willed: The Garden of Gethsemane

Memory Verse:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 NIV

Meditation Passage: Isaiah 14:12-14; Genesis 3: 4-5

Just Do It: Jesus’ Prayer “Not my will, but yours.”

Tweetables:

A strong will is not the issue. You have one. His. Click to tweet.

When Idols Multiply

When Idols Multiply

It began with one.

One croak. One ribbit. One slimy green frog.

And then there were too.

Too many.

Way too many.

Frogs in the pantry.

Frogs in the bathroom.

Frogs in the bed.

Pharaoh summoned Moses, ready to compromise with the God of the Hebrews in exchange for a little extermination work.

God exterminated them all right. Check out Exodus 8:13-14, “And the LORD did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them.”

Our idols are that way too. They look innocent enough. Shiny green skin. Great jumping ability. Cool elastic tongues. We turn our affection from God to chase them for a while.

And they’re cute at first.

Until they multiply and touch everything, everywhere.

Like Pharaoh, we have a choice. Live with them, or turn to God.

When God shows up, He removes all competitors.

And the idols reek as they lay in piles, dead and decaying.

So, here’s your training:

  1. What is taking your affection from God? Is it a pet sin? A bad habit? Work?
  2. How is it affecting you? What areas of your life is it invading?
  3. What does God’s Word say about it?
  4. If it multiplied, what would it look like?

Ask God to kill it and to show you the truth of that idol in all its reeking, decaying glory. Then, return to the One who is worthy of your attention, affection, and allegiance.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: When Idols Multiply

Memory Verse: “And the LORD did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them.” Exodus 8:13-14

Meditation Passage: Exodus 8:1-15

Just Do It: Exterminate the frogs.

Tweetables:

It began with one. And then there were too. Too many. Way too many. Click to tweet.

Don’t Go Dark

Don't Go Dark

I was doing some memory work in Romans 1 when the phrase “suppress the truth” grabbed my attention. To suppress means to end, to stop something by force. Do you watch the news? This happens to God’s truth daily.

While some actively suppress the truth—not only the truth of God’s existence, but the existence of God’s truth—are we guilty too?

Because suppress has other shades of meaning: to keep secret, to not allow people to know about or see. Makes me think of my Navy SEAL son. When his team goes dark, they’re there all right, but normal communication is cut.

Do we Christians do the same? Do we suppress the truth by our silence? I know we like to rant and rave among ourselves about how bad the culture’s gotten, but how often have we had an opportunity to speak truth—and kept silent?

Paul tells us that God’s characteristics are so obvious that men are without excuse. You can’t look at the universe, the earth, or the human body, and not think Someone higher is behind it all.

Could it be we just need to point it out?

A gorgeous sunset.

A welcome rain.

The truth that kindness begets kindness.

That sacrificial love bridges gaps.

That God cares more about the person than their political affiliation.

Here are some training tips:

  1. Make sure your own eyes see clearly. Can you see God’s work or is your head buried in your iPhone? “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
  2. Point it out. A rainbow. A kind word. A truth. God’s goodness surrounds us. Most people don’t know where it comes from, so show them. Connect the dots. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
  3. Speak. Lovingly. If the pointing out (#2) leads to further conversation, trust the Holy Spirit to give you the words. “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

While it’s okay for the SEALs to go dark, it’s not okay for us. We are to be salt and light. A city on a hill. So, shine. Spotlight God and His work. Point the way for those who have yet to connect Him with His truth, His creation, and His purpose for man.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Don’t Go Dark

Memory Verse: Esther 4:14 (NIV) “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Meditation Passage: Romans 1

Just Do It: Point it out.

Tweetables:

Do we suppress the truth by our silence? Click to tweet.

Temple Cleansing

Temple Cleansing

Sheep bleated. Doves fluttered. Tables slammed to the ground. People scattered before the man like the coins clinking and rolling across the courtyard.

Within minutes, the crowded market fell silent before the solitary figure.

“My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13 NIV)

Jesus’ issue?

Holy ground had been taken over by commerce.

Whose commerce?

That of God’s chosen ones. The ones who were to lead the world to God by their faith.

Gulp.

Temple access was limited. Restricted. Only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies. Once. A year.

Priests served in the Holy place where the table of showbread and altar of incense rested.

Priests served at the sacrificial altar and basin. Levites and Israelite men also had access here.

Israelite women could go as far as the court of the women.

The outer court was open to everyone. Here, foreigners could pray to and learn about the God of Israel. Creator. Ruler of all. The great I AM.

Except they couldn’t.

The outer court had turned into a combination of stockyard, superstore, and bank. Any Israelite coming for worship could change his money for temple currency—for a small fee. He could buy supplies for offerings. There were even birds and animals for sacrifice. All conveniently located on the Temple grounds. Other merchants used the outer court as a shortcut from one part of the city to another.

No wonder Jesus was ticked.

Jesus accused the people of making the temple courts a den of thieves.

A hiding place.

A safe refuge for criminals. The context of the verse in Jeremiah is that, though Israel practiced idolatry, they clung to the temple. It was their lucky charm. Their four-leaf clover. Their rabbit’s foot. A safeguard against harm.

Today, our New Testament tells us we are the temple. The Holy of Holies. Where God’s Spirit lives.

And that’s true. (1 Cor. 3:16)

So, how does my temple shape up?

Am I keeping the holy places pure while the outer courts are full of, well, everything that goes with a stockyard?

Am I living any way I please and expecting my daily quiet time to protect me from the fallout of bad choices?

Let’s consult the Trainer:

  1. If I’m a temple of the Holy Spirit, in what condition are my outer courts?
  2. Have worldly things replaced godly ones?
  3. Is there blatant sin where there should be holiness? What’s been corrupted and how?
  4. Will I work with Jesus on the cleanup? I’d rather work with Him than have Him come in and ransack the place because I was too stubborn to yield.

This passage convicts me. I strive for consistency with God in the Holy places, but if I’m honest, what people see in the outer courts isn’t always pretty.

Jesus, let’s flip some tables.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Temple Cleansing

Memory Verse: ” ‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 7:11 (NIV)

Meditation Passage: Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46

Just Do It: Flip some tables.

Tweetables:

Jesus, let’s flip some tables. Click to tweet.

Fasting From Negativity

Fasting From Negativity

Lent began March 1st.

This year, I’m fasting negativity.

The idea came from Catherine Marshall, author of Christy. Richard Foster, in his book Spiritual Classics, relates this story from Marshall, “The Lord continues to deal with me about my critical spirit . . . One morning last week He gave me an assignment: for one day I was to go on a “fast” from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody about anything.”

Her insights from the day were humorous—and convicting.

So, I’m headed to the gym of self-control. I’m building muscles for positive outlooks, encouraging words, and silence. Here’s my training plan:

Accountability: My husband has been given the task of calling me on it when I stray.

Encouraging Words:

Proverbs 12:18 “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath”

Proverbs 15:2 “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge”

Proverbs 15:4 “The soothing tongue is a tree of life”

Proverbs 15:7a “The lips of the wise spread knowledge”

Proverbs 15:23 “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!”

Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Positive Focus: Psalms 90-100

Living Sacrifice: Romans 12:1-2

Whether I’m fasting caffeine or criticism, I’m always stretched. Pray about what God would have you fast, and give it a try. What would He have you do in place of what you’re fasting?

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Fasting from Negativity

Memory Verse: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesian 4:29

Meditation Passage: James 3:1-12

Just Do It: Speak life.

Richard Foster is one of the go-to guys for teaching on the spiritual disciplines (like fasting). Celebration of Discipline and Spiritual Classics are two of Foster’s best.

Tweetables:

I’m headed to the gym of self-control. Click to tweet.