The Devil Comes Slowly

“Why, Lord?” I asked in frustrated prayer.

Lion
Photo Credit: Chris Eason

Within a day of each other, I heard of two Christian leaders who failed morally. I didn’t understand why so many stumble down this path. Gently, I heard the reply: “The Devil comes slowly.”

The enemy of your soul

In the Bible, a ferocious picture is painted of Satan.

1 Peter 5:8
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Have you ever looked up the word “prowl?” Here it is: To move about restlessly and stealthily, especially in search of prey.

Restlessly and stealthily. The devil constantly tries subtle means to draw us away from God. These lies start small. No leader who faithfully follows God will look at sin one day and say, “Sure, why not?”

That’s the problem with deception: You never see it coming. Before you know it, it’s too late.

The erosion of the soul by the deception of sin leads to our destruction.

How to avoid moral failure

Why would God record many of the moral failures of His people in the Bible? If He wanted people to believe the Bible, wouldn’t He rather skip over those moments?

Not according to the Bible.

1 Corinthians 10:11-12
These things happened to them [in the Old Testament] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

God’s Word is the best way I know of to avoid traps of sin. It may sound ‘Old Testament’ to talk about the fear of the Lord, but think about it. If you lived aware of an all-knowing, all-just God, you wouldn’t pursue “secret” sins. The people most apt to be deceived are those who feel impervious.

Here are a few other ways we can safeguard our lives against the slippery slope of deception.

[callout]

  1. Recognize your weakness. Loneliness and fatigue are inevitable; don’t keep an invincible mindset.
  2. Remember to rest. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, no one can go at 100% all the time. Rest isn’t an obligation; it’s a gift.
  3. Bare your soul before others. Share everything with one or two friends who love you enough to speak the truth, and listen. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). As Oscar Wilde wrote, “A true friend will always stab you in the front.”
  4. Bare your soul before God. It’s a powerful exercise to spend time with God and ask, “What do You want to purify in my life?” When I ask honestly and listen, God is never silent.

[/callout]

[share-quote author=”Oscar Wilde” via=”CamdenMcAfee”]A good friend will always stab you in the front.[/share-quote]

In all this, realize our goal is to safeguard, not moral perfection. Jesus commanded, “Be perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and the Bible plainly says, “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). In other words, we have to be perfect, but we can’t.

This is where the Gospel comes in. As Tim Keller says, “You are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Anyone who believes God’s grace gives a license to sin doesn’t know God. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

David understood God’s character and moral failure. His heart cry in Psalm 139 should echo in the heart of every leader.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

What do you think? What other principles or practices help us avoid moral failures? [comments]Share in the comments below.[/comments]

“Quiet” Time with Jesus

Sometimes “quiet” time with God feels more like trying to read a book in a mosh pit.

Quiet Time with Jesus
Photo Credit: BenThereDoneThath via Compfight cc

I’ve experienced it before, and I bet you have, too. You settle down for some quality time with your heavenly Father—eyes closed, journal out, Bible open—when the onslaught comes.

Sometimes it’s physical: Your stomach grumbles, your phone buzzes, your dog barks, your kids cry. With a little bit of training, it’s often possible to plan past these distractions: Bring a cup of coffee or a snack, silence your phone, and plan for early morning or late night.

For me, the physical distractions often aren’t the problem. The mental distractions are.

I’ll sit down with my Bible, journal, and Jesus when the floodgates open. Did I wash those dirty dishes yet? I need to remember to email so-and-so today. Remember that one time when….

The list goes on. Ten, fifteen minutes will pass before I realize I haven’t even finished the chapter I’m reading in my Bible. Every prayer feels like I’m starting from square one. God doesn’t feel close; on the contrary, He feels quite distant.

Social media-paced culture can be dizzying, distracting, even enslaving. The onslaught of thoughts, texts, and tweets can be overwhelming.

Make the Most of Distraction

Personally, I’ve tried many ways to keep myself focused during devotional times. Below are a few ways that have helped me keep focus.

  • Pray out loud. If it won’t disturb the people around you, try praying audibly. Saying the words that come to mind keep our minds from wandering. This also helps to keep our prayers succinct.
  • Journal what you pray. Sometimes, when I have a pen and paper, I’ll write my prayer. Occasionally, I’ll write my prayers, word-for-word. However, more often than not, I find it most effective to create a bullet-point list of prayer requests on my mind.
  • Keep your distractions separate. I remember a coworker who would always come to prayer with her Bible and a notepad. She would use the notepad to keep track of the daily tasks that came to her mind while she prayed.
  • Be devoted. It may be redundant, but devotionals require devotion. Commitment—choosing to stay in one place and focus—is hard. But when we commit, more often than not our prayers get prayed.

Finally, after all that work, I need to clarify: The goal of “quiet time” with Jesus is not quiet. The goal of “quiet time” with Jesus is Jesus. If your mind is pulling you in a hundred directions or you’re distracted by the day’s tasks, remember that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Jesus isn’t rating your quiet time. He’s patiently waiting for you to make an intentional, devoted, imperfect, probably distracted effort to meet with Him.

And all those distractions, all that chaos that comes by choosing to slow down life to be with Him, is in the end unquestionably worth it.

Learning to Dwell

I remember Chicken Nugget Tuesdays at college. We had chapel every day before the lunch hour. Sometimes, if a message or worship was really good, people would linger past 11:45 when we were allowed to go. But not on Tuesdays.

Dwelling in Church
Photo Credit: photobypatrick via Compfight cc

On Tuesdays, students would leave the chapel in a storm to get to the cafeteria. Our cafeteria, like most college campuses, was a picture of gourmet cuisine—minus the flavor, variety, and quality. Thus, when Tuesday rolled around, every student knew they could get the one thing the college consistently, satisfactorily made: chicken nuggets.

I was pretty in tune with this culture myself, until I heard one of our professors share something one Tuesday. It’s a silly quote—but it impacted me to the point that I remember it three years later. He said,

I don’t want a chicken nugget to get between me and what God wants to do I my life.

That simple, silly sentence caught me.

It caught me because I realize how true it is for me—not only at college, but at every Church service I’ve ever attended. The pastor closes his sermon, there’s usually a closing song, and perhaps the pastor gives a benediction.

And then people leave.

But what if God wants more? What if He wants more for our lives than small talk, Sunday lunch, or football? Are we willing to give it to Him?

The Promise of Dwelling

I started a practice during chapel, and it impacted my entire spiritual life. Instead of running to the next thing, I decided to dwell.

Psalm 27:4
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

To dwell means “(of one’s eyes or attention) linger on (a particular object or place).” To dwell in God’s presence is to stay there, looking only to Him. Grammatically, David lines up “dwell” to mean, “to gaze upon.” The word “inquire” can also be translated “meditate.”

Not only does David desire to dwell in the presence of God, but dwelling is part of a promise.

Psalm 91:1
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

In essence, “The person who dwells with God will persevere under God.”

Dwelling in God’s presence isn’t about being super spiritual or having a heart like David’s. Dwelling in God’s presence is a promised anchor in a fast-paced, unstable world.

Simple Ways to Dwell

Doubtless, there’s many ways this principle of dwelling can be applied. Here are a few ways I found helpful after chapel services, which could be equally applied after a church service.

  • Dwell by review: What did the pastor just say? Reviewing the whole service in your mind can help cement the words that were said.
  • Dwell by reading: Go over the Scripture that was read. What common threads do you see? Does anything strike you?
  • Dwell by praying: Ask God to make His truth real in your life. Tell Him that you want to learn and grow, and pray through the message as applicable for your life.
  • Dwell by discussion: Find one person (or a group of people) and talk about the truths you heard. Don’t try to be the smartest sounding—just rephrase what was said, what you noticed, and how it applies to you. And listen to others.
  • Dwell by action: How does this service make a difference in your life? What will actually be different this week because of it? Make intentional decisions to specifically apply the words spoken.

Believe me when I say God wants more for your life than chicken nuggets. When we dwell, we enrich not only our lives, but also the lives of those around us. If you truly want to see God, stay awhile.

Lessons from Ammon, Tamar, and the Duggars

Yesterday in my daily Bible reading I read the tragedy of Ammon and his rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. Later that day, I was on Facebook and saw the social firestorm around Josh Duggar, who was recently uncovered for child molestation as a teenager.

Duggar Family
The Duggar family in 2006, the same year police reports were filed concerning Josh Duggar. Photo credit: Lwp Kommunikáció

I don’t think it’s too wild to draw similarities between these two stories. My aim is not to take sides; it’s to look at the firestorm, say “Why did this happen?” and learn lessons from this event and 2 Samuel 13.

The Firestorm Erupts

First, why the firestorm? That question seems cruel given the nature of the allegation, but track with me. Anyone in the United States could have molested children as a teenager, and I guarantee that in most cases it wouldn’t have become a trending topic on Facebook.

But this did, and there are a few reasons:

  1. The Duggars are a national family. At the slightest, they represent traditional family values. At most, they are a prime example of the Christian, right-wing family.
  2. Josh Duggar held a position of leadership directly related to his values. Shortly after the firestorm began, Josh resigned his position as the Executive Director of the Family Research Council Action.

As a Christian family demonstrating conservative values, the Duggars often gave the impression of being the “perfect family.” They were a model of conservative values; therefore, this failure speaks against their entire lifestyle.

King David’s family faced a similar situation. Ammon’s failure impacted the nation, and it showed a weakness in the lifestyle of the King. As the ESV Study Bible notes, “Since it occurred in the royal family, it had implications for the whole nation.”

Speaking from an Israelite perspective, Bible commentator Matthew Henry adds, “We are Israelites; if we do such things, we are more inexcusable than others, and our condemnation will be more intolerable, for we reproach the Lord, and that worthy name by which we are called.”

Those who represent conservative values—more so, those who represent God—must be held to a higher standard.

That said, I like what Matthew Henry wisely writes about Ammon, Tamar, and (indirectly), the Duggars:

Godly parents have often been afflicted with wicked children; grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does.

A Lack of Justice

One of the most notable facts in the Duggar story is how long Jim Bob (the father) waited before reporting the incident to the police. After finding out about the incident, it wasn’t reported to police until a year later. Many people are also criticizing the “treatment” Josh received, which mainly consisted of manual labor for a family friend.

Let me say a few things, and then look at Ammon and Tamar. First, I fully believe in God’s ability to heal our minds from sin without formal counseling. That said, God gives us counselors to help us work through serious sin issues such as child molestation. I’m not saying the Duggar’s “treatment” didn’t work; I’m simply advocating for services which provide professional help for serious issues.

Similarly, I believe the biggest flaw in the story of Ammon and Tamar is David’s lack of justice to the situation. 2 Samuel 13:21 says, “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” Interestingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (traditional Greek Old Testament), add this sentence:

But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.

The Reformation Study Bible says it most plainly, “That David was furious at Amnon’s violation of Tamar is understandable; that he took no disciplinary action is not.” The ESV Study Bible notes, “David was very angry, but he did not do anything. He showed favoritism toward his eldest son, which was the source of many of the later problems in David’s family.”

It’s hard to calculate all the damage that came from David’s lack of justice. One year later, Ammon was murdered by his brother Absalom, who doubtlessly felt he should take justice into his own hands since the king had not. Additionally, when Absalom later rebels against the kingdom, one of his complaints is that David withheld justice (2 Samuel 15:4-6).

The sum of the matter is stated perfectly in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 8:11
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.

In Summary

There are several similarities between the story of Ammon and Tamar and the Duggars. Both were a prominent “Christian” family, both involved an apparent lack of justice from the family head, and both had serious implications for the future of the family.

It’s fair to note that David’s kingdom still survived after this sin, but the damage was also clearly destructive. In the same way, I don’t believe this past sin nullifies the Duggar’s entire lifestyle, but it certainly exposes a weakness that many will shamelessly accentuate.

These two stories share a few very good lessons. First, let your lifestyle and your actions reflect one another. Second, administer justice, especially from a position of responsibility. Finally, human justice is imperfect, but God’s justice is perfect, and one day He will reveal everything hidden and execute perfect justice.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments below. Please be mindful to keep comments and replies respectful.

Romans 12:1-2, a Game-Plan for Renewing Faith

If someone looked at your life based on how you spent your time, what would they determine is the most important part of your life?

Would they be right?

Photo Credit: khrawlings via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: khrawlings via Compfight cc

For me, I’m quick to tell you that my relationship with God is the most important part of my life. But if you were to tally up the minutes I spend at work and at home, that’s not the picture you’d get. After a busy season of life, I’ve realized my time with God has become marginalized—that is, literally pushed into the margins of the page. I give God the leftover time I have in the morning as well as the few fading minutes of the evening.

Does that sound much like a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? I don’t think so.

I know I want to change. I’ve found the closest thing to a game-plan in the first two verses of Romans.

Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1. Get on the altar

God isn’t after a show. He’s not waiting for your best audition into the kingdom of heaven. He wants you exactly as you are, not exactly like you wish you could be. Paul says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

What happens to a sacrifice? It dies.

Paul is asking us to do so much more than a daily devotional. He’s asking us to do way more than “spend time with God.” Paul is asking us to die to ourselves—to start with a posture of obedience and sacrifice. Once we decide to obey, then we learn what obedience means in Romans 12:2.

2. Be transformed

Transformation is never an instantaneous process. Caterpillars don’t change into butterflies in one night. People don’t lose 100 pounds in a day (or a week, or a month). I shouldn’t expect anything different from my relationship with God.

Yet this transformation is passive. Romans 12:2 says “be transformed….” The decision “do not be conformed” comes when we surrender self to step onto the altar of God. The decision “be transformed” comes when we work out the implications of staying on the altar of obedience.

3. By the renewal of your mind

Transformation is passive, but there’s a way to allow passive transformation to happen, and it comes through “the renewal of your mind.”

There are so many voices in the world, and God wants us tuned to His. Trying to find the will of God without the Word of God is like trying to find your way through pitch black wilderness without a flashlight (see Psalm 119:105). Yet getting directions with no intention of following them isn’t very useful, either. The combination of a heart set on obedience and the Word of God is powerful material for the Holy Spirit.

4. By testing, you may discern what is the will of God

This is the part where a majority of people step off the altar. I don’t like to admit it, but Romans 12:2 basically says that the instructions aren’t going to be clear at first. We have to be okay trying and failing.

I couldn’t ride a bike until I was nine years old. Every time my parents would take off the training wheels, I would become paralyzed. If I didn’t ride this bike perfectly, I was going to fall off. And that failure meant pain. I needed practice. And even though I knew all the basics, I needed to be okay trying and failing until I got it right.

God redefines failure (I could write an entire post about this). His grace sees us as we are and sees what we can become. Trying for righteousness and failing is not disappointment in God’s eyes.

This is so hard. I get it. It’s hard to step onto the altar knowing you’re going to be consumed. Everything I want is going to die. More aptly, I am going to die. Yet in dying to myself, I find myself more alive than I have have been.

Conclusion

The path to aligning our beliefs with our lives has to start with a commitment to obedience. That decision, when combined with the Word of God, produces transformation sometimes so subtly that we don’t even know it is happening until it has happened. If we are committed to obey God and are filtering our mind through His Word, then we have to try practical obedience, even when it results in failure.

God isn’t looking for a blameless sacrifice. He’s looking for an obedient one.

1 Samuel 15:22

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.