Sunday, January 27, 2013

God's Sovereignty Over Satan

Jesus said that Satan has been a deceiver from the beginning. From the moment the snake stepped onto the pages of Scripture, his role and motives were firmly set. Satan tempted our first parents to believe a lie and the disaster that followed was immense. He continued this sinister trend as the biblical story unfolded- not always so obvious to the readers of Scripture. We don't always see his actions with perfect clarity, but he obviously sets himself against the saving plan of God. The curtain on his activity is pulled back in the temptation of Job, where Satan brings destruction to Job’s family, possessions, and health. Jesus revealed to Peter, before his denial of Christ, that the evil one desired to sift him like wheat. So, we know that the devil is behind the fall of many who willfully choose to follow the ungodly desires of their heart. He has always set his sights on those who seek to do the Lord’s will. He was certainly behind the rebellion of Israel during the Exodus, resulting in the judgment of an entire generation before they could enter the Promised Land. He, no doubt, had designs to thwart the plan of God by bringing nations to battle against the Lord’s people, by tempting Israel’s kings through lust and greed, and by enticing the people toward idolatry resulting in their exile. God’s grace must have been exhausting to him, but at every turn each man that had the appearance of God’s chosen one was found to be lacking. 

We should not be surprised that when Jesus came, demonic activity increased dramatically. Indeed, there were more demon-possessed people in the narratives, but we must also be aware that Satan was certainly at work in events such as Herod’s slaughtering of the children and the Pharisees’ plot to murder Christ. In spite of the devil's efforts, Jesus proved Himself to be pure and righteous by succeeding where Israel had failed. Satan could not bring Him to sin in the wilderness. Our Lord was the obedient Son the nation could never be. He was the true Israel. Satan had always preyed on the weak, but Christ was strong. This makes the crucifixion such an amazing moment in the sovereign plan of God. By all appearances, Satan had gained victory over man once again. The hatred of the people for Christ had resulted in His death, but in God’s wisdom, that death would bring forth eternal life. Satan would have known that God was just and holy, and because of this, would punish sinful man. What he did not know was that God would justly atone for the sins of His people by punishing His Son, the God-man, in their place. Jesus bore His Father's righteous wrath, and then demonstrated His power over death through His own resurrection. Satan had been a pawn in God’s eternal plan to exalt His Son and demonstrate His glory in a holy people who have the Lord as their King. Every failure of man in the pages of Scripture had been a small victory for Satan at the time- but only for a short while. Even those events were part of the infinite wisdom of God to manifest his glory and power in the work of Christ, and in those who would believe in the saving power of Jesus and receive Him as their greatest treasure. What a God worthy of praise! 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Joy in Ministry

This is a recent message I sent to those I serve alongside each week and know it applies to many others as well:

I've made the comment in the past that love is a burden. To pour yourself out for the sake of another often means the sacrifice of your own comfort. For instance, parenting children requires a great deal of time and energy, often at times which seem most inconvenient. This appears to warrant the label of "burden," maybe better, "burden of love." However, Scripture says love is not a burden at all. The apostle John goes through great lengths in his first epistle to link love and the commandments of God together as one and the same. When you obey the commandments of the Lord, you love, and vise-versa. The greatest commandment pertained to our loving God, and the second to our neighbor. These fulfilled the entire Law. John writes, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). If the commandments are not burdensome, then to love will not be either, since they speak of the same thing. How then should I understand what could be conceived as inconvenience, sacrifice, duty and the like, for the sake of others? Again, a parental illustration. My older girls will often accompany me to perform various tasks. There is not necessarily anything really exciting about what we do. The duties could even be described as menial, but somehow there is a joy they have in it. This isn't because they like the work (though they might somehow). Their main satisfaction in it comes from the desire to please their father. This carries them through the work and provides them with joy in it. Christian ministry can often be filled with duties and circumstances that could be viewed as inconvenient and burdensome if not for the sake of love. God-honoring, Christ-exalting love meets the needs of others in the face of our loss of comfort. The Son of God stepped down from His exalted and glorious throne for a time to meet our greatest need (doing so with joy, and because of the promise of joy in the midst of suffering- Hebrews 12:2), and continues to provide the grace necessary to minister with gladness. The desire to be pleasing to the Father and to see others become more like Christ keeps love from being a burden and makes it a joy. This desire outweighs all else. I need this always to be impressed upon my heart, whether at home, at work, or in the fellowship of my brothers and sisters in Christ. So, I should probably change my vocabulary and cease to say that love is a burden, but rather know it as a joy which enables and empowers ministry that supersedes any other emotion or desire the circumstance may contain, however difficult, painful, or inconvenient it may appear. This is what love does (1 Corinthians 13:1-7). 

Thank you for inconveniencing yourself during the past year for the sake of the Gospel, for your love for your God and neighbor, and for the joy you had in the midst of it all; whether you loved on our babies (who may have been crying), or shared the love of Christ with a two year old with glue on your fingers. Some of you stacked and unstacked hundreds of chairs so others could sit and hear the Word of God. Others of you have spent countless hours answering the many questions of our young people and have been amazed at their insight, which will one day be passed on to the next generation. Several of you have been up late at night preparing lessons or sermons when it would have been far more comfortable to close up the book of life and turn on the TV. God bless the moms and dads who have gotten up early to get little ones ready for church when sleeping in and staying home was so attractive. Thank you for the hours spent on your knees and face in prayer for fellow members, friends, our community, nation, and world- that God would be exalted as He ministers to and in each; for your joyful giving when it seemed like good judgement to withhold your offering; by soaking your heart, mind and life with the transforming Word of grace, for overlooking a fault or forgiving another when the temptation was to do the opposite. Thank you for providing needed words of encouragement at the right moment, taking time to disciple or open your home, blessing others with your musical gifts, delivering meals to the sick or new moms, taking up offering, ushering, welcoming, changing diapers, providing coffee, signing in kids at the children's desk, planning events- ALL for the sake of Christ and in plain sight of your God, fragrant sacrifices pleasing to Him and blessing your soul. I hope and pray the coming year is filled with His grace, enabling each of you to be joyfully spent for the sake of His name, This is what the love of God does.

Your Fellow Worker in the Kingdom of Christ,
Lonnie Atwood