Monday

The Light in the Darkness


Think with me for a moment.

Psalm 23:5(a) says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies….” The Message renders it, “You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.” We can discuss what kind of provision the “six course meal” represents, but notice first where that provision comes: “in the presence of my enemies.”

Romans 5:20(b) declares, “…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more….” This time it’s in the presence of sin that is emphasized as the place of great provision (“abounded” is a big word!).

Luke 7:34 describes how the ungodly saw Jesus: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Apparently, Jesus frequented such places, and hung out with such people. I’ll bet that he still does.

Let’s think about it: when I’m feeling weak and needy, and I need an extra dose of the grace of God, where shall I go?

First, let’s nip some potential problems in the bud:

·         We don’t go “sin much more” so that we get more grace. The book is really clear on that topic. Romans 6:1&2 provides a starting point on this one.

·         We also don’t go get in a place where we’re are personally, severely tempted to sin. That’s just plain stupid. If you don’t want to get shot, don’t wander onto the firing range.

·         We don’t place ourselves or those with us in real danger, whether physical or not.

Traditional religion has always said, “If you need more of God, you go to church, where God is, of course.” That, of course, presupposes that God is more present in a particular building more than in his son or daughter, and I’m not sure that this can be supported Biblically. If there are good people at church who can help you, that’s great, though you’ll probably be able to deal with the issues you face better meeting with them outside of the church’s programs. Just an opinion.

But our verses hint at something else: God’s presence can be found unusually strong in other places, places where “my enemies” gather, places where people are not afraid to sin.

I reiterate: we don’t choose to put ourselves in danger: if there’s a temptation that’s hard for us, don’t go to that place. But just because sinners gather there is not a reason to avoid a place: Jesus didn’t avoid those places (cf Luke 7:34). (And there’s always the “go” part of the great commission that so often gets overlooked.)

This is, frankly, not an exercise for spiritual babes. And it’s a good time not to practice 2 Peter 2:22 (“But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”).

Some would argue that such places are indeed more full of God’s grace, but it’s because they also provide a greater need for God’s grace, and the two influences balance out, leaving the believer no better off than s/he would be at home in bed. That’s actually not a foolish argument, but neither is it conclusive; it’s absolutely worth considering, and perhaps field-testing.

In the town where I live, there’s an austere micro-beer tavern near the famously-liberal, liberal arts state college. So naturally, it’s full of non-Christian and anti-Christian college students, expounding on their views over admittedly delicious brown brewed beverages. There’s an old-world coffee lounge downtown that caters to the more permanent residents of similar persuasion, who expound their views over similarly delicious brown brewed beverages of another nature.

I’ve found that both places are excellent places to bring my laptop or a Bible and enjoy the Father’s healing presence and think creatively with him. The tavern is also hosting a number of Bible studies and “cell-group” type fellowships, so maybe the word is getting out.

On the other end of the scale, some friends and I occasionally visit dance clubs for the purpose of spiritual warfare dance, specifically counting on a table of provision being prepared before us in the presence of the spiritual environment found in those places. From a natural viewpoint, we look ridiculous: a bunch of overweight shaggy old men – I wear earplugs – completely ignoring the writhing young people around us on the dance floor. But it is has been a marvelous place for engaging the heavenlies, and the temptations there don’t even speak to us. (Note: we don’t do this alone, and we don’t go without substantial prayer covering.)


I’ve also surprised myself with this discovery: the secular German band Rammstein is actually pretty good for worship. I can’t understand the words, so it’s as if it was instrumental music to me, and I enjoy the table prepared for intimacy with Father in that dark place.

And of course, God is still committed to the Great Commission, which still begins with “Go ye….” The command is still to take the light to the places of darkness. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that so many Christians are so ineffective at sharing the gospel with non-believers is that they don’t actually meet any non-believers. When we bring the light into the darkness, the light is quite a lot brighter than when we put all of the lights into a big room that is outside of the world of unbelievers.

Now, I have known of a number of men who have heretofore been effective in the Kingdom who have been discouraged, and wandered into similar places specifically in order to find temptation, which they do in fact find, and which has all too often led to moral failure. This, of course, is the danger of finding the presence of God in the places of darkness, and it is for this reason that caution is to be exercised.

Don’t take this farther than I’m presenting it. But let’s not be afraid of taking the light into the darkness. Let’s also not be afraid of finding the light in the darkness. 

Second Hand Smoke


I felt God drawing my attention to second hand smoke today. 

Second hand smoke is smoke that you breathe from someone else’s cigarette, or pipe, etc. It doesn't come as a result of your actions, but its smell still clings to your clothes, and it exposes you to lung cancer nearly as much as if you were smoking yourself. 

In some ways, it's more dangerous: pipe-smokers (and some cigar and cigarette smokers) don't generally inhale their own smoke, but if you're in their company, you don't have a choice about whether you inhale their secondhand smoke: it's just part of breathing when they're smoking around you. Your body actually experiences more of the deadly smoke than their body does.

In my own experience, there are far more times that people around me are smoking, than there are times when I am the person smoking. (Full disclosure: I do occasionally smoke a pipe.)

Second hand smoke happens in the spirit realm as well. We experience things – smells cling to us; we’re exposed to deadly danger – not because of things that we’re doing, but because of things that others are doing around us. I suspect it is true here: there are far more times when people around me are doing things to stir up the hornets' nest, than when I'm stirring that nest. After all, there are many people around me, and there's only one of me! 

May I encourage us: when we're feeling the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" coming against us, avoid the foolishness of self-accusation: "Well, I must have done something wrong." Sure, sometimes we do something stupid and open a gate to give the devil permission to steal, kill & destroy. And he generally makes use of those opportunities. In that case, all we do is repent, kick him in the teeth, and move on. 

But sometimes the troubles coming against us are brought about by the actions of others: maybe stuff passed on by parents, or foolishness committed by people we're in covenant relationship with, or maybe we've associated ourselves with a group that has given place to some sort of stronghold. Just because we're in relationship with a number of people, there's secondhand smoke around. 

It's probably appropriate to remember that our own actions affect many of the people we're in relationship with; in another way, there's no such thing as a "secret" or a "victimless" sin. 

I'm not trying to bring a teaching on how to overcome demonic attacks: there's lots of that around, and we all remember: repentance is a super-power, and I suspect the 'kicking the devil in the teeth" exercise will still be valuable. 

Rather, this is about diagnosing the source: when trouble comes our way, it isn't always about us; sometimes it's from second-hand smoke

Believing What the Bible Says About God

We need to consider whether we actually believe the Bible or not. We generally do not in this one area:

We have been fed a pack of lies about who God is, about God being the source of all kinds of evil, but we miss the foundational underlying truth: God isn’t actually evil. He’s actually good. Seriously. We don’t really believe it.

We need to understand, deep in our soul, that this is who God is. We say, “God is good,” but we believe all kinds of evil accusations about him! We (our culture) blames him for death (“God took her.”) and disaster (“an act of God!”) and trouble (“Well, he must be teaching me patience.”) and we blithely accept it (“His ways are higher than my ways… sigh.”) and we even quote scripture (“Look! It SAYS God did that! Why, it must be that simple!”) to support our na├»ve belief that God does nasty things. 

Let’s look at the record: 

Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”: God is actually good. This is who he is. A good God does good things. 

1 John 1:5: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all”: So nothing of darkness can come from God because he has no darkness to give to anybody. The only thing he can give is light. 

Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”: God’s will is only about goodness, about pleasing us, about perfection. This is something that can be tested; we can know this. Moreover, we are to be like this, our will is to be like this. 

James 1:13a: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…”: God doesn’t have anything to do with evil. There is someone else (fairly often ourselves) that is responsible for the evil that survives in our presence. 

Matthew 13:28a: “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.” When evil comes in among the people of God (in this parable of the tares), Jesus defines it as something done by his enemy. 

Matthew 7:11: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” : paraphrase: If you roughnecks can figure out the difference between a good gift and a bad gift, you can seriously trust your heavenly Father to give only good gifts. In other words, bad things do not come from God. 

John 14:9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” We have a brilliant revelation of who God is, of who the Father is: He’s like Jesus. They’re so unified, they’re so alike, that if we have seen one, we’ve seen the other. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. 

John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him”: So we must trust what Jesus says about God more than we trust our own perception, because we ain’t never seen him right. Everything else we believe about God must be interpreted through what Jesus says about Him.

Hebrews 1:3a: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being”: So we must trust what Jesus shows about God more than we trust our own perception. Jesus is the clearest (“exact”) revelation about God’s character. Everything else we believe about God must be interpreted through who Jesus is.

There is a principle of Biblical interpretation: if you see something in an obscure passage (eg. in a story, in a passage that’s teaching on a different topic, in a passing comment, in an unclear passage), then we MUST refer to the clear passage to interpret it. We cannot just see something done in the Bible and then all go do what someone else did, or we’d all lie to the Holy Spirit like Ananias did, or we’d all hang ourselves like Judas did. So what’s the clearest revelation of God’s nature?

The Bible itself clearly says that the “exact” revelation about who God is has been given to us: it’s Jesus, who is the Incarnate Son of God, who best reveals the nature and character of God to us. He is the very best revelation about who God is: if we believe something about who God is, but it isn’t found in the life of Jesus, or it isn’t found in what Jesus teaches about who God is, THEN IT ISN’T WHO GOD IS! 

Do we believe the Bible or not? I vote to believe the Bible.