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Double Jeopardy

We’re often told that Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up for their sins and yet so many do it. Maybe that’s because the advice has been understated. Maybe we should go one step further to say that Christians mustn’t beat themselves up for their sins.

I’m reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life for the umpteenth time. This quote reminded me today why this book is a classic:

What then of our attitude to Satan? This is important, for he accuses us not only before God but in our own conscience also. “You have sinned, and you keep on sinning. You are weak, and God can have nothing more to do with you.” This is his argument. And our temptation is to look within and in self-defense to try to find in ourselves, in our feelings or our behavior, some ground for believing that Satan is wrong. Alternatively we are tempted to admit our helplessness and, going to the other extreme, to yield to depression and despair. Thus, accusation becomes one of the greatest and most effective of Satan’s weapons. He points to our sins and seeks to charge us with them before God; and if we accept his accusations, we go down immediately.

Now the reason why we so readily accept his accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own. The ground of our expectation is wrong. Satan has succeeded in making us look in the wrong direction.

Our salvation lies in looking away to the Lord Jesus and in seeing that the blood of the Lamb has met the whole situation created by our sins and has answered it. That is the sure foundation on which we stand. Never should we try to answer Satan with our good conduct but always with the blood.

Blame You

Christ’s commands us to love each other. It’s such a simple rule and yet we can’t do it without him. This is why he calls it a new command even though it was the one the Jews had heard from the beginning. Christ came to love and he left a community of love which he expected to remain and spread. Praise the Lord it has! On the night of his betrayal, Christ prayed that we would be one so that the Father would be glorified in the Son.

Conversely, this world and its Prince continue to conspire against God’s project by sowing bitterness among God’s people. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns his audience to forgive quickly lest they give the devil (blamer) a foothold among them. Nothing arrests our progress toward oneness like bitterness. When a fellow believer does something careless or even malicious (as will inevitably happen), we must at the foot of the cross offer them forgiveness. Why? Because mercy lives at the foot of the cross. In order to harbor bitterness, we must abandon the hope of our own forgiveness and flee the cross for exile in the solitary seat of judgment. In that realm “they” come to offer us aid and comfort as they help us build our case against our offenders and eventually the entire world.

Though this demonic program carries especially grievous implications for the believing community, every person on the planet has encountered it. The animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons,” offers one of the most poignant examples of the dynamics of bitterness and its power to ruin lives. At the end of the clip, the advice, “Let it go and keep moving forward,” is useful if we can understand where we can let it go to and which direction is “forward.” Those answers have been released in the gospel of Christ.

Poker Face

“Something’s wrong with me?”, Jamie, my wife, said over the phone.  “I can’t straighten my legs.  What am I going to do?”

What was she going to do?  What was I going to do?  I was out on my route.  I couldn’t leave.  I felt helpless.  She was at home taking care of our two young children and she could barely walk.  Besides, I could hear the fear in her voice.  I worked extra hard to get home as quickly as possible.

When I got there, my concern turned to alarm.  Both of her legs were bent at a 75 degree angle.  She could neither sit nor stand comfortably.  I’ll never forget the sight of her hobbling up the five stairs ascending from our den into our kitchen.  As she ascended those stairs, I descended into despair.  “What could this be?  Some degenerative disease?  Why would it come on so suddenly?”  All of these questions raced through my mind.  I considered taking her to the doctor, but I had absolutely no faith that they would be able to help with such a strange problem.

We had plans that evening to eat at the home of our close friends and fellow believers, so I gingerly loaded her into the van and away we went.  After dinner, I related to my friend that I had been reading a book by Smith Wigglesworth on divine healing and I suggested that he and his wife join me in praying for Jamie.  We put her on the couch and I prayed like I had never prayed before.  Instead of asking that she would be comforted in this difficult time or that the doctors would discover the cause of the problem or even asking if God might be willing to heal her, I said, “We speak to these knees and in Jesus name we command them to be healed.”  When she stood up, she announced, “I’m better!”  The next day my family went for a hike at a local state park.  She’s not had any trouble in the eleven years since that evening.

That day I got to peer behind the veil of the material world to see what’s going on when we pray.  We’re involved in a high stakes poker game with the “father of lies.”  Jesus has told us that we have a winning hand, but as we look across the table at those mirrored glasses and that look of derision, our nerves can get rattled.  We push a few chips to the middle of the table – a five minute request qualified by lots of “if it be thy will.”

Satan responds, “It will take more than that if you want to see my cards.”

Our palms begin to sweat.  We wonder, “What if I stake all my faith on this hand and I’m beaten?  What will happen to all that I claim to believe?  What will happen to the faith of other people if they observe God’s promises fail?  Do I dare to stand?  Wouldn’t it just be safer to fold and cut my losses?”  So, we fold.  We walk away from the table with slightly less faith than we came with but at least we didn’t risk it all.  Meanwhile Satan sits at the table with a smug smile, holding a pair of deuces.

To all of us who too often fold in prayer, I commend the words of the apostle Paul, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”  (Eph. 6:10-11 ASV)