What Keeps Getting in the Way?

Dr. Neil Anderson illustrates a visual (copied below) of our journey towards Christ in his devotional dated 2/13/21 that is simple, straightforward, and powerful.  Read it, think about it, and ask the Lord in faith to remove what “keeps getting in the way.”  Do this in His power not yours. 

John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.

How do evil spirits interfere with our lives? Let me answer with a simple illustration. Imagine that you are standing at one end of a long, narrow street lined on both sides with two-story row houses. At the other end of the street stands Jesus Christ, and your Christian life is the process of walking down that long street of maturity toward Him. There is absolutely nothing in the street which can keep you from reaching Jesus. So, when you receive Christ, you fix your eyes on Him and start walking.

But since this world is still under the dominion of Satan, the row houses on either side of you are inhabited by beings who are committed to keeping you from reaching your goal. They have no power or authority to block your path or even slow your step, so they hang out of the windows and call to you, hoping to turn your attention away from your goal and disrupt your progress by tempting you, accusing you and deceiving you.

What is the enemy’s goal in having his demons jeer you, taunt you, lure you, and question you from the windows and doorways along your path? He wants you to slow down, stop, sit down, and, if possible, give up your journey toward Christ. He wants to influence you to doubt your ability to believe and serve God. Remember: he has absolutely no power or authority to keep you from steadily progressing in your walk toward Christ. And he can never again own you; because you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ and you are forever in Him (1 Peter 1:18, 19). But if he can get you to listen to the thoughts he plants in your mind, he can influence you. And if you allow him to influence you long enough through temptation, accusation, and deception, he can control you.

If I could influence you to believe a lie, could I control your life? Yes. Let’s “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

What keeps getting in the way?

A Pansy Is Not a Pansy

I don’t mind telling you, as a man, I enjoy the color of flowers.  I grew up with a very athletic, physically strong dad who loved planting beautiful full-of-color plants and flowers every year.  One of the colorful flowers was a pansy.  This flimsy looking little flower appears anything but durable, yet it is one of the very few flowers that can usually withstand the harsh, cold elements of winter.  As a kid, if one of my buddies did not appear to behave in a macho, strong manner, he was called a “pansy”.  After many years of life, I recognize that appearances often fool you.  “A pansy is usually not a pansy.”

When we see a very, muscular physically powerful looking man, we often say, “There goes a man.”  If he is unusually strong and forceful and performs well on an athletic field, we call these guys “a man’s man.”  Often, once you get to know these guys off the field of competition, you discover that appearances are deceiving.  Beyond the physical, they are not solid, strong people at all but are egotistical, self-serving, and immature.

Paul the Apostle understood this clearly.  In 1Timothy 3:2-7, as he describes what a good leader looks like, you will notice that he gages a man not by appearance but by character:

  • Now the overseer is to be above reproach”.  He lives a solid life, a man of character, that others can see as life is lived out.
  • “Faithful to his wife”, he is a man who cherishes one relationship above all others, his wife.
  • “Temperate”, self-restrained doing things in moderation never out of control.
  • “Respectable”, humble, courteous, considerate, and thoughtful.
  • Hospitable”, friendly and welcoming to strangers or guests.
  • Able to teach”, having the depth to be able to instruct others accurately from the Word of God.
  • “Not given to drunkenness,” controlled by the Holy Spirit not out of control, never an embarrassment to the Lord and His people.
  • Not violent but gentle”
  • Not quarrelsome”
  • “Not a lover of money”
  • Manages his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”
  • ”Must be mature in his faith and walk, seasoned in his faith.”
  • Must also have a good reputation with outsiders.

The above is how the Bible describes “God’s man” not a “man’s man”.  A man of God focuses his life on character not appearance.

Ladies, it is the same for you.  Scripture clearly reveals that women should not get caught up in the world of appearance but Godliness and character.

We Need Some Joy!

Living in a harsh time physically, mentally, emotionally, and often spiritually, we need some joy! 

St. Luke, a physician, recorded an unbelievable story about joy during harsh circumstances in Acts 16:16-34.  On a missionary journey Paul and Silas were unfairly and illegally brought by an out-of-control crowd 20 before civil magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Let me quickly recount what happened.  Paul and Silas were quickly tried and convicted falsely of crimes.  They were “severely flogged” meaning beaten unmercifully with rods usually 39 times battered viciously.  Their legs were bound so that they would have had to sit up because of the condition of their back.  They were thrust into the most secure cells with a max detail of guards.  What a horrific, unjust treatment for two innocent men.  They had every justifiable reason to be bitter towards God about their condition!  LOOK AT WHAT THEY DID!  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”  Shut up!  You got to be kidding me!  The other prisoners were listening to them!”  Their faith in God empowered them to have the joy of the Lord in the worst of conditions.  Then, revival broke out in that prison with the villainous jailer saved and baptized along with his whole household. This jailer was “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. Even in severe suffering and guilt, joy prevailed.

Paul ended up writing a letter to these Philippians from an ugly, nasty prison!  Guess what the theme of that letter was?  JOY!  Philippians 4:4 exclaims, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Nine times in this brief four-chapter letter, he references JOY!  As you read this letter, Paul testifies “joy” is not personally manufactured.  It comes from submission to the Lord.  God produces the joy.  We worship the same Lord as Paul but try to live out life in our own power which often ends up in emotional and mental bankruptcy.  Paul instructs us what to do, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6&7). 

Let me leave you with a wonderful verse of encouragement from Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

What a Kick in the Teeth!

Currently, it is difficult for many Christians to “experience the abundant life” detailed in the Bible when they are living in a house with no heat, little light and many unable to bring in a paycheck.  Some are now facing major water damage in their homes resulting from cracked pipes from the current storm.  They find themselves in the long queue to deal with insurance companies. Where do they stay with an inhabitable home and hotels jampacked?  Facing all this, it is easy to become distraught. Things are bleak!  Compounded on top of this, numerous folks have loved ones who are fighting COVID-19, pneumonia, and the flu.  Often, these dear people are isolated having to suffer on their own.  To boot, this exacerbates mental illnesses that many of us are battling.  What a kick in the teeth!  So, what do we do?

Don’t do life by yourselves.  The New Testament repeatedly describes the Christian life as part of an “one another” community.  Paul the Apostle details what community should look like in Romans 12:5,9-19, “5 in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others… 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”

Are you a part of a Christian community expressed above?  If not, look for churches where the Word of God is ministered in a straightforward, graceful way and have transparent, authentic Life Groups, Re:Gen (individual recovery ministry), Re:Engage (marriage recovery ministry)/or active Marriage Mentoring, and Bible based-full of life-growth groups for your children.  For the more complicated ones of us, is there access to Godly professional counseling at a reduced rate?  Each of must be a part of a community that supports our spiritual life as we actively support them.  If you are embarrassed about your spiritual life and the life of your family, start your community journey by being more of a recipient than a giver.  If this is still too much for you, simply reach out to a Christian in an informal way.  That’s a start.  Once you do, your life and the life of your family will grow and be refreshed at your pace.  

There are no solo acts.  Life is meant to be shared in a community especially in these dark, confusing, depressing days.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I kissed my wife, Pam, for the first time 48 years ago yesterday.  Yes, this unromantic slob chose Valentine’s Day, which happens to be her birthday, to initiate our first kiss.  When I first met her, I was not overly impressed feeling she talked too much (“the pot calling the kettle black!” 😊).  Over the next six months, our relationship took a 180 degree turn around.  Pam and a friend of hers shared an apartment while the rest of us lived in dormitories.  We hung out at her place often (which Pam didn’t seem to mind it all).  While the other girls in our group seemed to focus on guys, Pam was hospitable and caring to all of us.  Personally, she gave me an open invitation to drop by for cheese grilled sandwiches!  With my lack of funds, this became frequent leading us to a closer friendship.  Those grilled cheese sandwiches gave us tons of time to talk.  Over winter break, we shared a ride 850 miles together to my hometown in Georgia laughing and enjoying each other.  There were no romantic feelings at that time.  My attention was focused on a date planned with a drop-dead gorgeous girl back home which I hoped would become a relationship. We did not hit it off at all, and I began to miss the free-flowing friendship that Pam and I shared.  Over the next months, I recognized the depth and maturity of Pam which led me to initiate our first kiss. We were married that year (1973) in December and began the journey together.

Pam and I learned that we needed help to enjoy and grow our relationship.  Ten painful years led us to turn our lives over to the Lord whose love transformed our marriage.  Jesus commands us in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  We discovered that it was impossible to manufacture the kind of love needed in marriage on our own. We were too selfish.  This kind of love came from submission to Him allowing Christ to love through us to each other.

The love of Jesus in action is described by Paul the Apostle in Philippians 2:1-4, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

  • Verses 1&2 share the source of sacrificial love does not come from us but “encouragement from being united with Christ…comforted by his love… common sharing in the Spirit… tenderness and compassion…being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  Agape love emanates from the heart of Christ. It is generated by the Holy Spirit who is God living and loving in and thru us.
  • Verses 3&4 reveal our mindset must be like Jesus, “Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility valuing others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the other.”

Forty-seven years later, the love shared between Pam and me continues to grow.  We give the glory to God.

This Is Not His 1st Rodeo

For years, I isolated myself buried in depression feeling like “my problems” were unique and different than any other person.  For hours, alone, I fought to work things out but discovered myself submerged deeper in darkness entangled in lies and deception.  My perceptions were that “me, myself, and I” was the only one who could figure things out.  Whether you are ensnared in addiction, trapped in an unhealthy relationship, dominated by unresolved bitterness, enslaved to porn, entangled in guilt, or hopeless, you might relate to me.  Do you feel your problems are unique? 

That is not what God’s Word says.  1 Corinthians 10:13 speaks to this, “No temptation (or testing) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted (or tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted (or tested), he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  Let’s analyze piece by piece what God is telling us here:

  • The problems that have “overtaken” us are “common to mankind”.  We are not unique.  Others can advise, support, and help us…we’re not alone.  Hence, a recovery group was essential to me and many others underpinning our walk out of darkness.
  • “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted or tested beyond what you can bear.”  There is hope!  God is faithfully with us always and much bigger than any of our problems. 
  • “God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”…such wonderful hope!

Note the testimony and hope of the life of Jesus,” For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  Let me assure you, the devil threw everything at Jesus “tempting and testing in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  Our problems are not the 1st rodeo for JesusBeen there and done that!

The Bible gives us the basis of His victorious life on earth, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).  Our life must be saturated by the almighty power of God’s word.  Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s word, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Psalms 119:11 admonishes us to live our life in obedience to God’s word, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Time to rock n’ roll in your life.  This is not His 1st rodeo!

Have You Been to the Doctor Lately?

On December 28th of last year, my wife and I needed a doctor.  My temperature was spiking, and Pam was headed towards major chest congestion.  In both cases, it was COVID-19 attacking our bodies in different ways.  We knew we were weak and needed assistance.  

Christians are the same way. Each of us recognize our personal weaknesses and screw ups and need help getting our lives in order.  There is a realization that we are unable to heal ourselves because of problems bigger than our capabilities to get well.  We need a doctor. 

There is a great illustration of this found in Mark 2 when Jesus reaches out to Levi (also called Matthew, the author of the first New Testament book), a despised tax collector. “14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Jesus hung out with and associated with folks who were unscrupulous sinners and knew it.  Tax collectors were hated by the Jews.  They were hired and empowered by the Roman government to collect taxes.  Often, they invoiced much higher rates than should have been charged.  Jesus did not have to tell these guys that they were sinners.  These tax collectors knew what they were doing was wrong, but the money and trappings were worth it.   

There was another group involved in the above episode, “the scribes of the Pharisees”, who despised the tax collectors and their associates considering them to be reprobates.  They had created their own inflexible system of laws and customs that choked the joy out of life for the Jews.  These guys were hypocrites considering themselves without the need of help especially from this lowlife carpenter from Galilee named Jesus. Their pride was far above what the Great Physician offered.  These Pharisees judgmentally wanted to know, “Why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus assessed the two groups above succinctly, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  In their eyes, these self-righteous Pharisees did not need help.  On the other hand, many of the tax collectors and their associates were convinced Jesus was the son of God who could graciously and mercifully forgive them of their multiple sins, make them a new person, and show them a new way of life.  They were sinners who desperately needed help.

We must be like the tax collectors who knew they needed a doctor.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8&9).  Have you been to the Doctor lately?

Ever Feel Like a Yo-Yo?

I spent a great deal of my life worried about what others thought of me. After meeting someone for the first time, the immediate question that came to my mind was, “Do they like me?”  I exhausted myself worrying about relationships.  More than anyone else, I cared about what my dad thought.  Was he proud of me?  After every game I played, I always looked for his reaction to my performance. If it was a negative response, it took me down emotionally.  Conversely, if his response was positive, I was elated and proud of myself! My relationship with Dad drove me.  Performance-based relationships are not healthy often leading to fear and depression.  My life was a walking-talking example of this.

Proverbs 29:25 addresses this clearly, Fear of man will prove to be a snare (or a trap), but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”  God clearly states here that your wellbeing should not be based on a relationship with another.  A performance-based relationship places a person in a yo-yo environment.  Everything is based on the response of the one respected.  If this person is unstable or a manipulator with an agenda, it can be emotionally difficult for and even devastating to you.

The above verse has an even stronger lesson.  If you base your wellbeing on another person, this person in practicality becomes your idol.  Idol worship is despised by God and leads to dysfunction in life.  Exodus 20:3 states, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”  Your image of worship is determined by another person not God…whether it be based on sports, money, performing arts, grades, career, social respect, or anything else but God’s desire. 

John 4:18 is such a wonderful verse that, if heeded, heals a lot of wounds, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  Wow!  Once your eyes are off others and focused on God, you taste His acceptance, forgiveness, and perfect love.  Your life drastically changes.  The God of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22&23) leads you to an abundant life (John 10:10).

Proverbs 28:1 is a powerful admonishment to us, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”  The people who have their eyes focused on God become “bold as a lion.”  However, folks who have their eyes based on another “flee when no one is pursuing.”  Stop running!  Get your eyes focused on God!

“Take Off the Grave Clothes and Let Him Go!”

There was an amazing, almighty yet humorous event that occurred in John 11:38-44.  Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, had died and been in the tomb for four days.  Christ approached the tomb and instructed family and friends to remove the huge stone that blocked the access.  Martha, Lazarus’ sister who always was the responsible one, said, “’But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days’…Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So, they took away the stone…Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Didn’t I tell you that the above was an amazing story?!  Jesus knew that He was getting ready to perform a miracle that would glorify God.  He first identified an impediment that would keep Him from performing the miracle.  There was a large stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb. No way the miracle would happen without the obstacle being removed.  If we are God’s child, Jesus desires to do amazing things in our lives.  Yet, he cannot because a large stone is in the way.  If you are not sensing amazing things happening in your life, what is the large stone that is blocking God?  Remove the stone!

Then, “Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out!’”  Then, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”  He was now ALIVE but looked dead with “his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”  To boot, the wrapping had a gross odor of death. Then, “Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”  Lazarus was a resurrected man but could barely move.  He still had on grave clothes and smelled awful.  Get rid of them and “let him go.”  Please remember, every believer spiritually died with Christ on the cross, He took us to the grave with Him, and then, brought us out of the grave resurrected with Him.  Each one of us have had the Lazarus experience!  H-O-W-E-V-E-R, many of us still have grave clothes on with a putrid odor! 

Today, I am asking God to prompt you to remove the stone and “take off the grave clothes”, then you will experience the abundant life that God greatly desires for you.  Paul is clear about this in every epistle that he wrote.  For example, in Ephesians 4:22-24, he commands us, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires (grave clothes); to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Paul commands us to do exactly what Jesus commanded Lazarus, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Let God Do Something Brand New

Don’t you love the smell of a brand new car!  There is nothing like that smell.  The aroma is fresh, clean, and full of life.  God is the same way.  He loves the smell of brand new.

God wants His followers to smell brand new.  The Bible describes it this way:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Brand new!
  • Romans 12:2, “Not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  He wants us transformed not in our old fleshly form or character but brand new and clean! 

A great story was recorded in 2 Kings 5 about Naaman, the Commander of the Army of Aram, a powerful ancient middle eastern kingdom.  This mighty military leader contracted leprosy and desperately searched for a cure.  The cure came from Elisha, the Israelite Prophet, who through his messenger commanded Naaman in verse 10, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and cleansed”, made new.  Even though Naaman felt this was a ridiculous request, he humbled himself and obeyed the command.   In verse 14, “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”  Naaman’s humility and obedience allowed God to do something brand new and clean in his life. 

Whether it is your marriage, your relationship with children or extended family, your boss or co-worker, a neighbor that does things that are really irritating, overwhelmed with life, or under the pile of expectations from others, cry out to God setting your mind on Him not your flesh.  Paul the Apostle instructs us “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning(Lamentations 3:22&23).  Let God do something brand new today.