Thursday, February 19, 2015

Where the Storm Leads You

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). 

You won’t find the phrase ‘spiritual warfare’ in the book of Job. But you see it in every chapter, start to finish.


The accuser, Satan, unleashed a quiver full of flaming arrows at Job. With one crushing loss after another Satan reduced Job to heap of grief and anguish. In English you’ll likely notice three verbs of lament as Job absorbs the reality of what has happened to him and his family: He tore his robes, he shaved head, he fell on the ground (1:20). He looks to us like a defeated man.


And then in the lowest moment of his life Job worshiped God. He blessed the name of the Lord.


How Is This Possible?

To bless the Lord’s name means to praise, to honor, to hold up as worthy. It has been said that God’s ‘name’ is his ‘fame’ and when we bless the name we extol God’s reputation. We affirm that God is good. That’s what Job did in his storm, in his loss and grief and confusion. He blessed the name of the Lord.     


This is stunning. How is it possible for anyone to really do that? How is it possible for you to do that?


The clue is in Job’s conviction that all of life – absolutely everything – comes by grace. The Lord gives as he wills and he gives freely. He is right and just in taking the same way. Something in us resists this. We may even resent it. That’s why we find it hard to bless the name.


If we trade grace for a life built on what we earn or what we deserve we’ll rarely bless the name. Every good thing that comes our way will be because we worked hard or did right. We earned it or deserve it. Hard working well-behaved people rarely bless the name. Too much self gets in the way.


But when we live by grace, life is different. It’s all a gift. We bless the name when we receive (thanksgiving) and we can bless the name when we lose the same (trust). 


When it’s All Said and Done

Of course Job had other things to say. He had questions and he voiced them. He was hurting and he cursed the day of his birth. He had friends who said things to him that he couldn’t accept and he pushed back. He wrangled with God in the storm. You can do that and still bless the name.


But when it was all said and done, Job worshiped God. The book of Job ends in worship. After all Job’s questions God has a few questions for Job. Those questions leave Job repentant, silent before God and the mystery of God’s ways. There is a sense in which the book of Job ends where it began. Job worships God.


As you reflect on the struggles and storms you’ve lived through, maybe you can cling to this basic truth: Storms come to us to lead us to worship.


Such a journey may not happen quickly or follow a straight line. We may have to wait a long time to see the connection between whatever storm we’ve lived through and the goodness of God in it. But if we’ll deal with God – in doubts and questions and cries for help – eventually we’ll come to a place of worship. Eugene Peterson is right in saying that “all prayer pursued far enough, becomes praise.”


“The Lord gives.” How has this been true in your life? Give God thanks for his gifts.


“And the Lord takes away.” Trust him with your storm.


“Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Every anguished prayer eventually becomes praise; the storm can lead you to worship. How will you bless His name today?



“Blessed Be Your Name

In the land that is plentiful

Where Your streams of abundance flow

Blessed be Your name


Blessed Be Your name

When I'm found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed Be Your name


Every blessing You pour out

I'll turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in, Lord

Still I will say


Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Amen

(Matt Redman, “Blessed be the Name”)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Uncle Screwtape

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

In a letter to his brother dated 20 July 1940, C. S. Lewis shared the spark of an idea for a future book.


According to Lewis biographer Allister McGrath, the occasion for Lewis’s brainstorming was a dull sermon at Holy Trinity Church. Lewis explained the moment like this:    

Before the service was over—one could wish these things came more seasonably—I was struck by an idea for a book which I think might be both useful and entertaining. It would be called As One Devil to Another, and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first “patient.”


Fame and Scorn

The letters began to appear in a weekly church magazine called “The Guardian” in May

1941. They attracted the interest of a publisher and came out as The Screwtape Letters in February 1942.


Lewis said he “had never written anything more easily” and yet he also remarked later on that he was “never very fond” of the book – a statement that caused some consternation for his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, to whom the book was dedicated.


Most of us associate Lewis with Mere Christianity, a work that was not published until 1952. A decade earlier it was Screwtape that launched Lewis to fame in the United States - “a popularity for which he was ill prepared,” according to McGrath.


In 1943 Oliver Chase Quick (Regius Professor of  Divinity, Oxford) wrote a letter to William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, urging that Lewis be recognized by being awarded an Oxford Doctorate of Divinity. At the same time, oddly enough, Screwtape was earning Lewis scorn among the academic fraternity at Oxford. They regarded Screwtape as a lightweight piece of Christian writing identified openly with a teaching fellow of Magdalen College.


In some ways this grievous sin, repeated with other popular writings that followed, stained Lewis’s entire tenure at Oxford. What was held in derision by the elites at Oxford remains a treasure among so many Christians. It is noteworthy that today we cannot name a single one of Lewis’s detractors, and the book they despised is still in print.  


True Then, True Now

Maybe one of the reasons Screwtape has endured is simply that it tells something we know to be true about our lives but usually fail to see. Blogger Andy Naselli took every chapter of the book and summarized the devil’s ‘scheme’ in one sentence. Here’s a sampling of Uncle Screwtape’s strategies:

  • Make him disillusioned with the church by highlighting people he self-righteously thinks are strange or hypocritical.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of ‘very small sins’ because the safest road to hell is a gradual one.
  • Make him live in the future rather than the present.
  • Keep him from any serious intent to pray.
  • Annoy him with daily ‘pin-pricks’ from his mother.
  • Encourage him to be a church-hopper.
  • Defeat his courage and make him a coward.
Things haven’t changed much. What Lewis saw and imaginatively described in 1942 remains true of us today. Maybe one of the most interesting pieces of counsel is Screwrtape’s advice that Wormwood carefully guard the life of his patient so that he lives long and grows old. The Reason? “Because real worldliness takes time,” writes Screwtape.
This is a sobering insight. As long as we live we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Our adversary is relentless. So pay close attention to your life. How might Screwtape coach Wormwood if you were the ‘patient?’   
Merciful God, we are in continual need of your grace, making us aware of the schemes of our adversary. Since the enemy is relentless, give us your power that we might not grow weary or lazy in the struggles that erode our faith. Open our eyes to his ways and our hearts to your strength, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Thursday, February 05, 2015


Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11).

“Rommel . . . I read your book.”


So said George C. Scott playing the role of General George Patton in the 1970 academy award winning film Patton.  The historicity of the statement has been challenged and it may be that Francis Ford Coppola took some liberties with his script. However, in 1937 German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel did publish a work titled Infantry Attacks. A planned sequel on tank tactics was never completed.


In the movie, Patton’s units are engaged with Rommel’s forces. Patton stands viewing the battle through field-glasses. Out-maneuvering his opponent, Patton utters the movie’s oft-quoted line: “Rommel . . . I read your book.” The actual line is somewhat more colorful than that, but you get the idea.


Victory belongs not only to the well-equipped, but also to the well-studied.


The ‘Wiles’ of the Devil

In Ephesians 6:11 Paul states plainly his reason for urging his readers (us) to put on the whole armor of God. We are to equip ourselves for battle so that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”


The word ‘schemes’ is a rendering of the Greek word methodia from which we obviously derive the English ‘method.’ The King James Version translates Ephesians 6:11 with the more devious word ‘wiles.’ The basic thought behind all of these words is craft and cunning. The devil works with deceit and trickery. A strong defense requires more than the right gear and the right weapons. We must understand with our minds how the enemy works.


To speak of the devils ‘wiles’ or ‘schemes’ assumes that our adversary works deliberately and with intent. We are inclined to think of evil as an abstraction. We treat it as a large and vague ‘force’ of some kind, drawing us or luring us away from what is good and right and true. This isn’t entirely wrong – but there’s more going on. Our adversary’s schemes are tailor-made. His attacks are not abstract, they are personal.


Maybe we need to know our own weaknesses if we want to stand against the devil’s wiles


Study Up

The details of how the devil’s schemes work on us will vary from person to person. But there are some common maneuvers that our enemy is fond of using, and they work effectively on most of us, even if in different ways. Paul urges us to stay alert (6:18). Here are a couple of things to watch for.


First, beware your own fatigue. When we are weary and worn out we are easily annoyed with other people. We have no patience. We are not disposed to grace. Also, in our fatigue we turn to other comforts, anything we lightly name a guilty pleasure. Some of these may be harmless, but many are not. And besides, we find our comfort in something other than God. The ‘wiley’ one wins.  


Also, stay on top of your own busyness and distraction. Busyness and distraction keep us from prayer and dull our interest in God’s word. Paul names the word and prayer as our primary weapons, so to be busy and distracted means to be defenseless. The adversary will gladly tolerate a regular church-attender who lives a prayer-less life the other six days of the week.


Unlike Patton, we do not read the enemy’s book. We read God’s book to understand ourselves and the devil’s schemes. But there is a book by an imaginative Christian thinker that focused on the wiles of the devil. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Screwtape Letters.


For today, stay alert. How have you detected the adversary’s schemes in your life?


So often, Lord God, we dismiss the ‘wiles of the devil’ as silliness. Wake us up to the reality of our enemy and the malicious intent of his schemes. Make us wise, always alert to whatever pulls us from you. And give us strength to stand firm in the power of Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Equipped but Not Ready

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day . . . (Eph. 6:13).

Being equipped and being ready are not the same thing.

How many sets of golf clubs are tucked away in the corner of a closet, acquired with enthusiasm and the best of intentions, now neglected because there’s just never enough time? How many tents and backpacks are up in the attic or shelved in the garage, still waiting for the hike of a lifetime that just never quite came together.


Buying clubs is one thing. Becoming a golfer is quite another. Being outfitted for the trail is one thing. Becoming an outdoorsman is quite another. And yet, how can we ever become what we aspire to be unless we are equipped?


The Drum Kit

For me it was a set of drums. I was in the eighth grade. A couple of years earlier I had decided to give band a try, having never really found my place in the world of sports. My instrument of choice: a snare drum. As it happened, I enjoyed hitting a drum. I decided I would probably enjoy hitting an entire assemblage of drums.


This was the era of Paul McCartney and Wings, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Those drummers sounded very cool. Of course, to play like that would require a drum kit. The solitary snare just wouldn’t do. And so, for my birthday my parents presented me with my first set of drums. I was equipped. But I was no drummer, at least not yet.


I had no idea what to do with multiple drums. I was awkward and stiff. What’s more, I had no context for actually using a drum set. I put the drums in my room, listened to the radio and tried to mimic what I heard. Years would pass before I played with enough competence to accompany other musicians.


Desert Road

The difference between being equipped and being ready shows up in the Bible in the book of Exodus. After ten plagues that display God’s power, Pharaoh relents and allows Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Exodus 13 tells the story this way.


When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. (Ex. 13:17-18)


There was a well-traveled trade route that would have taken the Israelites to their intended destination. It was the shortest, most obvious way to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. But it traversed some dangerous territory. While the road seemed best, the way fraught with obstacles.


God did not lead the people in that direction. They would too soon face war and in the fight they would become fearful and discouraged and decide it was best to go back to Egypt. And yet we are told that “the Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.”


They were armed, but not yet ready for the fight. It would take some time in the wilderness to get ready for what was ahead.


Test the Armor

The whole armor of God is available to you today, every piece of it. You are equipped. But there may be some battles for which you are not yet ready. God may have you in a difficult place, a wilderness place, but his purposes there are to train you for what Paul calls “the evil day.”


Spiritual Warfare sounds large, ominous and cataclysmic. And it can be. But there are small ways today that God may be getting you ready, preparing you for things you cannot see and may not expect.


Not every day is an “evil day” – but Paul tells us that such days will come. And when they come, God will give you what you need to stand firm.


So test the armor of God in the place where you are right now. Test it in seemingly small ways, knowing that God goes before you and behind you, always at work in barren and hard places to get you ready for what lies ahead.        


Merciful God, use whatever this day brings to build our faith, to teach us to trust, to move us to prayer. And in all things prepare us for the time when we will need to stand firm in struggles we do not yet see. We will follow you faithfully as you lead us, through Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.