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The Good Amongst the Bad

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. (Luke 23:10-12)

Even in this, seemingly the darkest of times, Jesus is able to make two enemies friends. Granted, the two people in question are a tyrant and a corrupt official, and that he brought friendship between them by being mocked and beaten… But even so, it’s still quite incredible. Not only that, but Jesus hasn’t stopped doing incredible things, even two thousand years later.

There are times in the Christian’s life where things are simply going bad. There are times when, as happened with Peter in the previous chapter of Luke, the Devil “sifts” us. But even in these times, Jesus always makes some good come out of it. As Paul puts it when writing to the Corinthians:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

Paul’s faith was strengthened by the affliction that he and whoever he was with experienced. Likewise, when trials of any kind come to us, we can know for a fact that some good will come out of it.-In Jesus’ case, two friends were made, and the whole Earth was saved. Now, nothing so dramatic as that will ever happen again, however, Jesus can and will give us the strength to stand firm during the time of trial.

The point being this: when trials come, let’s ask Christ to give us the strength to stand up under them.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Blindness

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34)

Now, this is really rather shocking. Jesus told them bluntly that He was going to be “shamefully treated, mocked, and spit upon,” and that three days later He would rise from the dead. But yet, “they did not grasp what was said.” Of course, we know that the saying was hidden from them, but it simply seems absurd! … Or does it? Well, as there is a verse dedicated to the subject, perhaps it’s not so uncommon as all that:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Satan, who is the god of this age, can blind people’s mind to the Gospel. Which is precisely why pastors can stand up and preach a sermon devoid of the Gospel, why those who believe in a doctrine of legalism can simultaneously believe themselves to be Christian’s. The Devil has blinded their minds to the Gospel, and so the only thing they can do or say is legalistic in nature.

But, what’s something we can do to keep Jesus’ death and Resurrection as our focus, and not wander off into other things?

Well, if we only fill our minds with the Gospel, the Gospel is the only thing that’ll come out of our mouths and actions. Filling ourself up with junk is a bad practice, both physically and Spiritually. If our focus is on  something filthy (such as a dirty picture/movie, and anything else which would be considered morally wrong), then that’s what’s going to come out of us. As Luke puts it elsewhere:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

The point being this: if we look for the Gospel in passages of Scripture, if we thank God constantly that He would give His son for us, to die and then three days later rise again, then the Devil will never be able to blind us to the cross.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Alive in Christ

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. (Luke 11:18-22)

This is something we should always remember. Because, though the Devil was strong, and we had no chance of escaping from Him, Jesus was and is stronger. Sometimes we have sin struggles in our lives that seem to dominate us; to overwhelm us so completely that think we may never get free. It’s when we have times like this, when we think that we will always be in bondage to sin, that we should remind ourself of these verses: Jesus is stronger. He has already overcome the Devil on the cross. Though the Devil can attack us, He can never capture us again; He can never in-bondage us to sin for long.

That being said, when we are attacked by the Devil, we shouldn’t simply surrender to him. Jesus is superior in every way to him; for us to simply surrender to the Devil would be like a massive army (the “massive army” is my way of referring to Jesus’ power. We, by ourself, are but half a man in our own power.) surrendering to a lone man. God will always provide a way out for His children when they are tempted [1 Corinthians 10:13]; He will always provide strength. But we must use the strength that He gives us. We must cut off every access point that we might have to sin in the way that we are being tempted in, and actually resist when attacked.–We must resist, in Jesus’ power. We need to pray and ask Him to give us strength, and we need to look in His word for strength, and we need to go to other believer’s to give us strength. Jesus is the one who has overcome the Devil by His death (and we through Him), and whenever we are tempted, it will be Jesus that overcomes through us.

But there is one last question left to answer: why?  If we can never be enslaved to sin, why should we bother resisting it? This is a very good question, to which the Bible gives a very good answer:

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

We will never be in lasting bondage to sin again, because when we are tempted, we are given grace to overcome. Does this mean we should go searching out sin and temptation? Of course not! We are no longer those who are enslaved to sin, but those who are enslaved to Christ Jesus. How then can we do anything but resist when we are tempted? Yes, sometimes we will still fall. But our new bondage to Jesus will never allow us to stay there. Where before, we would sometimes do random acts of good work, our bondage to sin would pull us back, now the opposite is true of us.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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A Look Into Sin and the Power of Christ

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. (Luke 8:5-7)

I wonder just how many “Christians” have had this happen to them. In fact, the seed of the Gospel which has been planted in our own hearts, may be withered away, choked out by any number of things, even now. The problem is, everyone seems to have a tendency to consider just about everything as being more important than the Gospel: pastors stand up on Sundays and preach a bloodless “Gospel”-a “Gospel” where we save ourself by our own works, but where Christ doesn’t really play a part. Worse though, is it seems people genuinely enjoy hearing this. But, preaching which does not contain the Gospel, almost always chokes out the seed of the Gospel in a new believer. (The Devil, in this example, is actually working through a pastor that refuses to preach the Gospel).

More often than the above happening, though, is when the word of the Gospel fells upon rock. Where, though it tries to grow, it’s inevitably stopped by someone’s unwillingness to give up sin. (No one whose trying to stop the work of the Gospel in their life by holding on to sin will ever stand up in times of trail.)

Still more common than this happening, however, is when the seed of the Gospel is trampled, and then completely annihilated by the Devil. The worst thing about this, is that we are, more often than not, the ones doing the trampling! We trample our own seed of the Gospel when, after hearing and experiencing Jesus’ power at first, we then proceed to ignore it completely; we trample it when we try to limit the power of Jesus to something which makes someone a Christian, and nothing more, when in reality the Gospel not only save us (though that in of itself is huge), but also gives us strength and power to overcome the Devil. Which is why, after we trample the seed of the Gospel, we don’t have any strength to resist the Devil, which is why (like a bird), he swoops down and devours it.

But, how can we prevent those things from happening to us, and if our seed of the Gospel (which is the word of God) has already been devoured, how can we possibly receive it back?

We can prevent ourself from loosing sight of the Gospel, by, (simply put) never loosing sight of it. If we make Jesus, and His death and Resurrection for us the center of our thoughts and actions, we will never lose it. As for the second question, that has three separate answers:

In the first case, the Gospel has been choked out by the belief that salvation rests upon our ability to obey the law. In the second case, someone is unrepentant, and so the Gospel withers away. In the third case, the Gospel is trampled by an ignorant belief that Jesus’ death and Resurrection; his Power, makes someone into a believer, and nothing more.

To solve the first problem is fairly easy; one most only read the Bible, and discover that the Gospel is God’s free gift to man, and that we cannot earn our own salvation.

The solution to the second problem is somewhat harder, as it involves our need for repentance, and humans, as you and I both have no doubt discovered, have a very difficult time admitting that they have done wrong of any sort. And in fact, it is only by looking to Jesus, and seeing His utter perfection, that we can truly understand our own wickedness, and repent.

The solution to the third problem is hardest of all, because once we get into the rut of ignoring the Jesus’ power to help us in every matter of life, it can be difficult to get out. However, God has provided us a way out here too: by looking at passages like Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and how He resisted; and by realizing that if we are believers than that same Jesus lives in us, we can see that Jesus not only saves, but also sanctifies.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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The Bible

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:3-4)

The Devil tempts Jesus, just as He will tempt any Christian, but unlike several of His followers, Jesus doesn’t run to a doctor for help. Neither does He use will power to “resist”. Neither does He look down a wrist band asking Him, “What would Jesus You do?”. And, He certainly doesn’t try to simply block out the Devil by turning on the TV, radio, etc.. What He did instead, was turn to Scripture. The Bible, the living word of God, is far more powerful than any anti-depression drug, wrist bands, and all the rest.

Jesus, who is the living word of God, is our defense against all of Satan’s attacks. We shouldn’t turn to things which cannot really help us (refer to the mentioned items), instead we should turn to the only one who was the power to help: Jesus Christ.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Running to God

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

And now we see what the Devil truly desires. His temptations have been continually escalating up to now: first he tries to convince Jesus to turn stones into bread. When that failed, he tried to convince Christ to throw himself off a building. When that also failed, he resorts to offering Christ the World, if He’ll just bow to him. In each of these attacks, notice that we never see Christ asking, “Why me?”, or raging that He’s being tempted. We don’t see Him irritated at Himself for not being able to keep the Devil from tempting Him. We don’t see Him panicking at His situation. And we certainly don’t see Him going to “doctors” for medication to help Him deal with the over-whelming depression the Devil’s put Him into. No, we see none of that. Rather, we see Jesus simply quoting the Bible, and in the last case, telling the Devil to leave.

We, likewise, aren’t to be frightened when we are tempted. God promises to be our refuge, if we’ll only run to Him; to His word, so we really have no reason to get worked up. – It happens to everyone, older or younger, without exception. Even babies are tempted to be selfish, and only care about themselves, and not care about how much sleep others in the family get as a result.

The point being this: temptation is nothing new. Satan tempted Jesus Himself. We aren’t suddenly non-Christian if we fall under the Devil’s scrutiny. So, when we are tempted, let’s run to our shelter; run to the living Word.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Interpretations

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)

Now, here we see the Devil actually telling a part-truth. He’s quoting an actual verse, and is quoting it correctly. And in fact, he’s even applying it to Jesus semi-correctly… And if Jesus hadn’t compared that verse to the rest of Scripture, He may have thought that the Devil made a good point.

Now, Jesus, and us, are about as different as can be, but the Devil uses the same basic principle that he used on Jesus, on us. i.e., he’ll sometimes use Scripture, taken out of the context of the rest of the Bible, to confuse us. Our problem is that once we see something which we think may support what we want, we tend to latch onto that, and not look at what the verse’s context may say. We need to learn to see if God is pointing us there, or if it’s the Devil. So, for the sake of example, let’s look at a random verse and draw what conclusions we can from it:

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.(O) (Psalm 91:13)

Taken out of context, we can easily draw a very wrong, and very dangerous conclusion: that we can go jumping on lions and snakes without ill effect. But when we look at the context of the verse, we see that the psalmist was using this as an illustration (and an illustration only) of what the wo/man that loves God will be able to do. (See verses 9, and 14-16 to see the context I’m talking about). The Bible never lies, and I’m not saying that it does. However, sometimes we can see things in a light which they are not meant to be seen… Something which begs the question, “What’s the right “light”?”

I’m not some sort of authority that’s able to say what the exact right way to understand every word of the Bible, correctly, is. But, that being said, Paul  does gives us a clue about how to do it:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom(A) as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] (B) I came to you(C) in weakness(D) with great fear and trembling.(E) My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,(F) but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,(G) so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.(H(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Paul calls what he did, “preaching”. Now, what is true preaching, if not expounding on the word of God? So, it’s safe to assume that he expounded on the word of God. (And, evidently he did it correctly, as he claims to have come to the Corinthians with wisdom from God). – But how did he expound the Scriptures? He says two things that tell us:

  1. He says that he proclaimed to them the “testimony about God”. Now, this could easily mean almost anything, because we don’t really know what the “testimony about God” is. But the second thing he says clarifies it for us:
  2. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. So, we can draw a parallel between his resolution to know nothing while he was among them, but Christ-crucified, and his preaching to them.

Christ’s death is the way to understand Scripture, as according to Paul. Something we can see if we return to the verse we used as an example earlier:

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.(O) (Psalm 91:13)

We’ll be able to “tread” on the Devil’s power and lies, because we love God. (The Devil is described as a lion, and at one time actually appeared in the form of a snake. In the first case, we see the Devil’s “power”, and in the second, we see the Devil’s lies. Thus it isn’t unreasonable for us to draw the conclusion that God is referring to the Devil here, through the psalmist.) Yet, why should God protect us after everything we’ve done against Him? Because His son died to forgive us of what we’ve done wrong.

The point being this: in every verse we see, we’re to look at it in context, and we’re to see how it can relate to the cross.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
 

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Temptation

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:1-4)

There are two particularly clear things to learn here: first, don’t let yourself get over-anything. The Devil attacks hardest (or, at least seems to) those who he believes to have the weakest defense. – We just have to ask ourselves to prove this, when would temptation affect us the most? When we haven’t slept in a week, or when we’re well rested? (Now, for the record, I’m not saying that Jesus’ fasting was something wrong. Fasting can be a good thing. But during the time you fast, you need to be particularly careful and watchful.).

The second thing which Jesus shows us, is to use Scripture to defend ourselves when Satan attacks. Christ, who is the living word of God, is the only way we can defend against Satan. By ourselves, we’re completely helpless to do anything except give in to temptation. Even Adam and Eve, who had everything perfect, and who actually talked and walked with God, still gave into temptation. So who are we, who don’t exactly live in a perfect World, or have ever seen God, much less talked to Him, think that we can stand up against Satan’s attacks by ourselves? We can’t! Our only hope in every matter, is to run to the Word – to run to Christ. He died to save us, He won’t let us fall to Satan if we ask for help.

So, in general, the point is this: we shouldn’t starve ourselves physically (except for short periods of fasting), or Spiritually, by depriving our Spirit of the Word. That, and when we’re attacked by Satan, regardless of our physical condition, we should always run to Christ for protection.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
3 Comments

Posted by on May 26, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Keeping Focus

Hello again!

Yesterday we pretty much finished up Romans; the last chapter, sixteen, is pretty much entirely Paul’s closing remarks. So today, we’re going to start Hebrews. — This is what God gave me today in His word:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The author tells us that we must pay “much closer attention” to what we’ve heard. Then the author seems to completely change topics, and starts talking about a message angels gave, which apparently proved to be true. Followed by a seemingly third change in topics, as the author then proceeds to talk about sins all receiving their due… Then, seemingly strangest of all, he calls what he just said, “salvation” (“how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” – Directly after the word “retribution” there’s a comma. If there had been a period, we could safely assume that “such a salvation” is a completely different topic.). So then, was this person simply very confused while attempting to write this, or are all of these seemingly separate thoughts all somehow connected?

The author actually doesn’t change topic at all. He tells us we have to, “pay closer attention to what we’ve heard”. Followed by talking about a message given by angels. Now, there are several places where angels deliver reliable, true messages in the Bible. However, the only one that bears true significance to us, is this one:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene(B) and the other Mary(C) went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake,(D) for an angel(E) of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone(F) and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.(G) The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid,(H) for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.(I) Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:1-6)

And, when Mary and Mary went to see the place where He had laid, they saw that the message was indeed reliable. Also, through the angel telling the women that Christ had risen, we see that every sin had received it’s just retribution: death. All sin leads, and in fact requires a death in order to be paid for, and Jesus provided that death in our place. He died so that we may live. The question that the author asks next is only reasonable: “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” The command being, that we shouldn’t neglect this great salvation at all, but rather grab it, and hold on to it.

As the author said to start, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” As I’ve said before, the Gospel, that which we heard at the start of our Christian lives, is to be always present in our minds. Both as a way of blocking out the thought’s which the Devil would want us to think, and as a way to always be thinking on God’s provision for us; which will keep our entire lives in focus.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 

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The Thief

Hello again!

Right before the following verse, Jesus has just finished delivering the “Parable of the Tares”, and the people around Him asked Him to explain it. Right now, we’re in the first part of that explanation. — This is what God gave me today in His word:

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:14-17)

Let’s look at the two explanations that Jesus gives here (of the parable He told a couple of minutes ago) separately:

Satan Comes to Steal

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Specifically, it would seem, to steal the word from the hearts of believers. Now isn’t that a cheery thought? Satan can come and actually steal the word of God from you. He’s actually able to steal the meaning from you when you read the Bible, or, it seems, even steal your very salvation from you… Or, is that really so? Doesn’t the Christian, even if only a very new Christian, have protection against such things? Well, the reality is that we’re asking the wrong questions. Let’s review the verse we’re talking of:

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

No, Satan cannot take away salvation. However, he can conveniently remind us that it’s about time for lunch, a minute before we start our Bible study, or any number of things that seem harmless enough, but distract us from what God wants us to do. However, one thing that we mentioned above that Satan can do, is take away the significance of “the word” when we hear it. Or, to be more exact, think of it in these terms:

You’ve just heard probably the best sermon of your entire life (hopefully that’s a weekly experience). You feel that the pastor really did an absolutely fantastic job of expounding on the Scripture he was talking about. But now you’re on the road, headed home… When, all of a sudden, you turn left, and find yourself in the midst of traffic which seems to stretch a mile or more. A moment later, you get a call that the reason for the hold up is that your son, who came in his own car because of his job, had a horrible crash in a pileup of about six or seven cars. Now then, how long do you think you’d remember the sermon if something like that had actually happened?

Now, we know that the Devil actually does have power, if God grants it to him first, to cause things like that to happen. Look at Job if you want to see what I mean; he lost his entire livelihood, and broke out in a horrible disease. Granted, that wasn’t for the reasons I’m putting out now, but the point is that the Devil was use every way within his power to take away the value of the word from your life. Which is why its important actually put on that armor we talked about earlier.

Satan Comes to Kill and Destroy

He tries to destroy the word of God, and its power, in our lives. Its one of the things that are on the top of his “to-do” list. Destroying the power of God in every way possible, is Satan’s single goal. He first tried to destroy God’s power by overthrowing Him, now he’s moved to trying to undermine his authority in His people; us. He does this, in part, by the moment someone turns to Christ, attempting to choke them out.

The Christians he uses this tactic on, are shallow. Their exuberant in their acceptance of Christ, yet there’s no change in their lives! Soon they’ll be choked by the troubles and pleasures of the World.

To summarize: the Devil really does have power, when its given to him, and isn’t some mythical being out there. Which is why we need to “clothe ourselves in Christ,” by always keeping Him the focus of our lives.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 

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