Monday, February 20, 2012

Harvest of Righteousness

Spirit & Truth # 262
“Harvest of Righteousness”

By Greg Smith


            Each Sunday when the offering plate goes around, every believer has an opportunity to give.  There are many reasons for putting an offering in the plate.  Some donate because they feel that people are watching them, and their reputation is on the line.  Others give because they can get a tax write-off.  Still others give out of gratitude for what God has done for them, and a desire to see God’s work done locally and around the world.

            Many churches teach tithing, or giving 10% of one’s income to God.  Theologian and author C.S. Lewis says, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”  Yet Brian Kluth, author of A View from the Pew: Financial Statistics of 750 Christian Households on Income, Job, Debt, and Giving/Tithing[i], writes, While most people only give 1-3% of their income to charitable/church/religious causes, survey responders indicated their household made it a priority to be faithful and generous givers.”  I find it interesting that people say that giving is important to them, and that they want to be generous, while not even coming close to the Biblical tithe.

            God wants us to be generous givers, but He also wants us to be cheerful givers.  Many find it difficult to do both at the same time.  That’s because oftentimes people are afraid that if they give now, they won’t have what they need later.  But the apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (HCSB), “The One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.”

            Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread (Matthew 6:11),” but Paul goes a step further, saying that God provides not only the bread for food, but He also provides the seed necessary to grow the wheat that produces more bread!  In other words, God provides for today and for tomorrow.  He says that when you give, God will repay you—not because tithing is a “get rich quick scheme,” but so that you will be able to give even more!

            If God generously gave His Son as a sacrifice for us, what can we give to Him to show our gratitude?  Many have said that they can’t afford to give, but I have personally found that I can’t afford not to give to God’s work.  Instead, I have been greatly repaid in every way.  Industrialist and philanthropist J.D. Rockefeller said, "I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week."[ii]  So you can start small, and let God grow your giving.  Today, I invite you to give to your local church and to other godly endeavors as well.  You never lose out for having done so.  Instead, you gain a harvest of righteousness. 

[i] [i]  February 20, 2012

[ii] W. A. Criswell, A Guidebook for Pastors, p. 154.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mouth Guards

Spirit & Truth # 261
“Mouth Guards”

By Greg Smith

            Athletes wear mouth guards to protect against anything that might go into their mouth—a ball, a foot, or the ground.  In the spiritual life, we need mouth guards as well, not to protect us from what might go into the mouth, but from what might come out.  Jesus said, “What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean (Matthew 15:11).'"  A spiritual mouth guard protects not against violence to the mouth, but against violence from the mouth.

            In Psalm 141:1-4a, King David “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me.  Hear my voice when I call to you.  May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.”  

            Yesterday, I had to make a difficult phone call to someone I’ve known for twenty years.  Without getting into the details, I’ll just say that I had to tell the person that his actions toward my family were unacceptable, and that even though he called himself our friend, he didn’t fit into that category in my mind.  I had to ask him to cut off all contact from us—permanently.  I have to admit that I was angry when I spoke to him on the phone.      
            The man on the other end of the line was stunned at my anger.  “But you’re a minister!” he said.  Personally, I was amazed that he thought a minister shouldn’t ever be angry.  Ephesians 4:26 says that it’s all right to be angry at times.  “Be angry, and yet do not sin,” it says.  I found that by keeping a guard on my mouth, I allowed myself to be angry, and yet not cross the line into sin.

            “Ephesians 4:26 also says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  After that difficult conversation at 11:00 at night, I was exhausted—but I didn’t want to go to bed.  I didn’t want to carry those negative emotions with me into dreamland.  So I put on an old comedy TV show and laughed and laughed until I felt better.  When you’re angry, don’t sin.  When you’re angry, don’t hold onto it.  Be angry—it’s okay to be angry—but let it go quickly.  Don’t carry it with you into the next day.

            This past Sunday I shared with my church Jesus’ words to his enemies the Pharisees in John 8:26.  “I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t. For I say only what I have heard from the one who sent me, and he is completely truthful.”  Jesus showed us that just because you’re thinking something, that doesn’t mean you have to say it.  You can keep it to yourself, especially if you know if would be sinful to say.  It’s all right to be angry—but don’t sin.  When you’re angry, do what David did.  Cry out to God.  Pray.  Ask the Lord to set a guard over your lips, that you might not be drawn to evil. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Night's Bible Study on Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Psalms

Psalm 55 – Enemies Within
            This psalm deals with enemies within—both enemies within the psalmist’s circle of friendship and enemies (attitudes) within himself.  Just as Psalm 3 dealt with David’s internal and external struggle at the rebellion of his son Absalom, so Psalm 55 also expresses David’s grief over the betrayal of a close friend.  
                The Targum, an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew scriptures, names the offending character of Psalm 55 as Ahithophel.  The Holman Bible Dictionary gives the following information on this this Old Testament Judas:
(uh hihth' oh fehl) Personal name meaning, “brother of folly” if it is not a scribal attempt to hide an original name including a Canaanite god such as Ahibaal. See Jerubbaal. David's counselor who joined Absalom's revolt against King David (2 Samuel 15:12). David prayed that his counsel might be turned to foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31) and commissioned the faithful Hushai to help Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, counteract the counsel of Ahithophel. Ahithophel led Absalom to show his rebellion was for real by taking over his father's concubines (2 Samuel 16:15-23). Ahithophel's counsel was famous as being equal to the word of God (2 Samuel 16:23). Hushai, however, persuaded Absalom not to follow Ahithophel's military advice (2 Samuel 17:1), this being God's work (2 Samuel 17:14). Disgraced, Ahithophel returned home to Giloh, put his house in order, and hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23). He may have been the grandfather of Bathsheba, David's partner in sin and wife (2 Samuel 11:3; 2 Samuel 23:34).[1]

            Perhaps Psalm 55 will give us some insight into the spiritual warfare we deal with, when we are betrayed by a friend.  The psalmist writes:
 1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
   do not ignore my plea;
 2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 

            The NIV that I have used here does not do justice to David’s feelings.  The King James Version says, “I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise.”  The New King James Version reads, “I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily,” while Young’s renders it, “I mourn in my meditation, and make a noise,”  The Hebrew word for this noise is “huwm.”  Perhaps it would not be an unfair translation to say, “In my meditation, all I can do is hum.”  You’ve probably been there before, when your prayers turn to groanings because of your grief.  What was creating such grief in David’s spirit?  Verse 3 says he is in this state…

 3 because of what my enemy is saying,
   because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
   and assail me in their anger. 

            It’s important to take responsibility for our own thoughts.  Jesus emphasized the importance of a pure thought life when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).  The entire Sermon on the Mount seems to be about the believer’s inner life, and emphasizes that attitude really does matter.  Attitude reflects the choices a person makes in his head, to focus on one thing or another.  When someone chooses to focus on the positive, then good things overflow in her life.  When a person chooses to focus on the negative, then evil things overflow in his life.  

            There are, however, times when thoughts just show up on their own.  They seem to come from a source outside ourselves.  The Spirit of God can speak to us in this way, surprising and blessing us by divine love.  The enemy of our souls can also speak directly to our spirits, filling our hearts with wickedness and fear.  David ‘s next words show that he has been spiritually attacked with thoughts and attitudes that have come from outside himself:

 4 My heart is in anguish within me;
   the terrors of death have fallen on me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
   horror has overwhelmed me. 

            I suggest to you that when evil thoughts appear unbidden, they may be an attack of the enemy.  Though we don’t often like to admit it, evil imaginings seem to “pop up,” seemingly on their own.  I knew one very sane woman loved her infant very much.  She told me that when he was at his colicky worst, sometimes she imagined herself doing violence to him.  She would never actually harm her child, but violent thoughts seemed to arise out of nowhere.  It wasn’t her—the thoughts seemed to come from outside her.  

            What did she do?  She employed the tactic that all believers need to learn.  We find this in 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  Calling on the name of Jesus, she took her thoughts captive and turned instead to positive, prayerful, and faithful thoughts.  David does the same thing when he says:

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
   I would fly away and be at rest.
7 I would flee far away
   and stay in the desert;
8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
   far from the tempest and storm.” 

            In verse 8, David calls this trouble, “the tempest and storm,” or (better) “windy tempest [and] storm.”  The word for “windy” is ruach, which can also be translated as “spirit.”  So David is talking about a “spirit-storm.”  Often, the negative emotions and thoughts that come our way feel like a demonically inspired spirit-storm, and David wants to escape it all.

            With these words, David has “gone to a happy place.”  In the Bible, the dove is associated with the Holy Spirit.  David indicates here that he wants the Spirit to carry him away so that he can be at rest.  He would flee far away and stay in the “desert.”  This word is better translated as “pasture.”  David mentally returns to the peace and calm of his shepherding days, when God made him lie down in green pastures, led him beside still waters, and restored his soul.  So many psalms refer to God as a hiding place and a shelter from the storm, that we cannot read verse 8 without realizing that David’s desire is to find his refuge in God Himself.

            In our previous study of Psalm 48, we learned that the believer is the Temple of God.  By extension, the believer is also analogous to Jerusalem, Zion, and other words used in the Psalms to describe the holy place of God.  Keep in mind that when David was writing his poetry, he was writing about real people, places, and events.  He was writing about his betrayal by Ahithophel.  But believers today can make the Psalms deeply personal by reading his sentiments a symbolic of their inner lives.  Verses 9-11 talk about violence in “the city,” which the believer can interpret as an internal conflict within their own souls.

 9 Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
   for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
   malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
   threats and lies never leave its streets. 

            At this point, I’d like to pause to make a radical suggestion.  Often, Hebrew people would anthropomorphize God, describing the “eyes of the Lord” or the “hand of God.”  Other figurative language describes God as a “consuming fire,” or calls the earth, “God’s footstool.”  For a moment I invite you to think creatively with me, imagining some of the words in verses 4-5, 9-11 as a bit more than what they seem to be on the surface.  All it requires are a few capital letters.

            Verse 4 refers to the “terrors of death” that have fallen on the psalmist.  Why not read this as a proper noun—“Terrors of Death?”  In verse 5, “fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”  If we take these concepts and capitalize them into proper names, then “Fear and Trembling have beset me, Horror has overwhelmed me.”  By doing this, we can see these emotions for what they truly are—the servants of Satan.  The New Living Translation renders 1 Samuel 16:14 as, “Now the Spirit of the LORD had left Saul, and the LORD sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear.”  Certainly, sometimes (at least), emotions that plague God’s people can have spiritual reality behind them—demonic personalities that have your destruction as their main goal.  Could they have names like Terror of Death, Fear, Trembling, and Horror?  What else would demons be named?

            In verse 9, Violence and Strife are also in the city, prowling on its walls.  Malice is also there, with his friend Abuse.  These are Satan’s special forces operatives—his “Destructive Forces.”  A demon named Threats has joined their ranks, along with another called Lies.  This naming of demons may sound strange to you, but it is not unheard of in Hebrew literature.  Leviticus 16:6-8 mentions a demon named Azazel.  Isaiah 34:8-14 says, “"The land shall become burning pitch Thorns shall grow over its strongholds It shall be the haunt of jackals yea there shall the night hag alight and find for herself a resting place." What is the “night hag?”  The Hebrew word is liyliyth.  The English equivalent is “Lilith,” who is a demon of Hebrew folklore.[2]  The commonly-used translation, “screech owl” doesn’t do the Hebrew justice.  Certainly names like “Satan,” “Apollyon,” and “Abaddon” are familiar to us, but what about the demon names that are hidden in the text of Psalm 91:5-6, “You will not be afraid of the Terror by Night, or of the Arrow-That-Flies-by-Day; Of the Pestilence-That-Stalks-in-Darkness, or of the Destruction-That-Lays-Waste-at-Noon.”  Here, the capital letters are mine, but these words given as names are substantiated in demology.[3]

            Whether the reader interprets these as literal names of actual demons is not as important to me as the reader’s understanding that terror of death, fear, trembling, horror, violence, and strife—these things are demonic, and their source is the Evil One.  When these influences, whether literal demons or metaphorical concepts, crawl through the cities of our souls, they leave destruction in their path.  The believer is justified in praying against such enemies, “Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words (verse 9).”

            In the next verses, David expresses his despair that his betrayer was once his friend and advisor.  

 12 If an enemy were insulting me,
   I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
   I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
   my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
   at the house of God,
as we walked about
   among the worshipers…
20 My companion attacks his friends;
   he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
   yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
   yet they are drawn swords. 

            I believe that David understands the difference between the physical man who betrayed him, and the powers and principalities that were behind him.  Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  He shifts from discussing his “friend,” to talking about his “enemies.”  His understanding that these enemies are demons rather than human is indicated by his belief that they are able to “go down alive to the realm of the dead,” (v. 15) because that place of evil seems to be their natural habitation.

                                15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
   let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
   for evil finds lodging among them.

How can David get victory in his life?  How can he experience God’s blessing again, even though friends have turned to enemies and spiritual foes have rallied against him?  How can you experience victory in the spiritual warfare that engages you?  The next verses give the answer:

 16 As for me, I call to God,
   and the LORD saves me.
17 Evening, morning and
   I cry out in distress,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
   from the battle waged against me,
   even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
   who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
   because they have no fear of God…
  22 Cast your cares on the LORD
   and he will sustain you;
he will never let
   the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
   into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
   will not live out half their days.
   But as for me, I trust in you. 

Call out to God, who hears your distress.  He will hear you and rescue you unharmed from the battle that wages against you.  Remember that God is enthroned from of old, meaning that he doesn’t change.  He is not afraid of defeat, because defeat is impossible for him.  Those who have no fear of God will learn to fear him, and will be humbled.

Verses 16-17 talk about prayer—the secret weapon.  David remembers that he doesn’t defeat the enemies within by his own might or by his own power, but by the Spirit of God.  “I call to God, and the LORD saves me” are the words he uses, giving credit where credit is due.  David names three times per day, evening, and morning, and noon, that he goes to God in prayer.  How often do you pray?  Do you have established prayer times, regularly scheduled appointments with God?  When you make and keep these appointed times, you strengthen your prayer life and ensure victory in spiritual warfare.            

In verse 22, the psalmist shifts from talking about his own situation, to exhorting the reader (you) about your own battles.  “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”  God will bring down the bloodthirsty and deceitful (whether we’re talking about people or demonic enemies, the principle still applies) and thrown them into the pit of decay. 

“But as form me, I trust in you.”  Now there’s a line you can hold onto!  Cast your cares on him, and he will sustain you.  David ends his psalm on spiritual warfare on a positive note, reminding the reader that God has already won the victory.  Though battles rage against God’s people, “he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

When it comes to spiritual warfare, the “enemy within” can mean three different things.  First, it could mean the human being that has offended, hurt, or betrayed you—a person you were once close to, a person within your own inner circle.  Or, the “enemy within” can be forces of spiritual wickedness that seek to control your life, demonic adversaries that want you defeated.  Or, the “enemy within” can be your own sinful thoughts and ungodly attitude.  In any case, David’s words bring victory.  Find hope in them today:

16 As for me, I call to God,
   and the LORD saves me.
17 Evening, morning and
   I cry out in distress,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
   from the battle waged against me,
   even though many oppose me.

[1]  February 12, 2012. 

[2] LILITH (Isa. 34:14; ultimately from Sumerian lil, "air," not Heb. layl(ah), "night") was originally a succubus, believed to cohabit with mortals, but in the Arslan Tash incantation…she is identified with the child-stealing demon, a character she retains in later folklore. The tradition that the name means "screech-owl" (in so many translations) reflects a very ancient association of birds, especially owls, with the demonic. (The Jewish Virtual Library  February 12, 2012)

[3] DEVER ("Pestilence") is the other demonic herald who marches with YHWH to battle (Hab. 3:5). Dever is also mentioned in Psalms 91:5–6: "Thou shalt not be afraid for the Terror (Paḥad) by night; Nor for the Arrow (Ḥeẓ) that flieth by day; Nor for the Pestilence (Dever) that walketh in the darkness; Nor for the Destruction (Ketev) that wasteth at noonday." Not only Dever but also the other words italicized above have been plausibly identified as names of demons. The "Arrow" is a familiar symbol in folklore, for disease or sudden pain, and Ketev (Qetev; cf. Deut. 32:24; Isa. 28:2; Hos. 13:14) is in this instance the personification of overpowering noonday heat, known also to Greek and Roman demonology.  (The Jewish Virtual Library.  February 12, 2012)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Questions to Keep You Accountable

The following is not mine, but I share it with you in the hopes that  some of these questions may provoke both thought and prayer, regarding your own spiritual life.  This may originally be found at

In Rebuilding Your Broken World, Gordon MacDonald suggests twenty-six questions to help develop accountability and invite feedback. If we desire to grow, we should submit our selves to a spiritual mentor and answer these questions honestly.
1. How is your relationship with God right now?
2. What have you read in the Bible in the past week?
3. What has God said to you in this reading?
4. Where do you find yourself resisting Him these days?
5. What specific things are you praying for in regard to yourself?
7. What are the specific tasks facing you right now that you consider incomplete?
8. What habits intimidate you?
9. What have you read in the secular press this week?
10. What general reading are you doing?
11. What have you done to play?
12. How are you doing with your spouse? Kids?
13. If I were to ask your spouse about your state of mind, state of spirit, state of energy level, what would the response be?
14. Are you sensing spiritual attacks from the enemy right now?
15. If Satan were to try to invalidate you as a person or as a servant of the Lord, how might he do it?
16. What is the state of your sexual perspective? Tempted? Dealing with fantasies? Entertainment?
17. Where are you financially right now? (things under control? under anxiety? in great debt?)
18. Are there any unresolved conflicts in your circle of relationships right now?
19. When was the last time you spent time with a good friend of your own gender?
20. What kind of time have you spent with anyone who is a non-Christian this month?
21. What challenges do you think you're going to face in the coming week? Month?
22. What would you say are your fears at this present time?
23. Are you sleeping well?
24. What three things are you most thankful for?
25. Do you like yourself at this point in your pilgrimage?
26. What are your greatest confusions about your relationship with God?

Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way, Navpress, 1989, pp. 171-172.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Etymology Man - My kind of Superhero

A few days ago, my son Aaron shared this with me.  He has the kind of bizarre sense of humor that I just had to share with you.  

I'd like to be a superhero with etymological powers one day.  Maybe.

I can't endorse everything on all this guy's pages, but "Etymology Man"--who can resist his powers?