Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:11
Keyser Soze Was Right
In the taut crime thriller The Usual Suspects the central character, Keyser Soze, drops an iconic film line: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”
A recent Gallup poll shows that only 59% of American adults believe in the devil—a drop of ten points since 2020.*
I’m not sure how anyone can look at all the misery happening on our planet and NOT believe in a devil.
But that’s the way Satan likes it.
How do we deal with the fact that Satan is alive and well in America—and the world? First, we need to believe the Word. He’s real. Second, we need to apply the weapons we’ve been given for battle.
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By Patrick Slyman — 9 months ago
Straying sheep must be found and carried home with compassion and care. This is the picture Jesus paints in Matthew 18 as He describes the church discipline process. He begins with a parable about a lost sheep and then transitions to His instruction on church discipline (Matthew 18:12-18).
I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.Matthew 15:24
A man once told John Wesley, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. Therefore a man must find companions or make them. This is an important aspect of New Testament Christianity. It is not a faith that can be lived out in solitude…This may fit some religions, but not Christianity.”1
Oh, how times have changed.
For many, solitary religion is the preferred norm of the day. Virtual church is favored over corporate gatherings, digital platforms take precedence over actual pulpits, and Facebook friends are welcomed more than discipling relationships.
This is the Siren’s song of spiritual isolationism: You Don’t Need Other Believers is the title, and You can live the Christian life all by yourself is the refrain. It’s the song we sing to justify our empty church seat, the tune we hum when we are tired and drained, and the anthem we blast when we see believers fail us, hurt us, and cause us pain. 2
The Siren is Wrong!
God has designed the Christian life to be lived together, not alone. Proverbs 18:1 declares: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Spiritual isolation is proud selfishness. And it is far more dangerous than you might think. It leaves you helpless when you fall (Galatians 6:2), foolish when you think (Proverbs 18:1-2), and powerless when you evangelize (John 13:34-35)—teetering you on the precipice of spiritual ruin (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Why? Because spiritual isolationism is Christless living. It rejects the shepherding task Jesus was sent to perform (Matthew 15:24)—a role given to each of His followers to fulfill.
Not only do we need spiritual shepherds in our lives, but we need to shepherd fellow believers in theirs: offering them our care and love, while also feeding and protecting them, and even bandaging their wounds when they are hurt.3 Each is a shepherd’s work. But more importantly, each is a “one another” command Christ has given His people. Like the transfer of a baton in a race, Jesus has passed us His shepherding staff.
Jesus, the Promised Shepherd
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was often referred to as a flock in need of a shepherd. And yet every shepherd God sent His people failed in one way or another. Think of Moses: he was a disobedient shepherd. Think of David: he was an abusive shepherd.4 And this was Israel’s pattern—until Jesus, “the good shepherd” (John 10:11), arrived on the scene.
In Matthew 15:24, Jesus claimed to be God’s promised shepherd when he said, “I was sent…to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He was the teaching shepherd sent to feed His sheep in the pastures of God’s truth, the obedient shepherd sent to lead “His flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:4), and the dying shepherd sent to die so that His sheep would live.5
Jesus, the Perfect Shepherd
Though His sheep often bit Him and wandered away, Jesus refused to isolate Himself from His people. Why? Because this was His divine mission. He was the perfect shepherd for His very imperfect flock.
Jesus cared for His sheep.
Christ fulfilled Isaiah 40:11, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arms He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” Is this not what we see Jesus doing throughout His ministry? His shepherd’s heart was stirred when He saw the spiritual angst of His people (Matthew 9:36). Through His miracles, He bandaged His sheep’s physical wounds, and through His teaching, He healed His sheep’s spiritual needs.
Jesus loved His sheep.
In John 10:14-15, we hear Christ’s love for His own: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own…even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” To know His sheep was to love His sheep—and amazingly, Jesus compared His love for His people to the eternal love He enjoyed with His Father. No greater love could be described. And yet, this was Jesus’ love for His always weak, continually failing, never quite-getting-it flock—a shepherd’s love that even laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11).
Jesus guarded His sheep.
The most frightening concern for a shepherd was a wolf or jackal creeping into the pen to devour his flock. Sheep are helpless creatures with no claws, fangs, or speed for defense. This was why a faithful shepherd would never leave their flock unattended. They stood guard with rod, staff, and sling—precisely what Jesus did throughout His ministry.
Jesus raised His rod when He warned of the Pharisees’ damning gospel. He swung His staff when He pronounced judgment upon the Sanhedrin—not once, but twice. He let loose His sling by calling the religious leaders “false prophets” (Matthew 7:15), trees that would be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19), and “serpents [who]…will not escape the sentence of hell” (Matthew 23:33). Jesus was no gentle shepherd when wolves were nearby.
By Ryan Denison — 2 months ago
I bring this story up today less because the potential plight of hungry New Yorkers warrants our consideration than because the way that Chick-fil-A has handled this and other controversies offers us a helpful reminder of what it looks like to stand for Christ in a way that honors our Lord without compromising our Christian principles. One of the most important, yet difficult, aspects of being a Christian is the idea that Jesus has called us to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14–16). Yet, this approach to our interactions with the culture around us was not unique to Jesus. Rather, it was largely a continuation of the call God had given the Jews as far back as the exile.
Chick-fil-A is one of the most profitable companies in their industry, with the average non-mall-based franchise generating $8.7 million in sales each year. By comparison, the typical McDonald’s generates $3.7 million per year. Overall, it is the third-largest restaurant chain in the country, and all of this despite their famous stance of only being open six days a week.
Now a new bill in the New York State Assembly is trying to change that by forcing Chick-fil-A—or at least the locations along their highways—to stay open every day.
As the bill’s authors argue, “While there is nothing objectionable about a fast food restaurant closing on a particular day of the week, service areas dedicated to travelers is an inappropriate location for such a restaurant. Publicly owned service areas should use their space to maximally benefit the public. Allowing for retail space to go unused one seventh of the week or more is a disservice and unnecessary inconvenience to travelers who rely on these service areas.”
Assemblyman Tony Simone, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, put it a bit more bluntly: “You know, we get hungry when we’re traveling. We may not like our brother-in-law or sister-in-law’s cooking and wanna get a snack on Christmas Eve. . . . To find one of the restaurants closed on the thru-way is just not in the public good.”
Simone went on to add, “The Thruways are meant to serve New York travelers first. And I think it’s ridiculous that you’re able to close on Sunday—one of the busiest travel days of the week.”
While many would have responded to such charges in anger, to this point Chick-fil-A has seemed content to let the process play out and wait for the bill to force a conflict rather than to seek one out.
Fortunately, it looks as though it won’t come to that.
Chick-fil-A has already signed a thirty-three-year contract as part of a $450 million project to build twenty-seven service areas along the highway. Moreover, the project was funded without any toll or tax dollars, making it unclear how much say the state could actually have on which restaurants are placed in the stations and how those restaurants are run. And even if the bill becomes law, it stipulates that it would apply to future contracts rather than existing ones.
Couple those details with the fact that each of these locations includes other restaurants that are open seven days a week and it looks like Chick-fil-A is likely to remain closed on Sundays for the foreseeable future.
By David Briones — 2 years ago
Grace, in its chief manifestation, is the gift of a person (Titus 2:11–14), our incarnate, crucified, and ascended Savior. To receive all the benefits that this gift of grace achieved, we must, as Calvin argues, receive his person: “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (Institutes, 3.1.1). In 2 Corinthians 8:9, we find that the gift of Christ’s person is given to us in the gospel — he lowered himself, so that we, through his poverty, might become rich. And this gift comes from God. It is, after all, “the grace of God” (2 Corinthians 8:1).
What is “Grace”?
Some people today define “grace” as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” Others gloss it as “unconditional gift” or “undeserved favor.” Still others prefer to see it as God’s favorable disposition toward his people. However, the word grace in the New Testament (Greek charis) simply means “gift.” The content of the gift is determined by its context. For example, the definition “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” makes perfect sense in the broader context of Ephesians 2:8.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
But does that same definition fit 2 Corinthians 12:9?
[Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
What about 1 Corinthians 15:10?
By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
The more fitting definition of “grace” in these two passages in Corinthians seems to be “power.” Grace is God’s power manifested in Paul’s weakness in the first, and in his ability to work harder than others in the second.
Do We Give Grace?
What about 2 Corinthians 8:3–4? Do the glosses “unconditional gift,” “undeserved favor,” or “a favorable disposition” work here?
[The Macedonian believers] gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor [same word for grace] of taking part in the relief of the saints.”
Grace here is not the immaterial gift of salvation or spiritual power. Rather, grace is the material gift of money or resources.
That may surprise you. Have you ever described the act of giving money as the giving of “grace”? Paul clearly does in 2 Corinthians 8–9, not just once, but six times (8:4, 6, 7, 19; 9:8, 15). The money bag he carried from these predominantly Gentile churches to the poor saints in Jerusalem is, strangely enough, “grace.”
But what is even more surprising about 2 Corinthians 8–9 is how the material grace of humans is inextricably connected to the immaterial grace of God.
Grace as a Person
To motivate the Corinthians to contribute, Paul begins 2 Corinthians 8 by speaking about the grace of God. “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given” (2 Corinthians 8:1). He then expands the definition of this grace in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Grace, in its chief manifestation, is the gift of a person (Titus 2:11–14), our incarnate, crucified, and ascended Savior. To receive all the benefits that this gift of grace achieved, we must, as Calvin argues, receive his person: “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (Institutes, 3.1.1).
In 2 Corinthians 8:9, we find that the gift of Christ’s person is given to us in the gospel — he lowered himself, so that we, through his poverty, might become rich. And this gift comes from God. It is, after all, “the grace of God” (2 Corinthians 8:1).
I find it fascinating that when Paul wants to encourage human giving in the church, he placards the divine grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fundamental expression of giving grace as he gives himself.