Prison

Prison: Dark, lonely, confined, chained, isolation, punishment, apart from society.

How would you define it?

It’s a place most don’t want to go. It’s also more than a place – it’s a state of being. It describes a life apart from God- the condition of our souls as we are born into this world – dark from the sin that separates us from God, and chained to a mindset and lifestyle that leads us further from God. Only the light of Jesus in our lives can set us free from this prison. The key is within our grasp- we only need to ask Him to free us. God restored humanity’s relationship with Him by sending His one and only Son into the world to take on the punishment of our sin. Yes, Jesus took our place in prison, even death, so that we wouldn’t have to die for our sins. He hands us the key freely, if only we’ll accept it.

Yet, something holds us back from accepting the key. We don’t see the key, or we don’t realize that God has given the power to walk out of the prison of sin by believing in Him and His son Jesus. What is this thing that tries to hold us back and how can we get rid of it?

For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12)

There is a real enemy lurking to keep us imprisoned in the sin nature- Satan. Satan used to follow God and fell away to serve himself, and he wants to take as many people with him to hell as possible by thwarting people’s advances toward God. Satan fears anyone breaking free because He knows God’s power and how others will break free too if we do.

Though our enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy, God wants us to live to the fullest.” (John 10:10)

Some of the enemy’s tactics include doubt, disbelief, busyness, discouragement, isolation, power, lust, deception, depression, confusion, hurt, and more. He can make us think we are getting what we think we want, only to lure us into the trap of a life apart from God (prison of sin). He’ll stop at nothing to deceive us, even using loved ones and well-intentioned folks to plant seeds of doubt and fear. The Bible is full of stories about this, including one in the beginning with Eve and the deceptive serpent. The serpent was Satan getting her to focus on the one forbidden area instead of realizing all that God provided her. Because of that one deception, we now have to deal with sin. However, through Christ, we can now have a relationship with God.

So, how do we protect ourselves from the tactics of the enemy? Put on the full armor of God! (Ephesians 6:10-18)

As you read the types of armor, picture yourself putting on armor, and seek to understand what each piece represents. Then, when you are faced with an enemy attack on your soul, you will be able to withstand the flaming arrows of the evil one.

  1. Helmet of Salvation. First, we must decide to trust God with our lives and love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). God’s word says that if we confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
  2. Breastplate of Righteousness. Righteousness means that because of God, our lives are blameless and just – God becomes our righteousness through Christ. “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) When we are in Christ, the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes- it means that when we do, we turn back toward God and keep pressing forward. Breastplates guard our heart, which is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). God warns us to guard our hearts above all else, and rewards us with peace when we do (Philippians 4:6-7).
  3. Belt of Truth. Surround yourself with God’s truth more than the world’s messages. When we study God’s word (the Holy Bible) and know the truth for ourselves, we can better tell when thoughts are not from God. For any thoughts not from God, we can ask God to help us ignore them. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free (John 8:36)
  4. Sword of the Spirit. Read it, study it, memorize. This is our manual for life. When we know the word for ourselves, we are less likely to be caught off guard with the enemy’s twisted truths. Pierce untruths with God’s word that is “sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) “…so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:11).
  5. Shield of Faith. Shields are for protection, and they are also an offensive weapon for pressing forward amidst the enemy attacks. When we come together as Christians in faith, we are a stronger unit to combat the enemy’s tactics and to achieve what God has called us to do.
  6. Feet prepared for the gospel of peace. We must not stand still and allow the enemy to keep us imprisoned. When God sets us free, we can walk in peace and share His love with others. It’s a call to go and share.

So, get to know God if you don’t already, and be set free from the prison of sin. The, put on the full armor of God so you can withstand all the attacks of the evil one!

Is He Safe?

“Is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Source: CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe (Penguin, 1950)

 

In C.S. Lewis’ book, the Lion Aslan is a representation of Jesus. This conversation between Lucy and the Beaver gives us a good description of who Jesus is. He is good, but definitely not safe.

In Revelation 1:9-20 we find John, one of Jesus’ disciples, exiled on the Isle of Patmos for preaching the good news. While praying on a Sunday, he has a vision of Jesus that is so powerful that he becomes full of fear. John is so fearful that he falls down like a dead man (verse 17).

Have you encountered anything that has made you feel that way? I remember when I was a child I was lying in bed and I felt a presence come in the room. I could see dark clouds fill the room and it felt as if I was lifted off the bed and started spinning. I tried to move my arms and my head, but I couldn’t. Then after feeling helpless, I cried out to God, “Please save me.”

At that very moment the presence left the room and I floated back to the bed. You may be thinking, “wow, that was a crazy dream.” But actually, it wasn’t a dream. I was so shaken by the experience I didn’t go to sleep that night.

I learned three things from the experience. First, we are in a spiritual battle against forces that have great power. Secondly, God is much more powerful than demonic or earthly forces that come against us, and thirdly, God loved me enough to save me. He also loves you.

Many want us to believe in a world view that says God doesn’t exist or is just an ideal. But I know from experience that God is more than just an ideal or philosophy. Jesus is our King – a King that is wonderful and worthy of praise, and we are to worship and fear or respect Him.

Many cringe at the word fear. It is taboo in many circles, thus the reason for all the “No Fear” shirts and stickers. However, the scriptures say that a healthy fear of God is a fountain of life, the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, keeps us from evil, and also brings us confidence. In Psalm 33:8 is states, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” Yes the Lord loves us. Let’s always remember how awesome and powerful He is. Just like Aslan – He is good, but in no way safe!

I want to be like Mike

When I was a child I had a great love for basketball. It held a special place in my life because it was the first sport I learned to play – and that opened a lot of doors to make friends.  I remember staying up until 1 am on school nights watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. At the time, he was considered to be the greatest player in basketball, and many still believe he is the greatest of all time. He was so good that an ad campaign was created called, “I want to be like Mike.” This campaign showed young boys and girls playing basketball and imitating his moves as the song, “I wanna be like Mike” played in the background.

A few years back I remember watching an interview with Koby Bryant. If you are not a basketball fan, you may still recognize his name, because he is also now one of the greatest basketball players to play the game and is known throughout the world. In the interview, he stated that he grew up wanting to be like Michael Jordan. He said he would imitate his moves, shooting style, and even the famous tongue wag. If you don’t know what that is, it was when Michael would hang out his tongue before he made an amazing play. If you watch Koby play, it is easy to notice the influence Michael had on his game.

In the Bible, Paul would be considered the Michael Jordan of apostles. He gave his all for the cause of Christ after his conversion. He planted many churches, mentored young church leaders like Timothy, and wrote most of the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul makes a bold statement, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

When we begin following Christ, we are made new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) and we start a journey of growing spiritually. In 1 John 2:12 Paul notes that we grow spiritually much like we do physically. We go through stages of childhood, young adulthood, and then reach full maturity.

Physical maturity mainly comes with time; however, spiritual maturity doesn’t. It comes from our passion to grow closer to the Father and learn about Him. We learn from reading and studying the scripture, praying, and spending time with the Father in worship. However, we also learn the same way Koby did, by imitating those who have gone before us.

Imitation doesn’t mean becoming a clone, instead, it means to learn from other’s experience. One of the greatest ways to succeed – or avoid mishaps in school, work, and spiritually – is to learn from those who have already blazed the trail. Don’t allow pride to cause you to go through growing pains that can be avoided. Instead, learn from your spiritual fathers and mothers by asking questions, watching how they handle adversity, and holding on to the golden nuggets of wisdom they share. Before you know it, you will be the one others will be imitating.

Are You Talking To Me?

Did you ever have one of those friends who would talk at you and not to you? You know what I mean – most conversations end up being one way. While you may want to share your heart or opinion on a topic, they only seem concerned about voicing their opinion instead of understanding yours.

I remember watching a TV show where a person was on the phone with a friend. Their friend was talking for what seemed like hours – and the whole time they talked at them not letting them get a word in. Eventually, they just put the phone on speaker, sat it down, and start working on other things. Their friend was so caught up in their “conversation” that they never even noticed the guy wasn’t paying attention to them. While this is funny on a sitcom, it wouldn’t be funny in real life.

Often I wonder if this is how God feels at times when we pray to Him. As we should, we make time to share our hearts and problems with Him, but unfortunately that’s all we do. The conversation is usually one way.

In Jeremiah 33:3 we find that God not only wants to hear from you but also share His heart with you.

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

How incredible is that? The creator of the universe wants to have a conversation with you. He wants to share with you His passions and desires.

Is there someone that you always wanted to meet? I can think of a few people off the top of my head right now. I know if I ever get the chance to meet them, I would hang onto their every word and then share with my friends what they said. I would also look for common interest. Just think if your favorite sports figure or actor/actress likes the ice cream you do or has the same hobby!

God wants to have the same type of relationship with you. He wants to hear your heart but also share His.

Jesus stated in John 10:27: “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.”

We can only hear His voice if we are taking time to wait and allow Him to respond. So next time you pray feel free to share your heart – He definitely wants to hear it. And after you have shared your heart, take a few moments to hear His.

A good practice is to make a list of what you want to share with God. Then when you pray, share the first thing on the list. After mentioning it to Him, ask Him what He is doing in the situation. Then pause, and wait for a few minutes, listening for Him to speak to you. If you hear something, write it down.

Do this for each of the topics on your list. After you are done praying, test what you heard by seeing if it lines up with God’s word and character. You can ask your parents, youth pastors, or do an online search using www.BibleGateway.com. This is a good practice in learning to discern God’s voice from just random thoughts that come to mind. Continue to practice waiting and listening and you will realize that God has a lot He wants to share with you.

Are You Connected?

Have you ever turned on a light switch and nothing happened? Or maybe you wanted to sit down and play your favorite video game and the system won’t turn on. After a few frantic tries of pushing the power button and nothing happens, you may assume it’s broken.

This happened recently with our dishwasher. We had just moved in and the first time we tested it everything worked fine. Then we filled it up with dishes and it wouldn’t work. We tried to start it several times on different settings – still nothing. So we called a repair man and for the next couple of weeks we enjoyed the fine art of hand washing dishes.

A few weeks later the repair man came and after trying to turn it on and nothing happening, he turned to me and asked if there was a power switch for the dishwasher. Until that point it hadn’t even crossed my mind that there could be an alternate switch for the power. We had checked for a water on-and-off switch, but not a power switch. After looking around for a few minutes and trying a few switches in the kitchen, the dishwasher turned on. It was exciting to learn we didn’t have to replace the dishwasher – but also embarrassing realizing that nothing was wrong with it. We had just spent a few weeks hand washing dishes when we didn’t have to – all because the power switch was accidentally turned off.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. As branches, as long as we are connected to the vine, we can bear fruit. If we are separated from the vine, we can no longer bear fruit.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5

Our gaming systems, lamps, or dishwasher have a purpose. Each has been designed with the components needed to accomplish their task. But when they are not connected to a power source they cannot accomplish their purpose. Just the same, God has created each of us for a unique purpose. We have been designed with specific components – talents, personalities, characteristics and gifts – to accomplish a purpose. However, when we are not connected to the power source – or as Jesus calls it, “the vine” – we won’t be able to fulfill His purpose for our lives.

This doesn’t mean that God’s love for us is dependent on what we do. Actually, He loves us just because you are His creation, and He desires to have relationship with us. He reminds us of this in John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”

However, if you want to experience all He has for you, then you must stay connected to the source. So that brings up the question. What does it mean to be connected? Glad you asked!

It means that after we have decided to become followers of Jesus, we remain in His love. In John 15:9-10 states it like this:

“Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”

God’s command is that we Love others. This “love” is not like a “crush” or the desire to be with someone or having something. It is the same love that God has shown towards us. His love sees others as so valuable that He gave His life for them.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:12-14

So as you walk through your schools and see your friends and those who may see you as enemies, try seeing them as your brothers and sisters. Or try to see yourself in their circumstance.

For example, if they get an answer wrong in class or something embarrassing happens, instead of making fun of them, ask yourself. “How does God see them?”, or “How would I feel if I was in their shoes?” Even if they say something mean to you, try to understand where that anger may be coming from. Maybe they have a harsh home life, their parents could be getting a divorce, or have just lost a relative. Maybe they just don’t see themselves as valuable so they try to make themselves fell better by cutting down others.

You can share the love of God to them by being kind or encouraging them. Sometimes just listening to what they are going through can release the pressure they are under. Showing love, kindness and praying for them – as a branches on Jesus’s vine – can change their lives forever.

Remember that staying connected to the vine is staying in relationship with the Father and loving others as God loves and sees you.

Help I am Drowning!

Back when I was in the 101st Airborne, we often traveled to Panama for jungle training. On one trip, a friend and I were told of a beautiful beach nearby that had water which was so clear you could see the bottom of the ocean floor. Despite warnings that the area was restricted, we just had to see this place. So we decided to go on one of our days off from training.

We reached the beach with our snorkeling gear and, sure enough, the stories were true. The water was as clear as glass and we could see all the way to the bottom. So with a sense of adventure, we put on our snorkels and decided to go exploring.

It was unbelievable! Then I found a ridge that was filled with coral and exotic fish and followed it for a while. It was just amazing how much could be seen in such shallow water. It was perfectly clear all the way to the ocean floor!

I decided to turn around and head back toward the shore because I was getting a little tired. After swimming for a while, I decided to stop swimming and look for my friend. The sand looked like it was about three to four feet below me.

But to my horror, when I stepped down, I started sinking! So I began to tread water, wondering how deep I was. Taking off the mask, I looked all around and there was nothing but water! No land in sight!

A thousand thoughts filled my head. How far out was I? Did the current take me away? Which way do I go to get back? Where was my friend? As the questions raced through my head, I began to sink under the water. I quickly swam to the top and tried to get a grasp of air, but before I could, I began to sink again.

My snorkel filled with water as I struggled to get my head above the water.  I tried to take a deep breath of air but all I got was water. I frantically flailed my arms trying to get to the surface. Each time I got above the water I would quickly sink back down. Then, just when I thought I was going to drown, I felt an arm wrap around me. It was my friend. He had seen me panic and came to rescue me!

If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be alive to share this story. Sometimes in life we are in danger and don’t even realize it. Yet we still need a savior. In John 3:16 we are told we have been sent a savior by the Creator because of His great love for us.

Take this week and begin to memorize John 3:16. Also take a moment to read Ephesians 2:1-10 to learn more about how God cares for you.