Would You Recognize the Schemes of the Devil?

I have a lot go through my mind, things I study, news items I read, and I choose not to share many of those thoughts. But this time, there’s something I think is important. It pertains to the end of the book of Ephesians. Specifically, Paul’s warning of the “schemes of the devil.” What are they, exactly? I’ll share my thoughts, and you can tell me in the comments what you think.

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Did the Devil Really Make You Do It?

A woman slipped a folded piece of paper to me and said, “This will straighten you out.” On the paper were a number of Bible references. Pursing her lips and averting her eyes, she stomped off, head held high.

The verses were of the sort like 2 Corinthians 12:7 and 1 Peter 5:8. The former is Paul talking of his thorn in the flesh as a “messenger of Satan.” The latter is when Peter refers to the devil as a lion seeking whom he will devour.

I’m not sure if she had Luke 22:31, where Jesus tells Peter, “Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat,’ but that’s the sort of list she provided me.

I looked up all the verses and compared them to the horror that I’d presented during the Bible study. What did I say? I advanced the idea that Satan or the Devil, or any of his angels do not whisper words of temptation into the ears of Christians. This idea was met with universal disapproval. After all, subjective experience has taught us that thoughts come into our heads and we couldn’t imagine ever thinking such terrible things!

This is the sort of “correction” mainstream religion offers. If you dissent from the popular narrative, no matter if you’re pointing to the Bible, you’ll be rejected, branded and dismissed. When the question of whether Satan is murmuring things into our hearts and minds appears to be more speculative on the mainstream’s part, the objection turns to “you’re worried about meaningless things and should focus on the majors of the faith!”

The problem is, knowing how the enemy works is a major part of our walk. We’re called to put on the whole armor of God to withstand the “wiles of the devil.” (Eph 6:11).

See? We’re attacked by Satan! And, yes, we are. But not directly. There are only two people the Bible records being directly tempted by Satan (Eve and Jesus). All others were dealt with indirectly. Peter was to be sifted as wheat, but Satan never approached him. No, he sent a servant girl. He arranged the midnight trial for Jesus and the riot that followed with the beatings and blasphemy. The air was charged with despair for Christ and Peter was right there in the court, watching.

It is crucial for us to realize how the enemy of our souls operates so we can be wise in how we do battle. There are two key ways he attacks us:

He Uses Situations To Fan Our Flesh

Peter was in the middle of a situation. It incited his flesh to fear that he’d been wrong about his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The trial, the beatings, the yelling spun a web of confusion for Peter till all he needed was to have a simple question posed, “You were with him, weren’t you?” In that moment, Peter did what satisfied his flesh, the thing that all our fallen nature craves, he denied his Lord.

In the story The Lord Of The Rings, the ring of power represents sin. In the story it is all of Sauron’s evil distilled into the ring (for no apparent reason). When the ring comes to men, it attracts them with the promise of wealth, power, esteem, etc. Instead, it drives them mad, leaving them shriveled and shivering in caves, forced to live out a miserable existence of unnaturally long life. In one scene of the movie Gandalf reminds Frodo that the ring will always lead back to Sauron. The ring wants to be found.

I’m not advocating that the fantasy novel is a good analogy to the Bible. It’s not. But this illustrates a small truth about our sin nature. Ever since Eve turned from God and sought a blessing that she believed God was keeping from her, ever since Adam joined her in disobedience, our natures are wicked. They answer to one master, Satan. Our flesh wants to be with Satan and fears being with God. Our flesh tries to cover itself with leaves and hides from God.

It is clear from Scripture that Satan cannot do anything apart from God’s sovereign will. It is clear that Satan doesn’t know the future. But, it is clear that he’s an accuser of God’s people and an enemy to our souls. There are actions he’s permitted to take, such as possessing people who are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit. He can direct the actions of godless men (or servant girls) to inflame our flesh to respond the way it wants to.

He Uses Cultural Norms To Make Us Drift

Notice how Paul had to correct the Galatians about drifting back to an outward religious gospel after he’d brought them the true Gospel of a new nature based on an inward rebirth. They were pulled, as people are throughout the ages, toward the pomp and ceremony of outward religion that is empty of an inward reality.

We see this today as Christians bend over backwards to be winsome by eliminating terms like “sin,” or “repentance,” or “tribulation.” Instead they turn to yoga, meditation, contemplative states, ecstatic experiences and supernatural phenomena. They make statements like “It’s not religion, it’s a relationship,” and then downplay doctrine as a divisive thing that doesn’t “build up the body.”

Christians are sending out Instagram pictures of themselves with godless celebrities, praising artists and performers who are living hedonistic lives in open rebellion against God. So-called pastors are taking shots in bars and making themselves friends of the world in a desperate attempt to be relevant.

They’re following Satan’s grand scheme that is silent and seductive. You see, the enemy won the biggest victory when he tempted Eve and got her to disobey God. From there, he counted on Adam to be willing to die before he’d be separated from his bride. At that point, Adam fell from being made upright (unlike any other creature on Earth) and in God’s image, to being a mockery of that pure goodness.

After that victory, the bent of every human is evil, not good. Satan is the prince of the powers of the air (Eph. 2:2). He’s the wind that fills the sails of this hell-bound ship of our culture. It doesn’t matter if the culture is from 2017, or way back to 1853. It’s the same culture. We are the same people since that day long ago when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. We think the same thoughts, we seek the same things.

We didn’t evolve from cave men. We didn’t–at any point–lurch around like apes. We were always incredibly bright and inventive. Adam’s grandchildren invented music and forged iron. Not long after that, humanity went to war, pillaging each other.

We tend to think the Druids sound weird, but we have the same things today. Wiccans worship the earth, pagans practice yoga and seek to be one with the universe and feel the power of the divine in each person. The common narrative is that back then they really thought there was power in the rituals. Guess what? people still do.

I was in Ace Hardware one day and there was a little plastic figure for sale in the impulse aisle. It was St. Christopher, or something. It promised that if you buried the plastic Action Saint in the back yard, your house would sell in short order. I laughed out loud, pointing at it and asked what idiots would buy such a thing. The clerk told me that it worked! His mom did it, and her house sold.

We’re no different from the Druids or any of the other mystics of the past. If a movie star said that burying your relatives in your garden would give you good fortune, everyone would start doing it.

Each August, or whenever the Summer Solstice is, the Burning Man festival takes place in Nevada. It’s a gathering of young people where they build elaborate statues of divine mothers, copulating people, giant words, etc. The festival involves music, dance, booze, and sex. It all culminates in a bonfire that lights a giant “man” on fire. Strangely enough, this is identical to rituals performed by pagans throughout history. Do you think archeologists will see anything different between the pagans at Burning Man versus the Druids, Wiccans or Mayans?

Someone might say, this is just a crazy party with young people acting out. And I’d say that’s always been the case. People coming together, cavorting in front of an idol and indulging their flesh, then hoping for some amazing experience.

So, Does the Devil Make Us Do Things?

Satan is at the center of our culture. Not to trivialize the enemy of every human, but he is like an ad man. He fans the flames of the desires that already course through our flesh. He helps us minimize the consequences and maximize the potential benefits. So, in that sense he makes us do things.

I believe the dark forces allied against us have control to direct and possess people who are unrepentant and unsaved. I don’t believe Satan, or his angels can do anything to the elect without seeking permission from God. I base this on the fact that the gospels clearly indicate people were possessed by demons, and that Satan had to ask permission to afflict Peter through circumstance and culture.

What I fear is that too many Christians believe the Hollywood version of Satan and end up both giving him too much credit and minimizing him to a spooky story. For example, I don’t believe he can actually affect matter or perform real miracles. God has the power to raise the dead, Satan does not. God can declare the future, Satan cannot. God can create lice from dust, Satan cannot. That last one is taken directly from the plagues that God did, then the Egyptian magicians mimicked. In the incident of the lice, the magicians could not replicate life from dust. There are those who believe that they actually turned the water to blood, called forth frogs, etc. The Bible says they did miracles with their “secret arts.” The supposition is that demons were helping them.

But, since we know that demons don’t know the future and cannot explain the past (read Isaiah), we also can be sure that they can only imitate the miracles of God. Never has a “faith healer” raised someone from the dead. Never has a witch doctor ever cured an illness. But, each of those examples have people who ardently believe that the miracles were real. Similarly, none of the bleeding, or weeping statues have ever been objectively verified. They’ve appeared to “the faithful,” but to no one else. Even the Vatican won’t confirm all of the reports.

When we give Satan credit for parlor tricks, or when we blame him for the actions of our own flesh, we buy into the idea that he has power that he doesn’t (which the pagans readily believe) and we minimize the vileness of our own sinful nature. In doing this, we allow part of us to think that there really is power that Satan could offer, and we struggle to understand the gravity of our condition and the greatness of God’s grace and sacrifice.

Today, Universalism is on the rise. Not so coincidentally, so is the idea of pagan power embodied in the Word Faith movement and the New Apostolic Reformation. To be fair, not all Word Faith adherents or NAR proponents would say they are Universalists. In fact, most Universalists won’t say they are Universalists. You might be thinking, what’s a Universalist? It’s the belief that everyone is saved, no matter if they declare their faith in Christ. It’s when Rick Warren says that Muslims worship God, they just call Him Allah. It’s when Billy Graham says that Hindus who don’t know the gospel, but are sincere and try to do good are saved, they just don’t know the words. The list goes on. The Shack’s William P. Young is a Universalist. Rob Bell is a Universalist. They reject the idea that Jesus death was in our place. They, instead, call it an example of being selfless. It’s a good deed, but didn’t pay for the wrath that we deserve. They reject the idea that our sin (they’ll call them mistakes) is so bad that it warrants God’s wrath. They reject the idea of a God who can have wrath.

On the other hand, we have people who believe that they have the power to create things with their words (the Druids thought this, too). We’ve got people hungry for amazing shows of power and ecstatic experiences. They want to experience extravagant love but not the kind that is bound in obedience to the Lord.

These trends are the moves the enemy has made over time, unseen, and in great power. The decay in Christianity is rampant but it actually looks good. It looks like Joel Osteen is funding missionaries around the world. So does the Roman Catholic Church. So do the Mormons. So do Jehovah’s Witnesses. Actually, mercy missions and aid campaigns are also done by people who have no religious affiliation, too.

But the attack has been waged long before you or I were ever born. I believe Satan is powerful, but it isn’t in moving lamps and making footstep sounds in someone’s attic. I believe his power is quiet, unnoticed and pervasive. When we realize what has happened, we’ll be shocked and wonder how it ever got this far.

How do we combat this enemy? Well, we can’t. Jesus defeated him at the cross, and Jesus continues to defeat the works of the devil each time a sinner repents and turns to the Lord for His grace. But, we can renew our minds with scripture and remember to mourn our own sinfulness. We can remember that we were, indeed, bought with a precious price and that our Lord is in sovereign control of this world. We can trust in God’s sovereign power to keep us from the evil one, delivering us from temptation and putting to death the desires of our flesh. It’s a personal journey of sanctification. If this is not happening, and if you are swept up in fascination with witches, demon power, miracles and signs and wonders, then you are what Jesus call a person among an adulterous generation (Matt. 12:39, 16:4, Mar. 8:38). If you are lulled by the teachers who promise amazing wonders and that salvation is easy, and that everyone can have it, then you’re being led by a false teacher.

Salvation is a narrow gate and most will miss it. It requires turning from your life, putting your hand to the plough and never looking back (Luke 9:62).


#Me Too

#Metoo, like a lightning rod, is great, but perilous. It gives voice to silenced victims, but has spurred a backlash with fear of a “witch hunt.” Some claim America has a “rape culture,” while others point out worse countries that actually condone rape with on-the-books laws. This got me thinking about our culture and it occurred to me that I could claim #metoo …

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Are Hurricanes Messages From God?

During Florida’s evacuation ahead of hurricane Irma, Christian evangelical celebrity Kirk Cameron live-streamed a message to Facebook that the hurricane was God’s power on display. Quoting from Job, he pointed out that God is in control of the weather. The proper response to seeing God’s power is to be in awe and repent.

Not long before, movie celebrity Jennifer Lawrence claimed that the hurricane was Mother Nature’s judgment on our nation for electing President Trump.

Are these celebs right? Is the weather a message from God (or mother nature)?

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What The Rainbow Really Means

Genesis 9:9-17 KJV — And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.

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Outward Signs of Inward Realities

Does a wedding ceremony make you married? “Of, course,” you say! Well, does baptism save a person? Many will answer “no.”

This morning I was reading Acts chapter 2 where Peter says, “repent and be baptised …in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit.”

Peter later says in one of his epistles that baptism is for the remission of sins. 

Many take this literally to say that you aren’t saved until you get baptised. 

Of course, the rest of scripture indicates that isn’t the case. And since there is only one gospel, there must be something else going on. 

Look at what Peter says “…in the name of Jesus Christ…”

A name is more than the word. It denotes the character and essence of a person. It includes their reputation and all that they stand for. 

The name of Jesus is Lord, Savior, Sacrifice, Master…the list is long. 

Being baptized into his name is not an outward ritual. It’s an inward change that we accept by grace and through faith. We take on a new nature, a new name. The old is gone. The new has come. The bars used for outward cleansing are filled with the new wine of Inward renewal. 

Do You Go To ….

It’s normal for Christians to ask, “where do you go to church.” 

This creates some need for explanation when we learn that we are the church. Well, how can you go to something that you are? 

We should never stop seeking out and gathering together with other Christians. But maybe it’s time we stop calling a building the church. 

Perhaps it would be better to ask, “where do you attend worship?” It might be at home with a small group. It might be in a large building. But you’re garnering to worship, you’re celebrating the body of Christ, you’re not going to church (a building).