Knowing the Enemy

“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.”  (Eph. 6:12)

During this period preceding Halloween, our culture seems to be fascinated with movies depicting the devil and evil forces, yet seems oblivious to the existence of the devil and the impact of spiritual forces on our personal lives.  We tend to have little knowledge of the enemy of life, and the enemy of God and God’s will for us. 

I have a good friend who spent most of his Army career in defense intelligence serving in Vietnam, Cambodia and in the preparation of Desert Storm.  I have always been fascinated by his stories of how he and his teams were able to develop and provide important intelligence to his superiors that guided our strategies in these various theaters of war.

How ironic that we wouldn’t think of going to war without knowing our enemy and his plans, but yet we don’t even acknowledge that we have an enemy of life and one who is dedicated to defeating the purpose and desire that God has for each of us! 

All are tempted by the evil one — even Jesus in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry; even Peter and the apostles at Jesus’ passion; even Paul who said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.” (Ro. 7:19)

I know that I have been tempted at one time or another by all of the capital sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth.  Sometimes I have fallen to these sins.  Sometimes, through God’s grace and mercy, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I have resisted them.  Let me share one example.

As an attorney for an oil company, one of our responsibilities was to represent the company before state legislatures on legislation impacting our company’s operations.  As a result, we would develop and implement the lobbying strategies on the company position developed by our planning department for whatever particular legislation we were attempting to impact.

One of the employees in the planning department started to take it upon himself to critique our lobbying strategies to our management and anyone who would listen to him.  At first his criticism dealt only with one issue, and then it expanded to all issues.  He was becoming a real thorn in our side, and I found myself doing constant battle with him.

Then one day, I came across the above passage from Ephesians and I realized that my battle was not with him as a person, but with the pride that was at work in both of us.  I started to pray for him and that both of us could lay aside our pride and work in greater harmony.  After a few months, I noticed that his responses to our work were less critical.  I began to bring him more into the rationale of what we were doing and why we were doing it.  We eventually became friends instead of rival competitors.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:27)

Anxiety and Peace

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7.

St. Paul is basically telling us that prayer guards our hearts and minds against anxiety. 

After returning to work following a week off for the Christmas holidays a number of years ago, I found myself facing several deadlines that all of sudden seemed impossible to meet.  That night I was unable to sleep because of my anxiety over all the pressure I was facing.

Appraisals of performance were due by the end of the week on employees reporting to me.  A speech, integrated with slides and video, for the annual kickoff meeting of our entire marketing department was also due, along with the finalization of our litigation budget for outside counsel.  On top of these things was the general negative fallout from my having declined to take a new assignment a few months earlier that had been proposed by our management.

I shared my anxiety with a small group of Christian men with whom I met every Tuesday evening.  They encouraged me and prayed with me for peace and to determine how I could practically deal with each task.  By week’s end all but one of the appraisals were completed.  The speech was finished and our staff was able to do most of the work on the litigation budget.

In looking back it is easy to see that I had lost my peace because I had not taken my anxiety to the Lord.  I started worrying and condemning myself for letting things slide.  I was not guarding my heart and mind with prayer to Jesus as St. Paul suggests.   

Jesus encouraged us not to worry but to seek his kingdom and righteousness first.  He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  (Mt. 6: 33-34)  He told Martha when she complained that her sister was listening to him instead of helping her with the preparations, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

The boundary between peace and anxiety is a thin line and easy to cross, but we have Jesus as a sentinel to guard our minds and hearts if we choose to call on him. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Unity and Division

“Small wonder that pride gives birth to division, and love to unity.” St. Augustine

As an attorney for an oil company during most of my career, I saw many examples of St. Augustine’s statement play out in the corporate world, particularly in cases of multi-party litigation.

In one such case a west coast oil company had filed a patent on a particular gasoline formula mandated by the state of California.  Since the gasoline formula was required by a state regulation, everyone assumed the formula was in the public domain and could not be patented.  Still, the company who filed the patent brought a patent infringement case against all other refiners selling gasoline in the state, including my company.

So, we had one plaintiff company on one side and a dozen defendant companies on the other.  Sometimes there would be as many as thirty lawyers present at the defendants’ joint counsel meetings.  The pride of supposed expertise of a number of the lawyers made it difficult to establish a unified defense.  As a result, a case characterized by some of the defendants as a “slam dunk,” was lost at both trial and on appeal.

Let me offer another example in contrast to the one above.

When I retired from my company, I went to work for Christians in Commerce, a Christian ministry to the workplace.   After about a year, we brought our executive committee together at a retreat house in northern Virginia to pray about our vision and mission, and the direction the ministry should be taking in the years ahead.

The Executive Committee was made of five people with very diverse business backgrounds, including leadership positions in banking, advertising, insurance, a former international airline pilot and myself.   In spite of our diversity, we all had a love for God, respect for one another and a desire to seek God’s will for the ministry.

We spent the first day primarily in prayer and discussion with the following scripture becoming prominent in our thinking: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)  This gave rise to the belief that God wanted us to expand his kingdom by “being Christ in the workplace.”  We believed he was calling us to encourage and equip Christians to bring the presence of Christ into their workplaces in terms of how work is done.

Our love for God and one another brought a unity of purpose both then and now to our efforts.  After several years this unity has evolved into a vision for Christians in Commerce of “Being Christ in the Workplace,” and a mission, “to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence.”

There is no end to what love of God and love for one another can accomplish! 

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)


A Light Burden

IMG_0048“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:30)

Robert Bellarmine, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church in the sixteenth century, asked what is this burden that does not weigh heavy or this yoke that not does not weary.  He says, “It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” 

Mark reports Jesus’ more complete statement as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

This is a love that involves all aspects of our being – our heart and soul, encompassing our non-physical nature and inner being; our mind involving our intellect; and our strength, involving our physical actions.  In other words, it is a total and complete love.

I have a friend Paul, whose daughter Maria has been ministering to orphaned children with special needs in Uganda.  Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities there are often viewed as cursed, outcasts, unwanted and unloved.   For the last couple of years, Maria, who is only 20, has been working through the Gem Foundation in ministering to the children.

One thing Maria observed was that a high percentage of the children actually had parents, but they didn’t have the resources or societal support to care for their children and pay for their medical expenses, often leading to maltreatment and abandonment.

So this August, Maria changed her vocation from caring directly for the children to helping to develop an organization that will train, empower and provide micro-finance and employment for parents so that they will have the resources to care for their children instead of abandoning them.

Maria is loving these children with her heart and soul.  She is loving them with her intellect in coming up with the idea to develop the means for the parents to provide for the children themselves instead of abandoning them.  Finally, she is loving them with her strength in the actions she is taking in helping to form this new enterprise with an organization called Imprint Hope Center.

We might ask how this example of the love of God is a light burden.  It is filled with sacrifice and self-giving.  But when love is complete, it is filled with a joy that sustains and transcends personal sacrifice. 

This is how the rest of us, who might never be called to serve children with special needs in Africa, can relate to Maria’s example.   We all seek a life filled with purpose, fulfillment and happiness.  When we truly love God and our neighbor as he commands, our joy is complete and our burden is light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11: 28-30)

Overcoming the Crowd

“Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:48) 

When Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting beside the road outside of Jericho learned that Jesus was passing by, he began to shout.  He was seeking to ask Jesus to heal him of his blindness.  Mark tells us that the crowd that was following Jesus rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet, but he disregarded the crowd and shouted all the more.

Jesus rewarded his perseverance, restored his sight and said, “Your faith has healed you.”

Like Bartimaeus, we too, may experience the crowd in rebuking us and telling us to keep silent in our quest for Jesus.  

It is tempting to go with the flow of the crowd and do what is popular or easy, but the crowd is usually wrong.  It was the crowd that yelled, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” (Mt. 27:22-23)  It was the crowd in the Roman Colosseum that took delight in the persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the church.

Sometimes the crowd is a work environment demanding us to be available 24/7 to the detriment of family and other important responsibilities.  Sometimes the crowd is the government when it attempts to force a baker to conduct his business in a manner contrary to his Christian beliefs and values.  The crowd may be a college professor ridiculing a student who is Christian for his or her belief in God.  The crowd could even be a parent discouraging a child to pursue a call to ministry or a less lucrative career in the service to others.

Sometimes the crowd is us, in our own inclination to sinful conduct that becomes an obstacle to our pursuit of God and fulfilling his will in our lives.  Having a tendency to always want to be in control of my schedule, I sometimes let my list of things to do to get in the way of dealing with the unexpected or what God would like me to do.

A number of years ago, I had a friend who had terminal cancer.  I had visited him both in his home and at the hospital.  One afternoon I received a call at my office that his situation had worsened.  I delayed going to see him in order to finish an item on my list for that day. I thought just a couple of hours wouldn’t matter.  He died before I got to see him one last time.  The crowd in this case was my will taking precedence over God’s will for me that afternoon. 

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Co. 13:7)

What Is It About Truth?

“When Herod heard John he was greatly puzzled, yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20)

After Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, he would visit him, apparently fascinated by the things that John had to say.

Why did Herod like to listen to John?  Because John spoke the truth, and truth is attractive. 

Jesus told Pilate that the reason he came into the world was to testify to the truth.  Pilate, though the embodiment of all truth was standing right in front of him, asked, “What is truth? (John 18:37-38)

There is a purity in the truth that makes it attractive.  We have several common expressions about truth:

  • “Honesty is the best policy”
  • “As God is my witness”
  • “As a matter of fact”
  • “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32) There is freedom that comes with the truth – freedom from guilt, fear and sin.  All four gospels report how people were amazed at the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings and how he taught with authority.  Truth carries a certain authority with it.

From earliest childhood, our sinful human nature tends to obscure the truth to protect our selfish instincts.  One sibling blames another for starting a fight.  We begin to lie to cover up misbehavior and sinful conduct.  Without strong parental guidance and moral teaching, truth is increasingly pushed aside.

We deal with issues of truth in the practical aspects of daily life, and in the context of the larger questions of life itself.

On the practical level, as a former lawyer for a corporation, I was regularly called on to interpret whether certain proposed actions of the company were consistent with applicable law.  From time to time, the proposed action was in direct conflict with what a particular law or regulation required.  I would have to overcome the tendency to tell the affected manager what he wanted to hear, and instead hold to the truth that his proposed action would run afoul of the law.  In those cases, I would always try to suggest alternative actions that would satisfy both the company objective and the law.

On the philosophical level, from the very beginning of human history and to this very day, the human race has been searching for truth in terms of who we are, what our purpose is and how we and all that exists came to be.  The secular world looks to philosophy and reason to grapple with these questions.  The Judeo Christian world looks to God’s revelation in the writings of the prophets, scripture and the words of Jesus.

Truth is attractive; sets us free and lets us live out our lives with confidence.

St. Paul said, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” (1Co. 13:6)  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  (John 14:6)


Imprisoning God

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation…because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

The idea that faith should be separated from living out the rest of our daily lives has become conventional wisdom for much of our culture.  We hear the phrase, “separation of church and state” and apply it to other venues such as the workplace and the public square.  We are told that that our faith should be private, not to be shared with others or manifested in our words or deeds, particularly in the workplace.

This perspective is 180 degrees from God’s intention as evidenced from the words of Jesus and scripture.  Jesus said it was not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” in worship of him who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but “only he who does the will of my father.” He expects more of us than to just worship him on Sundays; he expects us to carry his presence into all aspects of our lives.

In the Parable of the Talents, he praises the two servants who were good stewards in multiplying the talents given them. (Mt. 25:14-30)  In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, God welcomes into his final kingdom those who have provided food, drink, clothing, shelter, medical care and prison visitation to those in need of these things. (Mt. 25:31-46)

St. Paul said, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)  Paul did not intend these words only for what happens at church on Sundays, but everything we do.  Later he says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you are working for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)

This is a 24/7 exhortation meant for Monday as well as Sunday; the workplace, as well as our prayer closet or church.  God created us to work and take care of the garden of his creation, including the physical world and one another. (Genesis: 2:15) This is how we make ourselves useful to one another and thus to God. It is a divine assignment.

Ever since God became one of us in the person of Jesus it has been his intention to dwell not in temples or buildings, but in each of us individually, provided we invite him into our hearts.

There have been times when I have separated my words and deeds from God’s presence because I put him in a box.  The unfortunate thing when that happens is that his presence may not then be available to the people in my life who would otherwise be blessed by him through me. 

Do we imprison God, only to be released on Sunday, or do we let him be manifested in every aspect of our lives?