Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dealing with the Dark Side

As I have grown to understand the ways of God, I’ve found that my greatest personal battles have been with Satan. I feel the warfare when I prepare a sermon. I feel the pressure when I pray or try to minister to someone. When I face spiritual vertigo, I engage in spiritual warfare. Satan is trying to throw me off my spiritual balance.

When we think of the devil, we often think of a little red man with horns and a pitchfork. Those of the Western world generally feel reluctant when they talk about evil and Satan. If a person’s head spins around and he vomits all over the place, we might say that it’s demonic. Otherwise, we find talk of demons and devils uncomfortable and, at times, offensive.

Mass murderers and terrorism are on the rise in the world. Most recently, the killing of 5 policemen in Dallas and the eighty-six killed in Nice. These attacks followed shootings in schools, movie theaters, and the Boston Marathon bombing. We usually place the blame on bad parenting, social rejection or mental illness.

In his book The Death of Satan, Andrew Delbanco—a secular liberal—states that our society hates the word “evil” because it places a value judgment on someone else. However, he says, a gulf is opening in our intellectual center enabling us to explain evil in emotional and sociological terms.

In the movie, Silence of the Lambs, Officer Clarice Starling meets serial killer Hannibal Lecter for the first time.

Starling: “I think you can provide some insight and advance this study.

Lecter: “And what possible reason could I have to do that? 
Starling: “Curiosity.”
Lecter: “About what?”

Starling: “About why you’re here. About what happened to you?”

Lecter: “Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everyone in moral dignity pants—nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?”

Our society has difficulty answering the monster’s question. The challenge is to be consistent in our thinking. Do we believe in a supernatural God? If so, why can’t we, in turn, believe in a supernatural evil?

Spiritual warfare is not only real in the church and our personal lives, but also real on a national and world scale. Are the terrorists who attack us, or the criminals who kill us, any different than Hannibal Lecter? Terrorism and murder may be the face of evil, but the real evil is supernaturally lurking behind the door.

Satan attacks a nation in order to cripple any potential for spreading the gospel, and to promote the general misery of God’s creation. When a nation turns toward evil, the church instinctively pushes back. Often, as a consequent, Christians are portrayed as intolerant, phobic, and foolish. Satan tries to turn the tables on us, so that society looks at us as the problem, not the solution. This results in the proliferation of evil and the obstruction of the gospel message. 1 Peter 5:8 teaches, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

As believers, we must pray, knowing we are in a spiritual battle for our nation, the world, and more importantly, people’s souls.

For more study on this subject, check out my new book, Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Performance Trap

The moment you received Christ into your heart, you were born again. At that moment, God loved you as much as He ever will love you. Because His love is perfect, His love for you will never be any more or any less than at that instant you gave your life to Him. Yet, at times it is difficult to trust His love.

Some time ago, a lady came into my office, brokenhearted over marriage issues. In spite of her prayers, her husband left her for another woman. How could she cope? How could she ever trust another man? She blamed herself. She blamed God--why had He let it happen?

Like her, we have all wrestled with doubt. Often the performance of others, our own past performance, or the performance of God (an uncomfortable concept—but it’s how we often feel), leave us doubting God.

1. Our past performance. Any time adversity strikes we tend to look inward. We ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?” Yes, we have all sinned. Yes, we would have prevented tragedy if we could have seen into the future, but we cannot. We must ask for God’s forgiveness and move on, because when we hold on to past guilt, we actually cheapen the cross. As a result, we begin to live as if the cross was only a down payment for our sins and now we are paying off the balance.
So why should God help us? Because He loves us and His grace is sufficient. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” God will not remember your sins—the past is the past. Our sins are forgiven at a high price, but, know the price has been paid.

2. The performance of others. Many of our problems and prayers center on other people. Perhaps we have to deal with a rebellious child or a difficult supervisor at work. We cannot control what others do, but how can we place our faith in God when the trials we face concern others? Will God infringe on the free will of another person just to answer our prayers? No one can fully answer that question, but I will say He can if He wants to. He is God. I believe He can draw people to repentance and place the desire in people’s hearts that they will know it is better to follow Christ than go their own way. Nothing is impossible with God.

3. God’s performance. Often our greatest struggles are the struggles we have with God. We expect attacks from Satan, but we feel our loving, heavenly Father should always come through for us. Many of our struggles have to do with our perception of God’s past performance in times of trial. Deuteronomy 8:2 teaches us that God humbles us and tests us, to see what is in our heart. “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” 

Whatever God does in our lives is for our good and His glory. As He brings us through trials we are able to humble ourselves anew at the cross, we are able to turn our attention to Christ—depending only on Him.
For more on this subject, check out my book, Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo (click on book on right).

What are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Beauty in Imperfection

I am delighted to welcome my wife, Pamela Mercer, as my guest this week. I know you will find her story inspirational.
Several years ago my life as I knew it ended with three little words. "You have cancer." The events that followed were rushed and intense. Suddenly, everything that, by definition made me a woman was taken from me.Within two months time, I lost both breasts and had a radical hysterectomy. These were moments that could define me as someone who lived by faith or who took the easy route.I could have believed I was inadequate. Instead, I made a distinct choice to believe the truth of God’s Word and my relationship with Him. He was my hero when He died for me and He was still my hero when I needed Him in extraordinary ways. He is the beauty in our imperfection both in the ugliness of life and in our humanity.

Through all of this, I realized things:

      1. I never felt like I quite measured up. There was
          always someone prettier, smarter, had more things,
          and seemed to have it easy.

     2. Despite our feelings, we have the ability to choose
         how we think and feel. We can focus on eternal  
         things, or we can focus on temporal.

     3. If we solely follow our feelings, we will live a
         miserable existence. As women, there are not  
         enough emoticons to describe our feelings in a 12-hour
         period. Our feelings run a 100-yard dash with no sense
         of direction. Yet, when we choose to follow the
         principles of God, we recalibrate our hearts toward Him.
         Our life, our relationships, and our feelings follow. Our
         heart choices will dictate our feelings. What we believe
         and who we love will change the way we live and the
         choices we make.

We can believe fleeting feelings, or we can believe all-consuming truths like this:

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “Because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our sin made us alive in Christ, so that, by His grace we are saved.” 

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing."

Psalm 107:8-9 says, “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love; for His wondrous works to the children of man. For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul, He fills with good things.”

No matter how we may feel, the Lord our God is always in our midst.

He alone can save us from our sin. He rejoices over and loves you (individually) with a never-ending love. He feels a lively or triumphant joy; rejoices exceedingly; is highly elated or jubilant over YOU!!

His love is steadfast. I love the meaning of the word steadfast. His love is loyal, faithful, committed, devoted, dedicated, dependable, reliable, steady, true, constant, solid, trustworthy, firm, determined, resolute, relentless, single-minded, unchanging, unwavering, unhesitating, unfaltering, unyielding, unflinching, and uncompromising.

With truth so amazing, why do we feel unloved or inadequate? The key to remember is this: When Satan feeds our heads with lies, our heart follows. Yet, if we fill our hearts with Christ, then Satan has to go. They cannot occupy the same space. The light cancels out the darkness. Darkness must flee.

 C. S. Lewis has said about seizing truth, “We are afraid we will lose something, but we lose nothing; we are the greatest version of ourselves. We fear we will have no more personality, no more distinction. That is so untrue. The truth is, we will never be more ourselves with the fullness of our personalities and the uniqueness of our giftedness as when we wholly give ourselves over to our faithful God.”
Let truth grab hold of your imperfections to replace them with beauty!

About the Author: When Pam came to CrossLife in 1993, God gave her a vision for the women in Oviedo and surrounding areas. This passion led to developing a team from which CrossLife Women’s Ministry was created. Pam currently serves as Director of Women’s Ministry, providing consultation for new and existing women’s ministries, and her ministry has grown significantly as God has changed many lives through retreats, rallies, mentoring, and Bible Studies.


A Note from Dr. Mercer:

I refer to Pam’s story in my new book, Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo. Perhaps you are going through some trying times. Your adversity could be physical infirmity, emotional stress, or family challenges. Maybe these trials cause you to wonder where God is taking you. Let me encourage you to pick up a copy of my book (click on picture in upper right). I believe it will help build your faith and help you understand what God wants to accomplish in your life.