What Satan is up to and how we may defeat him

We are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2:11)

We actually know a good bit about Satan. More than we think, I expect. His history, his driving force, and his game plan are spelled out all through Scripture. We are left with tons of unanswered questions, but we know enough to understand how he works and what to do about him.

His devices. We know his maneuvers, his designs, his schemings, his wiles, and how resourceful he is. (Those are all different ways the Greek for “devices” is translated in various versions.)

Look at it this way. Satan is no fool. He has been studying human nature from the early days of the human race. He knows human psychology to a degree that any university in the land can only imagine. If they gave doctorates to serpents, he would have degrees out the kazoo. He is one smart dude.

He knows you.

The question before us, today, though, class, is this: do you know him? Do you pay attention to how he works?

There are two extremes to avoid: going to seed on Satan and seeing him in every thing, everywhere, is one extreme; and completely ignoring him is the other. There’s a balance somewhere in the middle where God’s people should take our stand.

If you are trying to do right, to live for God, to resist the encroaching infiltration of the world, then you are in his crosshairs. He has targeted you.

You’d better learn how he works and how to resist him.

Please note that I am not recommending that any of us specialize on the devil.

I’ve known a few ministers and a larger number of laypeople who seemed to focus on this archenemy. Every sermon they preached, every conversation they held, they talked about the devil far more than the Lord Jesus. Not a good thing. The Bible tells us to resist him (James 4:7), not to specialize on him.

We do far better by concentrating on the Lord Jesus Christ and obeying Him. However, if we do that effectively, we will soon encounter the adversary. From that moment on, we’ll be learning lessons about Satan whether we like it or not.

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10 things about the Christmas story you may have missed

They were not “kings” from the east and there wasn’t three of them (as far as anyone knows). And when they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were not still in the stable, but in a house, contrary to half the Christmas cards that will be arriving at your house.

Furthermore, there’s no indication cattle were in that stable or anywhere nearby. In fact, the only thing that leads us to believe Jesus was born in a stable is that Luke 2:7 tells us Mary laid the Baby in a manger, a feeding trough.

But you knew all this.

And you knew that all of this was predicted through the centuries by God’s prophets. We particularly treasure the promises of Isaiah 7:17 (“Behold a virgin shall conceive….”) and 9:6-7 (“For unto us a child is born….”), as well as Micah 5:2 (“Bethlehem…out of you shall come forth One to be Ruler over Israel…”).

And I expect you knew that, contrary to the Christmas hymn “The First Noel,” the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields did not “looked up and saw a star shining in the East beyond them far.” (Modern hymnals have revised that line to read “For all to see there was a star….”)

But, allow me to point out some aspects of this wonderful story it’s possible you might have missed. There is no particular order intended.

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The Brown Bag Christmas

When I asked our newlywed Sunday School class to share a favorite Christmas story from their family, Carrie Fuller said, “We have one we call the ‘brown bag Christmas.’” When she finished, I had to hear more. The next day, I called her mother for details. And that week, I phoned her grandmother in Texas.

This is a true Christmas story.

It was the early 1930s during the Dust Bowl days of Kansas, in the heart of the Depression–ground zero for misery.

The Canaday family—Mom, Dad, 7 children—were having a tough time existing. There would be no luxuries at Christmas that year. Mom told the children to go outside and find a Christmas tree and decorate it. After a lengthy search, they returned with a dead branch, which they stood up in a bucket of sand and decorated with pieces of colored paper tied with string. Little Judy, almost four, did not know how a Christmas tree was supposed to look, but somehow she knew it was not like that!

As Christmas approached, the Canaday children, like little ones everywhere, pestered Mom and Dad about what presents they might get under their “tree.” Dad pointed out that the pantry was bare, that they did not have enough to live on, and there certainly would be no money for gifts. But Mom, a woman of faith, said, “Children, say your prayers. Ask God to send us what He wants us to have.” Dad said, “Now, Mother, don’t be getting the children’s hopes up. You’re just setting them up for a disappointment.” Mom said, “Pray, children. Tell Jesus.” And pray they did.

On Christmas Eve, the children watched out the window for visitors, but no one came. “Blow out the lamp and go to bed”, Dad said. “Nobody is going to come. No one even knows we’re out here.”

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The Christmas some fellows got together and did a guy-thing

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Only men would have done what the Magi did. Only a group of buddies, men friends all on the same page, all of them sharing the same drives and curiosities and interests, only such a band of brothers, would have gone to such lengths simply to see a Baby.

It’s a man thing.

If that sounds condescending to the women in the audience, I apologize, but it’s the truth.  Women talk about this all the time, how men do crazy things, disregarding the risk, seemingly not caring about the trouble they are causing for everyone who cares about them.

Women laugh about the typical male-epitaph which reads, “What’s the worst that can happen?” or “Hey, guys–watch this.”

First, why did they do it?

The greatest puzzle of the Magi story to me is not the star they followed (was it a comet or an unusual alignment of stars or something never seen before?), not their origin (were they from Persia? or somewhere else?), and not even the religious significance (did this really fulfill Numbers 24:17? were they astrologers? what does it mean?), but simply why they did what they did.

Why would a small group of men, albeit wealthy ones, put their lives on hold and travel at considerable expense across uncharted territory for a great distance when they were uncertain where they were headed, how far it was, or what they would see when they got there?  As I say, it was a man-thing.

It simply was not logical.  It didn’t make sense in a hundred ways.

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A great story can actually change your life

“And without parables (great stories!) Jesus did not teach” (Mark 4:34).

I once sat through a long session of a convention of realtors just to hear a motivational speaker.  The story with which he opened quickly became a mainstay in my arsenal of great illustrations and sermon-helpers.

Time well spent.

I’ve read entire books and come away with one paragraph that became a staple in my preaching thereafter.  It was time well used and money well spent.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling “Eat, Pray, Love” (which I do not recommend, by the way), attended a party and heard a story which became one of the defining principles of her writing career.  “Sometimes I think this man came into my life for the sole purpose of telling me this story, which has delighted and inspired me ever since.”

That’s how it works.  One story, a lifetime of benefit.

Gilbert says the man told of his younger brother who was an aspiring artist.  Living in Paris and struggling to get by, he seized every opportunity to get his name before people.  One day, in a cafe’ he met a group of people who invited him to a party that weekend at a castle in the Loire Valley.  This was big stuff and he eagerly accepted the opportunity to hobnob with people of wealth and influence.

This would be the party of the year, they said.  The rich and famous would be in attendance, as well as members of European royalty.  And, they said, it was to be a masquerade ball where everyone went all out on their costumes.  “Dress up, they said, and join us!”

All that week, the little brother worked on a costume he was sure would knock them dead.  His outfit would be the centerpiece of the ball, the one sure to generate the most interest and conversation.  When the day came, he rented a car and drove three hours to the castle.  He changed into his costume in the car and walked up to the castle, head held high, confidence and excitement exuding from the pores of his skin.

Entering the castle, he quickly realized his mistake.

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Truths which Satan uses to stop people from praying

The forces of hell will do anything to keep us from praying.

Satan tells lies to keep us from praying.  He uses pleasures and misinformation and our laziness to keep us from praying.  He uses false teachers and busy schedules and great television to keep us from praying.

He also has been known to use…

The truth.

As odd as it seems, the dark prince does not hesitate to speak the truth if it will make us think we shouldn’t pray.

Here are eight true statements Satan uses to put a stop to the most powerful force in the world, the prayers of God’s people…

1–God already knows what you need. No point in asking.

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Sixteen lies Satan feeds us about worship

“God is Spirit. And they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him all the earth” (Psalm 96:9).

If worship is powerful–that is, if kneeling before Almighty God in humility and rising to praise Him in gratitude and going forth to obey Him in faithfulness has power in the world to change lives and redirect society–then the enemy will be working to put a stop to it.

Count on that.

If God uses our worship to transform sinners, starting with us, then the enemy will do all in his power to neutralize it.

So–how is your worship these days?

Are you working at worship, at learning to humble yourself and praise Him more effectively?  Are you giving yourself anew to the Savior throughout the day, every day?

Notice the one question we did not ask: Are you getting anything out of your worship? Scripture does not allow us to ask that.  We are promised nothing from worship.  In worship, we do the giving. We give Him praise and prayers, offerings and love, our time and our attention, and ultimately ourselves.

Warren Wiersbe used to say, “Worship pays. But if you worship for the pay, it won’t pay.”

What has the evil advisor told you in the secret recesses of your mind and heart to dissuade you from worship?

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The report from Bethlehem: A shepherd signs in

“Now there were in the same country shepherds abiding in their fields by night….” (Luke 2)

(Herewith we present a report from the youngest shepherd of that fateful night in the field outside Bethlehem, with the occasional editor’s remark in italics.)

I was not supposed to work that night, it being a school night. My friend Elihu asked me to fill in for him.  Now, my father is not real thrilled with me hanging out with some of these characters who work night shifts with the sheep.  Shepherding is the ultimate unskilled labor and only those who can’t do anything else–or hesitate to show their faces in public in the day–need apply.

But Father knows I’m a good student and agreed that we could use the money.

Anyway, that’s how it happened that I had the most amazing experience of my young life.

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There’s something for everyone in the Christmas story

“Now, the birth of Jesus came about in this way….” (Matthew 1:18).

Do you like a true-life adventure story?  This one is the best. It’s found in only four chapters in the Bible: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

You like genealogies?  Then check out the birth narratives about our Lord Jesus. See Matthew 1:1-14 and also Luke 3:21-38.

You like mysteries?  Try to figure out how those two lists of ancestors works out for the lineage of Jesus.  If you finally give up, then (and only then) go to a commentary written by a Bible-believing scholar. Your church library probably has several.

You are a history student?  Then check out Luke 2:1-3 where “the beloved physician” gives the historical setting for the birth of our Lord. Then, move up one chapter and see how Luke does the same thing for the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry some three decades later.

You love conspiracies?  (There’s a lot of that going around today.  Anything involving Hilary Clinton.  Was General Patton murdered? What about President Trump’s claims?) Then, check out King Herod in Matthew chapter 2 and notice his murderous rampage against anyone who appears to be a threat, even little babies. What a monster.  And notice how the Lord Jesus sent the Magi with funds (“gold”) to finance the trip of the little Holy Family to Egypt, just ahead of Herod’s legions. They slipped away just in time.

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Options the Lord did not leave open to us

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

The Christian faith is not a cafeteria from which one may pick and choose what to believe and leave the less appetizing choices behind.  It is a turn-key operation, to change the metaphor.  “It is finished,” said our Lord from the cross.  Salvation will not be needing my touches, God’s wisdom will not be helped by my cleverness, and the gospel will not be enhanced by my talents.  The gospel is a done deal.

Scripture says the revelation God has given us is sufficient.  “So that the (child) of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy  3:17).

Nothing is missing from this amazing salvation given us in Jesus Christ.

But we keep trying, don’t we?  Consider these attempts of ours to cherry-pick doctrines and truths…

One.

Some people insist, “The Bible is not a book of science. It is not a history book, in the same way it’s not a cook book or a travel guide.  It is reliable in terms of spiritual matters, but should not be expected to get all the other things right.”

Many would say that sounds right.

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