I hate him.

I hate the devil.

One of my kids told me that a few months ago, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

Still do.

Satan’s been wrecking lives and destroying homes and laying waste to faith for thousands of years now, and I hate him for it.

Don’t you?

Truth is, he’s good at what he does. He’s been honing his craft and sharpening his knives for a long time, and he wasn’t a slouch when he started.

We’re in a fight, and like any fight it’s essential to know what your opponent is doing—how he thinks and talks and acts.

You’ve read and heard this story many times, but read it again today.

Let it make you angry again.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:1-7).

Don’t get mad at Adam or Eve, though. We would’ve done the same thing.

Get mad at the serpent.

He’s so sly, so subtle, so convincing.

Did you notice how he attacked?

By not seeming to attack at all. He asked a simple question, but one loaded with insinuations.

All he wanted to do was plant a little seed of doubt.

God doesn’t really care about you.

He wants to keep you from experiencing things you would love.

He’s keeping the really good stuff from you, Eve. Doesn’t that make you wonder?

She bit, and so did Adam.

And so do we.

If you’re a committed Christian, he’s working hard on you. He won’t slither toward you like a snake, announcing his nefarious intentions.

He’ll just drop a few hints to get you to doubt.

God doesn’t really care about you—that’s why he’s letting all this stuff happen.

Sin’s really not as bad as you think; it’s actually quite fun, and having a little fun never hurt anybody.

But we know better.

We’ve got the big picture in front of us—a picture of sin, rebellion, destruction, and death.

We know that sin leads to death, and we know that Jesus died to forgive our sin.

We’ve seen what sin has done to people we know, people we love.

And, of course, we know that sin hurts the One who loves us more than we know.

Don’t let the serpent trick you. Taking a bite will take you places you don’t want to go.

The number of apples in a seed

Flavil Nichols told me this story several years ago.

During the Civil War a young lady in Tennessee heard the story of Jesus and obeyed the gospel. Her sweetheart was J.H. Halbrook, and when he came home from the war they were married. She taught him the gospel, and he also became a Christian.

He was so excited about Christ that he taught and baptized many people, and one of them was Charley Alexander Wheeler, who soon began preaching. He established more than 100 congregations and baptized over 6,000 people.

One of those 6,000 was a teenager in Walker County whose name was Gus Nichols. During his lifetime he led about 12,000 people to Christ. Quite a few of them became preachers and led many more to the Lord.

About 3,000 decided to follow Christ from the preaching of one of his sons, Flavil Nichols.

Add those numbers up, and you get to at least 21,000.

That’s an incredible story.

Who would have dreamed that the conversion of a teenage girl in Tennessee 150 years ago would lead to thousands of people being saved?

I like to think about whoever it was who taught her about Jesus.

I wonder if he or she had any idea what this girl’s conversion would do?

I doubt it. I suspect the person who taught her just saw a young lady who was lost and decided to share the gospel with her.

And maybe there’s a lesson there for us.

Perhaps there’s a teenage girl you know whom you might lead to Christ. Or maybe it’s a middle-aged uncle, a down-on-her-luck waitress at the local diner, or a divorced mother-of-three.

Jesus once led an immoral Samaritan woman to faith, and she went back to her hometown and started a revival (John 4).

The truth is, you just never know what God will do when you share Jesus with someone who needs him.

It might lead to the salvation of a soul . . . or maybe 21,000 souls.

The old maxim applies here: you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed.

[That story was also printed in the November 1999 issue of The Words of Truth: “The Power of One,” by Flavil Nichols]

The kind of people Jesus hung around

Most of us have been clichéd to death about not judging a book by its cover, but it’s still hard not to do it. Instinctively, maybe subconsciously, we size up a person within 15 seconds based on various factors: appearance, accent, diction, clothing, hair style, body language.

This guy’s weird, we think, or maybe This lady’s smart,This man is poor, or This kid is dangerous.

Sometimes it’s quite harmless, but other times it’s wrong. Bad wrong.

This guy would never be interested in hearing about Jesus.

She would never come to church with me.

Ever done that?

It’s one of the things the Pharisees couldn’t stand about Jesus.

The crowd he ran with was just so . . . unsavory.

Up-and-coming Jewish rabbis aren’t supposed to associate with people like that.

And the Messiah? Of course not.

So they criticized him relentlessly. Jesus once said this about them:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds (Matthew 11:19).

Do you know someone at work or in your neighborhood whom others avoid?

Someone who’s socially awkward, maybe, or with a rough background?

I’m pretty sure that’s the person Jesus would reach out to first, and it’s the kind of person who was most attracted to him when he was on earth.

As you pray today, ask God to help you never to judge people based on appearance.

Ask him to help you reach out to the people others make jokes about.

If there’s one thing we ought to take away from Jesus’ life, it’s that he never turned away from anyone because of a bad reputation.

If anything, that’s the person he went to first.

All the money in the world

Carlos Slim Helu is worth about $69 billion, making him the richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Bill Gates slipped a little in the rankings a couple of years ago. He’s worth only $61 billion and is second on the list. The others in the top five are Warren Buffett ($44B), Bernard Arnault ($41B), and Amancio Ortega ($38B).

If you added up the holdings of the top ten, it would be $395.4 billion.

Can you imagine? It’s almost staggering just to think about it.

There’s really not that much on earth these guys couldn’t buy. If they see something they want, they don’t need to pause and whisper to their spouses, “You think we can afford this?”

The answer is always, “Of course we can.”

Well, not always.

Jesus tells a short story with one simple point.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

I wonder how much that field cost?

No price is given, of course, because Jesus’ point wasn’t the value of the field.

His point was that the treasure was worth all the man had. When he realized what he had found, he was willing to give up everything to get it.

And that treasure is the kingdom.

The gospel.

The blood of Christ.

Salvation, forgiveness, hope.

Suppose, hypothetically, that the kingdom was up for sale, and Forbes’ top ten moguls pooled all of their resources to close the deal. They sold their stocks, liquidated their assets, scraped everything together, and came up just a little short of $400 billion.

Could they get the kingdom for that?

Of course not.

And not only that, their $400 billion wouldn’t even be a down payment.

Because the kingdom is worth more than everything they’ve got, and everything we’ve got.

It’s inestimable, invaluable, priceless.

Yet you and I received it as a gift.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

If you’re a Christian, you’ve got something money can’t buy.

Think about it today. Don’t get caught up in the frenzy of your peers, running the ridiculous rat race that ends in frustration and despair.

You found the treasure, God bought the field, and now you’re a citizen in a kingdom with incomparable riches.

The real Independence Day

Lee Greenwood sings one of our catchiest patriotic songs.

And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. And I gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today. ‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA.

There’s nothing wrong with a little patriotism, of course. We’re indebted to those who’ve died for our freedom.

But we need to remember there’s something more important, infinitely more important.

Paul writes about it here:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).

We’ve been set free, Paul says . . . but from what?

“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), so sin leads to death.

And of course you and I have sinned. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-12,23).

It’s quite simple: we’ve sinned and deserve death.

We can do nothing to deserve life: no series of deeds, however good, can get us one step closer to freedom from death.

But Jesus stepped in and saved us. He died so we could live. He was condemned so we could be pardoned.

And now we’re free from death, free from condemnation, free from eternal punishment.

A measure of patriotism is healthy, but it should remind us that our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We’re Christians first and Americans second.

We live in a free country, but better yet, we get to live our lives knowing that death has no final claim on us.

The real Independence Day happened about 2,000 years ago when God gave up his freedom so we could have ours.

Thinking about America

I take freedom for granted, probably like some of you do.

Most of us don’t know the fear of oppression, of cowering under the thumbs of a totalitarian government that cares nothing for human rights. And when you’ve always had something, it’s easy to forget how wonderful it is.

Today is supposed to remind us. We take a break from work (hopefully), spend time with family, eat barbecue and ice cream, perhaps, shoot some fireworks.

It’s a good time to pause and be thankful. Our country has problems, but it’s still a great place to live.

It’s also a good time to pray.

We’re 4 months away from an important election. We face uncertain economic times, a frightening deficit, and shifting attitudes toward marriage as God created it (the foundation of any society).

I don’t know what will happen in November, or how the economy will respond to the challenges that surround us.

But here’s what we know: God is still on his throne, he’s still in control, and he’s still ordaining governments.

He puts rulers in and takes them out.

He makes economies succeed and lets them fail.

Sometimes he decides he’s going to take a nation through tough times to bring it back to him.

Regardless, Christians really shouldn’t be the hand-wringing type.

Let’s pray hard.

Let’s live right.

Let’s share Christ.

And let’s remember that the real King reigns in heaven above.

Here’s a passage to guide your prayer time today:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Have a great Fourth of July!

Not your job

Really . . . it’s not your job.

There’s a time to emphasize personal responsibility—lots of folks pass the buck too often—but this isn’t that time.

There’s a place to encourage people to own up and man up—the next generation needs that lesson—but this isn’t that place.

When it comes to saving souls, it’s not our job; never has been and never will be.

Reflect on this short story from Jesus:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

It’s really a simple story: a man scatters seed on the ground, and after some unspecified period of time a plant grows and produces fruit. The man doesn’t understand how it happens.

I think Jesus told us this story to encourage us when we share the gospel with the people around us.

And here’s his point: the power is in the seed.

Did you notice how unimportant the sower is in this story? All he does is scatter the seed. His involvement in the growth of the fruit is minimal; he doesn’t even understand what’s going on.

Real work is done when God works through his word (the seed) to produce faith (fruit).

And you and I can’t make that happen.

Maybe you need this encouragement today.

Maybe you’ve tried a couple of times to share Jesus Christ with a friend, and you haven’t seen any fruit yet. The reception has been lukewarm, or at least it seemed that way.

The parable says a couple of things to you.

It tells you that you really don’t know what the word is doing in your friend’s heart. It might be lying dormant for now, only later to lead to saving faith.

It tells you not to be discouraged when you’ve sown the seed. You never know when God will use it to cause spiritual growth.

It tells you to keep planting. Just “scatter seed on the ground” . . . speak a word for Christ whenever you can. Live your faith, encourage people, model Christ.

It’s really not your job to convert people.

It’s your job to scatter the seed. If the soil is good, God will create faith.

In your devotional time today, ask God to help you. Ask him to give you an opportunity today to share Christ with someone you know. Ask him to use you as a vessel through which he brings someone to faith in Jesus.

And then watch him open the door.