Who are your heroes? Let me nominate a few more today.
An all-volunteer group of American veterans of the Afghanistan war launched a mission last Wednesday to shepherd hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety. ABC News reports that the group, dubbed the “Pineapple Express,” launched their rescue “after nightfall in near-pitch black darkness and extremely dangerous conditions.”
Working unofficially in tandem with the US military and American embassy, they moved people inside the wire of the US military-controlled side of Hamid Karzai International Airport. As of Thursday morning, the group said it had brought as many as five hundred Afghan special operators, assets, and enablers along with their families into the Kabul airport, handing each of them over to US military protective custody.
Their operation was an element of “Task Force Pineapple,” an informal group whose mission began August 15 as a frantic effort to rescue a former Afghan commando who had served with them and was being hunted by the Taliban. These current and former US special operators, aid workers, intelligence officers, and others with experience in Afghanistan ended up smuggling more than 130 people over ten days into the airport.
When we face an enemy more powerful than ourselves, we need the help of someone more powerful than our enemy.
This fact is true not only in Afghanistan but where you live as well.
Harvard’s atheist chief chaplain
By now, you’ve probably seen reports that Harvard University’s new chief chaplain is an atheist. Greg Epstein, who has been the university’s humanist chaplain since 2005, is author of the book Good Without God.
In a day of “angry atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I expected such vitriol from him. But when I read his book a few years ago, I was impressed with his purpose:
“If this book accomplishes one thing for or on behalf of the billion nonreligious people, let it not be that we learn how better to convince others that there is no God, or that religion is evil. May we encourage more hospital visits by the nonreligious, both literally and metaphorically. May we do more good work together and build something positive in this world—the only world we will ever have. May we focus more on the ‘good’ than on the ‘without God.’”
Epstein is confident that nonreligious people can “build something positive in this world” because of his “informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals.” He adds, “The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.”
The thesis of his book and his work is simple: “We don’t look to a god for answers. We are each other’s answers.”
However, let’s ask Dr. Phil’s question: How’s that working for us?
A diplomat’s daughter beheaded in Pakistan
Officials in Louisiana have begun surveying the wreckage left by Hurricane Ida. At one point, more than a million people were without power. At least one death so far has been attributed to the storm. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Kate has formed in the Atlantic and constitutes the eleventh named storm in this busy hurricane season.
In Brazil, bank robbers strapped hostages to their getaway cars as human shields, targeting three different banks Monday and tying victims to the roofs and hoods of ten vehicles. The United Nations atomic agency is reporting that North Korea appears to have restarted its main nuclear reactor used to produce weapon fuels, openly threatening to enlarge its nuclear arsenal.
A diplomat’s daughter was beheaded in Pakistan. A man in Uganda who had converted from Islam to Christianity was tied up and murdered by his father after refusing to forsake his faith in Jesus.
And stories of atrocities and violence continue to surface daily from Afghanistan. For example, a former interior minister reported that the Taliban “brutally killed” a popular folk singer days after claiming that “music is forbidden” in Islam. And a human rights group is warning that “an estimated ten thousand Christians, many of whom are ‘guilty’ of converting from Islam,” are at risk of being “targeted with deadly violence” in the country.
“Reproductive Freedom Congregations” in Texas
To repeat: when we face an enemy more powerful than ourselves, we need the help of someone more powerful than our enemy.
Yesterday, we identified ways you and I can help people facing the storms of life. Today, let’s identify the enemy behind these storms and the only One more powerful than he is.
Satan is the original terrorist. Jesus called him “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Speaking of the devil, our Lord warned us that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). When we see stealing and killing and destroying, we can know that our enemy is at work.
He is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “prince of this world” (John 12:31), and the “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Jesus declared: “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
This verse is especially relevant to the trials we face today: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
For example, Satan has so “blinded the minds” of ISIS and other jihadist groups that they think they are serving God by killing Christians. He has so blinded the minds of atheists like Greg Epstein that they think they can solve our most intractable problems without the help of an omnipotent God. He has so blinded the minds of postmodern secularists that they think “their truth” is “the truth.”
Satan can deceive those who claim to be Christians as well. For example, Religious News Service reports that “Reproductive Freedom Congregations” in Texas are “publicly declaring their support” for abortion. And stories about clergy accused of sexual abuse tragically make the news seemingly every day.
Four steps to spiritual victory
Satan is very real and very dangerous. For that reason, we’ll close with practical ways to win the spiritual battles we face. Let’s identify four essential principles.
One: Expect to be attacked.
Scripture warns: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “Your” is addressed to Christians. If Jesus is your Lord, Satan is your adversary.
Two: Admit that you cannot defeat him in your strength.
The devil is better at tempting than we are at resisting. Just as he “deceived Eve by his cunning” (2 Corinthians 11:3), so he deceives and defeats those who try to withstand his assaults with human capacities.
Three: Surrender to the power of God.
This verse is key: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Note the order: submit and then you can resist.
And note God’s promise: when you submit to God and resist the devil, “he will flee from you.” There is no temptation you cannot defeat in the power of your Lord. His word is clear: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
So begin every day by being “filled” with the Spirit (see this article for practical steps to take each morning). Then surrender your temptations and trials to the One who “is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Four: Turn temptation into immediate prayer.
Scripture warns us: “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Here’s how: develop the reflex of taking your temptations instantly to God, submitting them to him and seeking the power of his Spirit.
Erasmus was right: Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good. When you use temptations as opportunities for trust, you glorify your Lord and frustrate your enemy.
“Don’t let the storm turn you inward”
I just finished Max Lucado’s encouraging book, You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power. Let’s close by claiming some of his insights about God’s provision and grace as our Father’s gifts to us today.
Max notes: “You’re stronger than you think because God is nearer than you know.” When we trust our temptations and challenges to our Lord, “Your problem becomes his pathway. The challenge you face becomes a canvas upon which Christ can demonstrate his finest work.”
As a result, he counsels, “Don’t let the storm turn you inward. Let it turn you upward.” But Max also reminds us that we must truly trust our storm to our Savior, warning us that “contingent faith is the faith of sidewalk chalk: it’s beautiful when the sun shines, but it washes away when the rain falls.”
And he also warns us against self-sufficiency that trusts more in ourselves than in our Lord, quoting Charles Spurgeon: “It is not our littleness that hinders Christ, but our bigness. It is not our weakness that hinders Christ; it is our strength. It is not our darkness that hinders Christ; it is our supposed light that holds back his hand.”
By contrast, Jesus is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). This “power at work within us” is the Holy Spirit who already indwells every Christian (1 Corinthians 3:20).
In other words, you already have within you all that you need to trust the God who is for you to defeat the enemy who attacks you.
My youth minister was right
You and I live in a world filled with spiritual conflict: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
My high school youth minister was right: we are either running into Satan or we are running with him.
There is no third option.
However, be encouraged: when you run into Satan, this means you are running with God.
With whom will you run today?