Chapter OneStolen Property
I live in a city where things get stolen all the time. Along
Flatbush Avenue, where our church is, car thefts are an
everyday occurrence. So are muggings, purse snatchings, and
Once in a Sunday night sermon I made the mistake of
asking our congregation to raise their hands if they had personally
experienced some kind of rip-off. The place broke
into laughter as 98 percent of the hands went up. What a silly
question to pose to a crowd of New Yorkers!
My wife, Carol, and I live in the borough of Queens, east
of LaGuardia Airport and Shea Stadium, where the Mets
play. I came out to my car parked in front of our house one
morning a few years ago and noticed it had been vandalized.
As soon as I opened the door and got inside, I saw a huge,
gaping hole in the center of the steering wheel where the air
bag had been.
Crack cocaine addicts love air bags because they are a
quick-sale item. Within minutes they can walk into a "chop
shop"-an illicit garage that deals in used auto parts-and
trade an air bag for up to $200 cash. It is just one of the ways
that crack has devastated New York and other major cities in
America. Heroin was one thing, snorting cocaine another-but
crack has brought massive destruction.
I moaned to myself about the loss. When I called my
insurance agent, he took it in stride. "Well, that's the Big
Apple for you," he said. "Happens all the time." We filled out
the claims paperwork and ordered the part from the dealer. I
didn't ask what this would do to my rates next time around; I
didn't really want to know.
A few months passed before I finally got around to taking
the car in for the replacement. At last the damage was
And wouldn't you know-within three weeks I got ripped
off again! Same parking place in front of my house, same window
forced open. I'm almost sure it was the same thief.
This time I didn't even bother to file an insurance claim.
I just paid the $800 for replacement out of my pocket rather
than risk my rates going through the roof.
I even found a way to joke about it with someone: "You
know, maybe I should leave coffee and cake for this guy on
the front seat . with a note that says, `Hey, let's be friends!
If I'd just supply you with other stuff to sell, at least you
wouldn't have to break into my car every few months.'"
More Than Merchandise
Fortunately, air bags can be replaced. As much as you hate
the loss and inconvenience, you gradually go on with your life.
A year later, you won't even remember that it happened.
But in the spiritual realm, a kind of stealing is going on
in many lives that is much more serious. Satan is in the business
of ripping off things far more important than an air bag.
That is his nature. As Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief
comes only to steal and kill and destroy."
Satan obviously doesn't want car parts. Nor does he want
your house; he doesn't live in a house. He doesn't need your
vehicle, for he has other modes of transportation. He has no
interest in your clothes; he's a spirit being. He doesn't care
about your investments; what would money mean to him?
In the spiritual realm, a kind of stealing is
going on in many lives. Satan is in the business
of ripping us off.
But he is very interested in stealing spiritual treasures-things
that have value with God and are of eternal significance.
Take, for example, our very purpose for living. Satan
loves snatching men and women on the streets of my city and
your city-people who have potential-and turning them
into glassy-eyed wanderers through life, with no goal from
day to day. They lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling, saying,
"What's the point? Just to make money? Just to have
People turn to drugs and alcohol because they don't have
a clue as to why they're alive. Others turn to career achievement,
or pleasure, or materialism . something, anything to
fill the void. But it doesn't work. God created them to worship
and enjoy him forever, but this awareness has been
stolen from their consciousness.
Notice the progression in John 10:10. Satan's first move
is just petty larceny. Once he manages that, he can move on
to actual killing, and from there to mass destruction. "Steal
. kill . destroy." But it all starts with stealing.
What Happened to "First Love"?
Even among those who are Christians, the devil has a
strategy of theft. For example, as a pastor I have seen over
and over the tragic loss of our "first love" for Jesus. There was
a time in our lives when we loved Jesus so much more than
we do today. Our appetite for God's Word was voracious.
Our love for God's house was enthusiastic. Our eagerness for
spreading the gospel was so strong Now, how is it? Yes,
we still love the Lord. We still come to church. But what
happened to all that energy and passion?
That is the problem Jesus addressed with the Ephesian
church in Revelation 2:2-5: "I know your deeds, your hard
work and your perseverance Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from
which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at
first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place."
Where does "first love" go? Our zeal and our intensity
don't evaporate. Satan steals the hot embers of devotion and
consecration. We get ripped off.
The Bible has no retirement plan. God can
keep his people on fire for him, keep them
sharp and intense.
Someone might say, "Well, you have to understand that
back when I met Christ, I was an energetic teenager. A lot has
happened since then. You know, we all mellow out with
time." Does anyone really believe that? The Bible says God's
plan for us is that we be "transformed into his likeness withever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the
Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is no end to the power he
wants to exhibit in our lives. The Bible has no retirement
plan. God can keep his people on fire for him, can keep them
sharp and intense. We need to be honest and admit what has
really happened. There is no point in conning ourselves.
We've been ripped off by the master thief.
Or how about that unique calling that rests on every
Christian's life-the gifting to serve others in the name of the
Lord? Ten years ago there was a stirring inside of you; he
gave you a dream about what he wanted to do in your life.
Maybe he wanted you to teach children. Maybe he wanted
you to sing. Maybe he wanted you to be a prayer warrior,
standing in the gap for other people in need. Maybe there
was even a pull toward the mission field that was birthed by
the Holy Spirit himself.
But then . you got discouraged. Somebody let you
down. Something went sour at your church. You tried once
or twice, but somebody criticized you. Soon the dream was
gone, and the calling wasn't so real. All the inspiration you
had felt was missing.
Sometimes I meet pastors in this condition-a hollow
shell of their former selves. All the energy is gone; they're just
going through the ministerial motions now.
You would tend to imagine this happening mainly through
the many discouragements that ministers face and their overburdened
schedules leading to burnout. Actually, those are
only two of Satan's strategies for going after the shepherds who
work among God's flock. He has many others as well.
Years ago I met a man who really seemed sincere as he
labored tirelessly to build up a congregation of believers in a
major city. God's blessing upon his preaching was evident.
The church began to flourish.
A few years later, I happened to visit one of his services.
Something had obviously changed. The pastor had somehow
come to believe that he was special. The spotlight was now
more on him than on Jesus Christ. The messenger had tragically
become bigger than the message.
We chatted afterward, and he pointedly asked me what I
sensed about the direction of his church. I encouraged him
as best I could, but then added, "Remember, my friend-don't
take yourself too seriously. This is about God's Spirit
working in the lives of people to draw them nearer to Jesus.
We're just called to serve them. Preach the Word faithfully,
and then disappear into the background so God will get all
He didn't seem very excited about my last remarks.
His limited fame seemed to go quickly to his head, and
soon the simple sincerity and childlike faith that had characterized
his earlier efforts for God were replaced by a slick,
affected flamboyance, which is very destructive to the cause
of Christ. The man's effective preaching and spiritual fruit
Where do you think they all went? Something very precious
was stolen along the way.
The devil is always trying to rob us of something God
blessed us with. When he succeeds, the spiritual gifts seem to
fade, and the material things occupy our attention twenty-four
hours a day.
Consider the subject of marriage. The latest surveys by
researcher George Barna show that the divorce rate among
churchgoers is just about equal with the population at large.
If I were an atheist or an agnostic, I'd say, "Look-how come
Jesus can't keep you two together? I thought you said he was
Why are Christian couples breaking up? Is it because they
shouldn't have gotten married in the first place? Or because
they came from dysfunctional homes and had bad role models?
There is more to it than that. The thief comes to steal
The divorce rate among churchgoers is just
about equal with the population at large. If
I were an atheist, I'd say, "How come Jesus
can't keep you two together?"
In fact, Satan fully intends to destroy my marriage to
Carol, even though we have served side by side in the ministry
for more than twenty-five years. These are the realities
of spiritual warfare. Only the power of Christ can keep the
two of us together as God has planned and can give us victory
over Satan's destructive power. No honest minister of
the gospel will deny the fact that the devil has made major
assaults on his or her marriage. It's usually not talked about
in public, but many tears are shed and prayers offered up to
God as sincere servants of the Lord do battle against the
demonic forces set on stealing their marriages, credibility,
What about our children and our grandchildren? They were
dedicated to God at an altar once upon a time. We stood
before a minister and said with all sincerity, "O God, this baby
belongs to you." But something has happened in the years
since then. Now the young man or young woman is not living
for God-there's no use pretending that they are.
Let's not close our eyes and make-believe otherwise.
Before we can see God do what only he can do, we must spiritually
diagnose exactly what is going on around us. Denying
reality is not part of true Christian living.
Most of All: Where Did the Faith Go?
At the core of all these losses I have mentioned is the
silent theft of the most crucial element in our spiritual walk:
our faith. What is faith? It is total dependence upon God that
becomes supernatural in its working. People with faith
develop a second kind of sight. They see more than just the
circumstances; they see God, right beside them. Can they
prove it? No. But by faith they know he's there nonetheless.
Without faith, says Hebrews 11:6, it is impossible to please
God. Nothing else counts if faith is missing. There is no
other foundation for Christian living, no matter the amount
of self-effort or energy spent. Nothing else touches the
Father's heart as much as when his children simply trust him
I meet people who at one time would pray over anything
and everything! Even if they lost their glasses, they would
pray to find them-and amazingly, the glasses would show
up. Now the same people seem not to believe that God can
do much of anything.
Oh, they will still give you the standard confession of
faith: "Yes, I have faith in the God who answers prayer." But
that vibrant trust and expectation are no more. They aren't
saying, "Come on-let's go after this problem in the name of
the Lord." They've been robbed.
There is an obscure story at the end of 1 Samuel that
speaks to this matter in vivid detail. It is one of the low points
on the roller coaster of David's life. The young conqueror of
the giant Goliath is now on the run from King Saul. So many
threats, so many close calls . he actually goes to live among
the Philistines for a year, for he has run out of places to hide
David has his own little militia of six hundred men, plus
wives and children. They set up at a place called Ziklag.
When the Philistines decide to go to war against Israel, it
puts David in a real crunch. He's a fighter, of course, a warrior,
so he lines up with King Achish. But the Philistine generals
spot him and say to their king, "What does David think
"Why? What do you mean?"
"The famous son-in-law of King Saul, right? No way is
he going on this campaign with us!"
Achish tries to defend David's loyalty but gets nowhere.
The generals say, "Look, don't you know that song they sang
all over Israel? `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his
tens of thousands'-and some of those tens of thousands
were us! He is definitely not going into battle with us."
So David and his militia get sent back home.
When they come close to Ziklag, they start to see smoke
on the horizon. They begin a fast trot-and soon discover
something dreadful: Every wife, every son, every daughter,
every cow and lamb is gone. Someone has made a secret raid,
burning down the city and stealing everything.
These husbands and fathers are stunned by the desolation.
They are heartbroken . imagine them thinking of
their wives and daughters being captured by some roving
band of marauders. My lovely wife is missing! What is happening
to my fourteen-year-old daughter right now? They can only
imagine the unrestrained brutality and heartlessness that have
surely occurred. They begin to cry so hard that they run out
of tears. They are devastated.
David's family is gone, too. Everything is lost.
At such a moment of human sorrow, other emotions
come into play. Anger and resentment boil up. When people
cannot deal with the agony of the moment, they often turn
on those in authority. They can't bear the pain, so they lash