Two Important Aspects of Successful Spiritual Warfare Pt 1

warfareYears ago there was a successful effort by a mainline denomination to remove anything from their music and readings that had to do with violence and war.  They wanted to influence a more nonviolent approach to spirituality and remove anything with a militaristic flavor such as hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  Since then other groups have followed this example.  Removing words like fight, soldier, and war etc. “promotes nonviolent Christians full of peace.”

The problem with this approach is that it isn’t Biblical.  When Jesus mentioned building His church He immediately connected it’s advance with warfare and the gates of the enemy (Mt 16:18).   The pacifistic approach  removes the idea of the war that is going on over Kingdom advancement.  It will promote a passive lifestyle that just goes with the flow which God clearly frowns upon.   We are always to be contending for Kingdom advancement (Mt 11:12).

1 Timothy 1:18 fight the good fight;  1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith; 1 Peter 5:8-9 Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion,… resist him, firm in your faith;  James 4:7 Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you; Jude 1:3 … contend earnestly for the faith; Ephesians 6:10-13.

While the battles ebb and flow and there may even be relatively peaceful seasons (Acts 9:31) the war will always remain until Jesus returns.

Two important parts of successful spiritual warfare

Probably the most detailed passage about spiritual warfare is Ephesians 6.    The background and context of this letter is important.  Paul spent about three years getting the church off the ground in Ephesus (Acts 20:31).  On his way to prison he met with the Ephesian elders and gave them some farewell thoughts.  As he did he had revelation that enemies were going to come into the church and even some of the elders would join with them in trying to destroy what God was doing (Acts 20:29).  While Paul was later in prison he heard reports that the things he anticipated (warfare) were beginning to come true.  His first course of action was to send the letter to the Ephesians.

In the letter he reminds them of God’s eternal purpose carried out through His church (Chapt 1-3), and the details of how they were to practically walk it out (Chapt 4-6).  He ends the letter with the famous instruction about warfare and how they are to fight.

While many teach on different aspects of the armor of God  from that passage they often miss the two most important points of successful warfare, being strengthened in God and standing firm.

Eph 6:10-18  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  11  Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  13  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  14  Stand firm therefore,

Being strong in the Lord is the first, most important aspect in successful spiritual warfare.  Many mistakenly think “being strong in the Lord” means positive emotions (feeling strength) or the elimination of enemies.  Being strong in the Lord is a supernatural strengthening that happens with Jesus.  In speaking of the latter days the Bible says that both difficulty would come but also God’s people would display strength in the midst of it.

2Ti 3:1…last days difficult times will come.

Luk 21:26 men fainting (faint or swoon away) from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world

Dan 11:32 “By smooth words he (Antichrist) will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.

Christians often find themselves in various combinations of four states when the difficulty of warfare comes.  They are challenged by circumstances, deceived by the devil, weakened through discouragement, or strong in the Lord.  David found himself in this spot at a place called Ziklag.  While he lead his troops into battle the enemy made a raid on his camp while they were gone.  The enemies destroyed it and took their stuff (possessions, children, and wives).  It was also especially difficult for David because he was not only was overwhelmed by his own sense of loss but his own men blamed him to the point of threatening to kill him.

David’s first course of action was what every Christian should do in warfare and what Paul prescribed in Ephesians 6, “David strengthened himself in the Lord.” 1Sa 30:3-6  When David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive.  4  Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep..6  Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God

In the midst of warfare we all usually feel week and overwhelmed.  That is actually a good place to be in because it puts us in a great position to receive “the Lord’s strength.”  Paul actually “gloried in his weakness” because he understood it was the best place to be strengthened by God  2Co 12:10  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

How does the Lord strengthening work?

Probably the best scripture that describes how the Lord’s strength comes in thtable for mee midst of warfare is Psalms 23.  Psa 23:1-6  The LORD is my shepherd… (4)  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5)  CEV You treat me to a feast (prepare a table before me), while my enemies watch. You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows. (6)  Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I have had this happen many times in my life.  The enemies are all around and I feel very weak and defeated.  I want to either run away or figure out how to defeat the enemies.  That isn’t the most important order of business in those times.  God doesn’t take the enemies away but spreads a table out right in the midst of them.  It is like coming across a heavenly picnic right in the middle of a battlefield.  Our fist instinct is to ignore it because we are at war and enemies are all around trying to destroy us, but we must not ignore the table.  The first order of business is to sit down to eat.  This is the first act of successful spiritual warfare.

As I sit with Him I take my eyes off of the enemies and focus on Jesus.  He begins feeding me and  I begin to change on the inside.  I become more aware of God’s goodness than the enemies efforts   I begin to feed off of Him and gain strength to the point “my cup overflows” with the power of His Spirit.  It is the great exchange, I lay my weakness and fear before Him and He gives me His strength.

When I get up from His table I am in a different condition “strong I the Lord,” and from that posture I can deal with the enemy in an effective way.  Jas 4:7-8  Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  8  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

We must receive His strength (draw near to God) so we can effectively “resist the devil.”  Sitting and feasting at the Lord’s table isn’t a waste of time but the most effective act of war we can do.  What do we do there and how do we eat?  We give Him praise and worship, we draw near to Him with thanksgiving, we “magnify the Lord” (make Him bigger in our eyes), and we end up being reminded (speaking to ourselves) of God’s greatness and hope for the future.

Psalms 42:1-11…(5)  Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence…(10)  As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”  (11)  Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

From that posture we will get up instead of give up and are able to fight effectively in the “strength of the Lord.”

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Three Deaths and Three Very Different Lives

NarcissismI have been pondering a question about myself and this generation, “Is our life’s focus centered around narcissistic things that look good on a resume, (personal happiness and achievement) or things that will make for a good eulogy.   A few  years ago I came across three deaths in a fairly close time span that caused me to reflect on these things.  It sounds a little morbid but it really is God’s wisdom seen the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecc 7:1-4  A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.  2  It is better to go to a house of mourning Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart…4  The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

These three deaths evoked vastly different responses by the people who knew them best?  In two of the deaths I attended the funeral and with the other I read interviews by his biographer and excerpts from his biography.  They reflected three very different lives with very different effects on those who knew them best.  One was arguably the most famous and influential person in the world.  The second was someone I didn’t know but attended his funeral.  The third was a virtually unknown simple man except for family and friends.  As I reflected on them they revealed great wisdom.

The first was Steve Jobs the founder of Apple who was involved in creating things that touched just about every home on the face of the earth.  His products have forever changed the way most of the world thinks about technology.

When Jobs was about to undergo surgery for pancreatic cancer he asked biographer Walter Isaacson, former editor of Time magazine, to write his biography.  In 2009 He granted Isaacson more than 40 interviews, many recorded on tape.  At the time Isaacson didn’t know about the cancer.

Jobs’ wife told Isaacson, “Be honest with his failings as well as his strengths. There are parts of his life and his personality that are extremely messy. You shouldn’t whitewash it. I’d like to see that it’s all told truthfully.”  Isaacson interviewed more than 100 people – Jobs’ friends, family, co-workers and competitors to try to get an accurate well rounded perspective on his life.

The book caused quite a stir.  The interviews, and thus the biography, revealed what Jobs was really like from 100 people who closely interacted with him and probably knew his life the best.  Isaacson said, “He was very petulant. He was very brittle. He could be very, very mean to people at times. Whether it was to a waitress in a restaurant, or to a guy who had stayed up all night coding, he could really just go at them and say, ‘You’re doin’ this all wrong. It’s horrible.’ And you’d say, ‘Why did you do that? Why weren’t you nicer?’ And he’d say, ‘I really wanna be with people who demand perfection. And this is who I am.”

The book recounted Jobs’ legendary “personal abuses.”   He was known for vicious tantrums, a habit of reducing employees to tears, his binary view of a world in which people were either “heroes” or “s—heads,” and his habit of parking his Mercedes in disabled parking spots.

The second one had similar characteristics

House of mourningThe second one was a man I didn’t know at all.  I was visiting a friend in Wyoming when one of their neighbor’s died.  My friend was a pastor and ended up officiating at his funeral.  I attended so I could help serve practical needs.  This funeral was indicative of our culture today.  He was a fairly young man who died unexpectedly.  He and his wife had previous marriages and had children together as well as step children.  The only people who spoke at the funeral were the children.

The man was a very successful businessman and most of the pictures shown during his eulogy slide show where of his expensive toys, his exotic hunting trips, and expensive vacations.  It became quickly apparent however that he wasn’t an easy man to live with.  As each child and step child spoke they didn’t hold back revealing the real condition of their relationship with him.  There were many hurt filled tears of regret as they revealed openly their conflict with him.  They tried to find some positives but the pain far outweighed any.  They were obviously processing right there in the funeral as they spoke.  It was so raw and real that it was very uncomfortable.  I found myself praying that the emotional holes that were in his children and spouses would be somehow filled.

The third was Uncle Harvey

The third funeral was very different.  It was my Uncle Harvey.  I was not close to him or his family for several years.  I had more interaction with them when I was younger.  I knew Uncle Harvey and his family to be salt of the earth type of people.  Even before I was saved I knew they were church going people, even though I didn’t know much about the things of God then.  He lived in a small town in Missouri and he and his sons had a small construction/roofing business.

My wife and I arrived at his funeral just as it was starting and were directed to our seats that ended up being in the section of close friends and family. There were quite a few people at the funeral.  As they started to talk about Uncle Harvey my wife and I noticed something almost simultaneously.  Many of the older men sitting around us began to cry.  The ladies were crying as well but the older men were what caught our attention.

I thought it very interesting that men from his generation were crying.  That generation of men were not known for expressing feelings very openly, yet most were crying about Uncle Harvey.

The minister began to tell about him, “the thing we all knew about Harvey was that he really believed that when he married Deloris it was “till death do us part.”  He was married 63 years to my aunt.  They had three children and one foster son they adopted.  They also amazingly helped raise 69 foster children in their home at various times.  Many of them were at the funeral that day.

He went on to speak about Harvey’s generosity, how one time he took several of the kids to an amusement park and spent his entire paycheck on them (they were not people who had a lot of money so this was a significant thing).  When he arrived home and my aunt found out she asked him how they were going to make it financially that week?   He responded, “It was important that they had a good time, they have never been to a place like that or had people care that they did, God will honor it.”  To some, that may sound foolish but not to Harvey or the people at the funeral.

Over and over the testimonies were about  how he encouraged, served, and loved others.  Because he helped so many people build and fix their homes the minister said, “Surely God had built him a great one in heaven.” As he reviewed Uncle Harvey’s life there were many tears and nods of agreement that he was really a good man Eccl 7:1.

As my wife and I sat out in the car watching people exit the funeral home and lining up for the processional I reflected on what I had seen.  Uncle Harvey didn’t create technology or run a business that influenced the world.  He didn’t have any legendary “personal abuses” or tirades.   He didn’t have any expensive toys or go on exotic vacations.  Hardly anyone outside that town or family knew he ever existed.   Yet when you consider the impact on those who really knew him his greatness surpassed Jobs or the other man.

Out of his respect for God Uncle Harvey simply served others and tried to make their life better.  This caused, and will cause the personal memories of Uncle Harvey to be sweet and satisfying by those who knew him best.

Our culture needs God and His ways

As I sat outside in my car I wondered how rare funerals like Uncle Harvey’s would be in fifty years.  With all the serial breakdown of family and relationships designed to last a lifetime, and all the narcissistic quests for personal happiness at the expense of who knows how many people,  how will it all shake out?  What will be the effect of all the mix and match family relationships born out of people’s selfish quest for achievement and/or happiness?

I reflected on people I have known over the years who have split their own family, reformed into another, and then split it again in a self serving pursuit of “happiness.”  Some of their lives would even look good in a resume but who will have pleasant memories at their funeral?  Who will have no regrets?  Who will be able to honestly say anything positive and not have to ignore the obvious great pain?

The Bible is true, that it is better to build a life that makes for a sweet eulogy (God’s virtues spelled out in His word) rather than one filled with personal happiness and achievement that looks good on a resume.   One song said it best,  “Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.”  Let’s serve and honor God in ways that make for a great eulogy, not just a great resume.

 

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Facing Difficult Seasons

rough roadWe usually plan for happiness but our lives are formed more by suffering.  When people look forward in their life they often plan for things that make them happy and fulfilled (stress free things), but when they look backwards at the important things that made them who they are, they were formed in them during times of difficulty.   It is much like the stories of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.   They were stories set in difficult challenges rather than “happy stress free times.”  They endured and overcame them and that became the meaningful testimonies of their lives.

Heb 11:32-40  And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,  33  who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,  34  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  35  Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;  36  and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.  37  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated  38  (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.  39  And all these, having gained approval through their faith.

God’s people can have a wrong perspective of life

I remember hearing a man tell a story of attending a graduation at a Christian college.  The night before the graduation he stayed in an on campus dorm set aside for visitors and guest.  In his room he read a graduation poem on a wall plaque.  It went something like this.

The sky is all yours.  Yesterday’s gone, like disappearing clouds, like vanishing stars, like passing twilight like fading moonlight.  It’s the time to reflect on past glories, to bury bitter memories, to match a flowing stream, to catch the next dream.  So, my friend! grab with both hands, happiness is all yours, give wings to your dreams, the sky is all yours.   Always remember your future looks strong and bright.  May you achieve the things you hope for, and have a life of sheer delight. 

As he reflected on the thoughts expressed in the poem it dawned on him that iIn this world you will have trialst could have been a poem that hung on the wall of any college, not just a Christian one.  It is the same dreams, thoughts, and desires that everyone has about their future.  Then he thought, “Isn’t this a Christian college?”  Shouldn’t their lives and future aspirations be shaped by something more than the standard “may all you dreams come true” objective of any unbeliever.  This was a Christian College whose stated mission was to prepare students for God’s mission in the world.  Shouldn’t there be some preparation for the inevitable hardships that Jesus said would come as people took part in His mission.

Luke 10:2-3…(3)  “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

Luke 21:12-17  “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.  (13)  “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony… (16)  “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death,  (17)  and you will be hated by all because of My name.

John 16:33  “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

These types of thoughts don’t make it into many Christian cards or poems but Jesus was sending His people out to participate in His mission.   He didn’t want trouble or setbacks to surprise or shake them.  Like any of us the biggest emotional and spiritual struggles we face (part of the schemes of the enemy 2 Cor 2:11, Eph 6:11) is when difficulty comes we think it is because God is against us, His ways don’t work, or we are doing something wrong. It may be more we are doing something right (living in His mission) and the demonic who hates us is opposing it.   Billy Sunday once said, “If you are not meeting the devil head on then your going the same direction.”

Exposing our cultural aversion to challenges

The Beatles recorded a song “Getting Better,” that contained lyrics that aptly strummed a chord of our cultural belief “It’s getting better all the time.”   It is not exactly breaking news to say that our culture has an almost eternal quest for happiness and stress free living as well as a great aversion to suffering, regardless of how inescapable it may be.  This includes the Christian culture.  We couldn’t imagine a televangelist or mega-leader asking what Paul asked Timothy 2Ti 1:8…but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.  No one wants to suffer, but the conscious avoidance of pain is one thing; the complete intolerance, or outright denial of it, is another.

Why do we run so hard from, and structure our lives around avoiding something so inevitable?  It is because setbacks fly in the face of our culture’s subtle belief about improvement and progress.   After all things are always suppose to get better.  Our bank accounts are always to increase.  We are always to get promotions or better jobs.  But then something like a prolonged recession comes along and challenges our cultural ethic.

American novelist Jonathan Franzen put it this way:  We have this notion in this country, not only of endless economic growth but of endless personal growth. I have a certain characterological antipathy to the notion of we’re all getting better and better all the time.

It’s true. Despite the inevitability of suffering, everything in our culture points toward progress, progress, progress. Even Christians espouse a Christianized version of this gospel of progress, framing the life of belief as primarily about personal improvement, progress, and an effortless existence.   Progress and improvement are a byproduct of serving Jesus but it is often through the fires of adversity.

If we follow the logic of a pain free, difficult free life we will end up like Job’s counselors when difficulty does come.  We will give advice based on formulas that miss the point and do little to help the person facing difficulty.   This logic is expressed in formulas like, “The reason for suffering is your to lack of faith.”  Or, “if you fall ill or come upon hard times financially, maybe it’s because there’s a hidden skeleton in your closet.”

Keep God’s perspective  before us

We must remember that when facing difficult times there is an enemy that is working to destroy us while at the same time God is for us (Rom 8:31) and is at work.  He is leading us to triumph in Christ (2 Cor 2:14), and working things together for good even in the midst of bad things (Rom 8:26-28).

 

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