Tag Archives: Spiritual warfare

A Shield Only Works When Facing the Enemy

As this year comes to a close and I assess all that has happened with missions and travel, I am reminded of the spiritual warfare that has happened throughout the year. I realize that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that the trials are any easier. Only as I learn more and experience more, I worry about it less and less. I am no longer blind-sided by it as much. I am still continually surprised by the ways in which it shows up, but it’s timing can be almost always timed down to the day shortly before something big is supposed to be happening. As I start counting down the days before I go to Ethiopia again, I can expect more warfare.

Lately I have been reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s been decades since I last picked this up, and I am enjoying it if nothing more than for the word pictures it contains that give clarity to a lot of abstract concepts. During my pondering about this book, the subject of the armor of God came up. We find the subject of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18.

 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The thing that occurred to me when I read it this time that I had never noticed before was the choice of armor; helmet, shield, sword, breastplate, etc, and specifically what they have in common. The thing they all have in common is that they are only effective when you are facing and engaging with the enemy. A Christian who either has his back to the enemy or has not engaged the enemy has lost. God gives us the tools with which to fight, but we have to decide whether to fight or not. I wanted to talk specifically about the shield. When the apostle Paul wrote this, he modeled the armor after the Roman legion, which used a large curved shield called a scutum. Our faith is that shield. It is what allows us to stand up to what the devil and the world throw at us and allows our faith not to be shaken. But it does more than that. The scutum not only protected from the flaming arrows of the enemy, but when the combat got close, its size allowed its bearer to knock the enemy back. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this metaphor was chosen, because it’s only in the thick of spiritual warfare that we get close enough to knock the enemy back on his heels. James 4:7 completes the thought. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This of course runs counter to our culture. We call ourselves Christians, but we refuse to engage the enemy. The evidence of this is in where we spend our missions dollars. 24% of the world has never heard the gospel. Yet those areas receive 1/2 of one percent of our missions dollars, whereas 94.5% goes to areas that are already filled with professing Christians. This makes absolutely no sense. Jesus said “Look, the fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few.”  We keep going to the same fields that have already been harvested looking for a speck of grain that someone dropped, while the field next door, though harder to get to, has been completely ignored.  Parents with children in the military are proud that their children are serving in conflict zones in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, but how many would send their children or go themselves to share the saving grace of God in those same areas? We somehow think it’s less important, when nothing could be further from the truth.   Someday the sun and moon will fall from the sky, and we’ll all be long gone. At that point the only thing that will matter is whether and how we engaged the enemy. Is it a harder way? Yes. But as we see the world falling apart around us, don’t think the destruction that has fallen over Syria or Afghanistan or Yemen or Libya will fail to come to us simply because we failed to recognize that the enemy was not political factions but rather the prince of this world, the devil. We MUST engage the enemy, or we too are lost.

I want to make one final point about the shield of faith. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, then we are taking something that cannot be seen and has no substance and turning it into substance and evidence, both of which are tangible things. It is only when we use faith, and faith becomes action, that action turns into something of substance. As James said, “show me your faith without action, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  The opportunities are there. We must have the courage to engage the enemy.

You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.
You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.

The Importance Of The Team Back Home.

The tickets are in hand. Connections are being made. Everything seems to be coming together. I leave for Ethiopia a month from today. This will be my second trip to Ethiopia, and my seventh trip to Africa in the last five years. In fact, it’s my third trip to Africa in the last eight months. It’s probably not a sustainable pace, but it’s how things have been laid out for me at this time. This trip came together probably more easily than any previous trip. The time was available even though it shouldn’t have been, I had the support of my wife and family, and the funds practically showed up on their own. It’s clear I’m supposed to go.

There are times when I’ve got a lot ruminating in my mind, when I have a concept I’ve been thinking about that I just need to put down in writing. Those times seem to get farther and farther apart when the time starts running short before my next trip though. Regular followers may notice that my blog posts have become more infrequent. The fact is that as a trip draws near, there is less reflection time and more nuts and bolts time. Both physically and spiritually, it becomes nuts and bolts. Are my shots in order? Are the funds all there? Is my photography equipment sufficient and in working order? Is my heart in the right place? Is my family in a stable place where I can be gone for a while? How is the security situation on the ground we where I’ll be going? It’s all nuts and bolts.  Furthermore, spiritually speaking, difficulty always seems to make itself known shortly before I leave. Frequently it’s not directly with me, but it may be all around me. These are the reasons I originally started writing this blog, not because it may be interesting to the reader, but because I simply needed to sort it out for myself.

For myself, my life has been good. I can honestly say that for myself I have no complaints. It’s what goes on around me that’s disturbing. It’s as if I’m dealing with a spoiled child who has a grudge against me. He has no way of hurting me, so he just starts breaking everything within reach. That spoiled child’s name is Satan, and this kind of thing frequently happens just before I leave on a missionary trip. Everything within arms length is great, but the chaos that goes on just outside of my grasp, though it doesn’t hurt me directly, still effects my spirit, particularly when it’s loved ones that are struggling.  The verses in Psalm 91 are brought to mind.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the LORD:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I trust him.

For he will rescue you from every trap

and protect you from deadly disease.

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

nor the arrow that flies in the day.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

Though a thousand fall at your side,

though ten thousand are dying around you,

these evils will not touch you.”

The comfort for me is knowing that when your enemy gets desperate, he’s usually about to lose. This is why prayer is so important, both for me and for the support team. It’s not just a trite request that people pray for you when you’re gone. It’s the most important role the people staying home can have; equally important to the role of the one going. So for those who will, please pray for those going, for those who are already there, and for the families of those who are going. It’s really important. Let the spoiled child be revealed for what he is.

The hands of a Sudanese man in prayer.
The hand of a Sudanese man in prayer.

Where The Chains Of Doom Are Kept, I Find My Shoes.

One of the most profound music lyrics I’ve heard is from, oddly enough, a song called “American Cheese”. One of the lines is, “And I know that, where the chains of doom are kept, I find my shoes.”  I know there are those out there who believe that people are inherently good, and they’re welcome to their opinion. I’ve never taken to the Star Trek version of humanity, that we’ll just keep getting better on our own. I’ve seen too much with my own eyes to believe such fluff. I’m more of the opinion that “Lord of the Flies” had it much more accurately.

If I want to know the potential of what evil is possible in the world, all I really need to do is look in the mirror. I can tell myself, as many do, that I’m not such a bad person. But I know perfectly well that the potential is there. All I need to do is take my focus off of God and place it somewhere else, whether it’s myself, or money, or power (the latter leading back to self anyway.) But that’s the great thing about following Christ. He takes his own perfections, (yes, plural) and in an incredible act of grace and mercy, decides to let me with all of my imperfections, be His representative. I can look in that mirror, look at my face with all the potential for evil, and see the face of Christ instead. All I have to do is make sure my focus is not on me, but on Him. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us;”

As I get ready to go to Ethiopia, the spiritual warfare has already started. God chooses to let cracked, broken pots hold the fullness of His glory. The devil tries to drive wedges into these cracks and make them larger; cracks caused by all our imperfections, whether it be pride, or a lack of faith, or a lack of trust, or fear. I speak of myself with some of these. But the perfection that is Christ is made more full because the larger the cracks, the more opportunity for God’s grace to abound. In the same way, the worse things are, the more opportunity for God to do miracles. In all this, the defeat of the enemy will be all the more bitter because he will be defeated by such imperfection made perfect through Christ. So I must maintain my focus on Christ. When I go to the place where the chains of doom are kept, I don’t want to find my shoes there, and by God’s grace I won’t.

Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.
Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.

The Name’s Satan, But You Can Call Me “Pud”

I’ll start off by saying, some of you aren’t going to like this post.

Imagine if you knew your imminent execution was coming by a horrible means, and once a  predetermined set of criteria had been met, your execution would be carried out without further delay. Now imagine you’ve got an army that you can command from your prison cell. What would you do? You would of course command that army to do everything in its power to make sure that set of criteria did not come to fruition, or at least put it off as long as possible.

The reference in the title is to a 1939 movie, “On Borrowed Time”, based on a novel by Laurence Edward Watkin, in which death is trapped in an apple tree until he is let down. With what is going on recently in Syria and Iraq with Isis slaughtering everyone who won’t convert to Islam, I have become convinced until someone proves otherwise that Islam’s sole purpose on this earth is to delay the return of Christ, and by extension, stay Satan’s execution.  Does that concept make you angry? So be it, but prove me wrong. It seems the more vile and violent Islam becomes, the more people insist that Islam is a peaceful religion. “Thou doth protest too much”, is the line from Macbeth. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, but stupidity is looking at something right in front of you and insisting that it’s something entirely different.

The criteria of which I’m speaking is multi-faceted, but specifically I’m talking about the verse in Revelation that says, “After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;” The verse indicated that before Christ comes back, there will be followers of Christ from every tribe, language, and nation. Every time Islam moves into an area, they try to eradicate Jews and Christians. (Afterward, when the Jews and Christians are gone, they turn on each other, but that’s for a different blog). Once again, don’t like what I’m saying? Prove me wrong. From the Pakistani kid I went to school with who said he wanted to kill Salmon Rushdie, to the girl at college who had to flee Kenya because there was a price on her head for converting to Christianity, to everyone I know in South Sudan who lived most of their lives under the oppression of the Islamic state there, no one seems keen on showing me the other side. From the Philippines to Indonesia to Iraq to North Africa, I’m not sure it would be possible to count the number of groups trying to set up an Islamic theocracy. Am I making you angry yet? As angry as it makes you that in Syria and Iraq Christian children are being systematically beheaded? If you read the newspapers, they’re never listed as Christian, they’re always listed as “minorities”. No one will look at the issue.

It is time for the church to wake up and realize the spiritual battle that it is in. Much of the church doesn’t believe that it is in a battle. It’s time to look around. Some friends of mine just got back from Kenya where among other things they witnessed an exorcism. Some of you are saying to yourselves, “there’s no such thing as demons, that stuff doesn’t happen.” Well, the only difference between those oppressed by demons in Africa and those oppressed by demons here is that in the west, we’re content to live with our demons. It’s time to stop settling and start living the lives as more than conquerors that we are promised.  It’s time to start engaging the battle, and putting more effort into saving the world through the gospel than the effort Isis is putting in to eradicate it. It’s time to start freeing people with the love of God, and that means going to the places where Satan’s army has a stronghold. Satan knows that someday Mr. Brink is going to get let out of the apple tree, and when that day comes, it’s his last day. Let’s do everything we can to make that day come sooner. It’s time to stop living in fear, time to stop worrying about trying to be politically correct. It’s time to stop worrying about what the neighbors think. It’s time to stop ignoring the spiritual warfare going on around us and start taking part. Just because you refuse to engage with the battle going on around you doesn’t mean you will survive, and you certainly won’t do any good. Let’s convert more from Islam with the love of God than they convert to Islam with the barrel of a gun. It’s time.

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Foolishness

I pray for the sight to see
I pray for the earth to shift
I pray for the light to be
I pray my saviour

Under the aegis of the living God, I trust and love with certainty,
Under the aegis of a loving God, I live and breathe eternity.

I looked at the calendar today and it’s only twenty days until I leave for South Sudan. To be quite honest, I have a bit of nervousness about going, as I usually do. The lyrics above are from the album Fathom, by Moral. It’s really an excellent album for those inclined toward industrial music. For those who think Christian music is all about easy listening, I would say that sometimes worship is a battle cry, and not a hymn. I love how complex spiritual concepts are distilled into pure, simple phrases.

sudan-0022

As Americans, we are lulled into a false sense of security  and apathy about things within the spiritual realm. Just as a nation at war can tell itself there is nothing bad going on if the war is taking place on foreign soil, so the church tells itself there is no spiritual warfare because we’ve told ourselves there is no fight. I can tell you that there is, and the only reason we don’t see it is because we choose not to engage. A nation that chooses not to fight is not a nation at war, it is a subjugated nation.  And the people that are the most enslaved are the ones who are enslaved but choose not to recognize it.

I have the same kind of nervousness when going into South Sudan as I used to at the start of a race when I used to race mountain bikes. I imagine it’s what soldiers must feel just before they’re deployed, though I don’t know that. The fact is that there is an entire other world just below the surface. One side fights for the spiritual freedom that comes when we deny ourselves and follow God, the other side fights for our consumption. One fights for self, the other for selflessness. One fights for disease and starvation, war and destruction, the other for completeness and eternal life.  South Sudan is on the front line of this fight. It’s on the border between the middle east and Africa, on the border between Christianity and Islam, on the border between slavery and independence, between war and peace, between Christianity and animism, between oppression and freedom, between death and life. There’s so much at stake it’s hard to fathom.

 

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is under the common impression that if you’re nice to people, they will be nice to you. His words were, “Be honest, when you go over there to help people, you wouldn’t expect to be attacked.”  I had to correct him, that on the contrary, that’s always a possibility, and I would be naive to think otherwise.  The physical and spiritual forces that have sway in the land profit from war and chaos. You might go to help people, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants you there. There might be people who hate the ones you’re helping, and consequently hate you. In any chaotic situation, there will be those who profit monetarily from the situation. They don’t want you there either. Furthermore, just because someone his been oppressed does not make them angelic. If that were true, every nation lifted from oppression would suddenly thrive.

So why go, if in fact no good deed goes unpunished? That’s a complicated question, and one that is not going to make sense to a lot of people, Christians included. Paul talks about “God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world.” This is entirely true. If in fact all we see is what’s right in front of us, then no, it makes no sense. If there is no God, or if we choose not to follow Him, then self-preservation and self-glorification is the highest possible goal, though still not an attainable one.  If on the other hand, God has set eternity within our bones, or as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end,” then I live in obedience to Christ. And I would rather live in obedience to Christ, even if he sends me to South Sudan, than to live in disobedience and stay home where it’s “safe”.

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A pastor in South Sudan weeps as he prays that he would become the man God wants him to be.