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Spiritual Warfare

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

The Sleeping Soul

August 24, 2015

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

– Mark 13:32-37 ESV

 

Three days a week I work at arvato. It’s honestly the most enjoyable “real” job I’ve had. As good as it is, I’ve noticed that there’s something about sitting in front of a computer screen all day that makes it surprisingly difficult for me to keep my mind “set on things above” and to stay tuned in to God’s presence and what he’s saying to me. I started noticing the trend even back in college. If I let myself spend too long watching a show on Hulu or playing a video game or reading a book just for my own entertainment somewhere along the way my spiritual senses would get dull and I would become increasingly likely to sin.

As I’ve observed Christians today I think that our biggest problem isn’t blatant sin. It’s spiritual lethargy and often plain laziness. Our abundance of earthly pleasures and entertainment has dulled our sense of God’s presence and the urgency of Christ’s impending return.

God has given his people the task of being ambassadors and caretakers of this world until he returns. We are the servants left in charge, each with his work. We are the doorkeepers, commanded to stay awake and be ready for our master’s return. We want to do our jobs well but we’re all nodding off in corners, barely able to keep our eyes awake.

Nodding off shouldn’t be a surprise when we’ve let the lights get turned down low, the room filled with comfortable warmth, and all enjoyed meal after rich meal.

If you’ve ever tried driving through the night on a long trip you know that there are some things that make it even more difficult to stay awake and some things that will help you stay awake. It’s not really something that anyone studies or spends hours deliberating. You just know it. Quiet music will make you sleepy, so you throw on something loud to help stay alert. Cold air will help you stay awake while warm air will lead to drooping eyelids.

What we understand intuitively on a physical level we somehow keep ourselves ignorant of on a spiritual level. That ignorance has us all in a car gradually drifting into the other lane. We need Jesus’ warning in Mark 13 – “ stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Start tuning in to the Holy Spirit and your own spirits and learning what dulls you and what sharpens your spiritual senses. It will vary from person to person somewhat – what may thrill my spirit might be a thorough “meh” for you. However, there are some things that – like warmth, quiet music, alcohol, and dim lighting do for us physically, will most likely affect everyone negatively, and others that will affect everyone positively.

Find what awakens your soul and fill your life with those things. Cut back on the things that lead your soul to slumbering. The master has left us to tend to his kingdom. When he returns we want to be awake and prepared, ready to have the joy of presenting his kingdom and ourselves to him as servants who have done well and not been found asleep.

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Weird Stuff God Does

July 23, 2015

1. You’re driving your way to church, going about 30 miles an hour and singing along with the latest Hillsong album. A movement to your left catches your eye. You glance over and are amazed to see your pastor running next to the car, looking as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. He smiles, waves, and surges ahead of you. A few minutes later you pull into the church parking lot, walk in, and your pastor greets you, telling you a story about how his car had broken down and God had given him supernatural power to run the 15 miles to the church at an amazing speed. He doesn’t look like he even sweated at all.

Do you believe him? Do you scoff? Did you actually see him running?

 

2. Your small group gets a letter from the pastor of the church you attend. He’s been on a six month sabbatical and promised to write if he felt like God had anything that he should communicate. He writes, saying he’s had a vision of heaven and that Jesus told him to write it down. Your group reads the letter and discovers a wild mix of bug-monsters, dragons, plagues, very specific naming of your (and other) small group’s sins, and detailed descriptions of what heaven will look like. There’s even seems to be specific numbers for how many people will get into that heaven.

Do you take the letter seriously? Does your group discuss it and write it off as a prank?

 

3. You and a few co-workers are biking like you usually do on nice Saturdays when all of a sudden a bright light shines on you, totally freaking you out and surprising you so much that you fall off your bike. You hear a voice, telling you to go to a specific house in the next city over and wait for instructions. None of the people with you hear it, but they see the light.

Do you respond by obeying? Do you ignore the whole situation?

 

4. A friend tells you about how he was in Minneapolis and stopped to talk to a guy who was reading his Bible and looking puzzled. Through their conversation, the guy became a believer and was baptized right there in a pond in the park since he was too excited to wait. Your friend says that as soon as he finished baptizing the guy, God teleported him back to his home in Fargo.

Do you believe him and rejoice in the power of God? Do you question and doubt?

 

 

How would you react if one of these things happened to you? Would you believe it was from God, or would you reason it away to be imagination or something more sinister?

We’ve got a problem in the evangelical culture, and it’s keeping us from encountering God in ways that could radically expand the reach of the Gospel in our world. We’ve started assuming that if something is weird or makes us feel uncomfortable, it can’t be from God. The church has set implicit limits on what is acceptable and what is not.

Each of the events listed above are modernized version of things that happened by the command and power of God. Elijah outran the king’s chariot (King 18:46), John wrote the book of Revelation to the small house churches on the inspiration of visions he had, Paul was converted after seeing a bright light and hearing a voice (Acts 9), Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch and was transported by the Spirit to a nearby town (Acts 8:26-40).

My question is this; Do we have a framework that can encompass a God who sometimes does – and even calls us to do – things that are weird? God isn’t limited by our perspectives. He’s not constrained to function in ways that make sense to us. In fact, judging by Scripture’s records, God tends to do things in very weird ways just so that people realize there’s something beyond the natural at work.

Don’t limit God. Don’t say it’s not God just because it’s weird. Evaluate, prayerfully consider, and be wise, yes. But don’t rule something out just because it doesn’t fit what you think of as normal Christianity. You might be surprised at the glorious things you encounter when you open yourself up to some of the weird stuff God does.

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare, Theology

Submit to God, Defeat the Devil

May 9, 2015

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

– James 4:7-10

Early on in Threshingfloor’s history there was a young woman who started coming occasionally. As we got to know her better, she shared that she had a tremendous difficulty leaving her apartment to join us for our community gatherings each week. She described an almost physical force pushing her to stay in her apartment, that faded once she was out of her building and in her car but returned later in the form of feeling sick to her stomach  whenever we spent time in worship or she tried to pray. To make a long story short, we discovered that she was in the midst of some serious warfare with satan who was fighting tooth and nail to keep her from growing in Christ.

There’s been other stories like that throughout the years. Young men who functionally trapped in childhood because of the spiritual bondage of unconfessed sin, women who have overwhelming social anxiety that turns out to be demonic oppression, people whose seeming laziness and spiritual apathy are the result of spiritual warfare more than just personal choices.

All that to say, don’t discount satan. Don’t be ignorant of the spiritual reality that we operate in.  The devil is hard at work attempting to drag you down and draw you away from the destiny that God has for you. He works to divide families and the body of Christ (and loves to use “theology” to do so – but that’s a post for another time). He works to keep people in sin and addictions, and he works with all he has to keep people from encountering Jesus in deeper ways.

There are plenty of books out there on spiritual warfare, ranging from overly-mystical and legalistic to practically helpful and biblically grounded. Most focus on steps of deliverance, dealing with generational sin, and other actions that need to be taken to receive freedom.  Some are helpful. We’ve used them with people in our communities. But when James, the brother of Jesus, wants to equip believers to stand against the devil he starts somewhere different than most modern authors. He starts with humility and submission.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

I want every Christian to grasp this truth. The foundation of your freedom from satan is your submission to God. We will always be operating under somebody’s authority – always taking someone’s word about us. We’re not autonomous beings. There’s no way to be truly independent and make of yourself whatever you want to be. Either you submit to God, or you submit to satan.

Submitting to or being taken captive by satan doesn’t necessarily look like demon possession as demonstrated in Hollywood’s dark corners of horror films. Generally it’s (seemingly) much more benign. The signs of submission to satan aren’t hard to spot – they’re generally just the opposite of submission to the Spirit of God. Check out the contrast between the two, from both my experience and scripture:

Submitting to satan

Submitting to God

  • Consistent anxiousness and worry
  • Easily angered at small things
  • Slow to trust, expects negative thing
  • Constantly measuring and feeling like a failure
  • Frustrated that others don’t believe the same things
  • Doesn’t care much about other’s feelings
  • Peace and rest regardless of circumstance
  • Gracious and slow to anger
  • Quick to trust and expects good of others
  • Entrusts judgment of self to God, doesn’t need to compare
  • Values the different viewpoints that God has given to his people
  • Gentle and kind toward all

 

If we want to defeat the devil in our day to day life, submission to God is the weapon we must wield. The question then is, how do I practically go about submitting to God? How do I practice with this weapon of freedom? James tells us;

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

 

  1. First, come near to God. Make space in your life to enter into the presence of God, and practice drawing near to him at all times and in all situations. Practice the presence of God. As Augustine notes in his Confessions, we may run from God but he is never far from us. Take a minute or two every half hour to step back from what you are engaged in at the moment and lift your soul up to Him, acknowledge that he is near and draw near to him. This is the beginning of all submission. Once you’re near to God – once you encounter him – you can’t help but submit to him.
  2. Second, wash your hands. Cast off any fleshly sin that you’ve been dabbling in. Throw it aside. Sin, by very definition, is opposed to submission to God. As Paul says in Romans, choosing sin is choosing submission to the mastery of satan. If you’ve been born again by the blood of Christ, sin is no longer in your nature. It’s mud on your hands. Wash it away in the waters of repentance and belief.
  3. Third, purify your heart. Don’t be double minded. Commit yourself to Christ completely. Partial commitment to Christ is total commitment to supporting satan. If there’s something in your life that is causing a division, get rid of it.
  4. Fourth, mourn and repent of your sin and any way that you’ve submitting to the devil. Engage your emotions in the realization of what was wrong.

In all of this, you are humbling yourself before the Lord. As we do so he will always lift us up. Jesus is the ultimate example of how this plays out. Throughout his life he submitted to the Father. As he submitted he was able to resist the devil and the devil fled from him in terror. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross, and the Father has lifted him up and given him the name that sits above every name in the universe. The same is true for us. As we submit to God we gain an authority that is far greater than satans. Want to resist the devil? Submit to God and he will flee from you. And you know what? That’s just fun.