Spiritual Warfare is Real – and NOW

One aspect of the Christian walk that I have often heard people talk about, but I find most professed Christians are sadly unprepared for.  Unfortunately, we really don’t realize just how real the spiritual war is until we are put to the test.

For many, 2020 has been (pardon the term) the “year from hell”.  The entire world has now experienced the first significant pandemic in most people’s lifetime. We began with what we know were lies from the country where the virus originated, and have seen a battle between credentialed experts on whether we would see millions of deaths in the US, or if it would more resemble a bad flu season. We’ve seen a virus become quickly the most political virus in all of history. And caught in the middle of it all are churches and their pastors. Our kids have been deprived of so very much, and are now missing the important camps and activities that often are their only escape from lives that are often quite difficult. We now are seeing churches with splits forming over opinions regarding how this virus should be addressed. In the public square, we see professed Christians attacking one-another over the wearing of masks, of closing or reopening churches for worship, or even how many people we might “allow” into worship services.  I have witnessed very public abuses of Scripture to justify unbiblical viewpoints as well as biblical viewpoints pushed using worldly standards.  Many pastors that I am connected to have expressed similar battles and frustration and sadly, growing heartache. Indeed, the most heart-crushing reality of pastoral ministry today, beyond trying to comfort those most affected by this virus, is figuring out just HOW to minister in this environment.

For other churches, while having some issues related to COVID, have been separated by the politics of the current version of #BlackLivesMatter – from a church planter friend who’s ministry is basically near ground zero in Minneapolis, MN, (link to facebook fundraiser page) to churches that are now having to confront actual racial issues within their own membership – more heartache on top of the very well-publicized destruction and hate. Even more disturbing is the growth of so-called “woke” churches and theology, that employs Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality to systematically destroy the gospel from within. This is becoming another wedge in not just local churches, but denominations as the Social Justice false gospel replaces the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Divisions and heartache…

On a more personal level, after the sudden onset of illness and the death of my mother in April, handling the insanity of probate of her estate, and now my father who’s health has been in decline for several years and is now down to managing comfort as there is nothing left to “fix”, my own life has been turned upside-down. Each day goes by and the urge to just throw up my hands and give up grows stronger. But I know this is not God’s game plan. But for biblical Christians, we do know who’s game plan involves confusion, division, and anything possible to obscure or completely cover the gospel – Satan.  And that brings us back to the title of this post and a bit of Scripture.

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. – Ephesians 6:12

Every battle we are facing as individuals, as cities, states, and a nation – whether over a virus, race, destruction of history, divisions in churches, or the political headache and corruption that has become so evident – while carried out by people, is actually the work of the father of lies and division – Satan. The devil. Beelzebul. The false accuser – and we who may not be really prepared to battle in this spiritual war – either caught unaware or simply not properly equipped, are easily drawn into the wrong side in the battle. And the very first error we usually make in fighting this spiritual battle that is very much going on in our world today: misidentifying the real enemy.  As the verse from Ephesians above clearly reminds us – the REAL enemy is not one-another. Even when we mess up and say things or take actions that are wrong, even when people can even act with what seems to be hate and violence – the REAL enemy is found in the rulers, powers, word forces of this darkness – the SPIRITUAL forces of wickedness. Our real enemies are spiritual enemies – and Paul went on to address this – we are given the battle plan for the believer:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…

In Ephesians 6:13-19, at its core, tells us that God has provided the weapons to fight this spiritual battle – both defensive and offensive weapons!

  • Girded your loins with the TRUTH
  • Breastplate (of Righteousness)
  • Boots of the Gospel of Peace (the real, Biblical gospel)
  • Shield (of Faith)
  • Helmet of Salvation
  • Sword of the Spirit
  • Prayer…

And notice – all of these armaments have to be picked up and put to use.  It is like having an unloaded firearm in your safe as a “home defense weapon”. It does you no good if it’s not at the ready! Likewise, all of these arms provided by God are of no use if not taken up and put to use. We must regularly practice with them as well.

Paul began with girding our loins with TRUTH – yet we live in a world that makes truth into something subjective – something that is up to the individual. But the Word of God itself is the TRUTH and is ALWAYS true – what God says is good is good. What God has said is bad is bad.  Scripture leaves very little room for anything grey – and certainly no room for relative morality. In fact – that is the rest of verse 14 –

breastplateThe Breastplate of righteousness – Which begins and ends with the righteousness of Christ – but in living lives that reflect the righteousness of Christ – based on the Word of God – when we walk by what God has said is good and bad – and when we take a firm stand on that – true righteousness – our hearts are protected – we are not so conflicted and divided at the core –

Boots of the Gospel of Peace – we often do not think of boots, especially in the context of roman_boot1_1.jpge999de54-042f-4d5e-93b2-7410d18ce558Originalbattle, as instruments of peace – but the concept is quite simple here – we must have something solid as a foundation. In athletics and in work – the right footwear is important to our ability to stay in the work at hand. Those of us who have done real work with the wrong shoes know exactly what this can be like. In the case of our equipping for the spiritual war that we ARE involved in – is having a solid foundation – that we might not be tripped up – and that is the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. One that isn’t carried away by cultural norms and expectations – a gospel that reflects the understanding of the utter sinfulness of mankind – our inability to “fix” that ourselves – but instead requires the supernatural actions of God in the great exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness – all by the grace of God. A false or weak gospel is no foundation for us to stand.

12-Roman-Helmet-BBHelmet of Salvation – when one is truly, soundly saved – with the right understanding of the gospel – with the heart for righteousness and truth – the helmet of salvation – the knowledge of our security in Christ Jesus – because HE has paid it all – and it is in the power of HIS resurrection by which we stand redeemed – that our minds – our thinking can be confident.

And the Sword of the Spirit – the NASB intentionally capitalizes “Spirit” here because we SD4116L_a1are dealing with wielding the power of the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power we are given! A power that is based on being actively filled by the Holy Spirit in walking WITH the Spirit day-by-day.  When we practice the presence of the Lord in our lives – We are, as Kyle Idleman wrote in his “Not a Fan” book, empowered in ways that we cannot be by our own power. What is interesting – the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is described as “fruits of the Spirit by Paul elsewhere – with the chief fruit being… Love.

Then the repeated weapon that many miss in this passage – prayer.  Prayers and petitions before God’s throne.  We cannot confuse the sovereignty with God with being unable to bring about change by our prayers!  Moses prayed for the Hebrew people – time after time God changed His actions based on the fervent prayers of righteous men on behalf of themselves and others. Prayer is one of the two most powerful tools given by God – if we genuinely believe in the power of prayer!

So – if you are really a Christian – whether or not you are a member of the church I pastor today, member of another church – or are seeking where the Lord would lead you to be an active part of a church body – please join me in praying that we would take seriously the very real spiritual battle all around us. Pray that we would see the REAL enemy, the devil – not our neighbors whom we are suppose to love. That we would not view one-another, especially within churches, as the enemy, and that we would truly take up the FULL armor of God and be not only “at the ready”, but willing to STAND for truth, for Love, for the Gospel – for the Kingdom of God!

Don’t Erase Our History

This year is on course to be the most insane year in American history. From a pandemic exposing the indoctrination culture that is willing to give up essential liberties for an imagined degree of “safety”, to the current explosion superficially focused on “race” and #BlackLivesMatter – we as a nation have collectively lost our minds.

But a danger looming that is both destructive and ungodly is the current effort to systematically erase our national history.  Let me be clear – we as a nation do have some very dark blotches. Chattel slavery is an affront to a biblical understanding of loving our neighbors. And who in their right mind would even begin to argue that there is no such thing as bias?  I intentionally refrain from using the term “racism” because it is an invention.  There is but one race – the human race, recorded in Scripture from creation.  God created Adam and Eve – and all humanity descended from them.  Certainly there are many people groups or “ethnicities” as the modern terminology would put it. And it is on these ethnic differences that many biases are founded. But those biases, based on external qualities, is also anti-biblical (Paul wrote to the Galatian church that in Christ there are no longer “Jew or Gentile”. Even our ethnic difference are inconsequential in Christ Jesus.

But to return to the purpose of this entry – is to look at what role history should play in our nation.  We should view our history (the good and bad) like we look at our lives.  This should be particularly clear for the regenerated, born-again Christian.  We are the product of a life of experiences, mistakes, sins… and as Christians, we have been brought from that to new life. Yet as long as I dwell in this world, I will never achieve perfection.  We speak a great deal about sanctification – the progressive improvement and transformation to be MORE Christlike day-by-day. This helps form part of our life testimony. We can look back at who we WERE – even the darkest days, then give thanks that Christ has delivered us from the former darkness, bringing us into the light of His grace and glory.

I look back at my early years – and yes, I feel the pangs of shame at some of the behaviors and attitudes I held. I still feel grief over the harm and pain I caused. But I do not ever want to erase that. Some would suggest we should “forget our past”. I disagree.  Biblically, we see time and again reminders of believer’s former selves. Among my favorite examples is Paul’s words to the church at Corinth:

…Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

-1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Being brought to remembrance of what we once were, we are able to both be humbled by our past, and encouraged by where we have come today. My understanding of my current context is built, in-part, on my experiences of the past, and the LESSONS LEARNED, even in my sin and mistakes. To forget them would be to forget the lessons themselves.

Likewise, I view our  our national history with a reverence and respect, even in the wickedness that is an undeniable part of.  The USA, contrary to the modern revisionist version, is an extraordinary nation with an amazing and providential history.  This isn’t a debate over whether this has ever been a “Christian Nation” (I would propose that functionally, we have never been, though most of the world viewed this nation as such for over a century). Regardless of the social position or if they were slave owners or not, the Founding Fathers of this nation were guided to write words that came together as our foundational documents that they couldn’t really grasp themselves.

     We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

-Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

While many of the writers themselves didn’t fully practice what they wrote, it was a glimpse to the goal – the bar to seek to achieve as a people. In fact, when you look at our history as a nation with an honest, academic eye – you can see incredible progress in reaching towards this beautiful statement from the Declaration. We have moved from widespread chattel slavery, to the abolition of slavery, to the overcoming of post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and obstacles to voting for people of all ethnicities as well as women (who make up a major chunk of the electorate today).  And amazingly, this nation not only elected a man of African-American descent, but re-elected him to the highest office in the land (and arguably, the most powerful office in the world). One has to admit this is a startling accomplishment for a country that is now claimed to be crushed by overwhelming systemic racism!

The reality is, ethnic (the world improperly uses race) divisions have been on the decline over the last half-century, with overt hate shrinking. That is, until those who stand to benefit from a divided nation began pouring gasoline on the old embers of our past divisions. From that first African-American President, through political groups Hell-bent on wedging every piece of hate they could into the public square – the flames of division have grown, intentionally.

And now, the masses are calling to tear down historical monuments. It began with destroying-confederate-statuesConfederate monuments, ostensibly to fight “racism”, but the surge grew to tear down monuments of General Grant (Union General of the Civil War), Francis Scott Key (writer of the Star Spangled Banner), Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and even ABOLITIONIST Matthias Baldwin! What is the purpose of tearing down not just Civil War/Confederate monuments, but those representing all facets of US History (including3tiZwr_0PRDw29z00 new calls to destroy Mount Rushmore!)? It isn’t to combat perceived racism and hate.  It isn’t even a rally against “colonialism”. It is an attack on history itself.

Remember my comparison to the Christian’s testimony – and how the past helps us understand the present (and future)? Remember how history helps us to learn from the past and to improve? You see, our nation’s testimony includes seeing a people group once held as slaves, once deemed by the US Supreme Court as less than the value of a human being, to becoming entrepreneurs, celebrities, innovators, educators, scholars, Supreme Court Justices, and even President of the United States. We see the former slave, Ms. Nancy Green, becoming the first Black corporate model and spokesperson, growing wealthy and well-respected for the persona of “Aunt Jemima”:

She was offered by Quaker Oats a lifetime contract to become Aunt Jemima and to promote the pancake mix. “This marked the beginning of a major promotional push by the company that included thousands of personal appearances.” There was all kinds of Aunt Jemima merchandising. Nancy Green, Aunt Jemima, helped organize the Olivet Baptist Church. “Her career allowed her the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs.” She was well paid.

The systematic destruction of monuments and history itself, is not about skin color. It isn’t about slavery. It isn’t about “systemic racism”. It is an intentional attack on the very history that has made America the great success story it represents.  There is a reason that millions clamor to come to the United States, even today. Despite the internal conflicts that would say America is evil – that people are oppressed by systemic racism, much of the world only dreams of the freedoms and opportunity available in the USA. America IS a great nation.  Is it perfect? Absolutely not – but we are a nation that for almost two and quarter centuries has grown, changed, and improved on many fronts to a nation where dreams really can come true.  Where success and prosperity are still a  reward for personal effort and work ethic.  But this nation, like me, is a “work in progress”. A product of our past, as well as the lessons of the day.  We are to seek the “better”. To do what is right, not in our own eyes, but the eyes of the LORD. We should celebrate what is good and right about our nation (of which there is much), we should thank God almighty for His divine hand of protection and His providential working in our history. We should stand proudly for our Anthem, salute our flag, all while remembering the blood shed, and the hard lessons learned.  Never forget the dark times and practices, do not diminish the wrongs perpetrated, but we must move forward. Follow the example of Christ and forgive, seek reconciliation, and pursue goodness.

But we cannot learn from the past, if we erase it and rewrite it to fit an agenda. We are not seeking reconciliation if we disrespect the flag and the Constitution that so many fought and died to protect and defend.  We cannot pursue justice without remembering the true story of injustice. And we cannot chart a course forward, if we forget where we have been. To protest this nation and its history, is to reject the very Constitution that guarantees your right to protest and to speak freely. It’s a form of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

And to be really blunt – there are millions of people in nations where they have no freedoms, they have no opportunity, who know real oppression and persecution on a daily basis who would gladly change places with you if you feel this country is so awful. Maybe you should take some time to really study history. Take an honest look at how far we as a nation have come, and the opportunities that lay before you if you are willing to learn, grow, and work. Be a part of the solutions to ongoing problems, not part OF the problem. Quit trying to destroy that which you apparently do not even really understand.

And for the rest of us – those who love this land and who thank God for the opportunities and blessings we have experienced (regardless of the color of our skin), and who do appreciate how far we have come, and who see how great this nation could still be – were we to truly seek goodness, mercy, love, reconciliation, and most importantly, the God who’s sovereign hand of providence allowed this nation to be planted so long ago – and who has blessed her, even in times of darkness.