CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (2)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

In my first post on this important aspect of preserving unity in the church, I argued for the need to fight for peace in the invisible realm.

Roman Soldier Armor

Paul lands his letter to the Ephesians on the strategic topic of spiritual warfare. He presents four battle tactics for successfully defeating the enemy of our souls in every kind of conflict.

  1. Trust your God.
  2. Know your enemy.
  3. Wear your armor.
  4. Say your prayers.

I can’t say everything I would like to about these tactics. I have to save something for the men’s retreat I get to lead this weekend. But here’s what I can offer on the third strategy.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The Lord equips us with six crucial pieces of battle weaponry for both offensive and defensive purposes in dealing with the enemy.

  1. The belt of truth. The belt held everything else together for the Roman soldier. Since Satan’s principle scheme to defeat us involves deception, it is absolutely imperative that we arm ourselves with the truth of God’s word to counterattack.
  2. The breastplate of righteousness. This piece covered a soldier front and back. It protected all his major organs. The more we live out Christ’s righteousness gifted to us by faith, the less ground we give Satan to trip us up. For example, if we harbor resentment toward someone rather than forgive, that presence of unrighteousness in our lives opens the door for enemy infiltration (2 Cor. 2:10-11).
  3. The gospel footwear. As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Shoes for the soldier meant two things: mobility and stability. Believers are to be ever on the move for the gospel in brokering peace between a rebel race and a holy God. And they must stand firm in that gospel of forgiveness when the accuser comes to indict for various offenses (Rev. 12:10).
  4. The shield of faith. This we cannot do without. The Roman warrior used a huge, fireproof shield behind which he could position his entire body. We must do everything we can to sustain our faith or Satan’s flaming darts will surely get through to do their damage.
  5. The helmet of salvation. This piece protects the mind. It orients our thinking toward all three phases of Christ’s saving work: past, present, and future. Given the similar usage of the word “helmet” in 1 Thess. 5:8, it seems Paul wants us thinking extra hard about the future and what God has in store for us in the New Heavens and New Earth.
  6. The sword of the Spirit. This, Paul explains, is the word of God. This is a mighty weapon! It serves both offensive and defensive purposes. Offensively we wield it in evangelism. Defensively we make use of it in, among other things, fighting temptation, just as our Lord did (Matt. 4:1-11).

Please don’t miss the emphasis in the text of putting on and taking up this provision of God which is our armor.  We must do this.

How the last strategy, prayer, plays into that weaponry will have to wait for part three.

 

MEDITATION MADE DOABLE

Eight Steps for Setting Your Mind on the Things Above

holy_bible_book

Recently I preached a vision casting message for our church.

I called it ACUTE–A Vision for the Future.

The “A” in the acrostic stands for Awakening–Seeking Our Spiritual Transformation. My text was Col. 3:1-4. You can listen to the audio here.

As promised, this post includes a link to an article I wrote for Tabletalk magazine sometime ago called On Your Heart. It outlines a process for effective meditating on Scripture–perhaps the most strategic way to set your mind on the things above.

Won’t you join the Awakening Challenge? Memorize one verse per week and meditate upon it regularly.

Imagine the rise in spiritual temperature in your congregation God might give as a result!

CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (1)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

Religious celebrations of Easter Week, SpainConclusions matter.

From dessert and coffee at a restaurant, to the the climax of a story, to (this matters especially to pastors like me) how the sermon ends, the way things come to a close can make all the difference in the experience.

Lately in my study I’ve camped out a lot in Eph. 6:10-20. Paul’s treatment there of the challenging subject of spiritual warfare forms the focus of my church’s men’s retreat at the end of this month.

Think about it. He ends this exquisite letter to the the church at Ephesus on this note: we Christians are at war. We find ourselves in a never-ending conflict with formidable forces. Much opposition confronts anyone serious about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Among those things, and the first place he starts in Eph. 4:3, is doing our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Safeguarding the treasured gift of unity in your church means you have to go to war over it.

It’s a high-stakes, dangerous, but utterly worthwhile undertaking.

Here are four strategies (a preview of our retreat content) for waging the spiritual battle.

One, trust your God for His strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (10). This same power raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). We have everything we need in the way of strength for this ongoing struggle. We draw from the One who effectively disarmed the enemy at Calvary (Col. 2:15).

Additionally our powerful God has equipped us with impressive battle gear designed to protect us so that we may stand and not fall (11). More on that in strategy #3.

Two, know your enemy for his schemes. The objective in this fight is plain–that you may be able to stand (11). Satan and his minions deployed in the invisible realm (12) plot our undoing. We must give him/them no ground.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts: accusation (Rev. 12:10); deception (Gen. 3:1-6); sins like anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and withholding forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11); just to name a few. Luther said it well in A Mighty Fortress:

For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Lesson?

Don’t underestimate the foe. Arm yourself with a informed knowledge of his shrewd tactics.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The bulk of the passage focuses on the battle gear God supplies every believer for spiritual warfare (14-17). Paul repeatedly emphasizes our responsibility to put it on–take it up–all of it. We dare not engage this battle every day without every one of the six components.

What they are and some thoughts about them, plus strategy #4, will come with my next post and the second part on this subject.

In the meantime, take heed to this exhortation from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Do not relax. “Maintain the field!” You are always on duty in the Christian life, you can never relax. There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.

Peacemaking warriors! Maintain the field! Ever on duty, battle to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in your churches.

SWEET REASONABLENESS

Something for Which To Be Well Known

So there I am last Monday morning. I show up at the hospital for a 9:00 AM appointment. Time for a “swallow study.” Gotta love the consequences of a jaw do-over.

Reading my hurry-up-and-wait book, I overhear a nearby conversation. A radiology tech apologizes profusely to an elderly couple. “They scheduled him for the wrong procedure. What he needs is a swallow study.”

 

Oops, Young Person Made a Mistake

Forget about the book.  What’s the deal here? Administrative mistake apparently. Let’s just say Mama three seats over was not happy.

Exit the tech. Ten minutes later the same young lady returns calling my name. I follow her into radiology. Thinking to make light of things I ask, “You’ve got me down for a swallow study, right?” She stops dead in her tracks. “Ah, no, an esophagram.” Terrific. Murphy lives.

Now I come to a halt. “My doctor ordered a swallow study.” Apparently he didn’t. It takes us the better part of 90 minutes to get to the bottom of things, but somebody messed up somewhere, no doubt about it.

Now I face a peacemaker’s decision–go off on the poor girl for something she had nothing to do with–or I can choose the Philippians 4:5 way. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

Talk about an interesting Greek word! That term translated “reasonableness” shows up only five times in the New Testament. One resource unpacks it this way:

The word signifies a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 2:214).

Wow. There’s a challenge. A favorite cross reference of mine using the same Greek term is Titus 3:2–show perfect courtesy to all people. No exceptions. The gospel way is the sweet reasonable way . . . WITH EVERYONE.

I want to be known for that. Do you?

Not Sure I’m Ready for This

Danger-Expectation

I pronounce a blessing over my people every Sunday.

Not sure I’m ready to invoke this over myself or anyone else for that matter:

May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

A brother I love shared this with me. Not a bad benediction with Good Friday on the horizon.

LAUGHING AT THE FUTURE?

future

It never ceases to amaze me. Reading through a passage of Scripture I’ve viewed so many times before only to find this time around something captures my attention like never before.

It happened this morning as I turned to Proverbs 31 and the familiar passage about the virtuous woman who fears the Lord. Verse 25 grabbed me by the jugular. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

Really? She laughs at the time to come? I’m waiting typically for the next email bearing bad news to hit my inbox DAILY. Good humor about future developments in a broken cosmos doesn’t usually describe my frame of mind. Not so the godly woman who stands in awe of God. Her rally cry? “Go ahead future. Give me your best shot.  I laugh in your face!”

This woman must sink her anchor deep in the bedrock of God’s sovereignty to take on an uncertain future with such good humor.

I suppose it caught my attention in part because of what I read the day before about Nancy Reagan in Peggy Noonan’s best seller biography of President Ronald Reagan, When Character Was King. The author interviewed the president’s wife about what it was like to cope with the idea of walking into history as Mrs. Reagan. She admitted she had no idea that was the case. Noonan inquired, “So how did you learn to do your part?” She replied:

reaganOh, Peggy, you take it each day and you learn along the way. You know, somebody at the hospital recently, when Ronnie broke his hip–someone told me, ‘We were afraid to tell you about it, that his hip was broken, we were afraid it would be too much for you.’ You know, I looked at them and I said, ‘Listen, think back on my life for a moment. I’ve seen my husband shot, I’ve seen his two cancer operations, I’ve seen him thrown from a horse, I’ve seen his brain operation. And if I didn’t fall apart for any of those, I’m not going to fall apart for this. Don’t worry about telling me what you have to tell me” (p. 136-37).

OK, so maybe that doesn’t equate to laughing at the future, but it certainly comes close. And it reveals a secret to facing the future with faith rather than fear. Calculate the faithfulness of God in seeing you through a perilous past and you may well find the strength to step into the future with a trusting-in-God smile on your face.

Thank you Proverbs 31 woman. You make me want to be a Proverbs 31 man.

A Dead Guy’s Take on Idol Smashing

expulsive powerIn our Resolving Everyday Conflict class last Sunday, the video lesson made mention of a helpful resource for ridding ourselves of the idols that often lie at the root of our conflicts.

I promised I would post a link to the sermon manuscript by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A bit long and dense, perhaps requiring more than one reading, it is well worth the time and effort.

Here is how Amazon summarizes the treatise:

Dr. Chalmers states that “It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction,” and “the heart must have something to cling to—and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of all its attachments.” Therefore the superior affection for God through the free Gospel of Christ is necessary to displace worldly affections. This sermon, written by one of the foremost minds of his day, has become seminal for modern thought.

Check it out and happy idol smashing.

Surviving Sorrow

I Married Up

How’s Nancy?

How are you?

I get these two questions a lot these days. I’m grateful. Caring by others adds greatly to comfort in trial and the soul sorrow it can bring.

As for question one . . .

My wife amazes me. Her devotion to a natural cancer-beating protocol nearly defies description. She has embraced this season’s demanded vocation – getting well – with whatever-it-takes zeal. By way of update, she continues to recover nicely from surgery. Last week the surgeon gave her a good report. Just a couple more weeks to go and she will be back to lifting those boxes of supplements all by herself again. Good thing. My back hurts.

Another blood test revealed slightly elevated CA-125 markers. The doc said “No surprise. Common after surgery.” Now we have a baseline for measuring effectiveness of the treatment regimen. We expect her to check these about monthly from this point on. That way we will have some idea of whether we are gaining, losing, or holding ground in the war against, as I prefer to call it, “this stupid disease.” As always, we would ask for prayer for God’s healing power to rid her body of every renegade cell.

As for question two . . .

How much time do you have? I fight daily on a number of fronts. Among them, sadness. Though January, gratefully, came and went, the sting of Josh’s death lingers. I don’t expect it ever to go away, though the burden does lessen with time. But fear of greater loss can compound my weight of sorrow. I feel it every day.

And yet, every day, it seems the Lord brings something to help me fight better to outlast my sorrow. This morning was no exception, as my daily Bible reading brought me to Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV).

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful
and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this Gethsemanecup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Not just “sorrowful” but “troubled.” “Even to death.” The cross loomed on the horizon. The tempter lurked in a different garden hunting the Last Adam as he did the first (Genesis 3:1-7). More than ample reason for extreme distress.

How then does Jesus fight? What cues can we take from Him for surviving sorrow, whatever form it takes in our gardens of suffering? Four things: surrounding, seeking, serving, submitting.

One, surrounding ourselves with support. Jesus did not head for that garden alone. He took the disciples with him. The closest of the close he staged a stone’s throw away. He needed them. “Watch WITH me,” was His plea.

Two, seeking God’s help. Falling on His face He prayed. Let those words sink in. Some things only God can fix. Some hurts only the Lord can manage. Some pains only the Father can ease. Some challenges only I AM can handle. The two most important words out of our mouths when struggling to survive sorrow are “My Father,” because they mean we’ve turned heavenward, the only hope of avoiding collapse. And we must persist in this pattern. Three times Jesus went before the Father to voice His prayer. As long as the sorrow hangs around, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Three, serving others in love. The disciples favored a strategy often turned to in sorrow. Sleep. Jesus does not berate them. Even though subject to the temptation of temptations Himself, His best friends no comforters at all, He does not lash out. Rather He teaches and warns. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. First the example, next the instruction. You’ve got to watch and pray to survive your sorrows. I’m grateful for the stewardship of pastoral ministry. The call to serve others helps pull me out of sorrow’s tractor beam grip that so often leads to self-pity and despair.

Fourth, submitting to God’s will. If the two most important words out of the gate in sorrow are “My Father,” then the four most strategic words at the finish line are “Your will be done.” Who prays this way? Only those who believe Psalm 115:3. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. The Son of God treasured the Father’s sovereignty in all things. He submitted Himself perfectly to His will. He delighted to do that will, even to the point of death, death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

So when I don’t fare so well on any given day in my fight to survive my sorrow, or perhaps my comforters fall asleep on me, I try to remember the One who fought His sorrows and won for me what I cannot do for myself. I commend the same strategy to you as you go through your valley of the shadow whenever and wherever it may come.

Divine Mathematics

math

I hated math. I remember getting a “D” in Mr. Donnelly’s seventh grade class when the “New Math” came out – whatever that was. My overachiever, get-all-A’s world crumbled then and there. It never recovered. In college I did everything I could to stay away from anything mathematics related. Wasn’t I surprised when I signed up for Astronomy 101 that it was a math class in disguise. I just wanted to know about the stars. Took every extra-help Saturday class to survive that one.

Now, divine mathematics is an altogether different thing. That’s what D. A. Carson calls the equation formulated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (ESV).

The equation? Five minus one equals zero. Or to put it George Sweeting’s way “gifts, minus love, equals zero.” Paul goes to great lengths in the first part of the Bible’s famous love chapter to describe supernatural gifts, extraordinary faith, and even heroic gestures like martyrdom, only to obliterate their significance before God if they lack love. Even the big five taken all together in this text, minus love, amount to absolutely nothing. Auth0r Jerry Bridges brings home the importance of God’s way of doing math:

leading with loveWrite down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled the whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value. And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number one does, so more and more love can add exponentially greater value to our gifts (quoted in Leading with Love, Alexander Strauch, p. 15-16).

I can live with a “D” from 7th grade, but I want to excel far better in spiritual mathematics. No Christian leader should aspire to anything less. For that matter, nor should any follower of Jesus.