Category Archives: Spiritual warfare

My new friend–a Maasai warrior and pastor from Kenya

So…have you ever killed a lion? Have you ever jumped into a pit and killed a marauding lion on a snowy day? Have you ever risked your life to defend your loved ones from a giant cat with bad intentions?

I haven’t, although I’ve talked about it a lot. In my preaching I’ve often highlighted the exciting lion-hunting passages where King David, Benaiah, and others risked their lives to defend against these frightening beasts. They’re great passages, and they help to illustrate powerful spiritual truth about: A) our need to engage in spiritual battles, and B) God’s grace to help us overcome them.

Recently, my appreciation for these passages radically increased when I became friends with an actual warrior from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, East Africa. Pastor Jeremiah is a Maasai warrior, and he has actually been a member of lion-hunting war parties (I should probably mention that he was armed with only a wooden club).

Interacting with a man who has literally stared down a lion with nothing but a heavy stick changes you. It brings a slightly different perspective to the metaphorical idea of lion-hunting. Whereas I urge people to “fight the figurative lions that want to assault your family and faith” this guy has actually looked into the eyes of a real one. He has actually faced his fear and put his life on the line in the pursuit of honor and the defense of the people he loved.

When you look at this pastor, he looks so kind (and he is). But he also has a fierceness  and a courage that our generation needs to recover. He sort of reminds me of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

Where your headquarters should be

fortressAt Grace Church we support a ministry called AIM (Agape International Missions), an organization devoted to abolishing sex trafficking in our generation. A number of years ago AIM shut down a horrifying brothel in Svay Pak, Cambodia where young, elementary age girls were employed as sex slaves. In the center of the brothel—the place where virgin girls were kept—there was a brightly painted room called The Pink Room. Through a series of powerful events AIM was able to shut down the brothel and tear apart The Pink Room, and today the former Pink Room is now a part of their ministerial headquarters!

Before King David could set up his headquarters in the city of Jerusalem he too had to drive out some enemy occupants. The Jebusites, entrenched in their Jerusalem stronghold, had defied Israel for many decades until David came along and dispossessed them (2 Samuel 5:7).

Often, strategic centers for mercy, truth, and justice have to be taken before they can be occupied.

I wonder where your headquarters needs to be established?

You might not need to convert a brothel or evict an army from a mountaintop, but you still need a place to set up shop. You need a command center, from which you will conduct your ministry to the world. Perhaps that place is a former stronghold in your life. Perhaps your ministry will flow from an area of former weakness.

  • If your marriage has suffered, perhaps it’s marriage ministry.
  • If you’ve struggled with dishonesty, perhaps it’s a new life of integrity.
  • If you’ve been addicted, perhaps you will bring freedom to others.
  • If you’ve floundered as a parent, maybe you’ll turn a fresh page.

Regardless of its nature, we all have areas in our character and our story that need to be renovated and re-purposed, and sometimes our internal strongholds are harder to defeat than external ones. The proverbs writer said, “He who rules his spirit (is better than) he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32 NASB).

Let’s add our story to that of AIM’s and King David’s…let’s be men and women who rule our spirits, capture our strongholds, and use those places as beachheads for the glory of God.

Distracted on Saturday depressed on Sunday

punching-bag discouragementPreachers, teachers, and pastors often express a nearly universal weekend sentiment: they are distracted on Saturday and depressed on Sunday. The pre-preaching preparations start to settle over them by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the post-preaching depressions start kicking in shortly after their services end on Sunday.

This isn’t always the case of course. Indeed some of our Saturday nights are peaceful and fun, and some Sunday mornings leave us feeling bold and inspired. Unfortunately though, that’s not usually the norm. Usually for us pastors, varying levels of distraction and discouragement mark our weekends.

The distraction and discouragement aren’t inherently bad things—after all, we’re excited to preach and we want to positively impact our hearers—and they can be useful tools to help us grow and draw us deeper into God’s presence and perspective. However, if they’re allowed to gain too great a hold on us, they will inevitably take us out. We will turn too much of our focus inward and we’ll lose precious time with family and friends. We will be present but absent at the same time, and instead of celebrating what God is doing, we will end up fixating on ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a remedy, but you have to love boxing to understand it. It’s called the counterpunch, wherein a fighter throws a swift, countering blow right into the middle of his or her opponent’s barrage. It’s how Evander Holyfield KO’d Mike Tyson back in 1996. A 25 – 1 underdog, Holyfield counterpunched Tyson into submission, ultimately scoring the greatest upset in boxing history. It’s how Floyd Mayweather Jr. has remained undefeated in 49 professional fights.

The counterpunching strategy is simple. When hit, hit. When pushed, push back. Pray. Read a Scripture. Speak truth to yourself. Say out loud that you are rejecting the discouraging lies of the enemy. Pray for someone else. Go for a run. Do something to shake the wet blanket of distracting discouragement, so you can get back in the saddle and carry on.

Although directed at a pastoral dynamic, this post applies to all of us. Whatever your vulnerability is and however and whenever you get hit there—hit back. Counterpunch. It’s the path to boxing upsets and victory in spiritual warfare.

The twin six-shooters of spiritual warfare

lone rangerAre you old enough to remember the original Lone Ranger? In addition to the mystique of his mask, his horse, Silver, and his best friend, Tonto, I always loved his twin six-shooters.

The bad guys usually only had one gun, while Tonto, had one gun plus a knife. The Lone Ranger, however, always carried two. He could draw twin guns and pepper the enemy with silver bullets from two barrels simultaneously. If one gun missed, the other hit the mark. If one gun ran out of ammo, the other one still had a shell left in the chamber.

It’s a pretty good metaphor for how we approach spiritual warfare.

The Bible identifies Satan as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10) and as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and the most fertile landing strip for demonic lies and accusations is in our human relationships. When hurts, misunderstandings, or offenses arise, spiritual warfare—demonically induced activity and agitation—are not far behind.

We know that we are under spiritual attack when our minds keep ruminating about worst-case scenarios, vendetta-laced conversations, and when we fail to trust our friends or give them the benefit of the doubt. Unchecked spiritual warfare, landing on real-life hurts and misunderstandings, can sink even the most solid of relationships.

So what are the twin six-shooters that can curb the assault and bring the enemy down?

The first is spiritual—prayer, the proclamation of Scripture, and a faith-filled resistance of the warfare. And the second is natural—taking all practical, necessary steps to repair and heal the relationship. It’s amazing how natural practices like humility, truth, and repentance can neutralize the spiritual power of demonic forces.

Spiritual warfare is not all spiritual; it is also very natural. Consequently, we need both a spiritual and a natural six-shooter to bring it down.

Choking what chokes you

prince phillipDo you remember the epic scene from Sleeping Beauty when Prince Phillip cuts and hacks his way through the enchanted wall of thorns in his efforts to reach the princess?

It’s an inspiring, stirring thing to watch him battle past the very elements that were bent on choking the life from him.

And have you also noticed that choking scenes show up in nearly every action film? Invariably, there is a scene where the good guy and the bad guy start grappling on the ground, each looking to strangle the other. In some versions of these choking scenes one of the assailants holds a knife and attempts to slowly drive it through his opponent’s temple.

But whether it involves knives or knuckles, there is a predictable moment in every action flick when the hero gets choked.

The same is true in your life.

In Mark 4 Jesus warns us that the worries and cares of this life would love nothing more than to throw a full nelson chokehold around our necks and slowly suffocate us. He goes on to tell us that if we fail to break free from their grip, the very word of God can be stolen away.

It’s important that we push back. It could save our spiritual lives to remember that busyness, stress, and overcrowded schedules are not merely annoying inconveniences—they’re chokeholds bent on strangling our life and suffocating our word.

Let’s be Prince Phillip. Do you remember what his sword was called? The fairies named his weapon, “the Sword of Truth” and with it he struck back, choking the very things that wanted to choke him. Let’s take charge of our lives and do the same.

Preaching among lions (for pastors and ministry leaders)

lionsDo you preachers and ministry leaders remember the obscure, 2 Kings 17 story about the priest who was recruited to preach among lions?

The story goes like this. The Israelites had been defeated in war and subsequently deported to Assyria; however, when the Assyrians moved into Israel to replace them, they were attacked and mauled by marauding lions. Their post-mauling conclusion was that they were being victimized since they “did not know the custom of the god of the land” (verse 26).

To counter this, they recalled a deported priest who could teach them the customs of the God of Israel in the middle of their lion-infested cities.

It’s an interesting story…and it just might sound like the context of your ministry.

Every preacher and ministry leader must do his or her preaching and teaching among lions.

  • There are lions that attack our people, threatening to overwhelm and discourage their faith.
  • There are lions of busyness, stress, and general disinterest in our message.
  • There are lions of conflicting worldviews that are blatantly hostile to the Gospel story.
  • And there are lions of spiritual warfare that descend on us in waves of discouragement, apprehension, and intimidation.

The thing to remember about lions though is that they’re the perfect backdrops for God’s power.

Hebrews 11:33-34 gloriously reminds us that through faith there were those who “shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle.”

Let’s not lose heart. Let’s keep a vision of God’s power in front of us. It’s really quite an honor to preach and teach among lions.