Spiritual Warfare


How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

   The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

Our world is filled with children who need to find shelter. Some are displaced from their homes due to the strife and the violence that is running wildly through the streets of their places of birth. Others have been made orphans by various kinds of human caused or natural disasters, and many of us are left out and exposed to the elements of life’s turbulent storms simply because of the persistent nature of the brokenness of this world during the age of man. When the full scope and extent of this vulnerable population is considered, not many of the earth’s inhabitants are left out of the group of people who would benefit from the form of shelter that the Lord provides for anyone who comes to Him. For all who are weary and all who are weak are granted a place of comfort, rest, and safety under God’s great wings of protection.

Yet, many people do not seek out this place of refuge. Instead, they seek to take control of their lives in a manner that leads them away from God’s presence and into the arms of the worldly figures that are causing the strife and the destruction that has formed up their state of homeless wandering. Others hold onto the idea that they possess all that they will ever need to solve any issues and concerns that are causing trouble or that are bringing about distress in their lives. So, reliance is placed upon personal strength or skill rather than looking toward God and yielding to His far superior capacity to provide for the real needs that they have in life. Many people in our world have turned to false gods of various types and descriptions in order to seek out their systems of worldly truth, and thus they rely upon the capability of those distorted images of the eternal for protection and comfort during the various seasons of trial and struggle that come their way.

None of these earth-bound and worldly sources of refuge and provision can truly shelter the heart and the mind from the forces of evil that run rampant in our world, and they are completely powerless to save any souls from the pain of an eternity apart from the love of God. Among all of the religions, gods, belief systems, and moral concepts that people look to and rely upon in this world, none other than Christ provides everything that He grants to His followers out of a love that is so deep and lasting that God, Himself, suffered, bled, and was sacrificed so that each of us would be made free from the necessity of doing the same thing in our flesh. It is this great love that provides anyone who chooses to accept the gift of salvation with the means for that gift of grace to be granted to us. God has given each and every person on the earth the opportunity to find the sheltering refuge that we need under the covering of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. Thus, we can find a home in this life and an eternal dwelling place in the unceasing love that surrounds us in the Christ’s arms.   

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If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,

   steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 89: 14

What a strange way to crown a king. The party atmosphere that preceded the coronation itself has been replaced by the angry shouts of a lynch mob. The joyous gathering of family and friends that culminates in the Passover meal has turned somber with the foreboding shadow of betrayal hanging in the room. The night itself is filled with prayer, but these are not the hopeful expressions of a dream of a future of freedom and peace, but instead, they are the anguished cries of the teacher as He faces the torture ahead with absent friends and the sure knowledge of that necessary abandonment by the Father, too. In this ridiculous and scandalous ceremony, Jesus stands singularly suitable to obtain this crown and to sit upon the only righteous and just throne that has or will ever exist in this world.

If these fundamental characteristics that are the expression of the rule of a true king are to be found among us, then they must come from their source, and this is God, Himself. Outside of God’s touch and the provision of His grace, there exist only shadows of what is right and just in our world. There are times when people may attempt to act in such a way, and these moments of peace tend to last for short periods of time, but in the end, the powers of evil that attempt to control all of this place will gain some portion of control, and their chaos will return to cause those peaceful systems of rule to topple over. As people attempt to grasp onto those crumbling icons of goodness and mercy, we are usually left with nothing other than shards of broken stones held tenuously in our fingers. Yet, when we hold onto the mystically tangible presence of Christ in our lives, we find that our hands are being held in the sure grip of the Eternal King.

This is a King who loves each of us with a passion so intense and a love so lasting that He was willing to endure all of the agony and the anguish of that awful coronation in order to establish and perfect God’s plan for redemption for any of us who will accept Him and for the entirety of creation as well. Here we have King Jesus upon His rightful throne of grace, mercy, peace, righteousness, and unfailing love where He pours out God’s true and eternal justice upon this needy world. That bloody crown that was provided by humanity three days prior has been replaced by an unperishable one formed out of the glory of heaven. The wounds in the flesh are still visible, but now rather than bringing about a reminder of pain and death, they provide a soothing touch of healing to anyone who turns to Christ, even to those of us who have participated in placing those painful thorns on His sinless head. Today Christ sits upon His victor’s throne, the blazing light of righteousness surrounds His presence while His voice calls out to all people to come to Him and be healed of all that is hurt, damaged, and broken in our bodies, hearts and minds.  

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1: 25

The presence of God in the world turns this place upside down, and the presence of Christ in a life sets that person right with God. The Lord’s way of viewing things is truly different from that of our culture, and what matters to Him is very far removed from all that is held as important in much of our world. It would seem that the realm of the eternal does not operate by the same rules as does the earthly one and that the ruler of heaven is not bound by the same constraints as is the ruler of the world. One of them owns all of creation and has total and absolute authority over it, and the other is living out his last moments before the certain destruction that is promised to him is brought about. Yet, people still look to the false wisdom of the worldly one and follow its death-inducing dogma to the grave. This world continues to utilize the minimal and depleted power that comes out of domination, violence, and greed rather than submit to Christ’s victory of love and peacemaking.

You see, I don’t think that it is God who has things turned upside down; instead, I believe that the Lord is going about the work of restoring the tipped over elements of the earth to their proper equilibrium and orientation. This can be challenging for us to follow along with and to join into, for the training that most of us have received since birth and the meta narrative of the world where we dwell all speak to a different approach to successful living than does Christ. He tells us to love others, to care for the weak, to free the oppressed, to embrace the stranger, to feed the hungry, and to cloth the naked. Christ touches the oozing sores of the sick without fear of contamination, and He speaks the truth of God’s Word when that eternal wisdom is guaranteed to arouse anger in those who will hear it. Then, when anger does come in response, Christ reaches out in love and stands confidently before His opponents so that He may even become the target of their continued fury and wrath. This contrary approach to engagement in our world and with its issues is risky on the one hand, but it also bridges great gaps in understanding and brings about peace where turmoil was present before.

If following Christ means that many in this world will call me a fool, then let me be the court jester for my Lord. Should living out Christ’s will and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus through actions and in words be viewed as being weak-minded and powerless by some of the people that I encounter in life, then I pray that all of my human strength and self-instigated might would be drained out of every fiber of my being. Let Christ rise to the forefront of my life as its source of power and as the substance of its expression, and I pray that all of the wisdom that I call upon to enter into the various discussions and dialogues of this day would be founded upon the eternal truths of God’s Word and be given expression with the continuous guidance of the Spirit. If all of this means that I am involved in doing things that disrupt the natural course of the world around me, then so it must be. Yet, it is true that when Jesus caused disruption and brought about turmoil, He also provided a way to healing and restoration. So, as things around me are upset or disrupted by the presence of God’s truth, I also desire to see the order of creation restored in those settings so that Christ and His love would remain and rule the day in those places and with those people.    

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

   my fortress, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 62: 5, 6

David knew what opposition and trouble looked like. He faced plenty of it during his days. Some of it was the result of his own poor decisions and some was caused by his overtly sinful behaviors. Much of it was born out of the jealous or otherwise evil intent of others. That is the way that life in this world tends to go for many people. We face into things that put us on trial, that cause us trouble, and that challenge our ability to continue on, and we are the cause of some of these situations, and we are the victims of others. Yet, through all of these times of challenge and trial, David’s words of hope and encouragement remain true and valid. Today’s shelter and tomorrow’s hope are found in the Lord and in Him alone.

We may plan and scheme regarding the ways that we will take control of life and get things going in the right direction, but I have found that I frequently don’t even begin to understand the compass heading for that positive travel. The view from my swirling eyes is obscured by a cloud of doubt and my mind is addled by the vertigo that stress and pain have caused to settle into its processing center. In these times I have a real need for the perspective of another, and I also benefit from wisdom that possesses perspective that is greater than any that I can summon up in my current state of being. These are times when the Lord, His Word, and the fellowship of His body are of vital importance to me just as they were to David thousands of years ago.

Yet, knowing this ancient and on-going truth is not quite enough, for it is very hard to wait on the Lord’s answers when the pressures of life are building up to the point of crushing body, mind, and spirit. Still, God asks us to wait on Him. These challenging times are ones in which our trust in God’s provision is tested. These are moments in life when we are dwelling in the balance point between taking actions that might be rash, hasty, or foolish and continuing to pray and wait on God’s wisdom and provision. These are usually times when it is wise to pray earnestly and to listen for the Lord’s answer in submission to His grace, love, and mercy with endurance that might need to exceed anything that we have experienced previously. In these days of prayer and silent listening we can also devote ourselves to study and meditation upon God’s Word with its message of hope, provision, and the care of the eternal shepherd, and finally, we should seek out the supportive prayer and the mature wisdom of others who dwell within the fellowship of faith in Christ. Trials and troubles will come, but like David, we can say,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.”

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1

All that it takes to live well in God’s eyes, at least as they are understood by the Apostle Paul, is to think and act exactly as God would in the various situations and circumstance in which we find ourselves. This is not such an enormous task, is it? As anyone who has even the slightest desire to do this sort of thing can attest, living out godliness, that is, walking through life as a perfect image of Christ is not only challenging to do, but it is an impossibility. No one can do this, and no one other than Jesus has even come close. Thus, we go from the example of absolute perfection on the one hand in Christ to the flawed performance that all of the rest of us exhibit on the other hand. The contrast is stark, and the failure that we all know could be overwhelming if we were to let it be so. But that is not the way that God wants for things to be, and that is not the place that Christ leaves us, either.

Jesus went to the cross so that this flawed and failed reality would not continue to be the one that all of humanity inhabited. The blameless and perfect One paid a price that each and every one of us who has walked this earth or who will ever do so has earned the obligation to pay. However, God desired to close the enormous gap that sin had created between Himself and us, and that desire was so great that the Father gave the Son over as payment for that eternal debt. In like fashion and with complete accord, Jesus, the Son Himself, surrendered to the will of the Father and completed the arduous and painful journey that was set out for Him from the beginning of earth’s history. So, we are set free from overbearing guilt, shame, and the debt of sin. We are granted a new life in Christ, and we are led into being purposeful followers of Christ’s calling for each of our lives.

So, we will never be perfect followers of Christ, and no one will exist in a sinless state in this life. However, in Christ, we put on that new image of redemption that allows each of us to leave behind our old ways of viewing life and of interacting with people. Now our hearts are opened up to viewing all others as people to be loved and to be cared about and for. As Christ truly gave Himself up for me and for you, so too, we are called upon by Christ, and we are empowered by His Spirit to give up our fears, concerns, inhibitions, and prejudices so that we can see all of the people on this earth as God’s own dear ones that need love and understanding. Thus, there is no person who is too different, unclean, professing an unreachable view of God, hurtful beyond redemption, or who possesses or exhibits any barrier or impediment to being approached in love. We can all imitate Christ in reaching out in love to all others. This is the great possibility of faith in Christ. He has opened those doors for us, and His sacrifice has already bridged the great divide that Satan has attempted to create between people. All that we need to do is to trust in Christ enough to walk out onto the bridge that He has constructed for us to use. 

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10: 15-18

Atonement. This is a very big word. It is also a word that seems to me to be rather ornate, that is fancy. For certain, it is a word that is found in the world of theology and is mostly put to use in a religious context. This is what Jesus did for each of us; He provided atonement for all of the ways that people have turned away from God and are living out of conformity with the Lord’s perfectly righteous way of conducting our lives. Jesus became that ultimate sacrifice for anyone who is willing to accept that gift of salvation. So, He redeems us from a state of perpetual and eternal lostness and brings us into a fully formed relationship with God. This is a relationship wherein we have all rights, privileges, and permission to enter in to the presence of God that could possibly be granted to anyone at any time. 

The form of relationship that is discussed here is one that was long ago predicted by the prophet Jeremiah. Before Jesus, we had the law and ordinances that required an ongoing process of sacrifice and repentance for sin in order to be in a form of right standing before God. Although God was intended to be the central focus of all of these practices, in our human frailty we frequently placed ourselves at the actual center of it all as we sought the seemingly more convenient way into God’s good graces through working for redemption. This approach to living out just and godly lives was never going to be successful, for it was truly powerless against all of the forces that are arrayed against God in this world. Human capacity and might alone are not able to stand up in opposition to the other worldly but demented and devious power of God’s adversary.

So, Christ made that complete and absolute sacrifice to pay for, to atone for, each and every sinful thought and action that people have engaged in or that we have even contemplated. There is nothing that is left out of the work that Christ did for all people through the entire scope of time. God then granted to us the gift of the Spirit so that we would not be engaging in the struggle of life alone. We no longer need to do anything beyond accepting Christ as Savior of our souls and Lord over our lives, for He has done everything. In Christ, the power and the capability to live in a just, holy, and righteous manner is given to us as well by the presence of the Spirit and through Christ’s efforts alone. Although we are to be fully engaged in living out the grace, love, and truth that is contained in God’s Word and that is revealed to us by the Spirit, Christ goes before us in all of this to show us His will and way, to empower our actions, and to receive all of the glory for the outcome of this redemptive work.    

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