Spiritual Warfare


The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

Motives are not always easy to understand. We think that we know someone and get the way that they think or what drives their actions and then they say or do something that completely disorients us and that turns our world upside down. So, we pick ourselves up, set our spinning eyes on a fixed spot on the horizon, and chalk up the chaos to human nature. There is some real truth to the idea that the inconsistencies and the disruptive actions that pervade our world are a part of the fabric of our human tapestry of life. Now I do believe that they are formed up and compelled onward by forces from beyond the realm of people’s experience, for deception, lies, confusion, violence, and other such destructive actions are devised and empowered by the fallen, anti-God operatives whose allegiance is to Satan. This war between God and the dark angel has been going on continually throughout earth’s history, and it will continue to impact our lives and influence our world until Christ permanently ends it all.

 

Until then, we live in the ongoing drama of this tension, and we do need to understand God’s motives for what He does as they are different from those of His adversary. Everything that God does and all of His interaction with His Creation, especially with the people of this world, is formed up and compelled by His goodness. This is in direct and absolute contrast to the dark evil of Satan and to the deep deception that he attempts to fill our world with. God’s goodness is also what He desires to pour out into our lives. This is primarily done as His Word and its truth become our guidance for thinking and for acting in all aspects of our days. God’s Word is made real and alive in relationship with Him, and relationship with God is entered into through being known by Christ and so by knowing Him. This is something that we choose to do. God does not compel us to accept relationship with Him, but there is truly no other way to enter into the peace and the security of wisdom and truth in our troubled world than through that intimate connection to their author and source.

 

In Christ, we find that safe harbor, that sheltering cave that are the literary images for a secure place to go when there are powerful forces of nature or of human derivation that are ready to overtake and to destroy us. Yet, Christ is far more than just an image. He is the most real and solidly tangible form of shelter that exists in all of this world and beyond. That word of truth, the presence of His Spirit, and the support of Christ’s body of faith are all parts of one great whole that forms a tangible sanctuary for our minds, bodies, and souls. When we enter into this place we are often battered and weary from the journey and because of the fight that we have been engaged in; so, Christ takes us in and He grants us rest and time for recovery. Since He knows us to a degree that is beyond the grasp of human reason, the Lord enters into meeting our real needs and starts working on our restoration. Christ grants to us a place to lie down and sleep in safety, to be fed upon His bread of life, and to fill our thirsty souls with His restorative waters of redemption.

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There are many who sat, “Who will show us some good?

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

Psalm 4: 6

 

This is the plea or the cry that should be going out today from every corner of the world, for they are all darkened and each of us is in need of light to show the way home to God’s peace and secure rest. Like sailors caught in an unexpected storm or airplane pilots when weather closes in, the world around us is swirling with fierce clouds of doubt, despair, and danger. They are driven by the unrighteous anger that has become the rallying cry of our day, and this hazardous environment is stirred up by our desires to control all of life in a manner that we see as advantageous to ourselves rather than in one that is responsive to God’s Word and will. It is no wonder that this sort of world is a harsh and a hard place to dwell. This is a landscape that even its own Creator must find hard to recognize.

 

Yet, the beauty that was molded by that same creative hand is present, and the glory of the Creator is not lost or driven away by our godless thoughts and actions. Those exquisite shapes, subtle shadings, and awe-inspiring radiance are simply obscured beneath this world’s false substitutes for their righteousness and truth. When these same substitutes fail to provide what our hearts, minds, and souls actually need for nourishment and for growth, people begin to search for new answers to their needs and desires. Sometimes this searching leads in the direction of God and His Word. At the same time, the Lord is continually reaching out to all of this world and to each of its inhabitants with His unfailing love, grace, and redemptive offering of Himself as the answer to all longing and need.

 

In Christ, we have the light of the Lord to guide our steps into that safe harbor that we all desire. Through Christ alone we can come into the presence of God and shelter in His all-encompassing wisdom and truth. Turning away from this world and from its loud but shallow enticements, we will encounter opposition, troubling relational differences, and hardships and trials of various kinds. However, in so doing, we will also be stepping into the unending light of the glory of God, and it will illuminate a new path for us to follow and an infinitely better direction for our hearts and our minds to turn in our needful search for that safe place to shelter when the storm becomes too strong for us to withstand. Christ brings us into the center of good in all of its forms and expressions. Christ directs our steps along a way where He transforms the darkest of hours into the radiance of new dawn as the truth of His Word grants the Lord’s confident peace to our souls so that we are empowered to live fully and openly for Christ without fear of the stormy and troubled landscape that surrounds us.

Teach me your way, O LORD,

that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

Psalm 86: 11

 

Truth has an uncomfortable way about it. It doesn’t like to stay hidden, and it is not satisfied for long to remain in the background of life. It wants to be seen out in the open, on the surface as it pilots a path for its disciples through the darkness of moral and ethical ambiguity that fills this world’s air and so attempts to cloud people’s reason and judgement. However, truth has a hard time with the ways of our world, and it attempts to get the attention of each of us when we seek to hide it or reshape it to seem to be made up of our own desired outcomes. I think that the challenge that all of us face when we subvert or deny truth in our own lives comes about because truth, itself, is both a characteristic of God and it is formed up and set loose by Him. It flows out of the totality of God’s Word in all of its expression, and it is a fundamental part of the undeniable foundation of righteous living.

 

Thus, there is no alternate or relevant truth. There is only truth or lie; genuineness or deception. Satan’s statements to Adam and Eve were not mostly true with just a minor salting of convenient reshaping of what is true; they were deceptive and destructive lies, and they were demonstrated as such by God in very short order. Today we live in an environment where people do not seem to value truth all that much. It is twisted, distorted, and manipulated by us in ways that are highly creative, are sometimes subtle or not, and are universally present with us. This move to abandon truth as an absolute is being led and even promoted by our most prominent leaders and it is being championed by large numbers of their followers and supporters. This has little to nothing to do with political affiliation as truth-bending is a tool that people on every side of almost all issues are using with remarkable ease. Relativism is a trap door that once sprung sends its disciples into a downward journey into the darkness that is found at its center. It sends its adherents ever closer to the core of Satan’s anti-God universe; so, it moves then on a continual path the leads away from God and His righteousness.

 

As stated above, truth is as relentless as is its author. It will not be suppressed for long, for the Lord does propel it out from beneath the places where people have placed it in an attempt to deny its existence and into the light of day where it reveals all of the sordid and destructive actions that people have engaged in. Truth’s vindication is a part of the victory that Christ has claimed over evil in Creation. So, it is also something that Christ’s followers can and must claim as we are new beings in Christ. First off, we must think truth and speak truth. There should be no room in our days for strategic partial truths or for convenient reshaping of fact. Where we have slipped into that abys of lie, we can repent and turn away from the sinful way that we have gone. In so doing, God’s grace is present for us, and He will fill our minds and hearts with the truth of His Word as we seek its presence. Where we see lies in our world, we need to call them out for what they are, and we need to engage with our leaders and with the decisions that they make so that truth has a voice in our public square. Even as we live out and speak truth in Christ’s strength, we will not prevail in our world; yet, the Lord will honor our efforts in ways that will bring glory to His name, and Christ will prevail over all when God’s time is at hand.

The one who scatters has come up against you. Man the fortress, watch the road; strengthen your back, summon all your strength.

Nahum 2: 1

 

Some people say that having faith in an unseen God and following the ways of a spiritual ruler are the actions of a weak and insecure person. Others hold that there is simply no need for this sort of thing; since, they already know where they are going in this life, and they have the method and the skill to get there well in hand. Yet, history, current events, and my own experiences all tell me that having confidence in personal control over life is futile at best, and it can be utterly disastrous, for it is usually foolish thinking.

 

How easy is it for the orderliness that was the game plan for the day to turn into a chaotic jumble that resembles that mass of wires behind your computer? You know the ones that I mean, they are the ones that always seem to twist and tie themselves into knots just before you need to change one of the components. In our world, there is an active force at work that is continually seeking to cause confusion and to bring about this chaos. God designed His world to be orderly so that we could be devoted to our relationship with Him. However; Satan and his forces of evil want to disrupt that calm, peace, and harmony; thus, they bring about anger, greed, oppression, destruction, disaster, and other forces and events that break apart our world and that shatter our lives.

 

When these hard situations strike, it is easy to allow them to shake our faith and to weaken our trust in the Lord. Because of this fact of living in this world, it is vitally important that we prepare purposefully and that we stay on the alert at all times. God tells us to stay inside of the fortress of His word and to keep it manned by actively and continually seeking the truth that it contains. He instructs us to pay attention to where we are going and to how we are getting there so that we stay focused on living righteously. The Lord desires for us to stay engaged with other people who share our faith in Him so that we can guard their backs and they can protect ours, and Christ pours the strength of His Spirit into us and surrounds us with God’s angels to provide us with all of the might and the power of His kingdom to support us in the fight.

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

 

In our world today, peace is a hard thing to find. There is so much anger and fear out there, and it just continues to move closer to each of our homes, too. It seems as if there is simply no place to go in order to escape the relentless beat of this creature’s wings as it hunts down victim after victim. It is no wonder that good, restful sleep is hard to find; so, anxiety is a regular part of the day for many of us. Some people say that they simply avoid all contact with those aspects of the world. They don’t read news, they overlook political commentary, and they stay as far as is possible away from people and places in the world where pain and need dwell. Still, all that is hard and painful around us finds a way inside those protective walls so that it touches almost everyone’s life at some point.

 

This peace that the writer of the psalm speaks about is truly a rare commodity in our day, and I believe that it was in the writer’s days as well. Our nature as people has been aggressive, violent, and fear inducing since the beginning of our time of separation from the close relationship with God that was our Creator’s intent for us. This world has been a hard place for us to live throughout most of our history, and it will continue along this path until that day when Christ returns and redeems all of creation from its sin-infused and lost state of existence. Yet, God speaks to us about entering into peace and regarding a form of rest that penetrates the heart and the mind to the deepest parts of our being. The Lord would have us set aside the anxiety of our days and find a form of comfort and security in His presence that overcomes all forms of anxious concern.

 

There is something else present in the way that the Lord asks for us to trust Him as it goes beyond our sense of how things are. The writer says that he is actually dwelling in a form of safety that allows for peace to overcome the concerns of the day. This dwelling is both a state of mind and a literal place. It exists regardless of the circumstances and the situations that are enfolding us. This safe dwelling place is established and formed by Christ for each of us who know Him. He protects our souls from any and all harm that might attempt to enter into our hearts and minds. Our Lord is already victorious over all forms of evil; so, the fight that we are facing is one that He has already won. We can trust in Christ in any and all that comes our way. His will is for our best, His love for each of His people is absolute, and we can truly lie down and sleep soundly in the safety of the Lord’s presence.

In God, whose word I praise,

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56: 4

 

Last night was a busy one in our neighborhood. As the month of October came to an end, the streets and our front door were filled with laughter, running feet, and mostly very young voices calling out, “Trick or Treat!” It is a night that we enjoy and look forward to with more positive anticipation than apprehension. The costumes that are worn by our youngest neighbors vary greatly in theme and in complexity. They range from happy themes such as princesses and cowboys to scary ones along the lines of zombies and vampires. Yet, even the most terrifying of costume themes do not bring about any real fear, for we all know that behind it all are the hearts of a small children. So, we look at what under other circumstances would be frightening and fear inducing and we laugh and smile at the joy that surrounds the night’s activity. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther confronted a different form of fear and did something truly decisive about its control over people.

 

Although we commemorate Luther’s powerful moment of open defiance when on October 31, 1517 he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, this was just a public demonstration of his bigger battle against power and control of people by others. It was a very large step into the freedom of the truth that is at the center of God’s Word, and it was a bold act of fearless obedience to the leading of the Lord. Luther found that David’s expression of faith and trust in the Lord as stated in the 56th Psalm spoke to him in a personal way. His thoughts and the actions that he was led to take took him out of safety and into direct confrontation with people and with systems in his world that were mighty and that were capable of doing him great harm. No doubt, there were people who counseled him to remain quiet, to submit to authority, and to stay safe. Yet, that was not what he did.

 

Instead, Luther followed the one voice that he knew he could trust with all and beyond all others, for he listened to the words of truth that flowed out of God’s Word and that were reinforced to him by the Spirit of Christ within. Like David before him, when there were enemies to be found all around him and there were no safe places to go, he trusted in the powerful protection, comfort, and strengthening that Christ grants to His people. From this place of security, Luther stepped out in faith and led the way for us all to step into the light of God’s truth that flows out of His word and that defeats all of this world’s attempts to dominate and to control the lives of people. If we follow Christ, we will each face the opposition of this world and there will be enemies to encounter and to engage with. We are called by the Lord to be active and to be bold in our proclamation of His Gospel of truth, love, and redemption. I pray that I have the courage and the faith to follow along the path of my kinsmen David and Luther by lifting that hammer and placing my trust in Christ openly before the entire world to see.

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