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Authentic Weaponry

Introduction

I’ve read a lot over the years about spiritual warfare–out of necessity, of course. I’ve been hip-deep in it more times than I’d like to remember. While some thinking in circulation rings true, other thinking is just zany. It takes more effort than expected to separate the zany from the true, searching the Scriptures and testing the “spirits”.

Most discussion (sound or unsound) includes the topic of spiritual weaponry. Yet to rush into talking about spiritual weapons without laying a solid Biblical foundation is folly. Weapons are useful only if you know how to use them. Their effective use implies the use of solid tactics, which themselves are employed within thoughtful strategies.

Warfare or Paintball?

We have been guilty in the 21st century church of treating the war for the souls of men and women like a game of paintball. We wage an ersatz war which we often don’t truly believe has consequences. Sure, maybe in some theoretical existence, but day to day? After all, what’s really at stake in a game of paintball? A little soreness? A loss of face if your team loses? You have a little fun then go back to “real life” when it is over.

Rather than rush into an overly familiar treatment of spiritual weaponry, permit me to turn your attention to a more foundational facet of spiritual warfare: authentic relationship. Real soldiers, trained and armed, move into harms way. Imitators play paintball on the weekends.

Sceva and His Sons

Acts chapter 19 illustrates this well. Sceva was a Jewish high priest during the earliest days of the church. His seven sons were itinerant exorcists. Lexicographers Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida* define an exorcist as “one who drives out evil spirits by invoking supernatural persons or powers or by the use of magic formulas“.

Though these sons were well respected, religious and active in engaging the enemy, they were nameless in the realm where demonic spirits traffic. They had a religious reputation without accompanying spiritual power. They saw Paul doing miracles in Jesus’ name and wanted in on the gig. So they treated His name as a mantra, a talisman, a magical word of power wedged into an empty formula.

I live and work in a culture where magic formulas are the religious norm. Rites and rituals are expected to control spiritual entities and bend the course of society. They are used for revenge or evil. They are also used for good (healing, fertility, fruitfulness in gardening, etc.) But much like the sons of Sceva, practitioners find that the mantras don’t transform, power words don’t stop suffering, and use of talismans don’t delay the inevitable.

Appearances

Paul warns Timothy that in the last days this sort of thing will become common in the church. Consider 2 Timothy 3:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, ESV

What was it in Paul’s use of Jesus’ name that was different?

Authentic Relationship & Delegated Authority

Paul lived in authentic relationship with Jesus. That relationship resulted in Paul using delegated authority as he confronted Satanic powers. This is not unlike a military chain of command. In the U.S., Congress declares war. The general staff utilizes strategy to draw up orders which are given to their subordinates. Those subordinate officers give orders to officers subordinate to them and it goes all the way down the chain to enlisted men who carry out orders–orders which are based on an ultimate strategy (at least ideally). The gunnery sergeant giving an order to a subordinate is analogous to a general giving an order to a subordinate. The gunnery sergeant is operating on the delegated authority, ultimately, of Congress.

Sceva’s sons were not in relationship with Jesus. They had no delegated authority. The evil spirits had no obligation to respond to these men at all. And so rather than obeying a bunch of imposters throwing “magic” words at them, they did quite the opposite.

“The evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 19:15-16, ESV

Any use of spiritual weaponry must begin with an authentic relationship with Jesus. If we are to operate in his delegated authority, we must be in subjection to His authority over us. Does this mean that we must be perfect? Of course not. Does it mean that we are living according to works? God forbid. It does mean that we operate on Jesus’ authority and command. He is the head, we are the body. He is the one given strategy, we carry out his strategy.

Results of Authenticity

What results when we act on delegated authority derived from authentic relationship?

“And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord was extolled. Also, many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices . . . So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

Acts 19:17-20, ESV

Next Post . . .

In the next post, let’s unpack what it means to walk in authentic relationship . . . See you there!

References

*Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (Louw and Nida)

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The Fog of War

Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian general considered to be one of the most prolific and influential Western thinkers on the subject of war. You’ve likely never heard of him, though you’ve probably encountered his ideas. In his 1832 piece, entitled Vom Kriege (On War), he writes, “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for, a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

190 years later, warfare continues to be “wrapped in a fog of uncertainty.” Communications get garbled, soldiers misunderstand orders, units can become paralyzed with confusion.

Eastern military philosophers were familiar with the concept of the fog of war and used it to their advantage. Well known Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu writes, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War). Sun Tzu’s ideas, 2,500 years after their introduction, continue to be standard military doctrine because they are effective.

Do you suppose that there is any application of these principles to spiritual war?

Satan and Sun Tzu were apparently reading from the same playbook. Consider the following:

  • “The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy . . .” John 10:10
  • “ . . . The devil . . . does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
  • “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
  • In the Garden of Eden the serpent deceives Eve by playing on her desires: “Did God actually say . . .?” He contradicts God’s word, lying to her, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

While Sun Tzu describes how to successfully attack an enemy, von Clausewitz gives us insight into how to overcome our adversary in spiritual war. “A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for, a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

Our posture toward truth can help us when all else fails. Paul commented to the church at Thessalonica: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” What is your posture toward truth? Do you discriminate good from bad, truth from error? How are your truth skills? Have you bought the lie that all judgement is bad?

To test your posture, consider some common daily habits and ask yourself a few questions.

  • What do you feel like when you’ve spent even a few moments on social media?
    • Do you find peace or encouragement there?
    • What is the state of your soul when you step away from the screen?
  • What do you read?
    • How does the content of your reading affect your heart?
    • Are you more equipped to walk with courage and boldness or less?
    • Are you strengthened or do you find it more difficult to focus on “things above where Christ is seated”?
  • If you were to write down what you do from hour to hour on any given day, what would you find?
    • What is the focus of your free time?
    • Is there adequate space given to God for growth in that relationship?
    • Are you giving time to cultivate truth in your mind rather than the incessant message the world inserts into your consciousness?

Jesus called our enemy the “god of this age”. He is a master of propaganda and makes the most of every opportunity to corrupt our thinking. He tugs at our hearts with images, stories or even fear-mongering diatribes that can drive us into a state of confusion, discouragement, jealousy, heartache, or despair. He uses deception to bring us to our knees, cowering and quivering before him, attempting to make us wonder if we’ll make it through this life intact. This is the fog of war.

We must make every effort to infuse our souls with Truth. We must remember whose we are and why he called us out of darkness. When we are tempted to allow ourselves to be crushed by the confusion, mayhem, and onslaught, we must cry out to heaven for intervention, leaning into the Truth. We must ignore the crushing weight of deception that would steal our confidence, joy, and effectiveness. We must remember to use the powerful and effective weapons with which we have been equipped (I will save a fuller treatment of these for future posts).

As von Clausewitz suggests, we must be sensitive and discriminating in our judgment. The best judgment is informed by objective Truth, not cultural relativism, overly emotional reaction, or some personal ax to grind. We must resist reacting by disciplining ourselves to look first to the Scriptures, their Author, and to the Holy Spirit for discernment of truth and error. We must sharpen our minds with the file of holy living and focused thinking. Only then will we be able to see through deception, not allowing ourselves to be outflanked by our enemy. We must have the mind of Christ.

Finally, we must embrace the truth that soldiers go into battle together, not alone. Those who attempt to go it alone get killed. Sometimes it takes a comrade to help us refocus our attention on the reality without rather than the fear/hesitation/misunderstanding within.

In the coming months I will be writing more deeply about the following questions:

  • What are the weapons of our warfare?
  • How can we have the mind of Christ? How do we “scent out the truth”?
  • What can we use to defend ourselves against the onslaught?
  • How can we engage our world in grace and truth?

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Facing the Unthinkable–Three Realities That Will Change Your Life

The lights in the cabin were dimmed. The almost unnoticed sound of air slipping over the skin of the airliner reminded me that I was at 40,000 feet. I sat, bleary eyed along the rear bulkhead, reading light on, notepad on the tray in front of me. It was Father’s Day and I was suspended between heaven and earth separated from my children and facing an unthinkable tragedy–I was going home, alone, to the U.S. to help my family bury my father. There were no words to pray. Sitting numbly in a stupor, I pressed pen to paper and began to write. “The last words my dad ever said to me were, ‘I love you, son. . .'”

Uria Village, PNG

The sun rises over Uria Village, Papua New Guinea

Mountains across the valley emerged from the darkness as dawn approached. Fog flowed through the valley below us, a great white river that would disappear soon enough. The friar bird began singing his morning prayer as did the dozens of Papua New Guinean neighbors encircling our house. I listened to the cadence of my wife’s breathing and of the gentle words of caring friends outside. Though we had lived in Papua New Guinea only a short time, my health was mysteriously failing. Why? Our friends were crying out to heaven for answers.

A different night a line of flaming torches flickered against the mountainside. People were descending into a maelstrom of violence and hatred, ready to burn, to kill, to revenge. Sin had to be dealt with, swiftly and severely, shame mitigated, respect restored. The torch bearers thought that someone in our village had performed a revenge-killing on one of their relatives and they were coming to make war. We were caught in the middle of friends who were suddenly at war with one another.

Loss, sickness, and violence. Three threads of my New Guinea experience. Why were they so frequently present? What was I to learn about shaking the gates of Hell from these harsh realities?

First, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, I do not come to God with answers–I just come to God. I learned that I don’t have words, most of the time, to adequately express the loss, the hurt, the frustration or the fear. I learned that there is Someone to help me with all that.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27, ESV)

Second, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, God is with me. I know this, in part, because the Son submitted to the most inhumane, brutal torture and murder, in order that I would not be charged and executed for my wrongdoing. I know this in part because when He was undergoing life in a human body–the temptation, the taunting, the torture, the rejection, even death–he experienced more of the unthinkable that I could ever imagine. Therefore, He is qualified to empathize with everything I’ve experienced. He takes that experience and prays with understanding for me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Third, I learned that even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations serve to make me more like Christ and are used by God to make me more than a conqueror. They are used to make me fit for heaven, to be purified in the inner man, to be holy as He is holy. They are normative Christian experiences, not exceptions. They do not separate me from Him, they deepen my dependence upon him.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-38, ESV)

These three truths transform my heart and mind, stealing me away from fearful, tentative tendencies, making me into a fearless, intrepid intercessor who intercedes along with the Holy Spirit and the Son, shaking the gates of Hell, causing rumblings in heavenly places, risking all for the honor of being called “son” by the Creator, Conqueror, and Counselor.