Monday, June 20, 2011

Community on the Edge: Church Outside the Comfort Zone.

Dusk came last night in Bozeman at about 9:55pm. Dawn came this morning at 4:56am (or so). I've got to say that kind of schedule is tough. The day becomes so long at this time of year at this latitude that it is practically disorienting. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep! Indeed, it can be so disorienting for people that they don't stay here but return to a location that has a more consistent day length, closer to the equator. But I am not unfamiliar with this situation. My old home in Bellingham, Washington was even further north and it too had long summer days. Those kind of long days in the summer and short days in the winter create a unique environment and a unique community.

We live in disorienting times. Some call this time "the postmodern era"; a time when all that we know about life and all the means we used to navigate this life has been turned upon its ear. The institutions and methods to which we have grown accustomed no longer have the appeal or effect they once had. This is no more true anywhere than in the church. The church is inherently embedded in culture. At its heart, it worship and reveres an historical figure (Jesus) as God who spoke to a specific culture in a specific way. Yet the ethic that Jesus taught was, and is, Truth (His teaching and ethics are experienced by all people as 'eternal' - His teachings transcend the culture and historical context to cause change in the hearer-reader; you see, the 'truth' of Truth is that it inaugurates change) and it must be applied in the ever changing culture around us. Thus as the culture changes around the church, the church too must adjust its methodology as it proclaims the Truth that is Jesus.

In a time where change is common; indeed where change is the norm and where steadfast adherence to any static context or tradition means quick death, the living church finds itself - if it is to be faithful proclaimers of the gospel - as a 'Community on the Edge' - a church outside of the comfort zone. As the comfort of the modern age fades into the quantum change of the postmodern (or is it ultramodern?), the survival of the church depends upon its willingness to be at the very edge of culture; reaching out to the lost, the hurt, the child and the widow, who always are the victims in culture.

It would be easy for the church trying to survive in the waning comfort of the modern era to continue its methods for as long as they can. And some churches in North America, located in cultures still relatively ruled by the ideas of the modern period (the Bible Belt, for example) will continue to rely on those methods. But a note to pastors: even as you rely on the tested programs of the 20th century to build the church body, start to equip people to make relationships with their neighbor. Rather than relying on attractional evangelism, start equipping people to engage in missional evangelism, where they go out of the building and into the world, making relationships, sharing the truth of Jesus with their lives, leading them to the Truth as we experience it in life and as it is codified in scripture. If you begin this process of equipping your sheep to do the meat of ministry, be prepared: you will soon find yourself outside your comfort zone as a community on the edge, challenging the norms of your culture and society. But be encouraged: that's exactly where Jesus and Paul were! I like what Paul says and what the church must take to heart today:

"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Learn to live as a community on the edge; seriously engaging culture with the Truth and Love of God in order that some might be saved.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Spiritual Warfare: Addendum

Weapons of the Believer:

1) The Holy Spirit
2) Prayer
3) Boldness in the Jesus' Name

Some Outside Resources:

Boyd, Gregory A. "God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict" (IVP)

Kraft, Charles. "Defeating Dark Angels: Breaking Demonic Oppression in the Believer's Life" (Regal)

Kraft, Charles. "I Give You Authority" (Chosen)

Kraft, Charles. "Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural." (Wipf & Stock)

Rankin, Jerry. "Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God's Glory" (B & H Books)

All of these authors have accredited doctoral degrees and have extensive experience!

Other believers who have experienced spiritual warfare!

The Toll of Spiritual Warfare

To engage in warfare of any kind takes a toll. The goal of spiritual warfare is to 'exorcise' or drive-out the demon or resident evil and to begin the process of restoring the person or community to health. Thus the toll is two-fold; the extraction of the demonic, and more importantly, the spiritual, psychological and physical drain that occurs on the part of the believer. Spiritual warfare requires such focused prayer and attention that one is left at least weary and often times absolutely exhausted from the engagement. Our core energy sources are drained.

This account sounds as if I am implying that "we" do the work - not so - we are simply being obedient to the call to engage. The Holy Spirit within us is the power. The drain comes from facing and engaging something for which we have no love and quite often causes confusion and even fear. Thus each believer must be drenched with the Spirit of God through prayer before and after the engagement. Thus the believer is physically, psychologically and emotionally exhausted after the engagement.

This is why pursuit of the spiritual disciplines is important. Just like the training armed forces go through to increase their knowledge of the enemy and their ability to withstand attacks and attack on their own, Christians must be spiritually disciplined in order to enter their battles with evil. Spiritual battle is not for spiritual wimps. Luke tells the story of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16 to illustrate this point:

God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

To fight the good fight of faith, one must be a true follower of Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God and prepared to do battle. If not, we enter into this spiritual battle on our own folly and risk the injury of Acts 19:16. The evil at hand must recognize Jesus in you for it to yield to the words you speak!

As a believer though, we need not fear the enemy, but simply engage it. The name of Jesus, used by the true believer, is the power feared by the enemy. The enemy must obey. The battle is won by Jesus, but it costs us something; energy and some emotional pain; thus we must renew our strength and reconnect to God in prayer. Jesus does this several times in the gospels, most notably in Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46 and Luke 5:16.

The perils of post-spiritual warfare is simply more spiritual warfare. The enemy is insidious, always looking for your weakness to to exploit you, especially if you are engaging him. Thus right after an engagement, we must look to God in prayer, seeking protection, strength, insight and renewed strength. I believe this is what Jesus did when he went to the mountain to be with the Father.

Our biggest mistake as Christians in a modern world is first to ignore the spiritual battle, but second, to engage the enemy thinking that there will be no cost. This attitude can only be describe as flippant and careless. Those who are not prepared for the battle are always injured, sometimes they are so psychologically wounded that they never quite recover. The Christian must be prepared for the battle and the toll. It is only then that we can continue to engage in spiritual warfare and live the victorious life God has for us.

Be prepared friends, its coming.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Nature of Spiritual Warfare

Jesus doesn't talk about 'spiritual warfare' at length, He primarily teaches about the relational, moral and economic nature of discipleship. I believe that in itself says much about the nature of spiritual reality. Indeed, although we see Jesus casting out demons, those actions tend to be witnessed within the larger context of his 'signs and wonders' ministry of the Kingdom (Mark 1:34-39, 6:13, et al). Going a step further, the Gospels of Mark and Luke have the majority of references to demons and the 'casting out' of demons, and those references tend to cast spiritual warfare as a normal part of the life of the disciple in the world. Truly part of every disciple's commission is to exercise God's power over the demonic in the name of Jesus (see the 'Sending of the Seventy' in Mark 6:13 and Luke 10:17). The contested ending of Mark even states that the 'casting out of demons' will be part of the signs that accompany the one who believes in Jesus name. Yet Jesus does not give any direct instructions as to the methodology of 'casting out demons' as it were. The narratives suggest that Jesus naturally comes into contacts with the demonic when He is in there presence. At that point, Jesus confronts them and tells them to leave. In the late addition to Matthew - 17:21 - Jesus tells the disciples that there is a certain type of demon that does not come out except through 'fasting and prayer' although a few verses earlier, in Matthew 17:18, Jesus 'rebuked the demon and he came out and the boy was cured at once.' My question is two-fold: On one hand, is Jesus saying that there is a demon that is of such strength that one must prepare 'more' to confront it, or is He saying the depth of the disciple's life must include regular fasting and prayer - as Jesus would seem to have pursued - in order to engage in spiritual warfare. In other words, the spiritual life and spiritual warfare demand a devoted spiritual regimen or you simply aren't prepared to address absolute evil? This is an interesting question. Spiritual warfare must not be engaged flippantly! So what is the nature of spiritual warfare?

1. Spiritual conflict between God and evil is normative for the disciple. It is a part of the fabric of reality in a fallen world.

2. Evil exists along side good and is personified in the demonic. Demons are personal and have an agenda - to interfere with the expansion of God's Kingdom and to hold captive humankind. Jesus says that the "thief has come to steal, kill and destroy, but that He has come to give life and that more abundantly!" (John 10:10)

3. God has absolute power over creation, including evil and the demonic.

4. Jesus, as God, has given human believers - better, disciples - power, in the Holy Spirit, to confront and defeat evil in the demonic, in His name.

5. Disciples of Jesus, must be actively pursuing spiritual discipline to be prepared for this confrontation.

a. They must understand the reality in which they live - spiritual and physical

b. They must understand that there is nothing in their own flesh or spirit that can withstand evil.

c. They must understand that it is the power that indwells the believer - the Holy Spirit - which roots out evil and defeats the enemy, when called upon in the name of Jesus.

d. They must understand that if they seek to follow Jesus in this world, spiritual warfare is a constant reality, and that vigilant preparation is necessary. The disciple must have a rigorous life of prayer and fasting, worship and study as they seek to embody the love and virtue of God, as well as confront the powers in this world.

6. Disciples of Jesus must be unafraid to engage in this battle. By dismissing or not engaging, the battle is lost.

7. Disciples must never forget: It's Jesus. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk! Peter finally got it. To defeat the enemy, it's not about what we possess, but who possesses us. All Peter had was Jesus, and it was Jesus who worked through Peter in the power of the Spirit.

For next time: The Toll of Spiritual Warfare