What a difference a few years make. Today far too many voice hate and even share images of violence against the President, his administration, and supporters, something the mainstream media seems to relish; if the same had occurred during the 8 years of the previous President, those same media voices would have been relentlessly outraged. Groups openly advocate killing cops; radical Islamic terrorism has brought injury and death into communities here and abroad. Christianity’s cultural influence is waning significantly (I’m not overly concerned about political influence). Some abhor President Trump, promising “resistance.” Others adore him; beyond support they idolize him. What should we Christians be doing?
When I first posted this, events such as riots, Supreme Court decisions, and Obama’s Presidential edicts had people wondering about the future of the country. Christians are still concerned because some of these actions seemed to have a component pointed directly at our convictions and beliefs. Are we in danger of the government demanding things contrary to our faith? Worse, is the threat of actual persecution looming on the horizon? What do we do then? What should we do now?
The gay rights movement has frequently targeted churches. Online discussions and comments rapidly become heated and nasty. Schools seem willing to force anything Christian to be removed or silenced while actually teaching, say, Muslim doctrine. Abortion seems like an affront to the Creator, one opposed by a majority, yet still abortions continue by the millions. Despite the evil done by some Muslims, the horror of sex trafficking, the growing presence of violent drug gangs, and too many crimes committed by illegal aliens, many still demand virtually open borders. Every election seems to highlight some value precious to Christians that some want to remove or destroy. Many Christians tend to withdraw and attempt to ignore all this, while others seem more than willing to fight. Yet the “fighters” often fail to represent Christ very well and probably make matters worse. Can we “fight” for what we believe while still attracting people to the Christ we follow.
Many are ready to retreat, withdraw, and go into hiding. Christians have done too much of that already. We’d rather sit in our isolated bunkers and condemn our adversaries where they never hear us. We stroke our own egos for being right and wise, but do nothing to correct what we believe to be wrong. I guess we expect instant surrender to our views, even though we often express them poorly. The Bible warns us about remaining spiritual children, but we sure sound like them: “You’re wrong, and we’re right! Nya, nya, nya, nya, nya, nya.” “Oh, amen, brother. Preach it!” So sad…
Others have become disciples of this material world, one still quite prosperous compared to many other places. Good salaries, benefits, a nice house, lots of tech toys, vacations, and retirement create an image of heaven on earth, while the promise of God’s eternal blessing seems too distant to motivate us. We settle into the tepid appearance of niceness that we think is the good life but is far from “the Good Life.” Consider James 3:13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” Here’s Peter’s promise: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Peter’s subsequent reminder makes it clear that God’s wants more than complacent passivity from his people: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”
Yet we do need to fight. We need to wage a war, a true culture war, but a war fought with spiritual not worldly weapons. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” As I referred to this recently, I wondered what those weapons, “not of this world,” might be. Below I have begun to assemble a list. My plan was to select the ten most important, not just to identify them, but to urge their use, but they have grown to twelve.
Yes, we Christians have a job to do, one always a part of our growth, to share Jesus Christ and the good news of salvation through him. Today, it has taken on an added urgency, as the freedom and central place in our American heritage is being eroded and threatened with extinction. We must at least try to stop this, not to save our country, although that would be an admirable secondary goal. We must do so for the sake of the growing number of people who know nothing of the Gospel, who have a distorted idea of Christian values (racist, anti-woman, ignorant, etc.), and who need the grace of God as much as anyone. I love the history of our great nation founded on Christian principles, freedom of religion, and a destiny to do good around the world. No, that history is not perfect, but it has been awesome enough to attract immigrants from all over the world who hope to share the American dream.
It’s time to fight, brother and sister. What follows is my suggested battle strategy, one I hope you will consider and follow. If you have suggestions, please offer them. If you think I’ve missed something, pass along your thoughts. If you think I’m in error on some point, let me know that, too (Just keep in mind point five).
Top 10 Battle Techniques using Spiritual Weapons
- Be aggressively intentional about loving your neighbors–your co-workers, the folks on your street, those who make life difficult for you, your fellow students, your annoying relatives, illegals, gays, the dog-owner who leaves behind dog crap, people who speak heavily accented English or little English at all, your unreasonable supervisor, the poor and needy, Muslims, anyone who hates you, and everyone you really (want to) hate, yes, even your enemies! Express love through listening, understanding, and responding appropriately. Show compassion, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, patience, generosity, and grace. James reminds us, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” I have a bit more to say here, and it’s my most common topic on this Table Talk blog.Over the years, I have tried to find definitions or descriptions of love that did justice to the Bible’s teaching while also exposing the common misconceptions and prevalent erroneous assumptions. For example, God’s love, agape, is not sex or lust or selfishness or mere gut feeling. One such description seems to capture the most important needs, that is, to “listen, understand, and respond appropriately”. Jesus told us to love even our enemies, and I have also taught that you can love someone without necessarily liking them. This description helps us see the way clear to do that; we can listen, truly pay attention to anyone. We may be surprised to find that working to understand those difficult people can be worthwhile. Finally, if we prayerfully think about it, God will help us uncover ways to respond appropriately even to the most difficult and unpleasant person.
- Be honest, truthful, faithful, loyal, but humble; speak the truth only gently, humbly, lovingly. Let your integrity show in a quiet confidence. Let others discover that you are consistently honest but never condescending. Let everyone see you authenticity from your children, spouse, and parents to your most casual acquaintance; don’t make promises lightly, but recognize that everything you speak is a promise. Don’t affirm as true anything you haven’t made a genuine effort to confirm, and apologize quickly when you find you messed up. Never use truth or truth claims to criticize, harass, annoy, badger, or condemn others. Discuss gently; don’t argue stubbornly. Don’t attack the character of those who disagree, don’t call them names, don’t ridicule or belittle them. It’s better to have others curious and want to know more than overwhelmed and wishing you’d shut up! I think Peter had that in mind when he wrote, “(I)n your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I’ve expanded on my thoughts in a longer post. “Rightly handing the word of truth” is important but not necessarily easy)
- Use reason to explain your convictions, but only when others are willing to listen. It’s long past time for believers to provide rational explanations for our values. “The Bible says so” is of little use to those who don’t believe, know, or comprehend the Bible. We give people reason to consider believing the Bible when we offer them sensible explanations for God’s moral commands. Many—partly due to the inept arguments of Christians—see God as a tyrant and the commandments as his denying life’s pleasures to us humans. I suspect many Christians feel the same. I believe many things because of the Bible’s authority as God’s Word; some of what I believe may be wrong because it is a complex book translated from ancient languages and written out of very unfamiliar cultures. Yet some things are very clear, the most important things. So let us follow the example of Paul in Acts 17, “So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” I wonder if Paul and Jesus used what some call the “Socratic method.” The name is unimportant, but the idea is. I believe the key to getting people to think, to reason, to think logically, to think at all may be asking questions, good insightful questions.One final observation, here, reaffirms the need to listen. Questions have little value if we ignore how people answer them. Nothing shows we do indeed care about people like listening, especially after we asked them a question. Questioning may help us get others to think and discover ideas they may not know or have overlooked, but their answers and follow-up questions will often reveal insights we dare not ignore. If we do, we may fail in our efforts to show them the way and, at the same time, suggest we don’t really care if they do. Learning to listen well and appropriately may require some major effort in the area of the next focus.
- Face your own pride, selfishness, desire for pleasure, materialism, narcissism, greed, apathy, laziness, and hatred. These are the opposite of love, the barriers to loving, and the source of our excuses, fears, and reluctance to love others as we wish to be loved. We need to face our own sin, confess it to God, and watch for it when it creeps back in. IMHO, all sin is rooted in pride and selfish self-centeredness. We disobey God to please ourselves. We fail to love our neighbor because it takes time, energy, and resources from ourselves. The sins of the flesh are self-serving and therefore unloving1, immediately gratifying, and often grow to be ugly or even criminal. The fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are beautiful and the very essence of love. Furthermore, should the current engagement lead to legal attacks against Christians and the Church, no one passes laws against such things. In humility and love, God is on our side, but on the other hand, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13)
- Guard your tongue. James warns us of the power of speech, even though words seem such little things. Yet it’s easy to see how ugly, contentious, and polarizing the “tongue” has become. Its rudeness, unkindness, condescension, ridicule, dishonesty, and viciousness have created an exceedingly hostile environment, some even say toxic. I am grieved when I hear openly vocal, self-identified Christians, use the same approach. I understand but we must stop! We bring shame to the name of our Savior with such talk, whether written or spoken, in person, recorded, or online. Rather Colossians 4:5-7 should be our guideline: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Let’s be honest here. We are rapidly approaching a possible tipping point where public expressions of hate could easily turn to violence, if we have not already arrived at that point. Our sinful world needs desperately our example of grace-filled conversation! This world needs the change that we should be trying to show them.
- Be a peacemaker, not a trouble-maker. Another identifying mark of a true disciple is being a maker of peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I often paraphrase this by saying true peacemakers will be recognized as genuine Christians. Yet I’m sorry to say that most of us are better known as quibblers who can’t get along with each other, and sadly this is often true. We enjoy the blessings of forgiveness by Jesus’ sacrifice and hold the treasure of the Gospel in our hands. As with love, this blessing is not only between Christians and God; he intends for us to be agents of reconciliation between people as well. We live in a world at a time where conflict, war, and alienation seem to be everywhere; even politicians practice the strategy of destroying their enemies, meaning their rivals. Since the election of President Trump, this has become especially obvious and troubling. This world doesn’t need more bullies, attackers, or belligerents, not of that kind; it does need genuine peacemakers. One of the reasons I remember Ronald Reagan fondly, as a politician, is his gentle manner in correcting his rivals. For us everyday folk concerned about the direction of our country and the freedom of ourselves and our churches, we cannot afford to be divisive, hostile, angry attack dogs. Instead Jesus warned, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Now there’s an assignment!
- Be bold and courageous. Don’t be afraid. It’s repeated over and over again in the Old Testament, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” We must do battle for our faith, our freedom, and our values, using the weapons God provides. It bears repeating, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We have an important task. As much as I’d like to “save our country” from what I fear to be coming our way, we have marching orders that take precedence. Our task is to wage war in the battle of ideas using the spiritual weapons he provides, the weapons I have been urging we use in this list. We must be bold. We must not fear. Our lives are forever secure in Him, and those of this world can’t touch them!
- Affirm your own uniqueness as God’s creation, and challenge others to do the same. We live at a time and place where many promote an equality that implies people are all the same, regardless of the many differences they also promote in diversity. You can find many examples but one just came to my attention recently. For some time feminists have been trying to make the case that men and women are essentially the same. At the same time, the gay rights movement has morphed into a LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual)-inspired notion that people can be as sexually different as they feel, despite the genetic characteristics they possess. These contradictory positions arise from a political agenda, with neither supported by scientific or other evidence. Yet, somehow, whatever the issue, under a powerful government, the end result is a demand for both conformity and uniformity. But we are not the same. Not only do our genders make us different, so do numerous other qualities—interests, talents, perspectives, gifts, cultural backgrounds, languages, types of intelligence, family, schooling. God designed us to be unique, and we must let people know that each person is one of a kind. That’s why abortion is so horrible; not only is it the ending of the life of an individual human, but that person is more incomparable than any two snowflakes, a singularity to be treasured and allowed to develop into its own original purpose and design.
Sadly many of us Christians fall into the conformity trap, confusing spiritual development with becoming like someone other than and far less than Jesus. I don’t believe it to be an accident that we have no true pictures of Jesus; imagine celebrity worshipers seeking to look like Jesus. Christ-likeness is a matter of virtue and character, not physical appearance, mannerism, or style.
- Make disciples. One way alone will win this war. It won’t be big battles like winning elections or the results of a Supreme Court decision. It became obvious years ago that we weren’t going to win the abortion battle in the secular realm, and I was almost glad of that. We need to return to the task God has given us…making disciples. I’m not talking church programs; I’m referring to the one-on-one process of loving, cultivating, and training. Outreach or evangelism is the start, but we need to mentor those who come to Christ. I believe we need to be intentional about, if you will, recruiting soldiers for this war. We have become too passive and allowed Christians to be trained by this world’s teachers with little correction (except for home-schooled students). Furthermore, too many of our efforts are vague of purpose or direction. We should be clear that we live as aliens in this world’s culture, our values are not their values, and we must become more than nice Christians. Many observe that the American Church is losing it’s young people. What’s to keep them if we have no vitalizing mission, especially when it is obvious our world and our culture are so needy, even as they oppose the Church wherever possible? Too often we have assumed or implied that a person’s salvation is the end of our efforts, when it is only the beginning. We need disciple-makers to train them for battle. Let me be more specific. I think every Christian should be on the watch for potential warrior/disciples. Then we need to befriend, encourage, get to know by listening, and slowly, gently begin to train. Give them time, let them observe our faith and love; if you love them as Jesus loves, they will be drawn to you and through you to Him. Relationships are the key; religion needs to go.
- Preserve the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace. This is Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4, and it applies well whether this is a ministry of compassion or a strategic battle in this spiritual war. I have come to accept that denominational divisions have and do serve a “cultural” purpose. As I have noted above, we are each unique, which inevitably leads us to align with our “preferences” of taste and opinion. I see no way to get everyone to agree about everything spiritual. Some like gospel and some like classical music; others like black spirituals and other even like metal! Some prefer a very emotional and expressive kind of worship, and some are more comfortable with a staid, liturgical style. Our Biblical perspectives differ, too, and I see no problem with finding teachers that teach what you have been convinced is true, just as long we ultimately affirm out unity. The Church, of which there is only one, has spent too much time and energy arguing with each other, seeking to dominate each other, and then separating into our spiritual bunkers, taking pot shots at each other. That isn’t unity, and disunity is disobedient! Disunity is especially damaging to our attempts to reach others with the truth, when the first question they might legitimately ask is, “Which truth?” Keep in mind that our commission is to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ, not to recruit them to our particular doctrinal preferences. Yes, I know some of interpretations are wrong, but that’s really not relevant. Paul reminds us, “’What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness‘” (Romans 4:3 referring to Genesis 15:6). That’s it, the gospel in a nutshell. We have no right to muck it up or complicate it. Of course we may explain the role of the Savior; what Abraham did with little knowledge is now fully explained, but it’s not the explanation we trust but God, the Savior, the author and the sacrifice for our sin. About this, all Christian believers and disciples should be unified in agreement, and we must say so!
- Learn and grow, and never stop. It is an irony of American history that this land blessed with so many fine educational institutions and so many well-educated people has become a place where continued learning and personal development are often despised. How many graduate or get their degree and then never read another book? Smart phones enable access to so many diverse applications including the vast resources of the Internet, yet many take little advantage of them to increase their knowledge, broaden their awareness, refine their wisdom, or even verify the latest outrageous forward. Maturity is the hallmark of a true disciple, who feeds on meat and not just milk. Sadly the Church is too often a schoolyard of bullies and brats and too rarely a temple of sages. God is surely great enough to enable us to handle the challenges we face (and they are big ones) if only we have the knowledge, maturity, and wisdom to follow his direction. I have been reading Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman, first published in 1985. In it he foresaw much we see today, though the responsible medium was television; computers and smart phones have taken us even further into lives of perpetual entertainment. Even while working, attention drifts to social networks and the latest movies and tv shows. Even while driving or engaged in other task requiring full attention, people are distracted by the trivial. Those same gadgets offer and almost unlimited encyclopedia of knowledge and an equally vast menu of ministry opportunities. How many of us take advantage of them to equip ourselves to serve our Lord, his people, and the lost who most desperately need our loving attention?
Pray and Go. Never stop praying and never stop going!
Pray! I’m so tired of “bless me” prayers. Those preoccupied with themselves pray mostly for themselves. People who love their neighbors pray for them. The Lord’s prayer includes prayer for daily needs and for forgiveness for “daily” sins. First it prays, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Here is where we engage in “warfare prayer.” Paul describes it:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
I’ll be the first to confess that I find this difficult. My feet tend to be thoroughly rooted in this world, and the spiritual realm always feels, well, it doesn’t. Furthermore, I tend to think that once I’ve prayed for something, I’ve done it; God knows, and why do I need to repeat myself? Like most people, I pray more diligently when I’m really worried or concerned about a loved one or a problem I face. Perhaps what we are seeing now is God allowing us to get worried and concerned. In any event, we need to include praying as an essential part of our battle plan.
Go. This has always been Jesus’ marching orders for us. Wherever we go, make disciples. That command has never changed, and it is for each of us, not just for missionaries. Right now is the time to divert the anger, frustration, fear, indignation, discouragement, hopelessness, and desperation into Jesus’ original plan, the plan that still remains timely for these present circumstances. Of the 10 points I’ve made love, truth, reason, courage, peacemaking, prayer, and disciple-making are spiritual weapons God has given us to use. Facing oneself and guarding the tongue are basic training, along with learning how to use our weapons properly. Going is marching to war. All the training in the world is of little use if we stay home and avoid the battle. Many believers have tended to avoid the call. Some have trained and trained but never fought. We need to become a Church of warriors who here and answer the call, prepare for battle, and quickly move to where the action is. We must hone our skills on the field. We will take injuries, and we will make mistakes; but as true warriors, we must face our errors and heal our wounds, then return to battle.
So here are 12 critical strategies for waging the kind of spiritual war that only a God of love, truth, kindness, grace, mercy, and foriveness would wage. Using them, Jesus turned the world upside down, starting with 12 whom he trained. They multiplied so quickly, that the Romans felt threatened. In time the Roman Empire fell, and Christian leaders picked up their responsibilities. We can question if all that history was for the best; we are still sinners, after all, who often take wrong turns. The method, however, was powerful and effective. It’s the one I’m urging we resume today. What do you think? Will you join me?
1We try to convince people that abortion and gay marriage are wrong, when their root is the same self-centered attitude that far too many Christians share. We talk faith, but we gravitate to preachers who promise health, wealth, and success. “Thou shall not covet” is one of the 10 commandments, but coveting is as American as apple pie. Many despise the rich because they covet what they have when, in fact, a wealthy materialist is no more a sinner than a poor materialist.