Onslaught

arrows

Satan never fires just one arrow and moves on. He fires volleys…salvos…relentless barrages.

Anyone who has been assaulted by the Enemy knows that it is rarely dodging one arrow and wiping our brow, like some fortunate wanderer who just happened to step into the line of fire and made it out to tell the story. It’s more like hunkering down in the bomb shelters of London or Liverpool circa 1941, hoping that the explosion that just rocked us was the last one but fearing that there’s at least one more to come.

That’s why Ephesians 6:16 doesn’t talk about using the shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrow, but all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

I used to think the plural form referred to the accumulation of arrows over a lifetime of living our faith. But experience has taught me differently. Yes, the arrows accumulate over time, but that doesn’t mean they accumulate one at a time.

And the arrows don’t all come from the same direction. Like a good battle strategist, our Enemy wants to flank us and knock us off balance. So he varies the attack vectors to cause more confusion and uncertainty. Hence, the arrows aren’t just coming from personal temptations, or relationships, or finances, or illness, or car problems. They come from any or all of the above.

It almost seems like a mere shield isn’t enough – we need a fortress.

It just so happens, we have one:

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

He is our fortress and our deliverer. He is our strength and our shield.

There is distinct symbolism here that gives us a three-hundred-sixty-degree defense against Satan’s onslaughts.

Sometimes when the battle is heaviest, we need somewhere to take refuge. We need walls and barriers to shield us, and someone to provide cover. We need to defend and just survive. There’s nothing wrong with hunkering down and waiting out the worst of the attack. God is there to be that fortress and deliverer in those times.

Then come the times to go on the attack. No war was ever won by an army permanently entrenched in their forts. At some point, an offensive strategy is needed. We cannot attain freedom for ourselves or anyone else if we’re locked in defensive mode. That’s where the strength and shield come in. When we’re ready to step out of the fortress and take the fight to the enemy, God is there for that as well. He becomes our strength to wield the sword and our shield to quench those arrows we talked about earlier.

So when it seems like the onslaught is at its worst, remember we have options. God’s war plan is multi-faceted. The next time you feel like you’re taking heavy fire: breathe deeply, know that He has all the angles covered, and plan your strategy accordingly.

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Snake Charmer

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“He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15b).

“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).

I was contemplating the concept of ‘power’ the other day, particularly as it relates to our battles with temptation and sin.

How often do we treat temptation as if it is a snake and we are merely a desperate snake-charmer, trying our best to either placate it, hold it at bay or dodge its next strike – allowing it to have the control, and reacting as best we can to avoid getting bit? Giving it the position of power does not give us freedom. It binds us.

To keep something at bay while playing defense is a recipe for defeat. Just ask any football fan who has watched his or her team blow a fourth quarter lead thanks to the ‘prevent defense.’

To compromise with wickedness is equally a recipe for defeat. Just ask the nations that thought a peace treaty with Hitler was a good idea.

But look at the Genesis passage above, and put your particular weakness in the role of the serpent for a moment. I see here two important truths related to that confrontation.

God tells the serpent “he [man] will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Let me work right to left.

God said “you will bruise his heel.” What this tells me is that sometimes our sin lands a blow, and that’s okay.

Well, I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s okay…if that makes sense.

We’re human. We make bad choices.

John writes “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9), which presupposes we have sins that need confessing. In fact, he even goes on to write that if we say we have no sin, the truth isn’t in us (v. 10). (And remember, John is writing to church-going Christians here!)

Missteps and offenses are part of life. Temptation and weakness will get the upper hand once in a while. From the very beginning God acknowledged as much. It doesn’t mean we have a free pass, but it means His grace is enough to cover it.

The best part of this passage, though, is where God tells the serpent “he will bruise your head” or, in the NIV: “he will crush your head”.

God is using language that suggests not merely avoidance or keeping our sin at arm’s length, but outright aggression.

We were intended to meet the enemy head-on in the power of Christ. In Luke 10:19, Jesus tells His disciples “I give you authority to trample snakes and scorpions…” Again, His intention is for us to conquer.

Paul starts his ‘Armor of God’ discourse with the phrase, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might…that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

He didn’t say find a safe place to hunker down. Or learn some good footwork so you can dodge the blows. Or give it some slack so you can avoid the ‘big sins’.

He said “be strong, take on God’s power, and stand !”

So next time you’re faced with that habit or addiction or weakness that plagues you, remember that God doesn’t empower you to dance around it, He empowers you to meet it head on.

Don’t dance with it, don’t flirt with it – claim the power that resides in you as a believer, and crush it!

Let me close with one more verse. Something to cling to whenever you start to think that the serpent is too strong for you and all you can do is compromise or avoid…

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory” (Ephesians 6:20-21).

Freedom to Stay the Course

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Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.

He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood (about yourself) which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation. If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.

Keep at your work. Let your aim be steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”

This quote is from an anonymous writer. I found it years ago in John MacArthur’s Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Thomas Nelson Press, 2005, p. 14).

These words have been on the wall above my desk since I discovered them. I have looked at them often. I have prayed over them. I have read them aloud, and hand-copied them in my journal as an exercise to internalize them. I have pleaded with God to help me live by them when doing so seemed impossible.

Though the quote was found in a book on pastoring, it is certainly not limited to pastors. It can be applied to every person who is trying to follow God’s call.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all in ministry in some capacity (see Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-16). And if we are pursuing that ministry, we are going to meet opposition.

Opposition can arise from where we might expect it, or from where we don’t expect it at all. Though we must be careful not to dismiss true loving correction, when it is pure antagonism and slander we should rest in the One who holds us securely in the palm of His hand (John 10:28-29).

Opposition can be based on truth or lies (or a mixture of both).

If it is truth concerning something from the past, claim God’s promise that you are redeemed (Colossians 2:13-14) and a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). If truth about something current, then own it, break the cycle, and seek accountability and help. In either case, don’t allow hateful or condemning words to drive you to despair. God is not surprised by your brokenness… He knew about it before the world began, and He loves you anyway. You can move forward.

If it’s based on lies, know that even the Lord Himself faced lying accusations and was assigned false motives. Let Him be your defender. He’s capable, willing, and always on the job (“For He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” – Hebrews 13:5b).

Overall, remember this: God is able to complete what He set out to do through you. Man will not derail what God has established (Isaiah 55:11, Philippians 1:6). This gives us freedom to stay the course.

So take heart. Trust Him. Stick to your work even when the fight seems hopeless. It will definitely be worth it in the end.

He promised.

Our Inner Testimony

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We talk a lot about it as believers.

As we should.

We are Christ’s ambassadors, and the image we project as we represent our King is important. We cannot represent a compassionate God with outward shows of irresponsibility, corruption, hypocrisy, intolerance, and other subpar behavior.

But there is another aspect to our testimony that is more subtle, and extremely enslaving and limiting.  I call it our “inner testimony”.  It’s those weaknesses and struggles that remain in our private lives and never see the light of day.

At some level, we all have something that we wrestle with privately.  Maybe yours is big or maybe it’s trivial. Maybe no one knows about it, not even those closest to you. If that’s true I’d venture to guess it’s not because you’re leading a double life, but because you’re ashamed and embarrassed for anyone to know (that’s the case more often than not).

So we dig in and we fight alone.

As valiant as we might be, there are days when we come limping off the battlefield dragging our sword behind us and nursing a gaping wound.

In time, those occasional losses start to wear on us, and we become more and more prone to giving up the fight.  Sure, we still go through the motions.  We beat our chests and rattle our swords and let out the most intimidating cries we can. But deep down, we’ve resigned to the fact that this is what we are and we can’t win.  In other words, we start to believe the labels and the lies. Then comes compromise and bad habits and deeper and deeper levels of shame and thoughts of “Well, I surely can’t talk to anyone about this now”.

So you just go with it and try to ‘make up’ for it in other areas of your life. You sacrifice that fight and hope you can win everywhere else. If only you can be the very best Christian (with just this one weakness that no one has to know about…) it will all come out in the wash, as they say.

Here’s the truth:

If you indulge that secret weakness – pornography, sexual misconduct, sneaking hits of your drug of choice, ducking into the casino or strip club with that little bit of money no one knows you have in an area where no one you know will see you… you could very well get by. You could conceivably get by your entire life.

In theory, your outward testimony could remain intact.  After all, when you indulge you’re either by yourself or you’re completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. ‘You’re not hurting anyone else,’ you reason (though actually, you are). And you can’t show a bad Christian testimony to people who don’t even know you’re Christian. So maybe – maybe – you get away with it.

Now, I could launch into a sermon on Numbers 32:23 (“and be sure you’re sin will find you out”). But the truth is, some people do manage to go to their grave with that secret sin tucked away safely (not because they “got one over,” mind you, but because in His divine wisdom God chose not to expose it).

But even if your outer testimony is never impacted, your inner one will be.

Because these things reinforce our chains.  They undermine our confidence, create cracks in our foundation, and on subconscious levels make us insecure and unable to fully engage. You can be effective, and to many it may look like you’re doing great things. Others may see something a little off, but something they can’t quite put their finger on.

Either way you won’t be living up to your potential. You won’t be able to live out the freedom God has for you and impact others the way He intends.  Because when your inner testimony is tainted, your whole is out of balance.

So if you’re in that place right now, where you’ve allowed yourself to be resigned to compromising your battle plans – convinced you have to give ‘this’ ground so you can hold ‘that’ – snap out of it. Find an accountability partner, resolve to win the battle on every front, and watch how your outward life can be transformed by a solid inner testimony!

Surveying the Battlefield

Military 1148Sometimes battles are lost. We won’t always win. That’s just part of the ebb and flow of this thing we call spiritual warfare. 

But when losses come, it’s good to take time to look back over the battlefield and survey the landscape for lessons learned.

When I do this after a stumble or a fall, what I find is a battlefield littered with the armor that I should have been wearing.  

The Shield of Faith was sufficient to stop any fiery darts of lust or self-doubt or anger or whatever the Enemy launched at me. But it is lying on the ground. Cast aside in a moment of fear or frustration. Or out of sheer exhaustion from the overwhelming onslaught.

The Sword of the Spirit (scripture) could have given me the ability to deliver an effective counter-punch.  After all, that is what Jesus used when confronted by Satan in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. But I didn’t reach for my Bible when temptation came, or recall scripture passages. Instead, I loosed my grip on that sword and allowed it to clang to the ground alongside the shield.

The Belt of Truth should remind me of who I am based on God’s promises. Instead, it’s slack and falling down, allowing lies and labels to form my core in the moments when I most need to be girded by the truth. When that belt is firmly in place, I see myself as redeemed, forgiven, called, favored, blessed. When it slips, I see myself as worthless, incapable, emotionally out of control, lustful, addicted, helpless. 

Because the belt has fallen away, the Breastplate of Righteousness is askew. It no longer guards my heart properly against insecurity and frailty. A loose breastplate means I am now drawing from my limited humanity which is incapable of attaining righteousness. Had the breastplate stayed straight I’d have rested in my Spirit-filled self, which finds value and worth in what He has done rather than what I can do.

If I’d cinched fast the chinstrap on that Helmet of Salvation, I would have been protected against the ungodly thoughts and carnal imaginings that invade a mind focused on this world.  The knowledge of a secure salvation would keep me honed in on an eternal perspective.  Instead, the helmet toppled off into the dirt and I became overtaken by temporal concerns, emotions, and pleasures.

Shoes of the Gospel are there to remind me of the “death, burial, and resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) that completes me. But when they are not laced up securely they fall away and I am easily overtaken by a message of false fulfillment.

That’s the whole armor in Ephesians 6:13-17, strewn on the ground at the site of the defeat.

The losses look different. The circumstances change. The opponent varies in appearance and tactic. But ultimately, it all comes back to the armor.

It comes back to too much focus on the enemy and not enough focus on the armor that protects me from him.

Let’s make a conscious effort to change that focus. The battle is ours.

The Warrior’s Freedom

Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”

That is the tagline of this ministry.  It is the core idea that everything in Freedom Rising Ministries is built around.

Rising into freedom means understanding that our freedom does not come from our win/loss record.  Our freedom comes from God’s declaration that we are free.  From there, the fight commences from a position of freedom, not from a position of trying to gain freedom.

We are never going to escape temptation in this life.  We will always deal with the weaknesses of our flesh, though Christ gives us renewed strength for the fight as believers.  There will be bad days, and there will be failures.  When we fight from a position of freedom, we can take them in stride and acknowledge that we are still free because our freedom is based on Jesus’ declaration and not our achievements.

But we must be cautious not to fall into the trap of resigning ourselves to failure.  That is not God’s intent.  There is no growth or fulfillment in that.  If we look further down in Galatians 5, verse 13 says “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

In other words, don’t use your freedom as an excuse to indulge sin.

If you are actively indulging in sin patterns, address it.  Christ’s freedom is not a call to continue on in your sin with a prayer and a shoulder-shrug and a ‘that’s just the way I am’.  Because He replies “No, this is the way you are…free!”

After writing extensively on the subject of the free gift of God’s grace, Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

And later in Romans 6:14-15, we find:  “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  Certainly not!”

A warrior is free to fight on the battlefield.  The battle will not always be easy (even for the best of us…see Romans 7:15-23).  And the warrior will not always win.  But that doesn’t mean he hoists the white flag at the first sign of setback.  A good warrior, recognizing the position of freedom from which he fights, picks his sword up and charges back into the battle.  So pick up your sword and get back in there…every time!

Think of the particular temptations and struggles that you combat daily.  Are you just letting them win because you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you can’t attain real freedom, or are you standing firm in the promise of Romans 6:14 and Galatians 5:1 and fighting from a position of freedom?  What battle techniques work for you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.