How to Combat Spiritual Warfare

I’m a little Type A (my score: 14/16).

I’m also slightly sarcastic.

But you know this already.

I have a point. It’s coming. It will be here soon.

Oh, yes, when I am told to do something at which I am inexperienced, I need instructions. Step by step, tell me how to do it, on account of the Type A in me.

One subject in the Christian world where there seems to be great confusion and hocus pocus is spiritual warfare.

I mean, we hear about it. We read about it in our Bibles. We’re told we’re all in a battle that is not of flesh and blood but is somewhere out there in the 4th dimension we can’t see (Ephesians 6:12).

(Or is it the 5th dimension? I’ve never been friends with the science.)

The point is spiritual warfare is invisible and intangible and the majority of Christian instruction about it has proven unhelpful for me.

Things like “Take every thought captive to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

What does that even mean, really? Handcuff our thoughts? I can’t deal with this ridiculous imagery.

Most people explain this verse to mean that when you have a thought, check it against scripture to see if it is true.

Ah, now that is more practical.

However, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but the Bible IS A HUGE BOOK. How can I check my every thought against thousands of pages of words, especially when I am emotional about something?

I did an exercise the other day that proved helpful.

Step 1 – Don’t wait until you’re upset and prone to think unclearly to do this exercise. Be proactive and do it before you need it.

Step 2 – Write out the lies Satan baits you with most often. Off the top of your head, write them out until you can’t think of anymore. You may end up with a list of 10-20.

Step 3 – Look for similarities in the lies, and reduce the list to the Top 5 Lies Satan Gets You to Believe on a Regular Basis. Write this list on the left half of a piece of paper.

Step 4 – For each lie find a specific scripture that refutes it. The Bible is huge; there are lots of details in it. Use a Bible search engine like BlueLetterBible.org and enter the key words from your lie to see what truths are returned about it. Sift through them and find one that speaks to your specific lie as well as your heart. If it doesn’t encourage your heart when you’re calm, it won’t encourage you when you’re emotionally involved in spiritual warfare. Write this list of scriptures on the right half of the paper, lining up each truth across from the corresponding lie.

Step 5 – KEEP THIS PAPER WITH YOU. Take a picture of it with your phone. Save the list to your computer. Post it on your fridge, in the car, everywhere you frequent.

Step 6 – When you sense Satan baiting you in one of the usual ways, look at your list, find the corresponding truth, and read it OUT LOUD. This is the model Jesus left for us; refute lies by saying, “It is written…” and quote the scripture (Matthew 4:1-10).

Step 7 – Tell Satan to leave. This is also what Jesus modeled (Matthew 4:10-11). Because the Holy Spirit – i.e., God – resides in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), we quite literally possess the same power Jesus had, also being God, to tell Satan what to do. And he must obey, not because we’re hot stuff, but because God in us is the authority over him (1 John 4:4).

Step 8 – Be aware that Satan will leave, but he will also return at a more opportune time (Luke 4:13).

I know the temptation is to think, “Huh, this is a good idea,” and close the page and not think twice about it.

Guess what?

THAT WON’T HELP YOU.

Do the exercise.

Now.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy; you’re reading a blog for crying out loud.

Come on, go do the exercise.

I’ll wait. 🙂

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Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

The fact is there are lots of awesome church people out there that have decided it’s not okay for them to leave their churches because they don’t really have biblical reasons to do so.

So they are staying. Right where they are. And, truth be told, they are miserable. They find it difficult to be at their churches. They aren’t happy, and unhappy people have difficulty connecting with others and with God.

What then?

Are they obligated to stay at their churches and be miserable?

No.

God doesn’t want you  miserable at your church. Barring any unbiblical things going on, God wants you happy at your church. 

Read that again.

God wants you happy at your church, not at a new church. 

How do I know that?

a) God loves us and wants us to be happy (Psalm 68:3). God is a compassionate God who weeps with us and rejoices with us and is able to relate to every emotion we have (Matthew 14:14, John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). He desires for us to feel happy, but that is not the end all be all of our existence, and if our happiness and our growth in Christ are at odds with one another, God will choose to attempt to grow us every time (2 Corinthians 3:18).

b) If there is one thing the New Testament stresses to the church, it’s unity (2 Corinthians 13:11). When people leave their church bodies in search of personal happiness in a new church body, whether they intend to or not, they effectively stress fracture their former body. Whether they leave quietly or recruit loudly as they go, they weaken other believers in that body by taking away their services (assuming they were serving in the first place) and by causing other believers to wonder if they should leave too.

When the body gets multiple stress fractures from multiple people leaving, it becomes so weak it breaks. And when the body breaks in multiple places, it hurts. A lot. For a long time. Ministry is crippled, to some degree, among the remaining church members as they are left to try to salvage the body. Energy and resources have to be focused on healing the body rather than on what the church should be focusing on: spreading the Gospel and discipling believers.

c) Every time we feel like our happiness is at odds with an opportunity for us to grow, we aren’t viewing the situation how we should (James 1:2-3). We need a heart change quick. We should value above all else our conformation to the image of Christ. That should be our chief source of happiness, and being miserable at your church affords you the perfect opportunity to grow. Rejoice.

So, if you’re unhappy at your church, can I gently challenge you to stop waiting for the things around you to change to suit your preferences and to start changing yourself?

If you want to feel happy about going to your church, stop the self-focus – “What am I not getting?” – and train your mind to focus on others (Philippians 2:3-4) – “How can I serve others here today?” If you’re not serving, start (1 Peter 4:10).

Now, the tricky part is we can serve until we’re blue in the face and still feel unhappy about our churches because our hearts are still focusing on ourselves while we go through the motions of serving others. Psalms says God doesn’t value that kind of external sacrifice, he wants our hearts (Psalm 51:16-17). When we serve with the motivation to honor the Lord, others will experience the love and truth of Jesus, and we will gain joy knowing the Lord is happy with us (Ephesians 6:7). 

If you are among the minority of church members who do serve and are others focused, but you still feel unhappy with your church, there is one other area that needs to change.
Consider that everything your church does is not for your benefit. If you’re a seasoned believer, the outreach arm of your church is not trying to make you happy, it is trying to reach unbelievers and new believers and welcome them into the church so they can come to know Christ. What’s more important than that? (Matthew 28:18-19)
Knowing this, seasoned believers should approach outreach times not with an “I’m not getting anything out of this” attitude but with a rejoicing heart that the Gospel is being preached and non and young believers are getting exactly what they need – small doses of scripture and basic truths (1 Corinthians 3:2). Your jobs during outreach, seasoned believers, is to bring non and new believers so they can grow and to pray for the Spirit to move. Rejoice that seekers are being introduced to Christ at your church!
Likewise, if you’re a young believer, the intensive Bible studies that are way over your head are not trying to make you happy, they are trying to help seasoned believers go deeper in their relationships with the Lord (Hebrews 5:14). If you’re in one of these classes, and your eyes are glazing over because you don’t care about the original Greek, your job is to pray that the Spirit would move and grow these other members in their walks with Him. Rejoice that seasoned believers can grow at your church!
This is the kind of perspective change – to value others more than ourselves – that is called maturing in Christ. If you church-hop in this moment, you lose. You lose the opportunity to mature in your faith (Ephesians 4:15). You lose the opportunity to be apart of others coming to know the Lord.
If none of this is helpful, you need to call your pastor, schedule a meeting, and have an open, honest discussion with him about how you’re feeling. Tell him that you are unhappy and that you don’t want to leave, but you don’t know how to get happy, and allow him to speak to the sources of your unhappiness. Some of the very things that cause you the most trouble could be simple misunderstandings. Or they could be legitimate problems that your pastor needs to be aware of so he can redirect the church.

When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church

Can I be honest with you?

Thanks.

I’ve been thinking A LOT about biblical church membership this past year. More specifically, I’ve been trying to come up with a good rule of thumb for when it is okay for a church member to leave their church and go find a new one.

Unfortunately, my church has been in a bit of an upheaval for some time. To sum up why, our pastor left for the mission field 18 months ago. We had guest preachers for several months before hiring a new pastor a year ago. And, shocker, the new guy isn’t the old guy.

New leadership has brought new staff, new priorities, and new strategies. And we all know how well people deal with change

So. Upheaval.

I suppose because I have a small leadership role in my church (lay Bible study teacher), or maybe because I’m always in the wrong places at the wrong times, people have come to me with their complaints about all the changes.

And I have listened until I am blue in the face (listening really takes it out of me, apparently) about all the reasons people are upset. And my strategy for helping folks has been to boil things down to this one question: is the Gospel still being preached?

Invariably, they must answer yes. Our new pastor is very clear from the pulpit every Sunday that Jesus is the Son of God, He died for our sins, and He is the only way to Heaven.

So, in my book, because the Gospel is still being taught, any other changes, no matter how small or large, are not reasons to leave our church.

But a lot of my friends are still hung up on their personal preferences not being met.

“I’m not connecting…”

“I don’t like the new guy’s preaching style…”

“I don’t like that they spent money on ______…”

“I don’t like that my area of ministry is getting less attention than another area of ministry.”

But what these people are really saying is, “My plan would be better than the current plan.” And while that might be true, for people to take that as a reason to leave the church is to say, “My plan is more important than the current plan.”

They even rationalize things by saying, “I deserve to be happy with my church. With so many good churches to choose from, what’s the harm in finding a new one?”

Well, our friend Paul, a staunch proponent of unity in the body, says this, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others,” (Philippians 2:3-4).

It is selfish ambition and vain conceit to say, “If my church leadership doesn’t do things how I want them done, I’m leaving.”

It is only looking to your own interests and ignoring the interests of others to leave your church over personal preferences. Why? Because the church is a body, and each member is a vital part of that body (1 Corinthians 12). When one leaves for selfish reasons, there is a void, and it HURTS THE REMAINING MEMBERS!

Paul goes on to tell believers, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus was never concerned about titles. He wasn’t worried about being rightfully honored. He didn’t focus on Himself or using His abilities to further His own agenda. He made Himself nothing, humbly serving others.

We church members would do well to do the same. Being a part of a church is not about you. It’s about others. And when you go to church with this question in the front of your mind – How can I serve someone here today? – then you get what Paul was talking about! Then you are living what Jesus modeled!

And – bonus – when you approach church this way, you will be more fulfilled.

If you are discontent with your church, ask God to help you change your priorities from yourself to His Kingdom. Look for ways to serve others so they will see Jesus in you and be inspired to move closer to Him themselves.

Some Truths About Your Purpose

Every year about this time, at summer’s end, prepping for another school year, another year of ministry, I question my “purpose” and my “calling”.

Truth be told, I hate those words. Mostly because I struggle to pinpoint what my purpose and calling are. God hasn’t given me the blue print to my life, so I frequently wonder what He’s up to.

image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net

The Bible teaches all believers are “called” to certain things – He called us to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9); He calls us to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15); He calls us to have hope in Jesus (Ephesians 1:16-20; 1 Peter 5:10); He calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20); He calls us to love Him and one another (Matthew 22:36-39); He calls us to use our gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8).

These are “general” callings. God doesn’t have to speak them directly to each one of us for us to know they are for each one of us. He wrote them in the Bible to save Himself some time. He’s smart like that.

But what about “specific” callings? Like God calling Abraham to leave for a new land (Genesis 12:1-4)? Or God hand-picking David to be Israel’s king (1 Samuel 16:10-13)? Or God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2)? These callings aren’t for all believers; they were specific callings for individuals in history.

I often wonder what my “specific” calling(s) might be…

By virtue of the fact that I am married, I am called to be a (good) wife. Similarly, because I possess children, I am called to be a (good) mother.

If I consider my gifts of teaching and prophecy (commitment to the truth, not foretelling the future), I am called to use those somehow some way for the edification of the Church. In a way, that’s specific, but, on the other hand, a lot of details on how to use those gifts are lacking. Does the how even matter? Will God be happy with me using my gifts in any number of ways as long as it is done for His glory (Colossians 3:23)?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. And sometimes that fact trips me up.

I want to know which Bible courses He wants me to teach, what plans He has for this blog, if He wants me to take a staff position at my church, if He wants me to invest some time in developing a speaking career, if He wants me to go get a Masters of Divinity, if He wants me to write a book, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes I get so caught up in what I don’t know, I am tempted to not do anything

Satan likes to try to paralyze me with thoughts like, “Did God really call you to teach this specific Bible course, or did you volunteer on your own accord?” and “God isn’t really using this blog – maybe you should hang it up.”

But what Satan fails to mention is that if I do nothing, I won’t be obeying the general calls on my life. Problem. 

As for the specific callings, Psalm 138:8 reads, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me…”

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me… I don’t have to work it out; He will.

The Lord will fulfill HIS purpose for me… I don’t have to create my own purpose; He already has one in mind for me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for ME… I don’t have to wonder if He has a specific call on my life; He does.

The Lord WILL fulfill his purpose for me…. Whether I know what that purpose is, whether I cooperate with Him or rebel against Him, whether I feel inadequate or my weaknesses seem to get in the way, God WILL have His way with and through me.

This is great news. Namely, I can’t screw up God’s purpose for me! No matter what path I choose, He won’t let me walk down it unless it contributes to His purpose for me.

Recognizing this fact doesn’t provide me anymore of the details I wish I had… but it does provide me freedom. While Satan would have me freeze in the face of uncertainty, the Lord says, “Go ahead and try to use your gifts however you want; make a plan. Do not be afraid. I will redirect any misguided ideas you have to lead you into my purpose for you.”

The author of  Proverbs 16:9 agrees, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

Related articles:

This Time of Year

The Meaning of Life

What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For?

How to Love People Better

You know how sometimes God puts together cute little lessons for us that all revolve around a central theme? (He could be a party planner that way. He could be on Pinterest.) Well, the lessons of the month for me are all about learning to love better.

God is showing me I’ve previously approached relationships with a pretty self-centered perspective.

Sometimes I blatantly, yet subconsciously, use relationships to meet my needs. In other words, I maintain relationships because they benefit me in someway.

Other times I am more covert. I focus on meeting other people’s needs in relationships because it makes me feel good to know other people benefit from being friends with me. It’s a little more pleasing to the eye, but it’s still rooted in selfishness.

If a relationship doesn’t meet my needs or make me feel good by allowing me to meet others’ needs, I usually don’t put any effort into that relationship. If there’s nothing in it for me, what’s the point?

What's in it for me?
image via empowernetwork.com

Sounds pretty godly, right?

Negative, which is why God has been creating all kinds of “opportunities” for me to grow up. And, dare I say, I’m finally starting to make some headway.

I’ll just go ahead and tell you my recent growth hasn’t happened because some well-meaning Christian quoted 1 Corinthians 13 to me and told me I ought to love like that. It’s true, I should love like that, but sometimes when I read verses 4 through 8, all I hear is a list of standards I can’t keep. I get discouraged. To love as perfectly as Paul describes feels like spinning plates, trying to make sure they all stay atop their poles before the whole show comes crashing to a halt.

No, that intimidating passage was not the catalyst for my recent improvement. Actually, the difference-maker for me was a friend taking time to share his view of what it means to love others well. And because he has a great track record of loving me well, I listened to him. He said when he interacts with someone, he asks himself, “What is in the other person’s best interest?”

Huh.

I’d never thought of that.

Probably because, at first glance, it has nothing to do with my best interest.

As I pondered my friend’s perspective, it reminded me of servant love. It reminded me of Jesus washing gross feet because the disciples needed to be clean before they ate (John 13:3-12). It reminded me of Paul enduring beatings because it was in the Gentiles best interest to hear the Gospel (Acts 16:23-33). And, of course, it reminded me of Jesus dying on the cross because we needed rescuing in the worst kind of way (Luke 9:22).

All that to say, I decided my friend might be onto something. So the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking the Lord to help me intentionally ask myself, “What is in my friend’s best interest right now, and how can I help promote that interest?”

I’m asking this question before I give well-meaning advice, while I’m having conversations with people, when I’m leading women in Bible study, when my husband gets home from work, when my kids are being challenging. And I’m finding it to be quite clarifying.

Too often I discover what I was considering doing or saying would have made me feel good, but it would not have been what the other person really needed most at the moment. Then I have a choice.

Do I say/do what I want anyway, or do I stop in my tracks, exercise self-discipline, and choose to love the person how they need to be loved?

It’s hard. Dying to self is always hard. But it’s also gratifying. Knowing I am loving people better than I used to motivates me to keep going in this direction.

And, just so you know, I fail a lot. Sometimes I revert to self-centered “loving”. Conviction sets in, and I have to repent to the Lord. But I’m always met with grace. He sees my heart. He knows I am trying. He knows growing is a process. And He delights over me because I am His.

He feels the same way about you.

Anyway, give this technique a whirl, and let me know if it helps you.

The Exact Opposite of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (A Fresh Look at a Familiar Passage)

Love is not impatient.

Love is not mean.

Love is content.

It is modest.

It is humbly confident.

It honors others.

It is selfless.

It is extraordinarily calm.

It lets go of offenses.

Love delights in goodness but mourns over falsity.

It never endangers, never suspects, never loses hope, never quits.

Love always triumphs.