Tag Archives: Spiritual warfare

The Circling Birds of Prey.

I’ve now been back from Ethiopia for three weeks, and have had some time to reflect on the things I saw and experienced. I want to convey a surreal event that happened November 26th. The week in Dire Dawa was finished, and I was prepared to move on to the second half of my trip. I had just gone for a run, and I walked back up to my room and onto the balcony overlooking the city to cool off. As the sun went down, the Muslim call to prayer rung out over loudspeakers from minarets around the city. At the same time this was happening, there were at least hundreds, if not over a thousand birds of prey circling over the city. It was one of those times I wished I’d grabbed the camera. As it got darker, they began to dissipate into different directions, and it got me thinking about the spiritual aspects of what was going on in that city. I just stood on the balcony and prayed over that city that God’s grace and power would come to it.

In Daniel 10, there is a very interesting passage. Daniel the prophet has received a vision that is very disturbing to him. In response, he humbles himself, fasting and praying and mourning for three weeks. He waits for an answer from God. After the 21st day, he receives his answer.

“Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling.

12 Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.”

It’s the last passage that I find particularly interesting. A messenger is sent from God to Daniel, but is unable to get through to him because of opposition from, as would be called in the New Testament “principalities and powers.” What breaks this opposition is Daniel standing in the gap in fasting and prayer.

I bring this up because there are places in this world where principalities and powers have had free reign for hundreds or thousands of years. Dire Dawa is one of those places. I hear it in the interviews of the missionary pastors being sent out. Their converts slide back into their old ways of life because they are opposed at every front. They are rejected by family, fired from jobs, physically beaten, and sometimes even killed, and all for their decision to follow Christ. On top of this, Saudi Arabia is pouring oil money into the region to build madrassas that teach the austere, severe form of Islam called Wahhabism. Even as they oppose this type of teaching in their own nation because of the insecurity and instability it produces, they are exporting it to Ethiopia.

I say all this to try to paint a picture of how hard it is to be a church planter in Eastern Ethiopia. The people I talked to who seem to have had the most success are those who are willing to take a new Christian into their home and disciple them on an intensive basis.

So let me bring this back around, because this is, after all, written to a Western audience for the most part. We like to send out missionaries who will send back quarterly reports telling of their successes. How many converts were there? How many children were fed? How many shoes were handed out?

If we truly want to reach the unreached areas, we need to be willing to be supportive when there is little or no good news. We need to be willing to fast and pray, and humble ourselves, and mourn. You see the enemy knows that sometimes all he has to do is delay God’s messenger long enough, and we with our short attention spans and merit based giving, will give up. Sometimes we need to put our resources and time and money and prayer into the places where nothing seems to be happening. And on that metaphorical 22nd day, God’s messenger will show up. At that point, the enemy will be exposed for what he is, and as it says in Colossians, speaking of Christ on the cross “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

So in closing, I would ask that when you see missionaries in difficult areas having trouble, to pray harder, and back them even more. After all, there’s a reason not everyone goes to the hard places.

Leaving the Devil Worshippers Back Home

I’ve decided to broach a touchy subject tonight that I’ve sat on for a while. When I write a blog, I often have a concept down, but there’s some part of it missing. That’s what happened with this post, until today.

As I prepare to go back to Africa, a lot of things go through my head. How do I prepare, physically, financially, and especially spiritually? This is also a continual thought as people approach me who want to be involved on the going side of missions.

I am always looking for people who will be involved not only with serving locally, but people willing and suitable to go and do the difficult work of traveling to remote places in Africa or Asia, with all of the discomfort and unknown factors that come with that.

Now God can and will use all kinds of people. I think of how incredibly naive I was when I first got involved with missions, and it’s proof positive that God will take someone with few skills who is willing and use them. God can take willing people and give them skills, but it’s harder to take skilled people and use them if they’re not willing. What I’m saying in a long-winded way is that I try not to look at someone and say, “I won’t take them. God won’t use them.”

However, there is one type of person I greatly hesitate to take overseas with me for Christian ministry and that is devil worshippers. At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “what on earth is this guy going on about? Why would that even be an option?”

Well, there are far more devil worshippers in the church than is readily apparent, and I’m going to explain. A friend of mine said once, “Complaining is the devil’s worship music.” Let that sink in, because it’s completely true. There are people in the church that you can tell when they’re complaining because their mouth is open. A person with a complaining spirit sows all kind of discord around them and invites evil into their own lives. They cause division within a ministry group and make being a witness extremely difficult. They split churches and cause effective outreaches to cease.

There is a direct tie between true worship and effective ministry. There is also a direct tie between gratefulness, thankfulness, and an effective witness. In many instances in the bible, miracles and great acts of God are immediately preceded by worship, especially in times where that worship was under difficult circumstances and trials. I think of Paul and Silas in prison, in chains and having been beaten. They began to worship, the earthquake came, and their chains fell off. As a result, the jailer and his whole family were saved.

What does worship do? It takes our focus off of ourselves and places it squarely on God, where it belongs. Therefore there is also a direct tie between worship and humility. Worship says, “less of me, and more of You.” It is in this state that we are able to act and pray most effectively. As the scripture says, “if you ask for anything in my name, it will be done.” But that’s where people often go wrong. They pray, “in Jesus name” at the end of their prayer as if it’s some magic talisman and expect it to be done as if that’s what Jesus was talking about. No, we pray and act in Jesus name when our will lines up with his. How does that happen? When we seek his will by knowing the written Word, and by worshipping, which in effect says, “Lord, let me put myself aside. Show me your will.”

It is at this point, when we have put ourselves aside, when we are humbled, and we have a heart of gratitude, that our testimony is effective. Consider the words from the book of Revelation, speaking of the end of the devil. “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Now contrast that with a complaining spirit, that continually says, “I have been wronged. No one defers to me. Someone owes me. I demand my pound of flesh.” All focus in this case is on me, not God. There is no gratitude, and no seeking anyone’s will but my own. Everything that has ever gone wrong was always someone else’s fault. Despite the fact that many complainers constantly engage in self-effacement, they are not humble, because humility is not about thinking less of yourself. Rather it’s about thinking of yourself less. You can’t do that when you’re complaining. I would go so far as to say, no one was ever saved from their old life because someone was complaining.

When ever I will be heading to the mission field, I go through a time of self-assessment. These are not just thoughts for “them”, whoever “them” is. These thoughts are especially for me. So to succinctly sum up what I’m talking about today, I’m finishing with the words from Philippians 2, which says the following.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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.

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[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Do Everything Without Grumbling

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

The Settlers, Part Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about settlers, and I implied that there would be a second part. Well, after more thinking on the subject, here is the second part.

The word “settlers” has a couple of possible meanings. It could mean someone who follows in the footsteps of the pioneers and sets up camp when everything is safe. This was the angle I took in the first part if this blog. But there’s another possible meaning to the word settlers, that being the name given to people who settle for second best, or third best, or settle for the worst for that matter.

I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but when I look around myself, and when I look inward, I see an awful lot of settling, an awful lot of “that’ll do.”

Before we were saved, the enemy used tactics like lust, greed, hate, envy, and lots of other seemingly obvious ways to tempt us. After Jesus saved us, we (hopefully) stopped falling for those things so easily, though we will still often struggle. So the enemy changed his tactics to a more subtle line of offense, that being to get us involved in all sorts of good things, so long as those good things were not the best things that God had planned for us. This allows us to feel good about ourselves while still being disobedient. It allows us to continue to put ourselves first, and our faith atrophies like an unused muscle because we ignored the call to the best things God had for us.

Before someone starts thinking that I’m suggesting something that is too hard, I want to point out one truth that has been proven to me over and over again. God almost always wants better for us than we want for ourselves. Our recurring problem is that we’re unable to see it, because being Americans we associate blessings with money and power and things. Well I would go so far to say that the person that God chooses to give nothing but material wealth is truly cursed beyond all men.

God is not looking for our good, he’s looking for our best. He’s not looking for sacrifice, he’s looking for obedience. God is not looking for perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen us to do his work. Rather he’s looking for excellence, and a willing heart. God is looking for people that see that even though we live in temporary bodies, we are eternal beings, and our decisions should reflect that fact. He is looking for people who are not willing to settle for second best.

I don’t know what God has called any one person to except myself. What I do know is that it’s a question I have to continually ask, because each time I take a step, the decision about the next step is brand new. Each man and woman needs to ask that question, and then have the faith to take that next step.

I’d like to finish with some verses from Hebrews 11, which sums up what I’m talking about. The chapter is talking about many people who lived by faith, and it’s summed up with the following verses.

Hebrews 11:13-16. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Just as the people spoken of in these verses had the opportunity to turn back, so we have the opportunity to do the same. But just as they were pilgrims and strangers on this earth, so are we, whether we recognize it or not. We have eternity written in our bones, and we were built for far more excellent things.

Making excellence from imperfect things.

Bringing about excellence from imperfect things.

A Shield Only Works When Facing the Enemy

As this year comes to a close and I assess all that has happened with missions and travel, I am reminded of the spiritual warfare that has happened throughout the year. I realize that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that the trials are any easier. Only as I learn more and experience more, I worry about it less and less. I am no longer blind-sided by it as much. I am still continually surprised by the ways in which it shows up, but it’s timing can be almost always timed down to the day shortly before something big is supposed to be happening. As I start counting down the days before I go to Ethiopia again, I can expect more warfare.

Lately I have been reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s been decades since I last picked this up, and I am enjoying it if nothing more than for the word pictures it contains that give clarity to a lot of abstract concepts. During my pondering about this book, the subject of the armor of God came up. We find the subject of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18.

 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The thing that occurred to me when I read it this time that I had never noticed before was the choice of armor; helmet, shield, sword, breastplate, etc, and specifically what they have in common. The thing they all have in common is that they are only effective when you are facing and engaging with the enemy. A Christian who either has his back to the enemy or has not engaged the enemy has lost. God gives us the tools with which to fight, but we have to decide whether to fight or not. I wanted to talk specifically about the shield. When the apostle Paul wrote this, he modeled the armor after the Roman legion, which used a large curved shield called a scutum. Our faith is that shield. It is what allows us to stand up to what the devil and the world throw at us and allows our faith not to be shaken. But it does more than that. The scutum not only protected from the flaming arrows of the enemy, but when the combat got close, its size allowed its bearer to knock the enemy back. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this metaphor was chosen, because it’s only in the thick of spiritual warfare that we get close enough to knock the enemy back on his heels. James 4:7 completes the thought. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This of course runs counter to our culture. We call ourselves Christians, but we refuse to engage the enemy. The evidence of this is in where we spend our missions dollars. 24% of the world has never heard the gospel. Yet those areas receive 1/2 of one percent of our missions dollars, whereas 94.5% goes to areas that are already filled with professing Christians. This makes absolutely no sense. Jesus said “Look, the fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few.”  We keep going to the same fields that have already been harvested looking for a speck of grain that someone dropped, while the field next door, though harder to get to, has been completely ignored.  Parents with children in the military are proud that their children are serving in conflict zones in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, but how many would send their children or go themselves to share the saving grace of God in those same areas? We somehow think it’s less important, when nothing could be further from the truth.   Someday the sun and moon will fall from the sky, and we’ll all be long gone. At that point the only thing that will matter is whether and how we engaged the enemy. Is it a harder way? Yes. But as we see the world falling apart around us, don’t think the destruction that has fallen over Syria or Afghanistan or Yemen or Libya will fail to come to us simply because we failed to recognize that the enemy was not political factions but rather the prince of this world, the devil. We MUST engage the enemy, or we too are lost.

I want to make one final point about the shield of faith. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, then we are taking something that cannot be seen and has no substance and turning it into substance and evidence, both of which are tangible things. It is only when we use faith, and faith becomes action, that action turns into something of substance. As James said, “show me your faith without action, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  The opportunities are there. We must have the courage to engage the enemy.

You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.
You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.

The Importance Of The Team Back Home.

The tickets are in hand. Connections are being made. Everything seems to be coming together. I leave for Ethiopia a month from today. This will be my second trip to Ethiopia, and my seventh trip to Africa in the last five years. In fact, it’s my third trip to Africa in the last eight months. It’s probably not a sustainable pace, but it’s how things have been laid out for me at this time. This trip came together probably more easily than any previous trip. The time was available even though it shouldn’t have been, I had the support of my wife and family, and the funds practically showed up on their own. It’s clear I’m supposed to go.

There are times when I’ve got a lot ruminating in my mind, when I have a concept I’ve been thinking about that I just need to put down in writing. Those times seem to get farther and farther apart when the time starts running short before my next trip though. Regular followers may notice that my blog posts have become more infrequent. The fact is that as a trip draws near, there is less reflection time and more nuts and bolts time. Both physically and spiritually, it becomes nuts and bolts. Are my shots in order? Are the funds all there? Is my photography equipment sufficient and in working order? Is my heart in the right place? Is my family in a stable place where I can be gone for a while? How is the security situation on the ground we where I’ll be going? It’s all nuts and bolts.  Furthermore, spiritually speaking, difficulty always seems to make itself known shortly before I leave. Frequently it’s not directly with me, but it may be all around me. These are the reasons I originally started writing this blog, not because it may be interesting to the reader, but because I simply needed to sort it out for myself.

For myself, my life has been good. I can honestly say that for myself I have no complaints. It’s what goes on around me that’s disturbing. It’s as if I’m dealing with a spoiled child who has a grudge against me. He has no way of hurting me, so he just starts breaking everything within reach. That spoiled child’s name is Satan, and this kind of thing frequently happens just before I leave on a missionary trip. Everything within arms length is great, but the chaos that goes on just outside of my grasp, though it doesn’t hurt me directly, still effects my spirit, particularly when it’s loved ones that are struggling.  The verses in Psalm 91 are brought to mind.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the LORD:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I trust him.

For he will rescue you from every trap

and protect you from deadly disease.

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

nor the arrow that flies in the day.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

Though a thousand fall at your side,

though ten thousand are dying around you,

these evils will not touch you.”

The comfort for me is knowing that when your enemy gets desperate, he’s usually about to lose. This is why prayer is so important, both for me and for the support team. It’s not just a trite request that people pray for you when you’re gone. It’s the most important role the people staying home can have; equally important to the role of the one going. So for those who will, please pray for those going, for those who are already there, and for the families of those who are going. It’s really important. Let the spoiled child be revealed for what he is.

The hands of a Sudanese man in prayer.
The hand of a Sudanese man in prayer.

Where The Chains Of Doom Are Kept, I Find My Shoes.

One of the most profound music lyrics I’ve heard is from, oddly enough, a song called “American Cheese”. One of the lines is, “And I know that, where the chains of doom are kept, I find my shoes.”  I know there are those out there who believe that people are inherently good, and they’re welcome to their opinion. I’ve never taken to the Star Trek version of humanity, that we’ll just keep getting better on our own. I’ve seen too much with my own eyes to believe such fluff. I’m more of the opinion that “Lord of the Flies” had it much more accurately.

If I want to know the potential of what evil is possible in the world, all I really need to do is look in the mirror. I can tell myself, as many do, that I’m not such a bad person. But I know perfectly well that the potential is there. All I need to do is take my focus off of God and place it somewhere else, whether it’s myself, or money, or power (the latter leading back to self anyway.) But that’s the great thing about following Christ. He takes his own perfections, (yes, plural) and in an incredible act of grace and mercy, decides to let me with all of my imperfections, be His representative. I can look in that mirror, look at my face with all the potential for evil, and see the face of Christ instead. All I have to do is make sure my focus is not on me, but on Him. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us;”

As I get ready to go to Ethiopia, the spiritual warfare has already started. God chooses to let cracked, broken pots hold the fullness of His glory. The devil tries to drive wedges into these cracks and make them larger; cracks caused by all our imperfections, whether it be pride, or a lack of faith, or a lack of trust, or fear. I speak of myself with some of these. But the perfection that is Christ is made more full because the larger the cracks, the more opportunity for God’s grace to abound. In the same way, the worse things are, the more opportunity for God to do miracles. In all this, the defeat of the enemy will be all the more bitter because he will be defeated by such imperfection made perfect through Christ. So I must maintain my focus on Christ. When I go to the place where the chains of doom are kept, I don’t want to find my shoes there, and by God’s grace I won’t.

Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.
Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.

The Name’s Satan, But You Can Call Me “Pud”

I’ll start off by saying, some of you aren’t going to like this post.

Imagine if you knew your imminent execution was coming by a horrible means, and once a  predetermined set of criteria had been met, your execution would be carried out without further delay. Now imagine you’ve got an army that you can command from your prison cell. What would you do? You would of course command that army to do everything in its power to make sure that set of criteria did not come to fruition, or at least put it off as long as possible.

The reference in the title is to a 1939 movie, “On Borrowed Time”, based on a novel by Laurence Edward Watkin, in which death is trapped in an apple tree until he is let down. With what is going on recently in Syria and Iraq with Isis slaughtering everyone who won’t convert to Islam, I have become convinced until someone proves otherwise that Islam’s sole purpose on this earth is to delay the return of Christ, and by extension, stay Satan’s execution.  Does that concept make you angry? So be it, but prove me wrong. It seems the more vile and violent Islam becomes, the more people insist that Islam is a peaceful religion. “Thou doth protest too much”, is the line from Macbeth. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, but stupidity is looking at something right in front of you and insisting that it’s something entirely different.

The criteria of which I’m speaking is multi-faceted, but specifically I’m talking about the verse in Revelation that says, “After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;” The verse indicated that before Christ comes back, there will be followers of Christ from every tribe, language, and nation. Every time Islam moves into an area, they try to eradicate Jews and Christians. (Afterward, when the Jews and Christians are gone, they turn on each other, but that’s for a different blog). Once again, don’t like what I’m saying? Prove me wrong. From the Pakistani kid I went to school with who said he wanted to kill Salmon Rushdie, to the girl at college who had to flee Kenya because there was a price on her head for converting to Christianity, to everyone I know in South Sudan who lived most of their lives under the oppression of the Islamic state there, no one seems keen on showing me the other side. From the Philippines to Indonesia to Iraq to North Africa, I’m not sure it would be possible to count the number of groups trying to set up an Islamic theocracy. Am I making you angry yet? As angry as it makes you that in Syria and Iraq Christian children are being systematically beheaded? If you read the newspapers, they’re never listed as Christian, they’re always listed as “minorities”. No one will look at the issue.

It is time for the church to wake up and realize the spiritual battle that it is in. Much of the church doesn’t believe that it is in a battle. It’s time to look around. Some friends of mine just got back from Kenya where among other things they witnessed an exorcism. Some of you are saying to yourselves, “there’s no such thing as demons, that stuff doesn’t happen.” Well, the only difference between those oppressed by demons in Africa and those oppressed by demons here is that in the west, we’re content to live with our demons. It’s time to stop settling and start living the lives as more than conquerors that we are promised.  It’s time to start engaging the battle, and putting more effort into saving the world through the gospel than the effort Isis is putting in to eradicate it. It’s time to start freeing people with the love of God, and that means going to the places where Satan’s army has a stronghold. Satan knows that someday Mr. Brink is going to get let out of the apple tree, and when that day comes, it’s his last day. Let’s do everything we can to make that day come sooner. It’s time to stop living in fear, time to stop worrying about trying to be politically correct. It’s time to stop worrying about what the neighbors think. It’s time to stop ignoring the spiritual warfare going on around us and start taking part. Just because you refuse to engage with the battle going on around you doesn’t mean you will survive, and you certainly won’t do any good. Let’s convert more from Islam with the love of God than they convert to Islam with the barrel of a gun. It’s time.

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Foolishness

I pray for the sight to see
I pray for the earth to shift
I pray for the light to be
I pray my saviour

Under the aegis of the living God, I trust and love with certainty,
Under the aegis of a loving God, I live and breathe eternity.

I looked at the calendar today and it’s only twenty days until I leave for South Sudan. To be quite honest, I have a bit of nervousness about going, as I usually do. The lyrics above are from the album Fathom, by Moral. It’s really an excellent album for those inclined toward industrial music. For those who think Christian music is all about easy listening, I would say that sometimes worship is a battle cry, and not a hymn. I love how complex spiritual concepts are distilled into pure, simple phrases.

sudan-0022

As Americans, we are lulled into a false sense of security  and apathy about things within the spiritual realm. Just as a nation at war can tell itself there is nothing bad going on if the war is taking place on foreign soil, so the church tells itself there is no spiritual warfare because we’ve told ourselves there is no fight. I can tell you that there is, and the only reason we don’t see it is because we choose not to engage. A nation that chooses not to fight is not a nation at war, it is a subjugated nation.  And the people that are the most enslaved are the ones who are enslaved but choose not to recognize it.

I have the same kind of nervousness when going into South Sudan as I used to at the start of a race when I used to race mountain bikes. I imagine it’s what soldiers must feel just before they’re deployed, though I don’t know that. The fact is that there is an entire other world just below the surface. One side fights for the spiritual freedom that comes when we deny ourselves and follow God, the other side fights for our consumption. One fights for self, the other for selflessness. One fights for disease and starvation, war and destruction, the other for completeness and eternal life.  South Sudan is on the front line of this fight. It’s on the border between the middle east and Africa, on the border between Christianity and Islam, on the border between slavery and independence, between war and peace, between Christianity and animism, between oppression and freedom, between death and life. There’s so much at stake it’s hard to fathom.

 

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is under the common impression that if you’re nice to people, they will be nice to you. His words were, “Be honest, when you go over there to help people, you wouldn’t expect to be attacked.”  I had to correct him, that on the contrary, that’s always a possibility, and I would be naive to think otherwise.  The physical and spiritual forces that have sway in the land profit from war and chaos. You might go to help people, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants you there. There might be people who hate the ones you’re helping, and consequently hate you. In any chaotic situation, there will be those who profit monetarily from the situation. They don’t want you there either. Furthermore, just because someone his been oppressed does not make them angelic. If that were true, every nation lifted from oppression would suddenly thrive.

So why go, if in fact no good deed goes unpunished? That’s a complicated question, and one that is not going to make sense to a lot of people, Christians included. Paul talks about “God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world.” This is entirely true. If in fact all we see is what’s right in front of us, then no, it makes no sense. If there is no God, or if we choose not to follow Him, then self-preservation and self-glorification is the highest possible goal, though still not an attainable one.  If on the other hand, God has set eternity within our bones, or as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end,” then I live in obedience to Christ. And I would rather live in obedience to Christ, even if he sends me to South Sudan, than to live in disobedience and stay home where it’s “safe”.

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A pastor in South Sudan weeps as he prays that he would become the man God wants him to be.