Saturday

Metaphors for Wise Warfare

We the church have talked about “spiritual warfare” for decades. In the past, we’ve yelled at demonic strongholds and called that warfare, or we’ve described unlucky breaks in life as spiritual warfare.

God is raising the bar in spiritual warfare. We’ve gotten away with ignorance and immaturity and sometimes foolishness for years. But over the past few years, over the next few years, He’s bringing us into a greater level of maturity.

I have only the highest regard for those who have been involved in warfare these many years. They’ve faced ignorance and opposition and sometimes just plain bull-headedness from the church, and they’ve stood in the gap on our behalf.

That incredible faithfulness notwithstanding, I believe the Lord is moving us into a new level of maturity, a new level of authority in the realm of spiritual warfare. I do not believe that those who have been involved in warfare in the Spirit have been only playing at “war games!” However, when we look back on this place from the place God is taking us to, we will say, “up until then, we were only playing with shiny toy guns. We were only waving our arms and pointing our fingers and shouting ‘bang!’”

Here’s the problem: I don’t entirely know where we’re going; I just know we’re moving forward.

I was discussing this with one of my mentors the other day, and we were using the American Military as a metaphor for spiritual warfare; much of this will be familiar.

Foot Soldiers: The most common role in this battle is the simple foot soldier: we obey orders given us from our officers and noncoms over us. We generally don’t have the strategic overview of the war, or even the battle that we’re in; we just point our weapon as we’re commanded and pull the trigger when so instructed.

Noncommissioned Officers: Other non-officers with more skills and more experience and a tactical understanding of the battle; if we’re wise, we’ll follow their advice, even though they don’t wear the brass of an officer. They may not know the big picture, but they know how to get the foot soldiers through this alive! These are the home group leaders, mentors, deacons.

Officers: These men and women have strategic-level understanding of portions of the warfare; they often receive orders from above, but sometimes they are given the objectives to accomplish, and they make their own plans with the soldiers that work with them. Some are junior officers, some senior officers, and their position in the spiritual army does not correspond to their position or influence in this world: I know pastors of huge churches that are faithful lieutenants, and leaders of a group of less than a dozen who are generals, though there are senior officers who lead large ministries as well.

Joint Chiefs: Currently, I’m not convinced that we have a functional Joint Chiefs; I am waiting for the day when we have something equivalent to the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15: a council of apostles and elders who represent heaven to the forces on Earth. While there are obvious complications, the Catholic “Holy See” (the Pope and the Roman Curia governing body) approaches this authority within the realm of the Catholic Church.

Commander in Chief: We have but one Commander-in-Chief, and He is not elected.

Air Force: These are the intercessors in our war, and the goal is the same: air superiority over the field of battle. Weaponry includes worship, declarations, prophetic actions, and other weird things that reach the heavenlies, where these warriors are known to visit.

Marines: First troops into the territory, elite, but probably not occupation forces. These are the short term missionary teams, the apostolic equipping teams (which will include prophets and teachers),

Navy: Some of our forces are stationed off the coast, and provide artillery, attack forces and supply lines for the rest of the forces. Some of these folks are administrators, support teams, tacticians.

Army: Ground forces occupy the new territory. These include missionaries occupying new territory, evangelism teams on the streets, home groups and new congregations in previously unconquered territory.

Supply Lines: Any army needs food and ammunition. In our battles, these are the prophets, teachers, pastors and friends: the ones who invest in, who love on and support the warriors. These are also donors who support ministries financially, administrators who handle details so others can minister on the front lines.

Firebase: In the natural, this is an artillery base, esp. one set up quickly to support advancing troops or to forestall enemy advances. In this metaphor, this may be a team of intercessors or prophets.

Intelligence: Agencies like the CIA, Secret Service, FBI. This is clearly the role of the prophetic gifts: prophecy, discernment. But not them alone: Researchers (like The Sentinel Group) can give valuable insight into the demonic roots in a region; prophetic teachers reveal principles and application (strategies and tactics). This is often the primary role of prophetic intercessors. 

Weapons Development: James Bond has his “Q”; the US Military has DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency); in the Spirit, the developers of new weaponry come from the revelation gifts, particularly from apostles and prophets.

Boot Camp: The church is developing a large number of training schools across North America to train young men and women: revival schools, bible schools, Masters Commission, YWAM.

Military Academies: Military training schools, like Annapolis and West Point: We’re short on schools to train the officers, particularly to train senior officers in our current warfare.

Five Ways of God’s Provision

I’ve been thinking about God’s provision for quite a while. I’m still working on the significance of this, but I’ve seen five ways that God provides for us in the earth. The order is significant here: from the most simple and self-sufficient to the more complex, more interactive, more dependent on others.
1. Provision from Creation. The earliest humans were hunter-gatherers, and that is a valid means of God’s provision: it’s right there, we just need to grab hold of it. Esau is an example: where his brother tended sheep, Esau went out in the wild and hunted his provision. I rather think friendship is often this way: we don’t need to create friends, we just need to meet the people around us because there are friends there, waiting for discovery.
The essence of this means of provision is that it doesn’t require anyone else. I just go find what I need, and I take hold of it and it becomes my provision.
2. Paycheck for Work. Shortly after the first hunter-gatherers came back with fresh mastodon, someone else offered something of value for some of the meat, and the first paycheck was exchanged. A paycheck is essentially an exchange of my time (or the fruit of my time) for your provision, whether that provision is in the form of money or flint knives.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder brother saw himself in a paycheck relationship to his father: he put in his time, how come Dad didn’t come through with the fatted calf for him?
It’s easy to aspire to this in our relationship with God, particularly among evangelical and charismatic peoples: we see “full time ministry” as a goal, where we get to do spiritual related activity, and we get a paycheck. Personally, I think that sells ministry short.
3. The Community as Provision. As early man developed a culture, and insofar as our culture is actually healthy, the culture itself, the community to which we belong, becomes a means of God’s provision for us. Jesus relied on community provision in Luke 8:2&3; Paul teaches this in 2 Corinthians: in chapter 1, he talks about how our comfort is for the provision of comfort to others; in chapter 8, he broadens it to financial provision.
We see this in the contemporary church as well. Missionaries depend on the financial (and other) support of the community of faith in order to be able to preach the gospel in the foreign field; and the local church, in order to pay the staff and the mortgage, relies on the support, both in finances and in service, of the members.
I’ve seen many times where believers long for this kind of provision. “I need to be a full-time minister,” they say to themselves and others, as if this is somehow a more holy means of provision than earning a paycheck in a regular job, a value which (having had both) I wholly dispute.
4. Sowing and Reaping. Many people make their living by planting seed and harvesting the resulting crop. Interestingly, God has set up creation so that the laws of sowing and reaping work outside of the realm of agriculture where we most expect them. Paul teaches extensively about other application of these principles in 1 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6, where the seed and the crop are sometimes financial, sometimes matters of character.
It appears that this was a common practice for Jesus and the Boys. John 13:29 implies that it was common for the group’s bookkeeper to practice giving to the poor.
And I see the principles of sowing and reaping in the story of the Widow of Zaraphath (1 Kings 17) and between Jacob and Laban, and in both places, invoking the practices of sowing and reaping. Interestingly, Jacob’s relationship with Laban started out as a wage-earner (Genesis 29:15), but when Laban wants to renew the contract, Jacob substitutes provision based on sowing and reaping (30:31 and following).
In the natural realm (dealing with seeds and dirt and grain), this means of provision probably belongs in #2 position, as it requires very little faith and not much more interaction with either man or God. But when we apply this as a spiritual principle to more areas of our life, then it has earned its #4 position.
5. Supernatural Provision. There are a number of times where God bypasses all of the “rules” and makes provision supernaturally. I love the fact that Jesus paid his taxes with a coin from a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:27), and I love watching the supernatural provision for Elijah with the crows (1 Kings 17) and with Angel-food bread (1 Kings 19:5-7). Jesus used God’s supernatural provision when he multiplied fish and bread, and it seemed that this might have been (or could have been) a common practice (Mark 8:16-21).
I had an odd experience some years back. My wife & I were heading out for seven weeks of evangelistic missions in the far east (mostly in the Philippines, plus 2 weeks in Hong Kong and an overnight trip smuggling bibles into China). For various reasons, the financial reserve we had built up vanished in the last few days before we flew out, so when we landed in Manila, we had $14 for the two of us for fifty days in Asia.
It was then that I may have done something stupid; it was certainly educational: I prayed an odd prayer. I told God, "I know you're going to provide for us. But because I want to learn more of your ways, would you please provide for us without people giving us money?" In the culture of the group we were traveling with, generosity was a commonplace thing: people gave each other money as someone had a need, so it would be something of a miracle if that did not happen.
And it didn't. Nobody gave us a dime.
More interesting was the fact that we were never without. We didn't have much, of course. The most powerful lesson came when I woke up one morning wanting pizza, so I asked God for pizza, but I didn't ask anybody else. And that day, God gave us pizza. Without money. Sue was with a group of women and one of them declared, "Who wants pizza? I'm buying!" And a single mom bought a pizza for her kids, but they weren't hungy. The single men's dorm was empty, and so she brought it to me.
It was Philippine pizza, and only Shakey's at that. They don't even understand what cheese is over there. The month before, I would have turned my nose up at it. But that day, it was the best pizza in the world. I learned a world full of lessons about God's provision in that day and on that trip. On that trip, God and I conspired to move our provision from #3 (the community as provision) above to #5 (supernatural provision).
(That weekend, I discretely told God that I thought I'd learned the lesson, and I released Him to provide for us any way He wanted: with money or without. True to form, by noon, three people had handed us cash gifts.)
I’m guessing I’ll come back to visit these principles at another time. For now, I’m going to close with two observations: First, the earlier means of provision require less faith; the latter means require substantially greater faith. And second, I believe, from the example of Jacob & Laban if naught else, that we have some say in the means by which God provides for us, just as Sue & I did in the Philippines.
So. How do you want your provision?

An Encounter in the Woods


I came to a realization today. I was walking across a wooden bridge, nestled in the rainforest, surrounded by moss and vine maple, when I realized that God doesn’t love me because of Jesus. He doesn’t love me because of the cross. In fact, the cross had no part of Him loving me.


I don’t know if that’s a radical thought for you; it was for me. It caught me off guard, and I stood still on the bridge thinking about it.


Is it true? God doesn’t love me because of the cross? It messes with some of my religious thinking, certainly, to think that God does not love me because of Jesus and what He has done. But is it a biblical thought? Is it true?


As I was standing on the bridge, the thought occurred to me that the cross was not what I thought it was. I had been working from the assumption that the cross was a rescue mission: that it had allowed God to love me because it put me in Christ (or put Christ in me) and certainly Christ is quite lovable, and I had been caught up in that love-fest between the Father and the Son. I understood that in Christ, I was loved; apart from Christ, I was not so lovely, not so lovable.


Without the cross, I’m just a sinner heading for hell. God didn’t plan hell for me, of course, but when I rebelled (when I chose a way that wasn’t his way – when I sinned) hell was my choice. I discovered that, fundamentally, I saw myself as the sinful man, separated from God, thankful for the rescue that the cross provided. I was really quite grateful for the rescue!


And there’s truth in that. But standing among the mosses on the bridge, I realized that the cross did not somehow manipulate God into doing something that wasn’t in His mind already. There in the woods, He took me back to before creation, before He declared “Let us make man in our image.” By the time He made that declaration, He would have already been committed to the process: to the creation of a species in His own image, and the creation of a universe in which to place that man. Standing on that bridge, I was caught off guard by a vision.

In the vision, I saw the omniscient God considering the process of creating man before He took the step of creation. In that instant, I saw that because He is omniscient, when He considered creation, He also saw all that comes with it; He knew that if He created a species in His image, they would be loving, because He is love. They would be creative, because He is creative.

But in order to create us – you and me – as a loving, creative people, for it is us He is contemplating, He must create free will, for love that comes from a will that is not free is not love at all. And free will – truly free will – will lead to someone among the billions of individuals choosing to sin. In point of fact, it has led to every single one of us sinning, and so our omniscient Father knew that as He considered creation, it required a cross; if He created us, then He must die for us, and He knew that before He made up His mind to create a race of men in His image.


But because He is omniscient, He saw more than just the concept of a species of beings: He saw the members of that species. Standing there obscured by the vine maple, I looked up and it was as if I saw God looking down at me from that moment, as He was thinking about the creation He would make. And I knew that He saw me. Before He made me, He knew me, yes, that’s true. But before He had even made up His omniscient mind about whether to make a creation or not, He grasped that once He said “Let us make man,” that He would make me.


And in this vision, as He saw me from before His decision to create, He fell in love with me. (It’s OK: He saw you from that vantage point too, and He fell in love with you, too, but this is my story!) From before He ever decided to create a universe with space and time, and a race of people to inhabit and explore that universe, He had already fallen irrevocably in love with me.


And now, before He had committed Himself to creation, He was already committed to me in love; He was hooked. He had fallen in love with me. Even though I didn’t exist yet, and I would never exist unless He chose to create me, yet He had fallen in love with me, and now He must follow through with creation, with the cross, in order that He might know me, that He might share his heart with me, because His heart had been ravished. He was smitten. With me!


And suddenly, I saw the cross differently. He didn’t send His Son to the cross as a rescue mission, to deliver me from all the crap and slavery I’d gotten myself into. And He didn’t love me because finally I had come Christ and He certainly loves His own Son, so I get included in that love too.


No! The cross was conceived, all of creation was conceived, planned and carried out, because He loved me! God had fallen in love with me, and He was going to do everything He could do to get to me, to find me and wrap His arms around me. He would climb any mountain to get back to me, so to speak; and that’s what He was doing.


That’s what the cross was: It wasn’t the goal. It was the means to an end, and the end was me. Standing there in the woods, leaning on the railing of an old wooden bridge, I looked up into eyes that were seeing me from before “Let there be light,” from before “Let us make man.” And those eyes were falling in love with me – had already fallen in love with me. And He would do anything, absolutely anything, in order that He could be with me.


I love walking in the woods. Would you care to join me?

The Lord’s Flock

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about God’s stray sheep for a while. It seems that there are a whole lot of Christians who haven’t darkened the door of a church in years: for one reason or another, they’ve lost faith in the church. It was in that context that I found myself drawn to this passage recently:
“But I [the Lord] will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. –Jeremiah 23:3,4
As I meditated on the passage, I felt something of God’s heart for His people, particularly His lost sheep. I’m convinced that He is very tender towards His lost sheep, His children that have long since quit coming to church meetings. I’m beginning to understand something of what He feels for them, and that helps me understand why He’s so protective of them.
As you read the context for this verse, God is quite upset with the shepherds to whom He had entrusted His sheep, because they served their own needs and not the sheep’s needs. I recommend not making God mad at us. Personally, that does not appeal to me.
I’m beginning to hear some of His heartbeat for the sheep – the believers – who are separated from the gathered church. And because this is what I do, I experienced it in outline form. Here are some key points from the verse above:
  • God is going to gather the remnant of His flock from all the different places that they have gone; places like “hidden from church,” or “withdrawn into hopelessness,” “given up,” or “just filling the back pew.” The gathering will be His work; we don’t need to plan for gathering; gathering is not our work, though we probably need to make room for the gathered sheep. [Note that these sheep are coming from wild places, so they’re likely to be unfamiliar to us, both by name and in their mannerisms.]
  • The place He’s bringing them back to is their folds. I know too many churches that functionally belong to the pastor, and may others that belong to a board of directors. By contrast, the place God is bringing his sheep is to a place where they belong, a place they can call their own, a place where they have ownership and influence, where they fit in as full-fledged participants, not just as observers, not just as “nickels and numbers.” If we make room for them to sit down and for them to give their tithe but don’t make room for their vision, their passion, their calling, then we’ve completely missed the point of what God’s doing.
  • When they are gathered in, these “missing sheep” will become fruitful. They will increase. In other words, we must make room not just for our missing brothers and sisters, but for their gifts, for the people in their circle of influence, for their ministries. It’s almost a given that we won’t understand where they’re coming from – they’ve spent the last few years / decades in places you and I have probably never been; they may not be as shiny and well-dressed as life-long churchgoers, and we’ll be tempted to think that we’re better than they. We’ll be tempted to make them wait for a season, for us to decide if we approve of them and their ways of doing things, before we release them to minister. That would be a mistake.
  • God will set up shepherds over them. In this, I hear a couple of warnings: I can imagine some men and women in pastoral positions setting themselves as “over” the returning sheep. That would be a mistake any time (pastors, like all 5-fold ministers, are to serve), but especially so with these sheep who have learned to survive in the wild. God promises to set up His own shepherds over them and I can’t imagine that He needs help with that. We can look to identify those He’s raising up, rather than installing our own people. Perhaps you and I will be among those set by God into those positions, but not unless we’re already shepherding the sheep He’s given us; not unless we’re doing it according to the goals and values that He has described in this passage and others like it.
  • Note that the only responsibility mentioned for the shepherds is to tend the sheep. We (assuming that we’ll be involved) are not assigned to direct the sheep, to rush their development or their healing, nor to hinder their advancement. Our job is to feed them. Yes, there are some other responsibilities associated with being a shepherd, but the one that God points out is feeding. We tend to add other responsibilities that are more appropriate for cowboys than shepherds; God is not adding those. Maybe we shouldn’t either, eh?
  • God gives a specific goal: “…and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking.” Whatever it is that we do with these old-timer newcomers, we need to make it so that they are not afraid, not discouraged, not re-considering their decision to re-join the gathered body of the Church.
Let me add this personal note: As God brings many of these people back into the church, we will be tempted to see them as “lost sheep” and want to baby them, clean them up, dress them up and minister to their obvious bumps and scrapes. I believe that if we take that approach, then the best we can hope for is that they don’t kick us in the teeth as they run from us and our “help” for them.
A better image may be to look at ourselves as an army training for battle (an appropriate image for the church any day), and these returning believers as battle-tested warriors. We may know more about the theory of battle and the reasons why our weapons are better than the enemy’s. But these warriors have spent the last few decades practicing what we talk about. Many of them will be like the stereotypical Platoon Sergeant who chews on the stub end of a cigar as he hunts the enemy in the jungle. If you’ve read Tom Clancy, think of the character John Clark. If you’re a comics fan, think of Nick Fury. If you like superheroes, think Wolverine: not so polished as we may like, but the right guy to have at your back in a dark alley full of bad guys.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to vacate our leadership positions in favor of these returning warriors. We must not blindly follow them any more than we would blindly follow anyone else. In this generation, ministry – including the ministry of leadership – flows from relationship. It’s unreasonable and irresponsible to place complete strangers into leadership and then instruct our people to follow them. We need to welcome them into friendship, into relationship. Some of them, like some of us, are more suited for leadership than others, and we discover that through relationship.