Templeton, Testimonies, and Traps: Is It Possible to Lose Your Salvation?

410MM77FDRL   Seven years ago, I began a journey that has filled my spirit with both wonderment and heartbreak: the life of a Bible college student and theologian.  Throughout the years I have seen many come to know Christ, but I have sadly seen many others walk away from their faith.  At times these people were very devout and sincere Christians, heavily involved in church ministry (including as pastors) and with brilliant testimonies.  This strange occurrence has resulted in a certain theological topic permeating my thoughts. I think most of you who have known me in theological contexts for a while probably know what it is. The question is: Is it possible to lose your salvation?

Well, currently, I still do not have a definite answer. However, I can tell you about where some of my research has been leading me. Of course, I recognize that different people will have different thoughts on this topic and I suppose in the end of the day, most of it is simply mere conjecture since the only One who knows for sure what the case is is Christ Himself. But I am happy to engage with others… I feel I need a bit more theological background in this area.

1) No. I do not believe it is possible to LOSE your Salvation per say. For example, in Revelation 3:5 we read that once our names are written in the book of life, it is impossible for them to be blotted out (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Rev.+3%3A5&version=ESV). That’s good news. It means that no matter how much you mess up (because we all sin, no one is perfect  Romans 3:10: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A10&version=ESV ), there is nothing you could ever do that would totally and utterly distance you from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A38&version=ESV). Of course, if you are a Christian, your chief aim would be pleasing God – you wouldn’t want to willingly do what you know would break His heart. But the truth remains, that we do hurt God, constantly. But God is forgiving and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+103%3A8&version=ESV).

2) That being said, I don’t think it is so cut-and-dry to say that if someone willingly walks away from Christ they were therefore never truly a Christian to begin with. There are a few major thoughts on this topic:

*Many Calvinists would say either you are a Christian or you’re not one. If someone has tasted and seen the Lord’s glory, why would they reject it (1 Peter 2:3: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+2%3A3&version=ESV)?

(Those who object to this view would likely cite the Charles Templeton example as a tragic case of a supposedly-sincere Christian who led many to Christ only to renounce his faith years later).

Let me answer this question to the best of my ability: WHY WOULD SOMEONE WHO KNEW CHRIST (and possibly was even passionate) WALK AWAY FROM HIM? The Bible gives us a few ideas:

A) When they heard the Word of God at first they were enthusiastic. They accepted it with great joy. BUT they didn’t realize how hard it would be. They didn’t realize the cost of discipleship. The moment it got hard, they called it quits. (The Parable of the Sower: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13). Maybe they WERE sincere and excited when they first heard the message, but they lacked the discipline or they failed to have an adequate person mentor and disciple them in the beginning stages of the process.

B) They back-slid. This is quite common in people who make a personal decision to follow Christ at a young age. They might have been very sincere at 4 or 7, but now they are 17 – they are facing peer pressure. Their friends think it is ludicrous to believe in God. They want to fit in, so they give in to the cultural pressures of the day (like drinking, sex, drugs, parties, or whatever else teens and young adults do). They may feel confused. They may still feel the Holy Spirit nagging them to stop, but they also want to be “cool.” There is both good news and bad news with this one. The bad news is that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit to the point that you numb out anything He is telling you (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4%3A30&version=ESV). At first you might feel guilty, but if you keep doing what you are doing, soon you can no longer hear His voice. You have hardened your heart and are unwilling to be moved. The GOOD news is that I have seen many, many people turn around. Yes, they might have gone through a “phase” for a few years, but lots of them once they get married and have their own kids do come back to the church because having a kid adds responsibility and they start thinking more seriously about how that child should be raised. Many of them are now super involved and reaching out in various ways. They recognize what they did in their teen years as wilfully going against Christ, but now they are completely willing to change that.

C) They sincerely accepted the Truth, but whoever taught them the Truth only gave them half the answer. Sadly, I have been to a few churches which teach a false Gospel message. These groups do have converts, but those converts are often exposed to extreme prosperity theology (not Biblical prosperity which is a different topic for another day). They might be told that being a Christian means being rich or that they will never face sickness, financial difficulties, or hardships. So when hard times arise (and this is inevitable) they lose their faith. They start questioning how God can be real and allow this to happen. They haven’t properly learned that even (and sometimes especially) Christians do face discouragement and difficulties, but that the answer to all of our problems lies in Christ.

Furthermore, it is also possible for a well-meaning and sincere Christian teacher who hasn’t properly been trained and discipled in the Word to lead others astray.  Often-times this is quite unintentional.  For example in Acts 18:24-28 we read about Apollos – an early church apostle who was an eloquent speaker, an able scholar, and a tad charismatic.  Apollos was on fire for God and wanted to tell the masses all about Him, but unfortunately, He only knew half the truth (even though he had been well-schooled).  Thankfully, Priscilla and Aquila – two more mature believers, took him aside and properly discipled and mentored him.  Once he was on the right track, he continued preaching, but with an even greater awareness of how to reach those around him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+18%3A24-28&version=ESV).  This is the same today.  Sometimes pastors haven’t had the opportunity to learn from Godly leaders or maybe they went to a seminary that didn’t accurately explain the Gospel – but when we meet these types of leaders, we need to encourage them in their enthusiasm, while also allowing them opportunities to come to know Christ in a deeper way.

D) Yes, it’s possible that they were never truly Christians to begin with. For whatever reason, some people want to pay lip-service to Christ without His love ever fully penetrating the deepest recesses of their hearts. The Bible repeatedly warns against false teachers (including a few incredible ones who even appeared to have supernatural powers and to perform miracles  Matthew 7:21-23 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%207:21-23). Yet, although these people knew Christ with their lips, they didn’t know Him with their hearts (Matthew 15:8: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+15%3A8&version=ESV). In Revelation 3 we see the contrast of two different churches (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+3&version=ESV). The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but in reality was dead (v.1) – people looked at this church and thought “WOW!” Maybe you know a church like this. One that might be heavily involved in the community, might have good music, might have lots of people coming to it – but their teaching is so weak that it’s obvious Christ’s Spirit left that place decades ago. Now contrast this with the church in Philadelphia. Although this church “had little strength,” they firmly held on to the Word and were unwavering in their presentation of the Gospel (v.8). Maybe you’ve also seen a church like this: on the outside they might be small, maybe they have a declining or ageing congregation… but they are MIGHTY! You walk in and you can automatically feel how real and tangible the Holy Spirit is in that place. It’s an incredible feeling!

These are just a few of the scenarios I have come up with, there likely are several more versions this could take. Ultimately, it is not for us to be the Gatekeepers to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not for us to choose who gets to be in and who doesn’t. We shouldn’t walk around thinking that only Christians who look and talk exactly like us are welcomed, while anyone else is forbidden entrance. In Philippians 2:12 we are told to “work out your OWN salvation with fear and trembling.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2%3A12&version=ESV)  In other words, we are to mind our own business. To think about our own lives – if the way we are living is pleasing to God (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+4%3A11&version=ESV). Not worry about anyone else’s. Not be busybodies with a checklist always comparing ourselves to the people around us (because that can very easily lead to pride). It is entirely God’s choice who is sincere and who is not.

However, after all my research, here is my final conclusion (which I borrowed from my friend David):

It is impossible to LOSE your salvation, however it is entirely possible to WALK AWAY from your salvation.

Salvation is not a zero-sum win/lose type of activity. It is a constant and growing relationship with Christ. We are told in the Gospels that people will know us by our fruits – by our actions, by how we love (Matthew 7:16: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A16&version=ESV). In 1 John 4:20 it states that “anyone who says he loves God, but hates a brother or sister is a liar and God’s truth is not in him.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+john+4%3A20&version=ESV) Salvation isn’t just about a one-off, emotional appeal to the Father, but about daily learning what pleases him – which definitely includes having a right and positive regard for those around us as well.

So, is it possible to lose your salvation? No. But if you aren’t walking around with the love of Christ in your heart, engaging with the “least of these” and showing compassion and grace to others around you – then you need to ask yourself: am I really, truly a Christian? And if your answer is yes, then you need to follow it up with one other question: why am I more concerned with mere theology and words than with putting it into practice? Because ultimately, you can say whatever you want to say, you can identify however you want to identify – but your lifestyle is your public display to the world and it will be the measure by which people are either drawn closer to Christ or else repelled by Him.

 

Climbing out of the Cavernous Chaos Called Depression:

stock-vector-snake-strangling-man-cartoon-63709846  Every year in May I try to write up something for Mental Health Awareness Month. Generally I try to write about ways that the church should become better ambassadors for people who struggle with mental illness or ways to be an ally to a struggling friend. But this time around, I thought I would write to those who find themselves in a difficult place.

I recognize that with mental illness there is no “quick fix.” I also recognize that proof-texting and throwing the Bible at someone has often done more harm than good. Everyone is different and there is no “one-size” fits all approach. Nevertheless, here is a bit of practical advice if you ever find yourself in this situation:

DON’T STRUGGLE ALONE IN THE DARKNESS, COME INTO THE LIGHT.

Depression can feel like a boa constrictor tight around your neck. It can fill your heart and mind with doubts. If this is your first time experiencing depression you might get these odds little thoughts coming into your mind telling you that you are going crazy or that no one else experiences this or that you are all alone in your sadness. If these thoughts remain unresolved they might even get worse. They may tell you no one likes you, no one cares what you are going through, or the worst of it all – that no one would miss you if you were to leave us. This is not true! Listen, there is help out there! There are tons of people who love you! There are tons of people who want to see you get better and there are tons of people who would be absolutely devastated and heart-wrenched if you were to leave us. It just doesn’t always feel like this because this boa constrictor is sucking all the energy out of you and you have no reserves left to fight with. In which case, the only One who can fight for you is the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself!

I am convinced that our greatest enemy is the night. When we are surrounded by darkness, we stumble and fall. When things are brought into the light, we can see clearly and recognize signs of hope and healing all around us. Our greatest difficulty lies in thinking that we need to be ashamed. That we shouldn’t talk about our experiences. That it is not socially acceptable to be forthright and honest. This shame leads us further into privacy. Instead of seeking the help that we need, we go into ourselves and we continue on in our destructive habits and attitudes.

LISTEN: it shouldn’t have to be this way. As I have said on multiple occasions, the church should be the number one place where we can go to openly discuss such things. In the church, there should be no topic that is out of bounds. People should be encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions without fear of being judged and instead should feel totally accepted, embraced, and loved. However, because the church is an imperfect human institution this is often not the case. But thankfully, we serve a perfect God who loves us even despite our own imperfections.

TALK TO SOMEONE

If you ever feel like life is getting to you to the point that you cannot cope, go talk to someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional (though that can be helpful) – it could just be a really good friend, mentor, or pastor. Just find someone you trust who you can be totally frank and open with. Pour out your heart to them and ask them to listen to your story. Sometimes all it takes is just a listening ear. In other cases, it might take more, but talking is a great place to start. Perhaps depending on the person they could even draw your attention to some resources or make some referrals to you.

LEAN IN TO GOD

Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on God. Depression is hard – it’s living in a world of dark rainbows. BUT God is stronger and it is also entirely possible to have some of your deepest moments with Christ when you are in the valley of the shadow. Sometimes the best time to look up is when you are lying down flat on your back. It’s so comforting to know that when we are feeling depressed, we don’t necessarily need the strength or the words to talk to God. In fact, the Bible tells us that when we don’t know how to pray like we should, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with grunts and groans which words cannot express (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A26-27). This shows how God is taking care of us and He will always love us the same way regardless of what we experience or are faced with. Sometimes you might not have the strength to pull yourself out of bed to go to church or even to read lengthy Bible passages – in which case, my number one recommendation is to turn to the Psalms. David’s prayers were often infused with emotion (and it wasn’t always positive). You don’t need to expend creative energy when the strength is leaving your mind and body – just pray like David did, pray his words – they’re already written out right in front of you and can basically say whatever it is you wanted to say. If you don’t even have strength for that, maybe you could play some of your favourite worship (or soothing) music in the background and really let it minister to you and seep into your soul.

In all things, don’t give up. In the moment, depression might feel like it will last forever, but it really won’t. You will get better. You will recover. It might be a long process and you might continue to struggle for a very long time, but there is always light at the end of every tunnel. Don’t be ashamed to speak up about these things and don’t be afraid to lean on the Everlasting Arms of the Saviour who promises to comfort and strengthen you during the difficult storms.

 

A Marvellous Grief

10869677 I wrote the following poem in recognition of several hardships my friends and family have recently endured.  Living abroad has presented the additional challenge of not being able to support those closest to me in person, but I believe that love has no boundaries and thus it is possible to care for someone even from a distance.  

The impact of grief knows no bounds, it has no limitations.

It can come quickly and subtly, like a thief plundering a house,

Or it can come slowly, like a painful trickle.

Grief knows no timetable,

It can swiftly disappear like one pulling off a bandage after a deep wound has scabbed over,

Or it can linger on, continuing to bleed when you thought the scar was finally healed.

But the message of hope, comes as a clarion call,

Delivering its full throttled news in the most fantastic of ways,

Springing forth like a singing bird emerging from the dark prison walls,

Ushering in a moment of recognition that one does not need to be enslaved by sadness,

But can choose to have a heart overflowing with gratefulness and thanksgiving,

Cherishing moments spent, laughs delighted in, and stories recounted numerous times,

Until you can almost relive that episode in great detail.

Through it all, we feel a gentle hand upon us,

Allowing us to feel the full effects of grief, but reminding us not to stay there,

Teaching us new ways to live without a person or thing,

Showing us a different path that will draw us ever close and deeper into the human race.

For although grief knows no limits,

Neither does hope.

And it is to the latter that we have the unshakeable opportunity to turn.

WHY WOMEN SHOULD “DO” THEOLOGY

india2  To be completely honest, this question has been puzzling me for a long time. As you know, I studied theology for 7 years and even though I have completed my degrees, I still consider myself a theologian because I am always reading up on new topics of interest and trying to gain more academic insight. Perhaps one day I shall get my doctorate. Anyways, the reason this question intrigues me is because to me it seems like common sense that women should be taken seriously in the field of theology… but from experience, I know that is rarely the case. I always found it ironic that some of the people who hold the strongest opinions against women in church leadership are women themselves. I went to school with a few of them which is once again ironic because I went to Bible school. I asked them why they were studying theology if they didn’t believe women should be theologians. Their answer was that they were just there to find a husband (in their defence, many of them did. Many of them did not complete their studies after they got married). I also find these endless debates about questions such as whether or not women should be pastors (in any capacity) and whether or not women should be allowed to teach in a seminary to be a bit wearisome. Whenever these types of debates emerge, I am always tempted to ask the other person which century we live in. I know there is an argument for taking Scripture too contextually and thus perhaps losing some of the core theological assertions behind it… but on the other hand, sometimes I think people on the other side of the spectrum are also reading too much into it in an attempt to keep holding women down.

I have been trying to do some research about why women should study theology, but unfortunately, all the blog posts I have come across are rather basic and don’t nip the real issue in the bud. I realize this is a charged topic and you are welcome to disagree and debate with me on any point. However, I’d like to share with you three reasons why I believe it is crucial for more women to study theology:

1) Your Voice Matters

We all interpret the Bible through our own cultural lenses and through life experience. Anyone who has studied hermeneutics/Biblical Interpretation can tell you that. If taken too far, this has the potential to cloud what the Scriptures originally said, but from a more practical level, this is part of what adds to the beauty and diversity of the church. This is the reason Bible studies can be so informative and engaging – it would be rather boring if our views were only shaped by one or two people. We can hear God better when we learn to listen through the experiences of those around us and apply their truths into our own life. At a basic level, I think almost everyone would agree with this statement, except that in the majority of churches and in theology as a whole, we have fallen prey to exactly that: just listening to the voices of the same two or three people. When I consider the faculty at my university and seminary, the books I was assigned for class, and even the books I read now, they are almost always written by white, middle-aged, married, evangelical men. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with white, middle aged men. I believe their perspective is just as important as anyone else’s is… however, reading a book by a female theologian or by someone from a different ethnicity, just makes our studies that much richer. For example, reading a book written by a young mother or someone from Asia or Africa often provides me with a whole new list of concepts I would never have thought about before. We need more women to study theology because we need more of these voices to come to the forefront of our church life.

2) Women Have Profound Spiritual Authority

At first glance, this may sound like an incredibly progressive statement – only made by someone who affirms female leadership in the church. However, I believe that both conservatives and liberals (and those who find themselves somewhere in between) can both agree on this topic. It doesn’t matter what capacity you find yourself in – housewife or career woman, you have the ability to impact people with your theology. If you are a young mother raising kids, you will have the opportunity to profoundly shape your child’s understanding of Christ. They are going to rely on you for all of their early information… and as I wrote in another post once, it is much easier to learn theology correctly the first time than to have to unlearn bad theology!! If you are a Sunday school teacher or youth leader, don’t underestimate your authority. Kids are way more mould-able than adults: shaping them now is crucial for how they are going to develop later on. If you are married, single women might look up to you and observe how you treat your spouse – set a Godly example! If you are single, other single women might look to you to see how you fare in a culture that is preoccupied with relationships – you can show them how being single is not a consolation prize or a second best, but truly can be cherished as a gift from God. Anyone who is a Christian (whether male or female) has this responsibility – the task of evangelizing and witnessing to those around them through their spoken words and actions. Knowing good theology can help you be much more effective in this area of your life.

3) Theology Can Influence Any Other Academic or Practical Discipline In Your Life

For me, theology is a life-long pursuit. I believe every Christian is a theologian. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words “Theos” (θεός)- God and “Logos” (λόγος) – Word. In other words, theology is the study of God’s words which means that anyone who takes part in a Bible study (which hopefully you do daily) is already a theologian. I also affirm the fact that having academic degrees does not mean you understand everything about Scripture – that’s impossible. And in some cases, my friends who have never studied theology know far more about certain topics than I do because they have done their own personal research in an area I am not as familiar with.

With this in mind, you can see how theology influences every other discipline we might choose to master. If you have good theology it might enable you to read novels differently, to consider healthy eating differently, or to play music differently. When you have good theology, it permeates into every aspect of your life. This should be the case for both men and women.

We definitely need guys who are strong in the faith and who can boldly declare the Word of the Lord, but we also need women who are just as strong in ministering and engaging with the masses. If you are a female theologian, what resources and arguments do you have for studying what you study? If you’re a male theologian, how do you feel about working alongside your female counterparts? I’d love to hear from both sides 🙂

 

Our Four Greatest Idols

Golden Calf

The golden calf as described in the book of Exodus

Here’s what’s been on my mind and heart lately: I’m sharing it as an equal – one who is imperfect and also just learning these lessons. I hope it encourages and challenges you in a gentle and loving way!  This is also a sneak peak about what I’m going to share at International Fellowship next week during my worship leading (my actual message is going to be entirely different, but it kind of fits with the overall theme):

Yesterday, I was having coffee with one of my really amazing Christian friends over here.  She’s a real gem, full of wisdom and also one of those rare people you meet who has such a genuine and gentle heart, yet can also stir you into conviction and challenge you.  While we were sipping our drinks, I started realizing something that I am certainly guilty of in my own life, but that I also think most people have fallen prey to.  The truth is, everyone is different, but I believe there are 5 types of people in particular, 4 of which are preoccupied with idols.

  • The person who idolizes the past.

I think we’ve all met these people and perhaps we have done it ourselves on numerous occasions (even if we aren’t that old).  Do you ever look back at your life and think “wow, those were the good old days?”  I find myself reminiscing a lot.  It can totally consume my thoughts for the day.  Sometimes I am tempted to complain about this or that and think “man, I never had this kind of problem in Canada.  Canada is the best country in the world.  These Scots are so complicated.”  Listen, that’s a bold faced lie!  The truth is, I faced the exact same problems in Canada as I do here.  I faced loneliness, discontentment, and heartbreak in Canada in pretty much the same ways I experienced them over here.  And I recently learned that the reason for this is because of my own need to surrender everything to Christ.  Changing geographical locations will do little for you if you aren’t willing to address what the root cause of your sadness or anxiety is.

Another way this problem often comes up is when we compare our generation with this current one.  We’re always tempted to say “ah, but when I was a kid we respected our teachers much more than they do nowadays” or “when I was younger we weren’t allowed to swear, get drunk, party, get pregnant out of wedlock… etc. to the extent that kids do today.”  Listen, that might be true, but what are you going to do about it?  Are you going to use it as a way to distance yourself from kids and teens and to judge them… or are you going to use it as a way to connect, offer support and evangelize?  There’s a reason things in our culture have shifted, and probably they shifted in our generation (or long before) without us even recognizing it.  One little compromise here and there can actually destroy an entire social structure!

The moral of the story: don’t idolize the past thinking you had it made, be honest with yourself.  Realize that wishing for the past doesn’t make it come back.   Think about how God can use you in your present circumstance and situation at this particular moment.

  • The person who lives completely in the past as a victim.

Every single one of us has gone through something painful, traumatic, and difficult.  Something no one deserved to have happen to them.  Something that really broke God’s heart in half.  Maybe when you think back to this event it causes you to be bitter and resentful.  Maybe you envy people around you who you assume haven’t experienced that type of pain.  Maybe you use it as a scapegoat and blame your addictions, depression, and disinterest in life on it.  Maybe you use it to justify why you walked away from God and the church and why you no longer care about the Bible.

Over the Christmas holidays at work, we were watching the new Cinderella movie with our Core Members and one line just really stood out and grabbed my attention, “she particularly seemed to enjoy wearing her grief.”  Some of us are like that.  We might not say it outright and we might not even be conscious that we are doing it, but some of us love to share our testimony for the wrong reasons (not to give God all the glory for delivering us from our past failures and mistakes, but because we love reliving those painful moments.  We love thinking that we were the ones who had wrong done to us.  We love thinking that we are completely innocent and those evil people took that innocence away from us).

Listen, I don’t mean to undermine your pain at all.  I know so many people who have gone through way worse things than I can ever think of or imagine.  My heart is broken for them and I am deeply saddened that we live in such a fallen and messed up world that permits these events to occur.  I know it is a result of the brokenness of our humanity, not at all the ideals Christ has planned for us.  I believe it is important to acknowledge your fears and frustrations, your hurt and discomfort.  I believe it is important to seek out support from your friends and family and to search the Scriptures and cry out to God.  But you need to understand this:

There comes a time when you basically need to give it over to God.  If the event happened years ago, then yes, of course, the pain is still there.  It doesn’t diminish entirely.  It will probably always affect you in some way.  But Christ has promised to set you free and He wants to make you whole again.  But first you need to be willing for that to happen.  Continuing to live in the past, deciding that you don’t like a certain month or day because it brings back all your past memories is intentionally choosing to speak a malediction on that day.  You know, it doesn’t have to be negative.  Christ can turn it around.  That one terrible day that holds all those painful memories of terrible things done to you or terrible things you’ve done to others doesn’t have to be one of unforgiveness.  It can actually be one of blessings instead.  Who knows?  Maybe God wants to  give you a new milestone – a positive one where you can look back on that day that was so disastrous 3 years ago and now you can say “ah, but this day has new significance to me.  It’s the day Christ completely healed me and set me free.”

So the moral of the story is: do not make your past pain, failures, and mistakes into an idol.  Instead recognize the healing and hope that freely flows from Christ.

  • The person who idolizes the future.

This is definitely the one I find our Western culture is the most fixated on.  We are a completely goal driven society.  When you’re a kid you get asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  When you’re old enough to apply for your first job you get asked “where do you see yourself in five years?”  When you graduate from university, they ask you on those surveys “what are you planning to do with your degree?”  Not only do we get asked these questions, but people also judge us based on society’s yardstick to make sure our goals measure up with what is acceptable for someone with our level of education or experience.

I personally really struggle with this as well and most of my friends have called me out on it at one point or another.  I am totally obsessed with goals.  I always want to be doing something new.  So I make a goal, I reach it, then I need to think of the next one.  I don’t like slowing down and savouring the moment of reward.  I just think, “that’s great.  What comes next?”

Listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having goals.  I believe that God wants us to be diligent and good stewards with our talents and education.  I also think that if we have the right motivations, God is very pleased with us for being ambitious.  Proverbs tells us that God hates a lazy person – someone who sits around and does nothing.  The Bible commends those who plan, budget, and work hard to achieve their dreams.  On the other hand, to what extent are these goals preoccupying your life and hindering you from living the life you are given at this particular moment?

The moral of the story: don’t idolize the future.  Don’t think the grass will be greener on the other side.  Water the grass that is in your garden – that is right in front of you at this moment, while you are reading my disjointed ramblings J

  • The lazy person who uses the future as a crutch for not taking action now.

Now this one sounds absolutely crazy, but I think it happens quite often.  We can often turn laziness into our idol.  Have you ever met a couch potato?  You know, one of these people who is pretty much useless.  They have no motivation in life.  They think someone else will do all the dirty work for them while they get to bask in the glory of the achievement.  Sometimes people will say, “oh, I can’t do that today.  I’m too busy, but I can do it tomorrow.”  But then before you know it, tomorrow because a week from now, then a month, then ten years later, and nothing ever happens.

Listen, this is not the type of life you are called to as a believer in Christ.  Christians are called to take action.  To be involved in their community.  To engage in ministry.  If you keep telling yourself that you aren’t ready to step in because you need more time, more training, more experience, more maturity… it’s just never going to happen.  There’s always going to be someone telling you that you aren’t the right person or you aren’t properly equipped to handle the challenge… but the truth is, no one is perfect, and if you’re waiting to become perfect, well, you will never get there.

The Bible praises those who don’t take no for an answer and who strive to do what is right in the face of incredible opposition.  It discourages those who build barns and store away goodies thinking they can be used tomorrow, not because we shouldn’t plan, but because it is incredibly wasteful when those goodies could be used right now to serve those around us and to glorify the Father.  It mentions that empty promises to do something are way worse than not making a promise, but then finding the time to help.

The moral of the story: Don’t make laziness and a television/Facebook life your idol.  Make the conscious choice to serve those around you who rely on your help at this moment.

  • The person who lives fully in the present, accepting each day as it comes and completely trusts Christ to reveal Himself in new ways to them daily.

This is the person we should all strive to be, but it is always easier said than done.  This is the person who has a healthy dose of reality.  They know how to relate stories from their past to others without it affecting their current emotional state.  They know how to take lessons from the past and apply it to their lives without falling back into their old patterns of life.  They also know how to look forward to the future with a healthy dose of respect for planning, but without making it an idol.  Ultimately they live in this present moment because yesterday is uneraseable and there is no guarantee of tomorrow.  These are the people we need to become and with God’s help it is entirely possible.

Confessions of a Theological Nomad (AKA: How You Can Be a Biblical Christian While Still Believing Women Can Be Pastors)

A female preacher telling the good news

  A woman with medium length red hair, wearing a pink collared blouse under a purple dress jacket, raises her left hand, as she preaches and reads the gospel from the bible on top of a wooden podium, with a cross sign engraved in front

Disclaimer: Recently, I have come to dislike the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because of the vast connotations associated with them, however, for ease of clarity I will use these two phrases.

This is the current story of my life:

Person: “I’m conservative and you aren’t.”

Me: “Why would you say that?”

Person: “I don’t believe that women should be pastors.  You studied theology, therefore you must believe that.  Therefore you are a liberal.”

I have a confession to make: I have never fit in and for the most part I have liked it that way.  However, sometimes it does get a bit stressful because people have all these preconceived ideas of what makes someone Biblical.  Unfortunately in many evangelical circles you only have two options: you can either be a Bible-believing Christian or else you can be a liberal heretic.  People who advocate for female pastors are lumped together with those who are rioting for LGBTQ rights and who are super interfaith.  While there are many female pastors who do advocate for these types of things (and that is a matter of personal choice), it is largely unfair to label a female pastor as entirely liberal because there are so many different perspectives one can take on any number of topics.  Throughout my life, I have been asked repeatedly about my views on female pastorship.  People asked me what I thought before I went to Bible College, while I was studying, and after I graduated.  Since moving to Edinburgh I have been asked this question on at least 10 different occasions by at least 10 different people, so I thought that once and for all I would let you know where I actually stand.

First Things First – Setting the Stage

Before I begin my discussion, I’d like to start out by saying we are all entitled to our own opinions on this topic.  I recognize that female leadership is still a hot-button topic in the church and it probably always will remain that way.  I’d also like to say that for me when someone disagrees with my thoughts on female leadership it doesn’t mean that I like them any less as a person.  In fact, I would say that at least 90% of the best friends I have in my life disagree with a woman being a pastor.  This has been challenging at times because it is not always easy to pursue a vocational path that your family and friends will not support you in, however, in the end of the day we remain friends because we realize that while we disagree on this one particular theological viewpoint, there are many other areas (of greater importance) on which we do agree.  In fact, having friends with various theological viewpoints is what shapes both of us and makes our time interesting!  I always try to respect my friends who disagree with female leadership because I know them personally and I know that at the heart of their thoughts is an intense desire and longing to serve Christ.  In a world that prides itself on feminism, it can actually be quite refreshing to see someone who has done careful investigative research and theological analysis and has arrived at a conclusion which is… well… somewhat controversial and counter-cultural.  I am even more impressed when these friends continue to cling to these beliefs because it shows a certain strength of character and willingness to remain firmly planted in Scriptures despite cultural pressures which occasionally even creep into the church.  I know that my friends do not disagree with me for the sake of argument, but because they want each theological choice in their life to reflect a more Biblical worldview.  In which case, I believe I have a lot to learn from them.

On the other hand, I reject the label of being a “liberal” (by which most mean “heretic”) simply on the basis of believing in female authority.  The reason is because I also have done careful analysis and poured a lot of thought into this particular issue.  I have done massive amounts of research and have struggled through the Biblical injunctions for a woman to remain silent in church.  Even today, I still cannot say that I am 100% convinced one way or the other.  I strongly lean towards the need for female representation within our churches, but I also want to stay as true to the text as possible.  [As an aside, I am not at all saying that my friends label me a heretic.  I think most of them know that I am a solid Bible-believing Christian.  However, I also think we are too quick to throw around the labels of “conservative” and “liberal” as an either/or category, rather than a both/and possibility].

Types of Female Leadership

Generally speaking, there are three types of beliefs surrounding female leadership:

  • Male Headship: This is the idea that only men get to be in charge. Therefore, men are the pastors and the heads of the household.  Many people who hold this view take it directly from Scriptures which tell us that the man is the head of the wife and Christ is the head of the church (1 Cor. 11:3 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+11%3A3&version=ESV).  This is where a lot of “liberal” and feminist Christians needlessly get their backs up.  They start thinking people in the male headship camp hate women and are not with the times.  Actually, I think that’s a pretty unfair assumption to make.  In reality, the majority of people in this camp would value men and women as both equal in the eyes of Christ.  Equal but with different gifts and different roles.  Being a female does not invalidate your personhood or make you less important than your husband, but rather the reason for submission is because there is a certain order to things.  Perhaps we do not always know why God made this order, but He did and if we are obedient to Him we should follow it.  By the way, I will add an aside here to say that although I believe in female pastors, I actually do hold some headship views (which my “liberal” friends dislike me for).  I have blogged about these views here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/a-former-feminist-looks-at-the-concept-of-biblical-submission-part-1-of-a-2-part-series/)
  • Shared Leadership (Also Called: Complementarian): This viewpoint is held by those who like to find compromises and middle ground. People in this circle typically validate both men and women in all positions of leadership (including as pastors).  However, many would say that there are limits to a woman’s role.  This is where you meet people who believe a woman can be a children’s or youth pastor, but not a preacher or where you meet someone who believes a woman can be a visitation pastor (administering pastoral care and counselling) but not a senior pastor.  This view is widely accepted because it does acknowledge that God can and does call women to ministry and that women are capable of having spiritual gifts (perhaps in different ways than men).  It is also a great way to “keep everyone happy” except when that doesn’t work.  Which in my case is quite often because I have no interest in being a children/youth pastor and since I am a woman those are pretty much the only positions I am able to get!  Another difficulty with this approach is that it suggests that somehow kids and youth are less important than adults, when this is not the case at all!  In fact, one of my pastors back home (who happened to be a woman!) told me, “you see, I don’t get this idea of a woman only teaching kids.  You tell a kid there’s a monster under their bed and they lack the ability to reason with you.  They just believe it.  You tell an adult there’s a monster under your bed and they think you’re crazy!”  In other words – kids are way more impressionable than adults, so why task a woman with that role, but not allow her to speak publicly from a pulpit?  Doesn’t make much sense…
  • Egalitarian: This is the viewpoint that men and women are able to accomplish the same roles within the church. Women can hold any office including public ones such as preaching or even being the bishop (or whatever equivalent your church might have).  The good thing about this view is that it affirms women for the amazing potential we have and doesn’t limit the way God can choose to use us (providing we have a calling).  The bad thing about this view is that many would argue it is unscriptural and that it forgets that men and women are the same (but different!).  Actually, one of the most formative pieces of literature I ever read when I was trying to decide where I fit on the issue was by a man I no longer remember.  He said, “churches which ordain only men fail to see the unique contributions a woman can bring.  However, churches which ordain both men and women as equals fail to realize that men and women have different gifts.”  For the most part, I couldn’t agree more with this man.  The truth is that typically speaking, men are wired one way and women quite another.  There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but typically men are more logical and women are able to be more emotionally connected.  There are two ways to approach this apparent problem: 1) You can decide that based on this there is enough ground to say a woman should not be a pastor (or only in certain roles within the church).  2) You could say that a woman should become a pastor exactly because she can bring something new to the church that a man couldn’t.  I really think it boils down to personal opinion.

A Confession: When I first started researching the topic of female leadership I was really super egalitarian.  Today, I almost hold a shared leadership position.  I believe it is important for both men and women to be represented in the church and I’m about to share why.  I realize that there are many churches today which are quite small and only have the resources to employ one pastor in which case the church must decide whether to hire a male or female.  However, even then, a person of the opposite gender should be in a recognizable role such as being an elder or a deacon or even the Sunday school superintendent!  Whereas, churches which are big enough to hire multiple staff members should, in my opinion, have at least one man and one woman on staff.  Ideally, in the traditional sense, the pastor could be a man and his wife could fill this role, however, this is no longer that easy because today most women work outside of the home.  And even if the woman is a homemaker it doesn’t necessarily mean she has the personality, aptitude, or spiritual gifts to provide this type of pastoral role (nor should it be expected of her!).  Now is not the time to go into a rant about whether or not women should work outside of the home (again, another matter of personal opinion).  Rather I am just sharing why “conservative” churches may not find the solution so easily in having a pastor’s wife as the leading woman of the congregation.  Additionally, I do recognize that many churches in Edinburgh do have a woman on staff.  She is usually called a “woman’s worker” and plays a vital role usually providing care and activities to the women and families in the church.  In this case, I would say that such a person is filling in a “pastoral” role.  In Canada, I have not experienced this as much.  It seems like most people who work in a church are pastors… that’s what makes this a little more complicated for me (because I’m trying to write from the perspective of two very different cultures).

The Benefits of Female Leadership:

There are several good reasons for having a female pastor.  Please let me share a few of them with you:

  • Like I mentioned before, women can provide a whole new perspective of any number of spiritual and pastoral issues. When I studied preaching at Tyndale we talked about the types of sermon illustrations most commonly used.  The truth is, pastors preach from their own experience.  So if the pastor is married s/he will likely talk about married life and about intimacy with Christ in married terms.  If the pastor was a missionary s/he will likely tell stories about the mission field.  You get the picture.  Actually, personal experience is absolutely fantastic – it’s what makes your sermon come alive.  I am pretty sure 99% of people in the church would rather hear about your personal journey than hear you dishing out the Greek and Hebrew.  However, there is a danger here because men think differently than women.  For the most part, our interests are vastly different.  So what happens when we are in the preaching lab with 20 guys and 2 girls?  The guys talk about football, the latest sports game, and their obsession with sports cars while the girls just sit there day dreaming.  What happens when the 2 girls go up to talk?  Well, we start talking about our emotions or something like that.  The guys think “okay, just get on with it.  I don’t need to hear you unleash your emotions.  I want to hear some actual Biblically solid stuff!”  Of course, this is an overgeneralization, but the point I am trying to make is that men and women need each other because we bring different thoughts to the table.
  • Women can connect in ways that men can’t. From a practical viewpoint, I see a huge need for females to be in leadership, if for no other reason, than that they can provide pastoral care in ways men can’t.  I have seen this first hand in my own life working alongside female pastors.  For example, if a 17 year old comes to you pregnant outside of marriage, a woman can usually talk with her and find her necessary community support in a way that may be inappropriate for a man.  A woman can go visit mother who just gave birth in the maternity ward and hold her hand whereas many men would probably find that to be slightly awkward.  There are also lots of things a woman would simply not feel comfortable discussing with a man.  Let’s say the woman has a history of sexual abuse done to her at the hands of numerous men throughout her life.  Let’s even say one of those men was a church leader or a pastor.  That woman is most definitely not going to trust any man (even a pastor) enough to open up to him.  But if there was a key woman she could go to for support and to ask questions – that has the ability to be incredibly transformative for her.
  • Women can provide that extra touch of mothering. Being a father is important and so necessary in our day and age, but being a mother also has its merits.  I have been given the incredible opportunity of preaching on a few occasions, and although I am not a mother, I always feel encouraged when people approach me after to say how being vulnerable and sharing my life has impacted them in some way.  In my own life, I have had at least two experiences where a female preacher was vulnerable enough to share a piece of her life publicly and this resulted in a deep friendship and mentorship between us.  Often after the sermon, I would email her asking her to chat with me about the topic and from there I would later come to regard her as a spiritual mother.  Now, of course, men are also capable of doing this, but the truth is that men and women write and preach differently because we are wired differently.  Which is absolutely incredible.  Amazing!

The Two Most Common Objections:

  • But there were no female pastors in the Bible. My Response: This is most definitely true, however, we have ample enough evidence to suggest that women did play a very vital role in the early church (including in some very prominent positions!).  In the Old Testament we read of Miriam and Huldah who were both prophetesses.  We also read of Deborah who was the only female judge in Israel.  Deborah’s advice was well sought out including by leading army men.  To be fair, Deborah lived a rather quiet life – minding her own business, waiting for people to come visit her at the Palm Trees; however, she also had a huge impact: she was known as the “Mother of Israel” (a pretty lofty title if ever there was one) and she even persuaded the stubborn Barak to gain courage in a situation he felt mostly unprepared for.  We know little about Deborah’s personal life.  Scholars debate whether or not she was married (some translations read “the wife of Lapidoth” and others “a woman of Lapidoth”), however, even if she was married, we do not have any hint of her husband being in leadership with her.  She held her own.

In the New Testament, we also have many brilliant examples of women in key positions of leadership.  For example, we read of Junia (who is outstanding among the apostles).  We read of Priscilla and Aquila (a ministering couple who ran a house church; in fact, some scholars believe Priscilla was mentioned first because she had a greater impact in the church than her husband).  There was also Phoebe (a deaconess).  In fact, what I find so shocking is that 7 out of the 25 names mentioned in Romans 16 (nearly 30%) were women – this is incredible given the widespread patriarchy at the time the Scriptures were written.  So you see, Paul valued women.  They had a tremendous impact in the life of the church.

  • But Paul said women should be silent in the church. My Response: Once again, this is true.  But you have to remember the context of the time these verses were written in.  Back then, women and men used to be separate during worship services.  Men were allowed closer in on the action whereas women had to be kept at a distance because of purity laws.  So women relied on their husbands to know what had taken place at the Synagogue that day.  Eventually, women were allowed in to worship with their husbands, but because it was a brand-new experience, they had many questions.  They started whispering to their husbands, “what does that mean?  What’s this?  What’s that?”  And Paul didn’t want that to disrupt his message, so he suggested an alternative: hold your questions.  Ask them to your husband at home.

One could make all kinds of inferences about Paul’s words including that he mentioned that a woman about to prophesy or pray in public should cover her head (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+11%3A5&version=ESV) which implies that women were publicly proclaiming the Gospel.  But that is outside of the point.  The point is that the Bible was written at a different time period than today and we would do well to understand the cultural norms and settings of that day.  This does not at all negate the fact that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  It is not to say that simply because of the time period we should ignore what it teaches us.  Rather, if anything, it increases its credibility for this very reason.  Scriptures continue to inspire and transform us today, but theology is constantly in a state of flux.  Theology is constantly being shaped by our world-views and others around us, while still maintaining its divine authorship and message.

Conclusion: I hope that this background provides you with a bit more understanding of why I believe so strongly in female leadership.  I recognize that not everyone will agree with these thoughts, but I post them here as the basis of an on-going discussion.  More than anything else, we seek to please God and to live our lives for Him.  Whether or not you agree with female leadership, it is important to know all sides of the debate and to ask yourself which theological viewpoint will enable you to serve Christ the best in your own unique circumstance.

 

 

Wrestling Giants – How Not to Be a Pacifist When Facing Spiritual Warfare

roman-soldierI have a confession to make: although I am an absolute pacifist, I have always longed to be a bit of a rebel and write something militaristic.  For the past few years, my Bible College and seminary buddies have taken great pride in teasing me about my peaceful views.  Today, I decided to kick it up a notch and admit that even a good Mennonite kid, likes a little warfare now and then! 

I am an absolute pacifist in all areas of my life except three.  I cannot be an absolute pacifist when it comes to matters of sin and salvation.  I cannot be a pacifist when it comes to fighting against the Enemy’s lies, and I cannot be a pacifist when it comes to wrestling with my old nature.

All of us have been there at one time or another.  Just when we thought we had it right, when we thought our old nature was dead and buried, we find ourselves up against our past faults and failures. Even the great leader of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul himself felt this way at times.  In Romans 7:23-25 Paul writes, “22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+7%3A22-25&version=ESV) and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul pens these words, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+12%3A7&version=ESV)  In other words, Paul knew exactly what it was like to wage battle between his former fleshly desires and his new heartfelt desire to serve Christ.  He knew what it was like to be torn in two because his spirit was willing but his flesh was weak.   Christians constantly live in this world of tension.  The Bible teaches us one thing, but media and cultural influences teach us quite another.  Sometimes these lies even creep into the church itself and false teachers may tell us what we want to hear, suggesting that it is okay to make compromises or to reinvent certain Scriptural truths in order to make the Bible more accessible and pleasing to ourselves.  When a convenient Christian faith is offered to us, it sometimes seems rather pointless to continue living the actual faith which is one that is full of hardships, trials, and persecution.  However, if our hearts are truly aligned to the Word of God, we know that it is to the latter we are called, regardless of how difficult that might be.

So we know that wrestling with our old selfish and sinful nature is inevitable, but what do we do to win this war when the battle exhausts us and stresses us out?  The truth is so plainly obvious from the Scriptures.  In fact, the complete answer is found in just a few verses.  Ephesians 6:10-20 reads:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 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 firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+6&version=ESV)

Let’s break this down a bit:

V 10 – Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might

Waging war is never easy, it definitely can tire us out!  When your thoughts and emotions are constantly playing tricks on you, it can make you feel quite weary and helpless.  Satan knows what your weak points are.  If you are prone to depression or anxiety he is going to make you dwell on that.  If your weak point is feeling insignificant, he is going to remind you of your past failures or make you believe that no one likes you.  If your weak point is a former addiction, he’s going to tempt you in every possible way to go back to it.  Listen, don’t give in to these lies.  You will never win this battle if you are fighting it on your own strength, but with Christ, you can gain victory over in the most troublesome areas of your life.

V 12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Know that these trials are way deeper than just your own nagging thoughts or other people’s opinions.  Internal and external pressures may definitely be part of the package, but they are not the only issues at stake.  Oftentimes there is a lot more happening in the heavenly realms that we could ever imagine.  This idea may sound foreign to you as it is one that is not often conveyed in a number of churches, but here are just a few verses that give you a better picture:

Job 2: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+2&version=ESV – Satan given permission by God to torture Job (spiritual warfare)

1 Thessalonians 2:18 – “because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+2&version=ESV)

Daniel 10: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+10&version=ESV (An angel was prevented from giving Daniel a message.   If spiritual warfare can even inflict the lives of angels, imagine how much more mere mortals would be susceptible to it!)

While there is no easy answer for fighting a deeply spiritual battle, the most important thing is to simply recognize that it is there.  Recognize that warfare is real and is happening constantly to Christians.  Don’t pass it off because of pop-cultural psychology which will tell you that the problem lies with you and your inability to think positively about yourself.  Secondly, remember that facing spiritual warfare is a great privilege.  I have faced warfare on a number of occasions and I remember feeling down and discouraged about it, but my pastor told me that I should be encouraged because the reason Satan was inflicting me was because he saw me as a threat!  In particular, missionaries often face such pressures before heading off to the mission field (I most certainly did).  The reason is because Satan wants to do anything to stop the Gospel message from being proclaimed.  He will put you in ill health, he will cause financial difficulties, he will cause relational strain, and he will cause you to doubt your calling.  When this happens, pull yourself together and make an even greater resolve to do exactly that which annoys him!

V 13 – 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 firm. 

I never realized this until just now, but the command to put on the WHOLE ARMOUR of God is written twice in this passage.  Why?  Did Paul think we would forget or did he have a nasty habit of repeating himself (as I do)?  No.  The reason is because in Biblical times, when something was important, it was repeated more than once to show the urgency of such a statement.  Here Paul is telling us that we need to pay attention.  Having just a helmet will do a great job protecting your head, but will do nothing to protect your heart.  Having a breastplate will protect the heart but not the head.  And having a helmet and a breastplate will protect your most vital organs, but will not allow you to wage war because you will have no weapon with which to be defensive or even offensive.

Paul then goes on to list what type of armour ever Christian soldier needs.  Here’s what makes up the complete kit:

The Belt of Truth: When I was in my third year of university, I coordinated and led a small group ministry for first year students by mentoring 16 other leaders.  On the first day of our training, I got each leader to take out an index card.  On the front I wrote “the lie” and on the back “the truth.”  Now, this was not some sort of get-to-know you ice-breaker despite the fact that most initially thought it was.  This was my first instance of helping these leaders face spiritual warfare head-on.

Like I said, Satan will infiltrate our hearts with many lies.  Why?  Because our hearts are so easily swayed.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are wicked beyond imagination and completely led astray and deceived (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+17%3A9&version=KJV).  The worst part is, we are so prone to believe that whatever our heart (the seat of our emotions) tells us must be accurate.  Our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and our well-meaning friends ask us, “well, what is your heart telling you?” whenever we are trying to make important life decisions.  So you can see how even the most Godly people can become convinced of attitudes which are not helpful or Scriptural.

However, the only way we can break free from these lies is to lean in to Christ.  I have learned that for every lie Satan pours into my heart, there is a truth from Scripture which counters it and shows me how God truly feels about me or about the situation.  Of course, you won’t know these truths unless you first spend time in the Word itself learning what it says.  It can be especially helpful to memorize Scripture verses so that when temptation strikes, you have an arsenal right there at your disposal.  Since I started memorizing Scripture a few years ago, I have often been surprised at how frequently I use these verses in prayer whenever I am going through difficulty.  If you find memorization difficult, another trick I have learned is to write out helpful Scriptures on a white board close to your mirror so that when you are brushing your teeth or getting ready for the day, you will be forced to look upon them and be reminded to take God at His Word.

The Breastplate of Righteousness: Righteousness is almost one of these $1 million words only used in Christian circles.  I mean, I have never once used the word “righteous” amongst my non-Christian colleagues and peers.  So what exactly does it mean?  According to theologian N.T. Wright, righteousness is a legal term displaying being in right relation to the court of law (http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_NDCT_Righteousness.htm).  Likewise we must always be striving to be in right relationship with Christ Himself.  We must be resonant rather than dissonant with His will for our lives.  Here is where we need to exercise great caution.  If we are experiencing hardship, we can’t always necessarily write it off as spiritual warfare (though it might certainly be that).  Hardship can also be “God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world” (to quote the late C.S. Lewis).  If we are not in right relationship with God, He might be trying to draw us closer to Him or to warn us that the path we are going down is not in His will for us at all.  Of course, we will only know this if, once again, we are spending time frequently with Him through reading His Word and prayer.

Shoes (Readiness to Share the Gospel of Peace): Most of us love having a good pair of shoes (in fact, if you’re a woman, you probably like having thousands of shoes to choose from!)  But what type of shoes do you wear when you’re out on a mission?  You probably wear ones that will enable you to run and not trip – in other words, combat boots or trainers.  You aren’t going to go for the high heels this time around!

When we think about engaging in battle, we need the right shoes as well.  Shoes that will enable us to spread the Gospel quickly and efficiently.  I find it so interesting that Paul describes one of the central characteristics of Christianity as being “the Gospel of peace.”  It is true that Christ is the Prince of Peace, but have you noticed how peace is brought in to this section even though it is otherwise quite violent and full of warfare references?  This is something to think about, but I believe it might have to do with the fact that at the core of what we are talking about: we are not waging war with others.  This section isn’t justifying tanks or bomber jets – it is simply talking about the need to abolish the one who is causing the wars (Satan himself).  Just like a line from one of my favourite songs states, “Our call to war, to love the captive soul, but to rage against the captor.” (O Church Arise, Keith and Kathy Getty).  That pretty much sums it up.

Shield of Faith: Christianity is absolutely nothing if not for our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We all use the word “faith” it is not a million dollar theological word like “righteousness” is.  Even non-Christians will occasionally tell someone “I have faith in you” or “let’s just have faith that it will all work out.”  But if we were to dig deeper, what exactly is faith?  At the core of what it is, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Hebrews%2011%3A1).  Furthermore, we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him must:

  1. First believe that He exists

Then

  1. Rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+11%3A6)

Logically this makes sense.  We cannot have faith in someone or something we ourselves do not believe in.  Have you ever worked in sales?  The first thing professionals will tell you during sales training is that in order to have customers buy the product, you must believe that the product works yourself.  This then becomes evident by your enthusiasm of sharing the product.  You must be convinced that your product is far superior to any other brand or company.  Well, it’s the same way with God.  We cannot evangelize and share our faith with others if we ourselves do not believe there is anything special about Him.  If we ourselves do not believe that Christianity sets us apart or makes us unique from the rest of the world.  I think most of us would agree this is common knowledge and leave it at that, but we can’t because there is the second part of the verse: a promise that God will reward those who are fighting battles for Him.  In other words, He isn’t going to leave us out on the battlefield alone, He is our strong commander who has put Himself on the front lines and commands our every action.  He wants to see us come out victorious, not to be mercilessly slaughtered.

Helmet of Salvation: The helmet is the most vital part of the armour.  Shoot the head and you’ll die instantly, so it’s no surprise that the helmet is salvation itself.  We are saved through the atoning blood of Christ alone, not through any of our own deeds.  In fact, we are told that our deeds are rubbish before the righteousness (there’s that word again!) of God (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Isaiah%2064%3A6).  We must rest secure in this promise especially when Satan wants us to think that we have made it on our own or that we can do this battle without Christ (big mistake!)

Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God): While the majority of the armour being used in spiritual warfare is DEFENSIVE, it is curious to note that one piece of chainmail is mentioned which is OFFENSIVE: this is the Sword of the Spirit.  Throughout Scripture, the Gospel has been referred to as a sword.  Take for example Hebrews 4:12 which states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+4%3A12)  It is important to be able to defend ourselves against Satan’s wiles, but it is also important to have the resources with which to fight him (not just withstand attacks and battering).  There is no better way to do this, then with God’s Words because then we are not just fighting him with our own opinions, but with deep spiritual truths which he cannot deny.

Note: It’s important to be careful here.  Satan also knows the Bible quite well.  When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he knew exactly which verses to twist around.  But also note that Jesus knew the Bible inside-out.  Even though Satan gave him half-truths by messing around with the Gospel, Jesus knew the full truth of the passages and wasn’t afraid to use them!

In addition, we are told that our training techniques must include:

Constant Prayer (including: Praying for the Saints and Praying for our Leaders and the Persecuted Church): Reading this passage, I was immediately struck by the importance of prayer.  On three occasions, Paul mentions the need for prayer including two cases of very specific prayers.  The fact is that we are to always be in a state of prayer.  This doesn’t mean we always have our eyes closed (imagine driving on the motorway with only one eye open!) nor does it mean we should be pious and inwardly focussed to the point of not helping anyone else we come across.  On the contrary, each action should be done in a prayerful way and every opportunity to serve should remind us of the One who motivates us to serve.

Moreover, Paul requests us to pray for the saints, for our leaders, and for the persecuted church.  When Paul uses the word “saints” he isn’t asking us to pray for those who have gone before us in the way that some Catholics and Orthodox Christians use this word.  Rather he is asking us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith who are still alive!  He is reminding us that while it is important to pray for ourselves when we are in spiritual struggles, we are also to pray for others experiencing spiritual difficulties as well.  The battle becomes much tighter when we have other soldiers praying for each other and there is no better way than to regain our composure than focussing outward.  When we remember that other people are also experiencing problems and spiritual warfare, it really puts things into perspective and helps us to not be so depressed about our own issues.

We are also to pray for our leaders (pastors, elders, teachers, etc) because as a preacher myself, I know that pastors and other church leaders oftentimes face spiritual warfare more frequently than anyone else.  Pastors have a huge responsibility – they have to look after a flock (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13%3A17&version=ESV).  So pray for your pastor!  Encourage him or her when they are about to give up!

Alertness: Spiritual attacks can come at any time and in many different ways.  In fact, you might finally think that you are making some progress in one area of your life, when all of a sudden, you find yourself reverting back to your old patterns of living.  We know that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Peter%205%3A8).  The only way we can avoid being swallowed up is to recognize when he is on the move and to run as far away from him as possible.

Perseverance: With spiritual warfare, it is so important to keep going and not to give up even when you feel like leaving the battlefield.  It can be difficult continuing this fight on your own, but thankfully God has given us community and by enlisting a brother or sister to pray for you in your struggles, you can already begin to see a massive difference!  When you are part of the church – you are never alone.  You are just one email, Facebook message, tweet, or text away from help – so why not take advantage?  

Being Bold in Our Witness and Testimony: At various times in my life, God has called me to share my testimony with others.  I usually dread it because although I give God the glory for everything He has accomplished in my life, I don’t like being so open and vulnerable (sometimes with people I barely know).  However, God has given you your story and your experiences for a reason.  You never know how the most painful moments of your life could impact and change the life of someone else who is going through the same thing.  If God is calling you to share something, you can’t be timid about it.  Preach it openly and with confidence and He will surely reward you for your faithfulness and obedience.

Conclusion: Although definitely not a comprehensive list, I hope that these points may be an encouragement to you when you are facing spiritual hardships.  In all things, remember that Christ is the compassionate leader and healer.  He is a brilliant war commander, but also a peaceful shepherd.  Seek His face, get to know Him through His word, find your identity in Him and pray constantly.  When you do this, you will surely see the fruits of your labour.