Thursday, September 29, 2011

At War- Standing Firm

I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
 Remember that great scene in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf stands on the bridge and faces the Balroc?
 With a fierce energy and passionate voice he stands firm and shouts, "You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Ud√Ľn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass."

There is a part of spiritual warfare that we often miss and that is the art of 'standing firm'. Holding to- clinging to- not wavering. It is holding against the storm, resolute and unwavering.

We see this in Scripture- Jacob clinging to the Lord, "I will not let you go until you bless me". Jesus setting His face toward the cross for the joy set before Him, Paul finishing the course, Shaddrach, Meshach, and Adendego saying the Lord will deliver us, but even if He doesn't, we will not bow before you O King.". It is a mindset that says, "Though the whole world leave and forsake the Lord, I will yet stand."
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
I think there a couple of application points to this:

Perseverance- we have to get tougher and learn to dig in and stand firm when momentum swings against us.We tend to relent way too early in the game. Think of a goal line defense. We teach the defensive linemen to get low and hunker down. Go low and grab grass and push with all you have. Is there anything more exciting than a defense holding on a 4th and 1? Pushed back all the way down the field, but holding the other team out creates great energy and momentum. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

How many more marriages would survive with this mindset?- 'I'm going to endure a little longer and see if the tide may turn- Lord, help me.'

In the Book of Revelation- 5 of the 7 churches are not getting good marks from Jesus. He says to them, 'repent'. These churches have become loveless, distracted, materialistic, and full of false teachers and immorality. Yet, nowhere in the 7 letters does the Lord say to the believers.. "Leave and go find a better church."

No- He indicates to stay, repent, and strengthen the things that remain.

This is my final post of the series 'AT WAR'- but I will tell you that I have never seen Satan more visible in His assault on the faith. I have the largest prayer list in 25+ years of keeping such lists.

Financial hardships, job loss, cancer, disease, divorce, false rumors and gossip, immorality, drunkenness or substance abuse, pain, regret, quarreling, apathy, laziness, selfishness. At times, it almost feels like Satan has been set loose as found in Rev. 20:7. We have brothers and sisters in real pain and dire circumstances. We need to pray and love and serve.

But the message never changes..... STAND FIRM.
Tell the Devil.... YOU SHALL NOT PASS

And the result of that kind of faith and that kind of fight? "Your labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN."

And what about when we fail and fall? There is good news in the gospel. It matters not if you try and fail and try and fail again- what matters is if you try and fail... and fail to try again.

May God's grace and peace keep us steady in the storm! It's a glorious day to battle in the joy of the Lord!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

At War- Triads, Tactics, and Schemes

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Eph 6:10

Scripture says we have three enemies: the world's system, our flesh, and the devil. In Revelation we see an unholy trinity of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

The world is against believers in that the system in place works against the righteous. It is a system built on fortune, fame, power, and pleasure. In Revelation we are asked to come out of Babylon, that is the corrupt city of man- filled with injustice, a city red with the blood of tooth and claw, and a land that lures the unsuspecting to their slavery and doom.

We are in the world, but not of it. An interesting concept. The obvious ways to miss this is to be in and of the world.... or to be totally out of the world, so removed that we do no good as salt and light. In this culture, you will feel like you are always swimming upstream if you profess allegiance to the Kingdom of Christ.

G.K. Beale is quoted as saying: "It has been said that worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange"

ROMANS 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We also have a problem with our flesh. The Apostle Paul struggled with this in Romans 7 when he writes that he cannot do what he wants, but does the very thing he hates. He finds that sin is in him, the one wishing to do good. Our battle versus the flesh is another life long battle, a part of the sanctifying process where we are to starve the old nature and feed the new. We are saved by grace, and we are sustained by grace, but we need to strive by all the means that God has appointed to grow in grace. We have power in the Spirit to succeed- and it is a noble task because God's ways are good and prosperous choices.

Think about how good we feel when we are eating right and exercising- well spiritual disciplines work the same way. We are urged to train in godliness.

ROMANS 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

GALATIANS 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

I TIMOTHY 4:7-8 Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Our final enemy is Satan himself and the 1/3 of the angelic host who now serve him as demons. Yes, He is real and present and active.

It is his whisper campaign that begins the process:

"Indeed... did God say?....."

I have found that Satan's greatest attack in in my mind. He wants me to doubt and fear, he wants me to hide in the shadows of secrets and shame. The word 'occult' means 'hidden'. Satan is a stealth stalker, a master of disguise, a sinister killer. He is the greatest one on one killer of all time- his only defeat was against our Lord in the wilderness. And Christ won it by wielding the Sword of God's Word. Are we prepared for such an encounter?

He loves to divide and conquer. Unity, love, prayer, honesty, and encouragement creates problems for his tactics. He wants us to be divided and suspicious. He wants us to be posers. He is relentless.

Does this battle make you weary? Are we extra tired because we don't know how to take a Sabbath rest? Are we discouraged because we are isolated? Are we being held back by habitual sin? Are we powerless because we are prayerless?

I don't want to stop here.... because hope and good news awaits. My next writing will be on the joy of fighting as a son of the most high.... our greatest identity! Press on!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Christian at War

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.      2 Corinthians 10

I wanted to repost a series I wrote on a while back because the conflict seems so intense at this time in our culture, particularly surrounding those that work with youth. So I am writing a little about the Christian at war. We wage a daily battle versus the world, the flesh, and the devil. The older I get, the more aware I seem to grow at the intensity of the battle and the devious and devastating attack of the enemy.

I sometimes avoid this topic because we tend to get a little squirrely  when it come to spiritual warfare- but in the last 6 years I have felt and experienced the attack in intense and very tangible experiences.

I also think that we tend to get a little too self focused in this subject. I sometimes adopt a 'woe is me when the wicked weapons take flight in my direction'.

Contrast this to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when He basically says, "Congratulations when you a persecuted for righteousness sake."

I want to start with good news: if you are being attacked, it is a sign that you are effective and dangerous. When George Whitfield visited the early days of Princeton, he made an interesting prediction in 1739:

“The devil will certainly rage against them; but the work is of God and will not come to nought”

A quick story: I used to teach literature at a Christian school in Birmingham. We had a teacher leave mid-semester and I was asked to teach his Bible class to finish the year. It was an interesting scenario because I had the same students for literature and then a few periods later for Bible. The difference in the two classes was amazing. There is something about teaching Bible that brought out attacks and attitude. It made me realize that if you plan to be a Bible teacher, you better have prayer support and take it very, very seriously.

Fortunately, that prepared me for my last seven years as a Bible teacher- but I will tell you that it is still a battle in many ways. I have had to get much better at making every minute count and providing very little idle time.

I have some good friends who have taught or are teaching Bible and I will tell you that they all have stories that describe struggles in confidence, pain in marriage, accusations and lies, and the whisper of the enemy..... 'you're just a fraud' or 'you just need to give up'.

Another point is that we need to be aware of the tactics of the battle when it comes to the insurgency versus institutions. Part of the attack is to corrupt and deceive. This is done in so many complex and insidious ways.

The attack on concepts: think how our enemy has taken on important things like "marriage"- "fatherhood"- "Bible"- "Jesus"- think how good things have been corrupted and even how humor is more of a mocking of good things.

The attack on leaders: Satan's whisper campaigns flow as an undercurrent to erode confidence in the motives and integrity of godly men and women. We tend to pass along negative rumor and innuendo, usually without any factual support.

The attack on knowledge.. especially reading: This one really frightens me. As our reading scores fall in our culture, we lose the ability to read and use the Word- our only offensive weapon. Remember that Jesus responded to Satan with Scripture, but very few Christians today can handle Scripture in ways to respond to his deceptive questions and half truths.

As you read the verse at the top of the page- remember that we are fighting on the winning team- we are guided and protected by the winning captain. So we should walk in confidence and victory. Wage the war well!

I will post more in the coming days.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Football Fun and Under New Management

It has been way too long since I last posted.

Last night we had one of the most thrilling regular season football wins of my 20 year career. It was a rival game, it was a region game, and it was quite a game.

Our early season schedule has been brutal for a team entering the season with a big ole target as the pre-season #1 team in 5A. Our guys know what that means- every one is laying for them.

How tough has the sledding been?

Three of our opponents- Eagles Landing, Center Point, and Chelsea have only one loss.... and that is to us. And these teams are wiping out the other competition.

Back to last night.... I was filled with years of memories regarding Briarwood vs Chelsea. How we used to play at the old Middle School field and I remembered sitting in that same press box for years.... Joe Craddock throwing passes..... and Tim Castille touchdowns. Our most thrilling game before last night was in the early 90's when Wilkins Webb hit Chad Morgan with about a minute left to play to give us a come from behind win at their place. But that was nothing like last night.

Chelsea is good- very well coached- and they fought us with intensity. They did have a few surprises for us on both sides of the ball and they played like there was nothing to lose. We anticipated a surprise onside kick to start the 3rd quarter and got it. But they kept onside kicking and got one to put us at a low point in the game in the mid 3rd quarter.

But this team has more resolve and resiliency than any high school team I have ever encountered- no doubt anchored in over 40 seniors who play and practice like hardened vets- but in all of our games this year, there is this deep calm that says- 'we will win', and everyone feels it. These are great young men to be around and they are a pleasure to coach.

I have to mention one other thing.... I sometimes hear people question two platoon football and whether it is better to play all/some of your guys one way- and there are times you can and times you can't- but this season is as good a testament as any of the value of fast paced, two platoon football. We have worn down 3 great football teams and dominated them in the 4th quarter- I firmly believe we would have 2 losses right now if it weren't for that fact.

Last night, we roared back from a 34-17 deficit with a little less that 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter to win 45-34. All of our guys made some heroic plays in the process. I am especially proud of our QB Ben Craft who has shown extraordinary leadership this season- he played like a champ- He went 22-33 for 242 yds and 3 TD's- no INT- He also rushed for 71 yds on 9 carries and averaged 35.7 yds a punt.

I am having a blast coaching one of the best receiving groups in school history. We had 6 guys make huge catches with Kelvin McKelvey making a diving catch for a score - Daniel Robert making big plays- Michael Lathem blocking with intensity, and Cole Pearson just using heart and hustle to get us going in the 4th quarter. They have been inspirational to watch.

So, it has been good to be home. I am happy that my old team is 4-0- I knew they were going to be good- I loved the schedule I put together going into the season- they are well coached and have added a real playmaker to a talented group of young, hungry football players- it would be fun for both teams to garner rings at the end of the season! I have no regrets about all that transpired and have learned to trust in God's plan.

My school job is amazing- everyday is a grand adventure. At some point I will be blogging about my Dean of Students experience- including one title 'Senior Retreat 2011- Seniors 1 and Dean of Students 0"- but the leadership at Briarwood is good and strong. Dr Mosbacker has an amazing way of encouraging me and supporting me and David Balik has been a true partner in the gospel. There is a strong sense in the leadership I am under right now of who we are and what we are about and a commitment to be who we say we are going to be. I go to work everyday with this deep sense of purpose and a strength that I am prayed for, appreciated, and supported.

Being back with Fred Yancey, Joe Craddock, Matthew Forester, Shane Harmon, Ernest Carroll, Chris Donnelly, David Hannah and many, many others is special.

Regardless of what happens next, I thank God for every minute I have with these coaches, players, students, and administrators.

Til next time.............