Friday, May 06, 2022

The Real Enemy: Athletics and Mental Health Day 4


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

Just the title of this post will likely create concern. 

But we need to realize that PEOPLE per se are not our enemies... and we have a kingdom and ruler who is powerful and intent on destroying us. 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.

His tactics are small whispers of doubt and deceit. He is the greatest one on one enemy of all time. His first on on one loss was in the desert of temptation.

I sometimes avoid this topic because we tend to get a little squirrely when it come to spiritual warfare- but as I grow older,  I am more aware of his influence and 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 (blessed) 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 attitudes from some students that I didn't encounter in the English class. 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 later years as a Bible teacher- but I will tell you that it is still a battle in many ways. I 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 and the other part uses gossip and rumor to destroy reputations. This is done in so many complex and insidious ways.

Here are some examples:

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.

But we often DON"T consider spiritual warfare in the arena of mental health.

As you read the verse at the top of this post- 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!

Because we are in a war, there are real casualties. There is real pain. War involves sacrifice and there is both a fog of war and a battle hum that often creates doubt to winning or losing. Though we WILL win, we often feel loss in our own minds and spirit.

If you read I and II Timothy along with Philippians sometime, you get a picture of Paul, after years of faithful fighting- recounting the casualties.

I Timothy 1:3- certain men  teaching false doctrine, involved in controversy
1:5 they wander from love, pure heart, and good conscience
1:19 some have shipwrecked their faith
1:20 Hymenaeus and Alexander handed over to Satan
II Timothy 1:15 'everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me' including Phygelus and Hermongenes
2:17 Hymenaeus and Philetus wander away- godless chatter spreads like gangrene
3:10- Paul's persecutions
4:10 Demas deserted Paul because he loved the world
4:14 Alexander the metalworker did Paul great harm

And yet- he never  gives in to despair.. Paul continues to be filled with hope and joy.

Re-read Philippians and remember, this is Paul IN CHAINS
vs 3 I Thank God
vs 4 I pray with joy
vs 6- confident of victory
vs 12 what has happened to me has advanced the gospel
He says over and over I rejoice......
He says 'cheered', 'confident', 'eager'
Read chapter 3- wow - One thing I do- forget the past and strain toward what is ahead...I PRESS ON
Read chapter 4- rejoice- rejoice- rejoice- do not be anxious- pray with thanksgiving- peace will guard your heart and your mind- rejoice- I can do all things through Christ- I am amply supplied- your gifts are a fragrant aroma......

That is why we need to gathered in small groups-  To share the battle... there is pain and worry and persecution. And we need to pray together. I looked over my LONG list this morning. I have never had a time in my life where there are so many spiritual and material needs. We have some real pleas for breakthrough.

But God is good. He is always faithful and he is the King and Victor! Let's keep pressing on!

The harder the struggle, the more glorious the victory.

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.

There a couple of application points to this:

Patience- We have to have a LONG GAME perspective in order to find some semblance of mental healing. Time allows us to leave idealistic hopes behind and rest in reality. My doubts, fears, depressions, and anxieties still live in me, but I have learned to embrace them and still hope in the gospel. Their existence doesn't hurt my belief in God, rather they prove His existence. My longings don't drown out joy... they increase my thirst for eternity.

Perseverance- we have to consider growing in grit 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.

I will tell you that I have never seen Satan more visible in His assault on the faith. 

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? I Corinhtians 15:58"Your labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN."

And what about when we fail and fall? Mental health issues aren't just pick yourself up by the bootstraps... mental health issues sometimes  prevent you from seeing bootstraps.. or even hands! 

 BUT 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!

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