act beforehand (as well as necessarily react)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20; NRSVue

It is important to react in an appropriate way when need be, but just as important and in some ways more so, we also need to act ahead of time in a way which might lessen the need to react later and will at least get us in the proper frame of mind and heart so that any necessary reaction later will be better. I am thinking here about the spiritual warfare we’re told about in this passage, written as it were from Paul or from someone else as if Paul had written it, which doesn’t matter for our purposes since either way it’s holy scripture.

It’s important for us to do all we can on the sunny days in preparation for when the cloudy, overcast, stormy days hit us. It’s easy to do otherwise, to just rest, relax and enjoy when all seems good and at peace. But this passage explicitly tells us to do otherwise. Even when it seems unnecessary, we’re to do this, so that when the inevitable comes, we’ll be ready for it.

I think some interpreters see the evil day as ever present, so that it’s just something we have to do all the time since we’re ever engaged in this spiritual battle. And that could be. It does seem like in experience that there are especially some difficult days, and for some of us if we have to do certain things, like maybe teach or give a message or lead a discussion from scripture, we can almost mark it down that we’ll be in a tussle before that time to trip us up and make us ineffective in what we have to do. That has happened over and over again for me, right up to the present day. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If we know that ahead of time, then we can prepare ahead of time, and indeed we are clearly told to do just that in this passage for the spiritual warfare which is part of our existence now. Let me add to that that the difficulty and darkness can hit us at the most unexpected times as well, any time really.

If Paul asked for prayer to help him in what he had to do, proclaiming the message of the gospel, we might say all the more so for us, but really, we’re all in the same boat together on that one. A difference with Paul was that he was probably fully exercised this way all the time, whereas we are not. But we’re all in the same need, and we all have the same resources. This is something we’re to realize and grow more and more into in our application and practice of this. Something we’re to take seriously in this life, because there’s no escape. And yet we have all we need in Christ and through the gospel, spelled out to us in detail here so that we won’t miss anything within that, all of it needed for life here and now. So that individually and together we might live in the light and be a light in and through Jesus.

how are we “more than victorious” (or “more than conquerors”) in this life?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39; NRSVue

ὑπερνικάω is a heightened form of being victorious, meaning “we are winning a most glorious victory” (BAGD). Although the old translation: “we are more than conquerors” might suggest more strenuous activity on our part, the more accurate rendering still indicates that we’re very much active. We are participants of God’s victory in Christ. But just how?

Romans 8 from where our passage is taken is one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We read at its very beginning that there’s now no condemnation in Christ Jesus because of the new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which has set us free from the law of sin and death. And what the law given on Mt. Sinai could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, Christ did by coming the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin by his death. And that because of this spiritual reality in which we “in Christ” live, we no longer have to give into the flesh, since after all, we’re no longer “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit” if Christ dwells in us. That we’re to set our minds not on the flesh, what it wants, but on the Spirit, what the Spirit wants. And that actually becomes what we want, even while in this life we sometimes think and live contrary to that.

And what precedes the above passage would be good to note here:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:31b-34; NRSVue

The gospel is essentially given to us in the first four books of the New Testament: the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. Gospel is the English translation of εὐαγγέλιον which means “good news.” In Jesus and his coming is the good news for the world. Of course, it’s through Jesus’s incarnation in God becoming flesh, completely human. In his life, miracles, teaching: all about and within God’s kingdom present in him, then in his death for sins and his resurrection to give us new and eternal life. With the promise of his return when what has begun now, making all things new, will at long last be completed.

And with that said, it’s up to us whether or not we’re going to answer the call of Christ. I believe that call is on every human’s life: past, present and future, but that’s another topic, and really quite above my head. Though really when you’re considering anything spiritual and specifically pertaining to Christ and the gospel, it is all above us, but God wants to help us begin to understand and live in it. But first we must answer God’s call in Christ. And it’s simply, as we see in the gospel accounts, a call to follow Christ. That means following Christ as our rabbi whom we not only learn truth from in his teaching, but whom we seek to imitate and become more and more like over time, a lifetime endeavor to be sure. And of course, that’s based on his coming, not only his death and resurrection, but the whole works. He became one of us, living in the same dirt and grind and mess in which we live, and then taking the worst of humanity on himself, both the acts and the results of such acts, all the rapes and murders and everything in violation of love to God and neighbor that has ever been done, every single act of ours and all humanity past, present and future. Yes, Christ took all that on himself at the cross, but did so for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, scorning its shame. For the love of the Father, for the love of the world, all in God’s love for the world, for all of us sinners.

Now to get to the main point: How are we overwhelmingly victorious in this life? It’s simply through following Christ through thick and thin, preferably all together as church, the one body, his body. We follow him in all of life, doing what Christ has told us to do: loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for and doing good to those who despise us, even turning the other cheek after we’ve been struck, never physically resisting evil, although fleeing and avoiding that is usually a good thing, and I would do what I could to prevent someone from harming another, never killing them. But we’re to seek to overcome evil with good, hate with love. Never taking up the sword, since we’re not in a struggle against humans, but against spiritual entities which do affect human rulers, and also do what they can to hinder us and our desire and endeavor to live in the reality of the good news in Jesus.

When Jesus told his disciples to get a sword if they didn’t have any, they told him, Lord look, here are two swords. And Jesus replied that two was enough. Remember when he sent the disciples out two by two previously, he told them specifically what to take, and the sword was not included. Very soon afterwards Peter takes one of those swords and slashes off one of the ears of a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and tells him to put down the sword, that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, and that after all, he must do God’s will. Soon after that Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom as King of the Jews were of or from this world, then his servants would fight, but no, his kingdom is from another place. So how we’re victorious has nothing to do with the world’s way of being victorious. It’s never physical, but always spiritual. Yet carried on in physical bodies in down to earth ways. Like feeding your enemies, giving them something to drink, and in so doing, heaping burning coals on their head, which I take to figuratively meaning they are ashamed.

Through the worst life and those opposed to us has to offer, as we continue on faithfully following our Lord as his faithful and called, following the Lamb wherever he goes, “we are more than victorious,” overwhelming so. That is the victory in which we live, the victory of our Lord which at the heart of it is taking the way of the cross. Becoming like Jesus in his death. But at the heart of that, coming to really know Jesus. That is after all what following Jesus is all about. It’s not merely knowing something in our heads, or thinking we know something. It is hearing the call and responding. It is heart to heart, involving a full commitment of ourselves to Christ. And that with others; we’re not to be on this journey alone. We want to help others come along, and we want to learn from each other, especially from others who have been on this journey longer. In doing so, we’re all being blessed by Christ, who has gone through it entirely, but is now ever present in our midst as well as in us individually and collectively by the Spirit.

And the last promise: nothing, nothing, nothing at all, including when we feel unloved and rejected and are tempted to despair, maybe even fall into that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is a love personal to us, but which is also meant for each other, and out of that for the world, including all of our enemies. God’s love in Jesus meant to do the same for all as for us: Making enemies friends through Christ as we respond to Christ’s call to us with repentance and faith.

Yes, we are more than victorious, more than that, through him who loved us.

two basics on spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,

Ephesians 6:10-11; NRSVue

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a spiritual battle in this life; there’s no two ways about it. We might want to or automatically chalk up our struggles to this or that psychological issue, or a host of other things. And it’s not like those things can’t play in, nor that we should ignore them. We may get some significant help for example from some psychiatrist or professional counselor. Probably most of us would benefit from something of that.

But mark it down: we in Christ are in an all out battle spiritually. Not physically, but spiritually. This is personal but it does go beyond the personal into realms held down by the spiritual enemy in human entities and spaces, systemic issues where the powers hold sway. There’s no escape from this, so that we might as well face it. And we actually have to have the willingness to be in the struggle, engage in it. But how do we do that?

Ephesians 6:10-18 (you can include 19, 20 as well), click link above, is considered the classic spiritual warfare passage. And the recent updated edition of the NRSV (hard copies due around May) has a slight change here which maybe helps, closely coupling the two points in the quote from scripture, above.

First, we’re to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. When we’re aware of the spiritual battle we’re in, we often feel quite weak, having no strength at all. I’m thinking now of something Daniel went through during which he felt like strength had left him, totally weak. This is not a comfortable place to be, to say the least. But it’s necessary and the precursor to taking on the Lord’s strength. It’s the Lord’s strength, not our own, and yet somehow, we’re to take it on. We’re told to be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power. As this power takes over, we’ll know it’s not our strength, not our power, but the Lord’s.

Then we’re told to put on the whole armor of God, so that we might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. That means we’ll need to go through the rest of this passage, considering carefully the parts named there: belted with truth, breastplate of righteousness, sandals laced up in preparation for the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit- the word (rhēma, ῥῆμα) of God. And with that, ongoing prayer in the Spirit.

We need to be aware of this, and we soon will be if we’re serious about following the Lord fully and being a help to others through the help we’ve received and are receiving from God. In and through Jesus.

casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11

It’s always important to look at the context of any particular passage, and the above passage is no exception. It has to do with an issue in the church involving one who needs the kind of help that only the church can give them. The person does respond to the church’s action with Paul’s help (some interpretation, here), and now Paul presses home the need to move past that, not as if nothing happened, but in a wise way in which the person knows they are fully accepted and loved.

Just the same, we can still pull something out of the above thought. Our spiritual enemy is out to trip us up wherever and whenever it can. Yes, at opportune, strategic times, as well. They know our weaknesses, what pushes our buttons, and indeed are active in setting us up for “the evil day” as well. We don’t want to be people who focus on the spiritual enemy. But as we seek to keep our attention on the Lord, we do need to be aware of what they can be up to, so that we can begin to sense and discern that in our lives, as well as in the lives of others so that we can pray for them.

All that said, this simply means that we need God’s help to refuse to take the bait, the allure the enemy drops or sends our way. We need discernment to understand when this is taking place, and to understand how this is developing. And how we may be unwitting accomplices in it.

Don’t go there! Yes, resisting that will amount to resisting the devil. As we seek to keep our attention fully on the Lord, that we may be led by him in all of this. This is a step of faith which may not be easy, in fact will likely be hard, being counterintuitive to us, since we have given into it so many times before. But as we take that step and follow through, God will help us in this. In and through Jesus.

This podcast from Tim Gombis, “Faith Improvised,” only 36 minutes in length (finish it, to get the benefit) was helpful to me on this subject, certainly applying on a host of issues.

“assurance of God’s protection”

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 121

This is a wonderful psalm to help us find assurance of God’s protection (NRSV  heading for this psalm). We need God’s protection from anything and everything you can imagine. From ourselves, from others, from our spiritual foes. And even just from the dangers of living in a hit and miss, seemingly random existence.

God’s love and protective care never leave us not only for a day, but for a moment. God watches over us. We can be assured of this as much as anything else. In and through Jesus.

seeing the big picture (not losing focus, taking our eyes off that)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

A probably vast majority of my posts are on issues which hit close to home, and concern details of life, mostly in personal, isolated matters. While Scripture doesn’t address all specifics, it certainly gives us direction in how we face and work through everything. And all of that is important. As we’re told in Scripture, the very hairs of our head our numbered, so that every detail of our lives is important to God. And our well being, also.

Scripture is probably much more communal than the way we read it, for instance often the “you” in our translations is plural but lost on us, even though that always has individual application. But a communal aspect is often found in those passages which we normally all but miss. Even so we must not lose sight of the fact that God does want to relate to us on a personal level right where we live down to every detail, helping us to live responsibly under God’s guidance and care.

That said, we do well to try to see the big picture found in Scripture, and keep that in our sights and focus, even when we’re considering details along the way. That is challenging, and partly so because our spiritual enemy wants us to be preoccupied with minute details, lose focus, and be brought into a kind of tunnel vision in which we lose sight of what God wants us focused on, on the big picture.

This does seem counterintuitive when we have something difficult, seemingly impossible, and easily taking our peace away, even causing some panic. This does remind me of Job. The excruciating details the Job of that story goes through, we can well relate to, though certainly for most of us, never the scope and intensity of what Job experienced. Interestingly God never answered Job’s specific questions, but instead took Job’s sights away from his situation and troubles to see a much larger picture, something of the mystery of God’s work and power over creation. The point here, a bigger picture.

When we read the Bible from cover to cover, and do so trying to see the big picture, we begin to understand the true context in which we live, in which our struggles take place. That doesn’t mean for a second that the details spelled out in Scripture should get lost on us. No. But at the same time, this larger focus can help us see what God wants us to see, including how God wants us to see the matters which are troubling us.

As God’s people, we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture, work on keeping our focus on that, and not take our eyes off of it. Yes, even in the midst of the details of our lives that we have to consider and work through. If we have the proper focus, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, that can help us in each part. And most importantly, we can find our place in God’s Story playing out before us day after day. Every part of our lives, how we work though the difficulties of our lives, included. In and through Jesus.

the accuser of the brethren/ the faithful

Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan,[b] “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan![c] The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Then the angel of the Lord assured Joshua, saying “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.”

Zechariah 3

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”

Revelation 12:10-11

One of the facts of life that we as believers in Christ face right along, off and on are accusations leveled at us from Satan. They usually come to us from our own head or from others. But they are directed by the Accuser and Adversary, Satan. Maybe for some of us, the Accuser needs little help. But where did our propensity to accuse ourselves come from in the first place? And certainly the Adversary can make it a whole lot worse, pouring gasoline onto the fire so to speak. And it can be a question of whether the chicken came from the egg, or the egg from the chicken. Make no mistake, the devil is in the details.

The victory is already ours for us in Christ. But it’s a case where we need to receive and accept it, and rest in it. And that means we must act. It’s passive in a sense in that it’s not our saving work, so that we receive it. But it’s active in the sense that we do receive it at necessary times again and again. The texts may not bear that out, but life experience does.

We also have to simply realize that accusations as such from the enemy are simply a part of this life for us as followers of Christ. We must be set to always be recipients of God’s grace, of God’s ongoing saving work through Christ, and our full participation in that. We have to accept the rough patches, and even worse. By God’s grace going on, knowing our sin and sins have been taken care of by Christ through his death, that made clear through his resurrection along with the new life this brings. And we seek to follow our Lord fully come what may to the very end in the way of the Lamb.

We don’t argue with the Accuser, but simply rest our case with God in Christ. God will take care of it now and forever in and through Jesus.

God meets us in conflict

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Genesis 32:22-32

Conflict of all kinds is part of this life. I’m not really referring to verbal or physical conflict, though that is all too prevalent. What I mean is conflict in our minds, which can impact our attitudes. Not to mention the conflict we experience with “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Jacob in the story above was having a big time conflict in his heart and mind. He knew before he left home some fourteen years or more earlier that Esau his brother was intent on killing him because of Jacob’s deception of their father Isaac, stealing Isaac’s main blessing before Isaac died. Only one would carry on the main covenant blessing of God, which frankly to my undereducated ears and understanding seems strange. But for all of Jacob’s faults, Esau’s heart did not seem as attuned to God as did Jacob’s.

Jacob upon returning home did all he could to assuage his brother’s anger, and hopefully to find favor. But left to his own thoughts, Jacob’s fears consumed him. He was not optimistic to say the least, and felt overwhelmed with his fears over the very real possibility that Esau and the four hundred men with Esau would do him and his family in. But God was at work having changed Esau’s heart, whether in an instant though Jacob’s struggle during this time, or more likely to me over time, but Esau would meet his brother in full embrace with weeping.

God met Jacob during this great time of internal conflict. And the same holds true for us today. Of course we want to avoid all such. But the silver lining in the storm cloud is that clear skies follow. We must look to God and seek God’s help in the struggle we are in. God will meet us there as we persist in the same way Jacob did long ago. In and through Jesus.

this too shall pass

…on that evil day…

Ephesians 6:13

This is part of the classic spiritual warfare passage and I take the phrase above to mean specific times during this time instead of this time in general. There are simply bad days. Yesterday, except for the good time I had with my spiritual mentor/director in the morning, it was a difficult day for me, not so much outwardly, but inwardly. Sometimes it’s like something, or even a number of things come crashing in all together, and one can be left with a sense of defeat and despair. What’s even worse is when a practically irrational fear engulfs and takes over, so that one can’t escape, overwhelmed by it. Especially the latter was true for me yesterday, so I opened this passage and went through part of it trying to get it more and more in my bones (click above link for entire passage).

Part of what we need to remember is that such days and times and experiences are temporary. They will pass. Maybe we’ve not been taking care of ourselves to some extent, not enough sleep, not eating well, whatever the case might be. Of course we need to pray, and try to learn what we can from what we’re experiencing. And as the passage points out, we need to be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power, putting on the entire armor of God named there, so that we can stand. So the idea here is that this is made to order so that we can stand, stand firm on such evil days.

The feeling is not good for sure. That’s a call and or reminder to us that we need to stand firm per God’s instructions to us from Paul. Remembering that such “evil days” come and go. God always being with us in and through Jesus.