Picking Up Our Swords to Fight

IFCA, I Fight Christians Anywhere. At times in the history of fundamentalism fighting fundamentalist meant fighting with other Christians over tertiary issues and the traditions of men. I think we can all agree that many times this was unbiblical and regretful. Afterall, 1 Timothy 3:3 says that an elder or pastor is not to be “quarrelsome” (ESV), a “striker” (KJV) or “pugnacious” (NASB). This word refers to a violent bully who pushes people around with either his fists or his words. Fundamentalism has had its share of those who could be described as pugnacious. Fighting about length of hair and skirts, Bible versions and musical styles has divided the church and diverted attention away from the real enemy.

But, in some ways, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In trying to get away from the caricature of the fighting fundamentalist, all too many Christians have forgotten that a few chapters later, Paul also wrote “Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1Tim. 6:12). Jude appealed to his audience to “contend for the faith” that was being threatened by false teachers who had crept into the church. Too many in the Church have forgotten—either that we are in a spiritual war, or who our true enemy is. In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul reminded the Church about both of these critical truths.

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. 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.” (Ephesians 6:10–12, ESV)

Be Aware of Your Enemy—v. 12

Our enemy hates us. Look at the word “struggle” in verse 12. This word speaks of wrestling, of hand to hand combat. This is not a battle, but a war. A war made up of many, many bloody battles. We must know what we are facing. Satan wants to destroy us. Consider how he pushed the limits of Job, destroying everything in his life. But he didn’t stop there. Satan wanted to destroy Job’s faith in God himself. He is ruthlessly evil. The angel of the Lord left Jacob with a limp when he wrestled with him (Gen. 32:25-32). The Lord’s purpose in trials is to teach us. But the devil does not want to leave you with a limp, he wants to destroy you: (Jn 10:10), “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy….” One saint of old said, “Consider that the devil does not sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways.”

Our Enemy is Spiritual

He cannot be seen, heard or experienced with our five senses. He disguises himself as one of God’s angels (2Cor. 11:14, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, NASB95). Being a spirit being, he has been alive since the creation and has had the opportunity to watch and learn human behavior. He is the greatest philosopher, sociologist and theologian. He knows what makes humans tick and even worse, how to man-fish. He too is a fisher of souls.

Our Enemy is Organized

Because Satan is neither omnipresent nor omniscient, he must use his demonic horde to do his bidding. But this is not a mob of crazed demonic creatures. Wickedness leads men to rebel, but as at Babel, it also leads them to organize. “Rulers, powers, world forces, spiritual forces” (v. 12) —all of these designations portray an organized hierarchy of demonic angels. We may not know exactly how they are ordered, but we know that the enemy is organized for maximum effect.

Be Prepared for Battle—v. 11

Be Armored

“Put on the full armor” not just selected pieces. Later in this chapter Paul describes each piece of armor, but for now, we need to know that we cannot pick and choose. To do so would be disastrous because would leave us exposed to attack. Think about a police officer heading into a riot. As he surveys his equipment, which would he choose? A bullet-proof vest or a riot helmet? What will happen if he chooses one over the other? What about if he chose a shield and not boots? We too need to be armored, not choosing some, but all of the armor that God provides.

Be Anchored

“Stand firm” is a reference to not being moved in our doctrinal stance. Ephesians 4:11-14 says:

 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Eph 4:11–14, NASB95)

A lack of biblical discipleship leads to many things, including the immaturity of believers who will be like children who are rocked upon the shore by the waves of doubt and deception. Those who have drifted in their faith have brought disaster to their lives, and to the lives of many others. Paul warned Timothy of this happening in Ephesus: “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1Tim. 1:19–20, NASB95).

Be Alert—1Pet 5:8; 2Cor 2:11

First Peter 5:8 speaks about the need to be “sober minded.” This is not something that our age is known for, and this lack of sobriety is all too often a mark of much of the church. We are easily distracted, silly, and fascinated with the trivial. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul likewise warned, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:11, NASB95) Those who are outwitted and ignorant are also perfect descriptions of many Christians and churches. In the Bible we have a manual for warfare. War against our great enemies, the World, the flesh and the Devil. Know these enemies and their schemes!

Be Strong in the Lord—v. 10

Human Strength Fails

Second Corinthians 12:7-10 is a glorious text. It reads:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7–10, NASB95)

How we need to be reminded of this! When we fail to pray, we have forgotten this. When we become puffed up in our spirituality, we have forgotten our weakness. When our experiences and victories are worn like a medal on our chest, we have forgotten where our vvictory comes from.

Human Philosophies Fail

We can easily be taken off track by forgetting which war we are supposed to be fighting. We can begin fighting with each other, fighting against the Church, fighting against unbelievers that need Jesus, and fighting with political weapons of war. Our strategies and dependence upon human strength show where we have chosen to use another way to fight than the way that Jesus calls us to fight.

Human Courage Fails

            Joshua 1:6-9describes the time after forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the generation that failed to trust God and enter the Promised Land to conquer it. As Joshua lead the next generation to enter the land, the Lord spoke these words of encouragement:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Josh. 1:6–9, NASB95)

When men go to battle, it is not glorified as it is in the movies and the recruitment posters. War is ugly. It is fierce and cold. But it is sometimes necessary in this fallen world. When you go into spiritual battle, it will be incredibly tempting to retreat back into your comfort zone, into your cozy world where you could forget about the reality of the devil and his demonic attacks. He would love that. He would love for you to put down your weapons and stop fighting, mocking you as a fighting fundamentalist. Or even better, to turn your weapons on others who are not the enemy because confusion is better than apathy to him. But that is not an option. We must gird up our loins for battle and march forward with the Lord into war. He will go before us. Never forget that. He fights for us. This will give you courage.

Fundamentalism is a dirty word to those in the world, but also one which is despised by many within the Church. Fundamentalism is rejected because some who have used this descriptor have swapped out biblical fidelity for cultural baggage and the traditions of men. Others have rejected it because they have given sway to the fear of man. Some have decided that it is too late to salvage the label for any good.

Whatever your opinion may be regarding the term fundamentalist, we should note this: those who are unswerving in their commitment to Christ and His Word must not fear men, but instead must be willing to pick up the Sword of the Word of God and engage the enemy of our souls and his wicked system. Some may call you a fighting fundamentalist, but this is preferable to one day hearing the Lord call you unfaithful.

This post is adapted from the article of the same title in The Voice, Jan-Feb 2020. Used with permission.

Examining the Fallacy that Being Like the World Will Attract the Worldly to Christ (weekend repost)

“Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him. And the world should see us to be different. This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after-all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.”—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Read the rest here: Examining the Fallacy that Being Like the World Will Attract The Worldly to Christ

Dealing Honestly with Criticism in Ministry

Criticism is a hard thing to deal with. This past week as I was digging through some old files on my computer I found a file that I had labeled “problems.” I currently have a paper file labeled the same in my desk drawer where complaint letters are kept. Thankfully it doesn’t have too many letters in it…yet.

Going back to the other day, I knew that I shouldn’t open the file and look inside, but curiosity got the better of me and I did. Inside I found some letters from when I was a pastor in California. The memories of those occasions had mercifully faded, but the letters instantly brought back those difficult days.

As I reviewed the contents, I could feel myself growing anxious as I repeated in my mind the answers to the harsh and unfair things written in them. Although there may have been small bits of truth sprinkled throughout, these letters represented the worst of the problem issues in my ministry.

You see, whenever someone has come to me with an issue, although it would be easier to push off the person by ignoring them, or tell myself that I know better because God has called me as the pastor of the church, I know that this would be foolish. I have tried to give everyone a hearing who comes and brings a complaint—and often I have had to humble myself and ask forgiveness when I have been wrong. Sometimes I am partially wrong or there has been a misunderstanding. If that is the case, I then have an opportunity to set things right and correct the error-either in them or myself, or both of us.

But these files I have often marked times when a person had come with sinful intent in their heart. They may have been bitter, sinfully angry, or even divisive. Many times they may have also been too cowardly to even speak to me personally and had emailed their complaint. I kept those emails and letters as a record of their words in case the issues needed to be further addressed with discipline, or maybe several meetings so that we could work through the underlying issues that are sometimes at the root of the problems.

The old files reminded me of something else. I am reminded in times when venom has been spewed at me by those who at one time professed to love me and the church, that it is possible—even as a Christian—to become so bitter and angry that we become a pawn in the hands of our enemy. He uses such embittered Christians to sow discord and division in Christ’s Church.

Not every complaint or criticism should be viewed in this way. But when we have truthfully evaluated the complaints brought to us and see that the heart of the complainer has succumbed to the root of bitterness, we must put aside the complaint, leaving it to the Lord. And we must guard our own hearts against becoming bitter ourselves. Instead we must pray that the Lord would free our embittered brethren from their anger, and we must long to see the day when we will be reconciled—whether in this life or the life to come.

The Great Need for Courageous Leaders In the Church

“And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:24–25)

When you begin reading the book of Joshua, you can almost sense the fear and intimidation that Joshua was feeling. It starts with the announcement that Moses is dead. And then over and over again Joshua and the people of Israel are told to be strong and courageous.

After gaining some victories, assurance, and even a few tough lessons, Joshua has grown quite a bit as a leader by chapter 10. As five kings band together to try and stop the advancement of Israel into the Canaanite territory, it quickly becomes obvious that God is fighting for his people and they are unstoppable. The five kings in fear and desperation hide out in a cave, where they are discovered and sealed into the cave to await their fate.

After destroying the five kingdoms, Joshua returned to the sealed cave to deal with the kings. What he did next is worthy of note for leaders in the church today.

1. Joshua summoned all the men of Israel. The men were the leaders of the families and clans, as well as those who fought the battles. By Joshua summoning all the men so that they could be built up in courage, he was strengthening and stabilizing the whole nation. Similarly, when the pastoral leadership of the church strengthens and gives courage to the men in the church as a whole, they strengthen the whole church.

2. Joshua encouraged the chiefs of the men of war…[to] come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Joshua then turned to the leaders of the warriors—the commanders, and gave them the honor of this courageous symbolic act of victory. Not only did this act allow them to taste the victory for themselves, but it also strengthened their courage as the people saw not just Joshua as a mighty man whom God could use, but many mighty men God was using. Again, the local church should not be a place of pastor worship, but a place where the pastors are “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” This means that we should be producing multiple warriors for Christ, and among them many will rise to the place of “chiefs of the men of war.” How encouraging to know that your local church is a fertile growing place for mighty men of God!

3. Joshua finally spoke God’s Word to them to both focus and humble them: “And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight”” (Joshua 10:25). These are very similar words to those that the Lord said to Joshua when he failed at Ai (Joshua 8:1). Joshua had absorbed those words and was now living by them. He knew that the Word of God is a powerful two-edged sword, and he wanted to equip his men with the same weapon that he had received. Those words were more than simply true—they contained reminders of humility and focus—don’t be afraid or discouraged, be strong and courageous. But don’t forget that the Lord will be fighting for you. It is not you who has won these victories.

Locker room pep talks are strongly associated with sports, and so many men are familiar with them. But that isn’t what Joshua gave them, and its not what our churches need. Leave the pop psychology to Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen. Real leaders need en-couragement, meaning they need courage from God himself. Hype only lasts so long. Courageous leaders need to point up and coming leaders beyond themselves to God himself. Preach the Word and let the lion out!

The Blessings and Benefits of Ministry Fellowship (weekend repost)

Joining a denomination or going at it alone are not the only options for churches, pastors, leaders, and ministries.

Maintaining doctrinal fidelity and alignment is critical when seeking to work with others to accomplish Great Commission objectives.

IFCA International was founded in 1930 to fight against the onslaught of theological liberalism growing in denominational churches, mission agencies, and seminaries.

Listen to a podcast I was invited to record with some fellow pastors a few months ago as they ask me more about IFCA International. To find out more, go to http://www.IFCA.org.

Listen to the podcast here.