Spiritual Warfare in Church Planting

Answering Friends #4 // Spiritual Warfare in Church Planting

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

When I recently asked my friends to “ask me anything,” one friend asked if we faced much spiritual warfare while church planting.

In a word—Yes.

Let’s be clear though. This sincere friend was writing from a rural context and seemed to assume that we must face greater opposition because we are doing ministry in an urban setting.

While there are areas of the world where opposition to the gospel is raging hot—I don’t believe that there are any areas where one may be engaged in gospel mission without facing serious spiritual opposition.

Answering “yes” to this question is surely not news.

We are to expect conflict and to remain aware that our destruction is desired.

1Peter 5:8-10

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

But the Bible goes on here to remind us that all other believers who are engaged in the fight face similar opposition—we are not alone, and there is no “easy” field.

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Even more reassuring than that is the great truth that though we are slated for suffering, our support is not limited to one another—God is in our midst—He is our strength!

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Yes, church planting in any context is hard and establishing a gospel foothold in an urban context is seemingly impossible.

So…

  • If you plan to rely on your power to stand in the midst of evil—quit now.

  • If you plan to rely on your persuasion to convince people to turn from sin—do not engage; walk away from the battle.

  • If you plan on counseling people into wholeness but you don’t know what it is to have sore joints and rug burns on your knees—back up and find a detour.

  • If you think apologetics will cause cities wholly given to idolatry to see the error of their ways—think again.

If you don’t heed these warnings to stop now, you will discover something amazing.

 

There is a value set that wartime soldiers adopt, and it is to be the mindset of the kingdom-advancing minister. This minister rejoices to be counted worthy to suffer for the cause.

Colossians 1:24-25

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

Let me illustrate this mindset with a snapshot from classic literature: “In Shakespeare’s Henry the 5th, Henry begins a speech saying, “If we are slated to die, the fewer, the better for our country, and if we’re slated to live, the fewer men, the greater the share of honor for each of us.” Toward the end of his speech he speaks of the prize of the one who survives the day… he says:

“He’ll roll up his sleeve and show his scars, saying, ‘I got these wounds on St. Crispin’s Day.’ Old men forget. But these men will remember every detail of what they did today long after they’ve forgotten everything else.”

The church-planting, disciple-making, kingdom-advancing minister develops this same sense of not only enduring, but also enjoying the fact that they have suffered in the heat of battle and found their weapons and method of warfare (Spirit-enabled living) sufficient.

The stewardship that Paul references in the passage above calls wartime ministers to suffer for the good of the church. Do not be mistaken, this is our great joy—we were made for this cause.

When our life is for his cause, and his cause is his church, then suffering, accusation, being looked down on, being persecuted, or ostracized in his name and for his cause becomes privilege. It is our blessing—not our curse.

There is a dependence on the Holy Ghost that enables the weapons of our warfare; the soldier’s natural arm will not suffice.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

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,

Ephesians 6:11-12

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.

It’s true that we must “wrestle” (Eph. 6:12), but when we war in Jesus’ strength, we wrestle defeated foes. We do, in fact, wage war against cosmic powers, but we march under the banner of the cosmic Christ!

Colossians 2:15

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

There is a united brotherhood that must engage in this fight as one!

Matthew 18:18-20

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This passage is often referred to when people are discussing spiritual warfare. It has application but not as it’s typically represented. Remember that this text is in the context of church discipline. We are a band of brothers—a battalion of soldiers in a fight together; Scripture speaks clearly about our dependence on one another in that fight. None of us live in a vacuum; there are no hired guns, no lone rangers—when one falls, the unit suffers and the mission takes a hit. We have every reason to support one another in the effort.

1 John 5:1-5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Notice, that we are united in love for one another because we are united in our joyful submission to and love for our Leader! Among this brotherhood of carriers of this wartime mindset, this kind of expectation is not exceptional: it is the rule.

We are a part of an epic history of warriors; we should know what to expect.

Luke 10:16-20

“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

As Jesus gave our predecessors great power, so he has given us his powerful Spirit. Our great joy remains focused on our great hope—the gospel—our names are written in heaven!

Yes, since embarking on this church-planting mission, I’ve found myself in nightclubs, ERs, crack houses, sketchy situations, and even psych wards in search of wandering, endangered sheep; still I wouldn’t trade this life for “peace,” not in 1,000 years.

Throughout these passages, you can see that we are engaged in a war unlike all others—in this war, our victory is already secured.  Though battle in the city looks dark, that darkness cannot overcome the Light!

 

Answering Friends #3 // Church Planting Math

When I recently asked my friends to “ask me anything,” one of my close friends jokingly asked, “what’s 2+2?”

Strangely, that was a really relevant question.

No, not in the sense of 2+2=4, but in the sense that assumed realities are often found to be untrue in church planting.

In fact, I would encourage the ambitious church planter to seek to forget their pre-conceived ideas about church. No, I’m not encouraging innovation, rather I’m encouraging you to center your thoughts on New Testament “missional” application.

Make no mistake, church planting is a faith-work and it will require faith if you plan to execute that mission biblically.  I encourage you to think down this path because much of the church planting literature that is available is primarily filled with marketing methods.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

What do you do that actually requires faith? Every aspect of Christian existence does, but is that your present personal reality?

Never forget that in New Testament mission we don’t grow by maintaining control, we grow by decentralizing and mobilizing the mission.

The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in other believers’ lives is more than enough.

Never forget that in gospel math we multiply by dividing!

Disciples, teams, and churches are intended to be reproducing organisms. Healthy disciples make disciples, healthy mission and ministry teams work themselves out of a job, and healthy churches plant new churches.

Never forget that the sum total of your resources will never be enough to plant ONE truly gospel-centered church.

You can’t plan enough, you can’t raise enough money, and you certainly can’t create a powerful enough marketing campaign. Yes, you can use those things to gather a group of people and even begin a culturally Christian church, but you can’t create a movement of gospel-driven, disciple-making, church planting missionaries, not on your own. You must be consumed with the one resource that truly matters; his name is the Holy Spirit.

In the end, church planting happens the same way gospel conversion takes place—we see that what we have is simply not enough, and we learn to fall heavy on Jesus who carries us in His mission.

So the common church planter questions like: “what church model are you using?” are insufficient questions.

No, you shouldn’t plan to start a church that “looks” like the church that you came from. Rather, ask the question “to whom has God sent us?” Ask the question “how has God equipped our family, team, or faith-family with His Spirit-filled gifts?”  Ask the question “how does what I see in the New Testament apply to my city and these people?” Above all, ask “how is God directing us today?” Our churches should never cut, copy, paste; they must give birth!

There are core New Testament principles of disciple making and church planting that can be applied anywhere in the world—these should be our starting place.

What does church planting math look like, you ask? It’s certainly not 2+2=4; it is at least 2+2=8 but why stop there?

 

Answering friends #2 / Sex and Church Planting

Sex and Church Planting

One of my friends asked if I would address the subject of sex in marriage from a Biblical perspective. She and others later broadened the scope of their questions to include sex and culture at large.

Every time I sit down to write about this subject I stall out, not due to unwillingness or a sense of prudishness; it’s the bigness of the issue that gives me pause.

The way we view, articulate, and practice sexuality has huge implications within the home, the church, and society.

So though this post can’t be a comprehensive treatment of the subject, I hope it will be the beginning of a conversation.

I’m a church-planter, and, as a disciple-making, missional kind of guy, I look at societies like the one I live in and see all the idols that need to be engaged with the gospel. If I had to pinpoint the big three idols in our culture, I’d say that they are materialism, prominence, and sexuality.

John Calvin said, “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. There was a kind of renewal of the world at the flood, but before many years elapse, men are forging gods at will… The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God.

Humans are really good at creating idols. The funny thing is that though Americans aren’t prone to taking God’s gifts of wood, stone, and precious metals to create their visible gods, they do still use God’s gifts, they elevate gifts from God to the place of God. It’s slightly more abstract and as a result way more subtle and deceptive.

So let’s start with how the Bible presents sex. The Bible says that sex is a God-given gift!

Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t present sex as something that has its own “stand alone” identity like our society sometimes seems to think. Rather it’s about another person—for me, my wife, and for her, me.

It’s been this way since the beginning.

Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Genesis 2: 21-25 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

This at last is bone of my bones 
and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

What is sex’s primary God-given purpose?

I think that we can say from this origin passage and from others like it, that sex is presented in the Bible primarily as a commitment apparatus. The man and the woman were naked and unashamed—they were united as one flesh—there is nothing more intimate, more binding, more committed, or more transparent then this. I’m exposed, vulnerable, and intend to be fully known. The old King James Version of the Bible correctly translates the idea of sex, as the husband “knew” his wife for this very reason.

This view of sexuality is not only Biblical but also it is good for the beneficial establishment of human society; it is good for homes, and it is good for our own mental well-being. Simply stated—God gives good gifts and using them within their design is beneficial for all.

So let’s look at some of the ways God presents His gift of sexual union as a good gift:

It’s good for mutual enjoyment.

Proverbs 5:18-19

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.

The wise father in this passage immediately contrasts the goodness of this gift with its lesser imposter.

Vs. 20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?

The entire book of Song of Solomon communicates the beautiful mutual joys of romantic and physical love in marriage.

If a married couple are not both enjoying the benefits of their physical, emotional, and spiritual union, they are missing out on one of God’s great gifts. Don’t allow physical intimacy to fall primarily into the realm of duty—it can and should be primarily delight. Talk openly to God and your spouse.

It’s something society should celebrate, not denigrate!

Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why the church at large has allowed (or contributed to) the idea that sex is a non-Christian thing and/or that we are ashamed of it. Those participating in sex as an idol are experiencing far less than what God offers within the marriage bed. When it comes to sex, Christians own the market. I mean, have you noticed how many kids some of us have?

As I said before,

It’s a gift good for commitment and unity!

1 Corinthians 7:3-4 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

The marriage bed focuses each member of the union on the joy and fulfillment of their spouse. In addition, sex is a way to literally give yourself to another, finding your “self” exposed and embraced. Fully known and more than fully accepted—fully enjoyed, even celebrated. The bond that this type of union fosters is a true gift. So much so, in fact, that marriage is used as an illustration of Christ’s unity with His church.

It’s a gift good for experiencing intimacy.

Genesis 4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

Exploring the beauty of God’s creation (your spouse) can and should be an act of worship. The knowledge of who this image-bearing person is drives us to understand how good the Giver of such gifts must be.

It’s a gift that enhances our understanding of true beauty.

Song of Solomon 4:7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

Just as God wants us to center His gift of sex on a person and a relationship, so He wants our spouse to re-define our personal concept of masculine or feminine beauty. This is not an overstatement of what God wants to do in you—for you—in marriage.

It’s a gift that can open the door to another of God’s greatest gifts—children!

Children are, in fact, a joy-filled gift from God. Yes, sex is a beautiful way that God continues to express His creative nature in us. As seen in the previous statements, it is a mistake to think of sex as a gift that’s purely intended for procreation. Couples who cannot have children do not have a less-than home and shouldn’t feel that they have less-than intimacy. God has united their home and called their union honorable—very good! Nor should those that find that the gift of their union has yielded another great gift become so focused on the new gift that they neglect the first. Neither should those that have been joyfully gifted with children refer to them (or think of them) as a curse—they are, in fact, a blessing! Granted, sometimes they are a crying or diaper-filling blessing, but they are always a blessing nonetheless.

It’s a gift that allows us to remain focused on God, in holiness.

1 Corinthians 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

We see here that it’s useful for staving off temptation. This passage does not speak against singleness, but for marriage—for those who have been made for it.

It’s a gift that provides peace.

2 Samuel 12:24 Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him

In times of great emotional distress, physical intimacy is a way that we can communicate our closeness—telling our spouse that they are not alone when words may fail.

 

I hope that you will feel this to be the beginning of a conversation concerning a more helpful view of sex as a gift from our great God. I think you’ll be able to see how truly good this gift is and how good this view of it is for society, families, and more importantly—you!

Hopefully, you’ll begin to see how destructive it can be to allow our idol-factory type hearts to take God’s gifts (like sex) and put them in the place of God in our lives. Good gifts just can’t hold the weight that we place on them when we make them our gods. Church-planters, ministry leaders, missional community leaders, and Christians who want to be the disciple-making believers that they are intended to be, need to unashamedly engage in our society’s conversation concerning sexuality—with humility.

 

 

Answering Friends #1

 

One of my friends asked:

“How do you truly love and trust again when you feel like everyone you have ever loved has hurt you?”

This question is so real and raw that I felt compelled to begin with it.

When God was beginning our faith-family, he gave me some statements that later formed our vision and values.

One of those statements was “everything begins and ends with the gospel.”

This question beautifully illustrates how powerfully true that God-given precept is.

Being a Jesus-follower is often painful, but it seems that in times of deep pain, his grace and the supernatural nature of our relationship with him is clearly manifest.

Jesus loved his disciples (his friends) well, and yet in the moments leading up to his profound pain and extreme anguish, all but one of them had completely abandoned him. Perhaps his friends’ treachery was on his mind when Jesus cried out “forgive them, for they know not what they do” in addition to his beautiful forgiveness of the brutal crowd.

After his resurrection, we see Jesus seeking to communicate forgiveness to those friends who had wounded him most deeply. We even see him seeking out Peter (who had explicitly denied Christ) to restore him to ministry.

The foundation for all this was love. Real, authentic, unconditional love; in God’s economy love is something that you give—regardless of what you get.

This seems extremely idealistic (and it is); truthfully, it goes against everything that we are by nature.  Ultimately, the only way to achieve this new-life love is to trade in our life for his. We see his life overpower ours, area by area, as we are sanctified—changed into his likeness.

We can only trust others when our trust isn’t in them at all. We trust our sovereign, good, and living God. We must re-learn that Jesus hasn’t failed us and he is still worthy of our trust. We learn to recognize that when those closest to us break our trust, we are walking down the pain-filled but joy-filled path of Christ-likeness. If our ultimate good is more God, then the pain that provides closer relationship with him and deeper dependence upon him is a gift rather than a curse.

Through supernatural union with God, we find real security and we find ourselves fully satisfied.

We no longer find ourselves putting the weight of our ultimate security and satisfaction on the shoulders of those around us who simply can’t bear the strain. We are then free to enjoy each other as gifts from God, rather than destroying one another; setting each other up for failure as “little-g” gods.

There will be people in your life who don’t understand this. They will want you to trust in them as you trust in God—don’t do it.

On the other hand, you may feel prone to draw back from the trust necessary to engage in honest relationships and authentic community; don’t believe the lie that you are doing this because you find all that you need in God. God says that you need community. Trusting him will free you to open your life to others and allow them to experience Jesus’ love flowing through you!

(Note for clarity: I’ve had the privilege of watching this hope-filled work of God work itself out in many lives. I’ve seen people forgive abandonment, treachery, and abuse. I’ve seen people find real love even for those who have hurt them deeply. In our sin-cursed world, this doesn’t mean that they needed to put themselves back into the relationships that had proved abusive. Nor did it mean that they couldn’t ask God and our human government for justice. God’s work did translate into beautiful freedom and amazing openness in those who learned to trust in God fully again.)

 

Jesus Followers – We'll Get Together Then

Friends, it’s been a while since we’ve spent some time here together. One of my favorite song’s lyrics say…

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

Relationships are important.

I believe in community; I don’t always like it, but I do believe in it.

I believe that people, particularly Jesus followers, ought to be careful with the influence that their social sphere affords them. We ought to refuse to squander the moments that make up terrestrial life.

We do life based upon what we really do believe.

Recently, I found myself wondering why I haven’t regularly posted on this site.

My first answer was kind of a “cop out;” I wrote it off to schedule constraints. It’s true that my schedule was and in some ways is like a horror movie but I was still doing things that “I didn’t have time for,” so, why not this? (Speaking of—why hasn’t someone made a scary movie based on something mundane and super real-world like a crazy oppressive schedule— I mean Hitchcock did “Birds” right?)

Looking at the question at hand, I realized that I was active in social media even though I didn’t especially enjoy it. So the internal question was enhanced, why was I choosing to engage here but not there?  Why was I finding value in one place but not the other? Could it be that though I saw opportunities to leverage influence here, I didn’t connect those opportunities to community?

Somehow it did feel more like self-promotion than I was comfortable with. It was my picture at the top of a website talking to people rather than with people. If this belief has found its way into my psyche, I believe it to be a faulty one, and so I’m endeavoring to reject it.

You see, I’m a part of this beautiful, faith-family of Jesus followers.

This site is likely one more way to serve, encourage, engage, and display the beauty that God is working in and through us.  This site is a place for conversation and community.

So I asked my friends to “ask me anything,” and sure enough, some of them responded.

By beginning to write with these friends (and their questions) in mind, I’m going to intentionally connect writing here to community.  You’ll probably notice that these questions and answers will reflect our mission and message along the way.

If your a new friend or an old friend feel free to engage in the conversation or begin a new one– I look forward to speaking with you!

Losing Your Religion

Preaching Team Member Zach McNabb and I recently finished a series at CITYLIGHT entitled “Losing Your Religion.” In this series we looked at the woes presented in Jesus’ message found in Matthew 23. Here are the podcasts for that series:

Losing Your Religion Sermon 1
Losing Your Religion Sermon 2
Losing Your Religion Sermon 3
Losing Your Religion Sermon 4
Losing Your Religion Sermon 5
Losing Your Religion Sermon 6

POWERFUL

Do we really know what the word “power” means?

Sometimes, I wonder if we are so conditioned by shows of weakness that we’ve begun to call moderate strength or even mediocrity, “power.” It seems that those exercising true Spirit-enabled power are often culturally interpreted as arrogant or brash.

Could it be that a weak church culture is feeding that misconception?
Could it be that we are teaching the world that “Christian” = “weak”? Yes, Jesus is humble. Yes, those who follow Jesus will demonstrate real humility.

But…

Jesus is also powerful & those who follow Him will demonstrate His power! Have you read the book of Acts?
Humility & power are NOT mutually exclusive!

Real humility isn’t about projecting a negative or neutral self-image; it’s not about talking yourself down whenever someone gives you a compliment.

As C.S. Lewis so wisely said:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

So Go ahead, be powerful, think of Jesus more, follow His mission harder, see like He saw, do what He did, & think of what your friends will think WAY less.

Don’t worry, living a powerful life won’t lead you to deny truth, rather you will find yourself discovering greater truth.

Look in the mirror & see someone who is powerfully compassionate, someone who tells the truth even when no one wants to hear it, someone who is powerfully joyful even in the face of painful tragedy. Look in the mirror & see someone so controlled by the Spirit of Christ that he looks a lot like Jesus! Yes, you’ll likely lose yourself in the process, but isn’t it all about Him anyway?

Don’t be afraid to be powerful!

Romans 12:1-2
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.