Shhh! It’s a surprise celebration

On Saturday we held a party–a celebration of thanksgiving that Rosaura has been clean and sober for a year. After 30 years of alcoholism and drug addiction, including cocaine and crack, and many rehabs, she was instantly set free from her addictions–no withdrawal symptoms and no relapse. Prior to this, the longest time she had been sober was for 30 days in rehab.

About 40 of us were there, including her family and friends as well as our home church. Amazingly, it was still a secret. Rosaura thought she was going out for a meal with a friend, and they were just stopping at our house to pick someone up. Her kids had gone out for the evening (so she thought) but, of course, they were at our house. Imagine her surprise when she came in and all of us were waiting there to greet her.

Following the meal, Jose, her son, told how he had come to the church that meets in our home and prayed for his mom. The very next week she agreed to come with him, and it was there (while Tony and I were in Russia) that she was prayed for by a group of young people and brand new Christians and God set her free. Then Rosaura told her side of the story, and how faithful God was to her, because within a month, Jose was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she was able to take care of him because she wasn’t high on drugs.

We then offered to pray for anyone else with addictions. Two people came forward, both probably pre-believers, one on their own behalf and the other on behalf of their son. Jose (with amazing authority for a 16 year-old) and others prayed for them. God is at work in these lives too. Theirs is an ongoing story that maybe, one day soon, I’ll be able to tell.

We also prayed for other needs that were represented there. A pregnant lady, a recent believer, prayed for someone for healing. The pregnant lady has a lot of faith for healing. Earlier this year, she had been told that without surgery there was no way she could have a child, but God worked a miracle, telling her clearly from the Scriptures that she would have a child, and  she believed him. The church prayed for her and within three months, she was pregnant.

Others needed jobs. Others were struggling in different ways. People gathered round and prayed for each of them. The Holy Spirit was present in power.

And we celebrated!

Where does our authority lie in spiritual warfare?

Picture this: A police officer stands at the center of an intersection, directing the traffic. Even giant eighteen-wheelers obey his signals.  Now imagine that same police officer, but this time in his regular clothes attempting to do the same. People would assume he was crazy.

The uniform indicates that the person wearing it carries the full force and authority of the law. “In the name of the law” carries weight. The person wearing it represents the government of their nation, and he/she has the authority to stop traffic, to arrest people, to quell violence, protect people and maintain the peace.

In the same way, we dare not approach spiritual warfare in our own strength. But Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…”  (Matthew 28:18-20) When we involve in spiritual warfare, we do it in the authority that Jesus gives us, that same authority which he cemented through his death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection (Colossians 2:15).

Jesus mission on earth was to destroy the works of the devil (I John 3:8). He healed all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). He set free those who were held captive and oppressed  (Luke 4: 18-19). When Jesus was with his disciples, he gave them authority to do the same works he did (Matthew 10: 1, 8). After his ascension into heaven, the disciples continued this work using his name.

The scriptures tell us that the name of Jesus is far above all other rulers and authorities and powers and dominions (Ephesians 1:20-22). That at his name, every knee has to bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue has to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). God has made Jesus’ enemies to be his footstool (Acts 2:34-36).

Just like the policeman, invoking the name of Jesus, not as some kind of mystical talisman, but understanding that it carries the full weight of heaven behind it, the church can wage warfare and see victories won for the Kingdom.

We’ll look at how to do this in the next post.

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Spiritual warfare–offensive or defensive?

It’s 1981, and race riots are spreading across London. One of the riots is centered on the East End where we live. The  fear in the air is palpable. Listening to the radio, where a reporter is on the ground, we realize that the riot is coming our way–rapidly.

I glance out of our living room window. The Indian owner of the little corner shop across the road is nailing boards across his windows. His store is a likely target. A couple of doors down, a boy who can’t be more than 12 or 14, is gathering together a stash of weapons, mostly broken bricks and rocks and putting them in a pile behind a wall. Both are ready for whatever is coming.

The phone rings. It’s the other couple with whom we started the church. “This is our territory they’re encroaching on. It belongs to God. We have to stop what’s going on.”

So we conduct spiritual warfare. We use the spiritual authority Christ won for us in his death on the cross to tell the enemy that these streets belong to us and he has to leave. The riot ends just before the very street that we regard as marking the beginning of “our territory.”

This is clearly defensive warfare. It’s interesting that of the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6, all but the sword are for defense.

Fast forward a few years. The unemployment rates are at a high in the area–more than 20%. Several of the people in our network of home groups have been unemployed for months with no prospect of any jobs on the horizon. One Sunday morning when we all come together, we decide to pray about it. The Lord leads us into a prophetic type of warfare.

We put all those who are unemployed in the center of the room while we enact the battle of Jericho around them. Everyone marches silently round them six times. On the seventh time round, we raise the roof with our praise. Within a few weeks, all but one of them have jobs.

This was offensive warfare. (I’m not aware that we’ve ever repeated that prophetic act since then and I’m certainly not suggesting this is any kind of formula. As always, you have to listen to Jesus and do what he tells you.) In Matthew 16:16-20, Jesus says to Peter about his declaration that Jesus is the Christ, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

In this analogy, gates are defensive and the church is going to breach them. It reminds me of a battering ram. As the Lord leads us to hammer repeatedly against the forces of darkness, eventually they give way before us. We are on the offensive.

Have you seen anything similar?

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Spiritual warfare prevents an epidemic: a story

Mozambique, in the year 2000.

 Photo Credit: babasteve (Creative Commons)

Half the country is under water because of massive flooding. We are working with Rolland and Heidi Baker doing medical relief work. (Tony and Rolland went to school together, so when news of the floods come, it’s a natural reaction to go help.) A team consisting of the two of us with about 10 young people including our two teenagers have arrived by land rover at an inaccessible refugee camp in the middle of nowhere. It’s late afternoon.

A man in ragged clothes addresses us.

“I’m the Red Cross worker. I’ve seen three cases of cholera today.”

We ask him to describe the symptoms. It certainly sounds like cholera. The nature of an epidemic is three cases today, twenty tomorrow, and a hundred the day after that. And we are responsible for the health, not only this team of young people, but the refugees in the camp. Neither of us has ever seen a case of cholera.

The man offers to take us to his Red Cross tent. “It’s just over there,” he says.

After about 10 minutes walking, we come to the camp’s water supply. It’s a hole in the ground filled with muddy water. People are dipping plastic containers into it and drinking it. We are horrified. No wonder everyone has intestinal problems. Another thirty minutes of weaving through makeshift huts brings us to his army style tent. He has one cot, a plastic bucket filled with water from the well and a box of packets of rehydration fluid. Not a dressing, an aspirin or an antibiotic or antimalarial in sight.

Arriving back at our own tents, we ponder what to do. It’s clearly a dangerous situation. We have a limited supply of drugs we’ve brought with us–certainly not enough to cope with a cholera epidemic.

We remember a story from the Old Testament. The story comes in Numbers 16 and is the story of Korah’s rebellion. After the rebellion, the people get angry with God for destroying Korah and his allies, and God sends a plague. But Moses tells Aaron to take a censer filled with burning coals out among the people , standing between the living and the dead and so the plague stopped.

We send our team out to pray over the tents in the camp. They are to pray to stop the plague of cholera. Using spiritual weapons, we stand in faith for the health of the camp. This isn’t a pleading with God, “Please God, don’t let people catch cholera.” This is claiming protection in Jesus’ name, using the authority he has won for us to stand against the powers of darkness.

We don’t see a single case of cholera during the two to three days we are there.

I remember clearly our last evening there. We are cooking supper over a gas burner. As dusk falls, a line of women comes dancing towards us, singing praise songs in that hauntingly beautiful harmony that is so typically African. They have become Christians during our time with them.  A church has started in this camp. Rolland and Heidi will send one of their trained pastors to help them.

Spiritual warfare has prevented an epidemic.

What other areas does spiritual warfare address?

 

Where is our battleground in spiritual warfare?

I’ve often heard it said that the battleground in spiritual warfare is for our minds. That’s certainly true, although I’m not convinced it’s the whole truth.

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Jesus tells us that our enemy is a liar (John 8:44), that he seeks to steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10). This can certainly affect our minds. For example:

  • He destroys our peace–we suffer from anxiety and fear
  • He steals our joy–we become depressed
  • We believe his lies–we suffer from low self-esteem and guilt

What gives him the opportunity to attack us in this way? I find it useful to think of five main categories of opportunity for Satan to gain a foothold in our lives, for convenience, although somewhat contrived, all beginning with an “S”:

  1. Sin–three sections here:
    • Our own sin–for example, we don’t deal with anger in a godly fashion. We can go from the occasional sin to becoming an angry person, to having anger dominate our life (Ephesians 4:26-27).
    • We have been sinned against–for example, all kinds of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, Another example: a baby is born to an unmarried mother, As he/she gets older, she may suffer from rejection. It wasn’t her sin, but a parental sin that allowed the enemy in. When this door is closed, she can be set free.
    • The effects of sin being passed down from one generation to another. We can inherit a tendency to certain traits such as depression, alcoholism etc.
  2. “Seance”: Any contact with the occult–ouija boards, fortune tellers, illegal drugs that affect the mind and thinking
  3. Shock: A sudden surprise can give the enemy a foothold. For example, one day I returned from the store and surprised a burglar inside our house. For some time I experienced fear whenever I unlocked our front door. Natural? Yes maybe, but it disappeared when we prayed against it.
  4. Siege: It says in Daniel &:25 that Satan wears out, or oppresses the saints of the Most High. We all know what it’s like to feel under pressure for a prolonged time. Finances are tight, there’s a painful medical condition. Satan takes the opportunity to undermine in every way.
  5. Subtlety: Satan can attack our minds in ways we don’t recognize. For example, we are fascinated by a TV program we would never choose, simple because we’re too lazy to change the channel. It leaves us feeling contaminated.

Praise God, He has given us spiritual weapons to fight against Satan, and we know we are on the side of victory. We’ll cover our weapons in a future post.

But where else can this warfare take place?

Who rules the earth? Jesus?

Here are two apparently contradictory statements:

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. (Acts 17:24)

We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (I John 5:19)

I once asked the Lord how these two statements can be simultaneously true. How can Jesus be Lord, and yet the whole world lie in the power of the evil one? He gave me an illustration.

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The picture I had was of a low-income housing project, filled with violence, drugs dealing, prostitution, very similar to the one where we started a church a few years ago. Then the Lord asked me a  question:

“Who rules this housing project?”

I thought for a while. “If you ask the people who live there, many would answer, ‘The drug lords and gang leaders,’ and that would be true. But actually the government has ultimate control.” I realized that the only way that the authorities could change the area in the natural would be to move everyone out and to raze the place to the ground. In Hong Kong there used to be an area called the Walled City which was an ungovernable settlement ruled by organized crime syndicates known as Triads. In 1987, the Hong Kong government rid themselves of the problem by evicting the tenants and demolishing the area.

However, the people who live in the projects have a choice. They can live as though the drug lords rule or as though a righteous government is in control. And when a group of people choose to live a Kingdom lifestyle and to stand up for what is right, it has an impact.

Could that make a difference? I believe so. When we started a church in the projects, our friends who lived there reported that the level of violence decreased and some of the drug dealers moved away. Our prayers and spiritual warfare over the area made a difference.

My original question was answered by this illustration the Lord gave me. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. But Satan is in control of the earth, and the only way for God to completely remove Satan’s presence would be to destroy the place. But God loves us so much that he didn’t do that. Instead he sent his Son who, in his death on the cross and subsequent shattering of the bonds of sin and death through his resurrection, defeated all the powers of darkness. It’s now up to us to enforce God’s Kingdom rule. We do that through spiritual warfare.

What do you think?

 

A cautionary tale on the reality of spiritual warfare

Spiritual warfare is real–sometimes very, very real.

We were in India, and it was hot! Our church planting conference was taking place on a rooftop under a canvas awning. Below us was the living accommodation of a pastor and his family, including a small, basic kitchen. We were sharing, along with Victor Choudhrie, a good friend who is experiencing one of the most remarkable church planting movements of our time.

The previous day, Victor had suggested that everyone get up early, at around 4am and go out and prayer walk around various temples, shrines and places of religious significance in the locale. The reason for the early hour? The activities at these temples do not begin until a little later than that.

I would like to tell you that Tony and I were part of the prayer walking and spiritual warfare team. It wouldn’t be true. We slept in.

When everyone came together that next morning, people were sharing, excited about what they had seen as they prayer walked.

All of a sudden, there was a commotion. People started scurrying around, looking anxious, and there seemed to be a lot of activity around one of the stairwells that led to the kitchen. Finally someone thought to tell us what was going on. A fire had started in the kitchen. It could easily take over the whole building. Everyone began praying.

We went to the stairwell where we could see what was going on. Flames were exploding out of the kitchen door; the whole room was an inferno. It took the local fire department twenty minutes and a full tank of water to put it out. It turned out that a new propane tank had been incorrectly installed, and when someone had gone to light the stove, the whole thing had caught on fire.

Afterwards, we went to inspect the damage. Amazing! Apart from one burned towel and a melted plastic container, there was no damage to be seen. No smoke damage. No blistered paintwork.  Even a row of glass jars immediately above the stove weren’t cracked. I was incredulous. If I hadn’t seen all of this with my own eyes (first the fire and then its lack of effect), I wouldn’t have believed it. Thankfully the lady who lit the stove was totally unharmed too.

“Victor, what happened?” we asked.

Victor explained. The person organizing the conference had been asked to make sure there was prayer back up for the conference, and especially for the prayer walking time; this hadn’t happened. So the fire was the enemy’s retaliation for the warfare that was conducted against his work. The prayers of the saints prevented any harm to either people or building.

Traditionally, India is a land of 330 million gods. They are to be seen in shrines and temples on every street corner. Here in the West, spiritual warfare isn’t quite as obvious. But it is needed just as much. We need the Lord to open our eyes to the activity of the enemy so that we can fight against his work. Praise God, Jesus has won the victory for us and gives us all the authority we need to wage war successfully. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8)

Do you have an example of where you have seen spiritual warfare waged successfully?

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The two extremes of spiritual warfare

Like it or not, we were born again into a world at war.

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I often recall a story I was told of a soldier, fully clad in all his combat gear, sitting at a table outside a restaurant drinking a cup of coffee. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Although he was fully armed, there was one problem. He didn’t realize he was in a combat zone.

We are often like that soldier. We can be picked off by a fiery dart from the enemy because we are ignorant of his devices.

As believers, we tend to fall into one of two extremes when it comes to spiritual warfare.

  • We hunker down in our spiritual bunkers, content to be protected, but failing to engage in the spiritual battle that is going on all around us. Like toy soldiers, we have little or no impact on our spiritual enemy.
  • We see demons behind every tree, waging war against principalities and powers that are products of our imagination more than real entities. We attribute sin to the demonic, trying to cast it out when it needs a process of forgiveness and sanctification.

There is a real (spiritual) war going on and the church is meant to be on the offensive, fighting for the souls of those who don’t yet know Jesus.

Business as (spiritual) warfare

The Lord has used our business to teach us much about the Christian life, especially spiritual warfare.

We began The Karis Group (Karis is Greek for “grace”) in 1996, and God wonderfully blessed–for about four years. We moved from the tiny spare room to our garage. When we were obviously violating the zoning laws because of the number of employees in our home, we bought a larger house a few miles away that could legally accomodate the business. Finally, as it continued to expand, we moved the business into a small office building just down the road.

At that stage, we had one major client who had asked us for an exclusive relationship–ie they would be the only client of that kind that we helped. Foolishly we agreed. When, after four years, they decided to take the work we were doing for them in house, we had nowhere else to turn. We had a building with a lease, several employees and virtually no work. Eventually we encouraged most of the employees to find other jobs.

After two or three months as we continued to run down our reserves, the light suddenly dawned. We had lost our client at the very time we started House2House, a magazine that spoke into the simple/organic/house church movement (originally a paper magazine and now a website). Was this coincidence? Of course not. If Satan could wipe our business out, he would damage far more than just us and our business.

From that point onwards, we set ourselves to spiritual warfare. We had no work to do, so apart from the marketing for new clients we did, for hours every day we paced up and down that little office, praying and interceding. We quoted Scripture, we sang, we shouted, we praised. We did everything we had ever heard of in terms of spiritual warfare. At home we did the same. We would have looked totally crazy to an outsider, but gradually we were gaining spiritual ground. We took every spare moment we had to engage in the battle. If we were traveling, for example, we would find the chapel in any major airport so we could continue to pray between flights. (These rooms are usually empty.) We had a picture in our mind of a wire-mesh tray that sat on one of the desks filled with contracts from many different companies. The Lord was training us in battle and gradually our faith grew.

A correlation soon appeared. After several days of intense warfare, we would see a bit of a breakthrough. Maybe a new company would show an interest in our business. Assuming this was God’s answer, we relaxed the prayer and it would come to nothing. We learned that we had to keep the pressure up if we were to see results.

God provided finances to us seemingly out of nowhere. For example, one evening there was a wreck outside our house. A car ran into a tree in our yard. No one was hurt but the tree trunk was cracked. When the insurance company came to appraise the damage, they decided that a tree of that size was worth several thousand dollars. It kept us afloat for another few weeks.

Finally after a year with no work, we found our first client, and our next… We hired on employees again. The business continues to grow today.

It was a tough year, but the lessons we learned are invaluable. Psalm 18:34 says this: He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. The more we practice a Kingdom skill, the stronger our spiritual muscles become.

Have you experienced times of intense spiritual warfare? I’d love to hear your stories. What did you learn?

 

 

The end of the wilderness

Whenever I share about the nine years of wilderness we experienced when we first moved to the States, something about the story resonates with other people–especially the length of time we were there. It seems to give people hope that they, too, might emerge from their own desert experience with their faith stronger, and prepared for the next stage on their spiritual journey. I would make one comment here from our experience/mistakes: learn the lessons the first time round–it saves God having to repeat them!

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For us the end of the wilderness came in a way that I can neither recommend nor endorse.

We gave God an ultimatum.

In the March or April of 1996 we told God that whether we heard him or not, if things hadn’t changed by Christmas, we were going back to the UK where at least we could make a living as doctors.

There were three areas where we asked for change:

  • That he would speak to us again
  • That we would find a means of making an adequate income
  • That our church situation would change

That Spring, we were invited back to the UK to share at a conference. I remember standing at the window of the conference accommodation we were staying in, gazing out at the beautiful British countryside when a thought from left field came into my mind:

“You will be part of a move of my Holy Spirit again a second time.” I instantly recognized this as God speaking to me. What a relief to hear his voice again!

We had lived through the British charismatic/house church movement–wonderful times of God’s blessing which had changed the face of British Christianity. Could God be about to do something in the States? Another move of his Spirit? What would it look like?

From that time onwards, Jesus started speaking to us again.

Back home in Texas, Tony was acting the teenager one day, playing basketball with the kids when he injured his knee. After two or three months, there was no improvement, and so he finally went to see an orthopedic surgeon who advised surgery. The forty-five minute operation was a success, but the bills were a shock. We were part of a Christian sharing co-operative where believers donated to cover each others medical costs every month. Tony was so horrified at the bills that he called the surgeon and explained how the bills would be paid, and suggested the doctor might like to lower the cost. Much to his surprise, the doctor asked how much he felt comfortable paying and they finally agreed on a healthy discount. Every other provider did the same.

For several years, we had been crying out to God, asking him to provide us with an idea to create wealth. The basis of our praying had been Deuteronomy 8, especially verse 18 which, in the NKJV, says this:

 And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

I had the idea that maybe we could discount the medical bills for other members of the group too. Tony called the company with the suggestion and they jumped at the idea of a doctor discounting their medical bills. The phone call was on a Thursday; Tony started working out of our tiny spare bedroom on the Monday; by the following Friday it was obvious that this was a way we could make a living.

Over the past fifteen years, The Karis Group has expanded to offer a variety of services and we now have around seventeen employees. God answered that cry of our hearts.

For those of you who have been through the wilderness, how did the Lord lead you out?  Do you have any advice to offer to others who are still in the middle of their wilderness?