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?

 Photo credit: anaxila (Creative Commons)


The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

Suspended in a hammock: contextualizing the good news

Photo credit: SadieMaeGlutz (Creative Commons)

We have friends in India who are seeing large numbers of both high-caste Hindus and people from other religions become followers of Jesus. They use the sacred books of those religions to point to Christ. When they have clearly demonstrated Christ within those books, they can then point them to the Jesus of the Bible. They are contextualizing the Gospel in a way that makes it understandable to those they are trying to reach.

There are pointers to Jesus in every culture.

The book, Bruchko, describes the extraordinary story of 19 year-old Bruce Olson, who sought to bring the Gospel to a murderous tribe in the South American jungle. These people had no words in their language that could express some of the concepts of a belief in Jesus. Bruce used some remarkably creative ways to bring across these ideas.

For example, there was no word to express "faith" in the Motilone language. The Indians used to sleep on hammocks suspended from the rafters of their communal homes. The best word for faith that Bruce found was the word that meant to "tie in one's hammock." It beautifully expresses faith as suspending one's life from Christ and the people instinctively understood its meaning.

Some years ago we started a church in the low income housing projects. One day, a good friend from England, Norman Barnes, visited. He clearly demonstrated the efficacy of the blood of Christ in forgiving sins to our friends there. He had them each write down the things they had done that were bad, that they were ashamed of, or issues they dealt with like anger, onto a sheet of paper. When each one had completed their list, they put their papers into a pan. He covered it with a red cloth symbolizing the blood of Jesus. He took the pan outside, removed the cloth and set fire to the paper. Then he asked them to pull their sins out of the pan. Of course, they were just ash.

The kids talked about how the blood of Jesus dealt with their sins for weeks after that. Every time a person wore something red they would remind each other: "She's wearing red: do you remember how the blood of Jesus covers the things we've done wrong."

How can we contextualize the good news for the people we come across day by day? How can this be used to reach out to other cultures too?

10 skills to equip others

Our friends in India, who are seeing hundreds of thousands of new believers each year, have various training topics with which they equip people, the majority of whom are oral learners. Everyone is equipped, and those who are in any kind of leadership are trained not only in the concepts, but also in how to train others too.
We in the West have a lot of head knowledge, but are we equipped? Last Friday, I posted on this subject, asking people to comment. One person said this:
"I once took a Saturday morning to teach people how to share their testimony and was shocked at how many long-time Christians were incapable of telling a coherent story about how they came to Jesus and why. The main problem, I found, was that they too often confused giving their life to Jesus with becoming a member of the church…"
 Many who have come out of legacy churches have been used to letting those in full-time ministry "do the stuff" as John Wimber used to say, referring to ministering to others, especially to not-yet-believers.  In simple/organic church there are no longer specially trained people with "doing the stuff" as their job description; it is now up to all of us. Are we ready? Do we know what to do?
In that post I also asked people to give some ideas on the various skills that we need to equip people with here in the West. Here is a compilation of the results:
  1. How to proclaim the Gospel
  2. How to share your story with others
  3. How to lead someone to the Lord
  4. Interacting with God's word
  5. The need for accountability
  6. How to wait on God
  7. How to share your faith in a less friendly environment
  8. The centrality of Jesus
  9. Listening to the Holy Spirit and obeying
  10. The fruit of the Spirit

I have several more topics for the toolbox that I will share soon.


How illiterate women in India can teach advanced topics

Indian woman

A few posts ago, I alluded to the fact that some good friends of ours in India, who see many tens of thousands of new believers in their network each year, have illiterate women who are able to teach others, including Bible references. Several people have asked me to expand on this.

The fact that someone is an oral learner doens't make them ignorant or incapable of understanding. They just have a different way of learning. Much as today, in our culture, many young people learn by watching rather than by reading.

Each of the 50 or so topics that our friends expect their leaders to be able to teach on to others is divided down into 9 or 10 main points. Training is given several times per year. There are different levels at which a person is able to understand and impart any given topic. So a house church leader will have a very basic understanding. He/she may know several strategic points about any given topic. A local area trainer will have more understanding, probably with some references. By the time you have a master trainer who is responsible for training on a regional or national basis, they will know the topic fully, including all relevent references.

This happens because of the way a topic is taught. The trainer may speak on the topic, but by using questions and answers and making others repeat what is taught, people remember the subject matter. They are also expected to apply it or put it into practice. When they in turn pass it on to others, it becomes even more firmly fixed in their minds.

Here are a few of the topics that are taught:

The Great Commission

What is church?

God's will and purposes


Tenfold functions of the church


The role of women

Prayer walking: ten steps

Spiritual warfare

If people in our churches had the same grasp of these subjects at a practical as well as a theoretical level as some of these illiterate village women, we would be far more effective within the Kingdom. Now obviously, we are able to read the Bible–there is no shortage of Bibles in the West.  But there is a difference between learning with the purpose of extending the Kingdom and studying for personal blessing. Maybe we should reconsider strategic training.

How many $$ to start a church?

Continuing our study of Luke 10.

Bag and sandalsI tried without success to find out the average cost of starting a church in this country.  If my memory serves me right, it's in the region of $350,000 by the time you include buildings and the training and salary for a pastor.  (If anyone has an accurate figure, I would be interested to know.)  Then there's all the paraphernalia surrounding a church plant: a marketing strategy, the new worship team, Sunday school and so on…

Contrast this with Luke 10:4, remembering that this passage in Luke 10 is Jesus' pattern for reaching out to communities of people.

"Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road."

Why would Jesus tell us not to take anything with us?  Surely we need some money and other resources to reach out to a new community? 

There are a couple of reasons why not.  First, if we take nothing with us, where is our dependence?  It has to be on the Lord to provide for us.  Where is that provision going to come from?  Out of the harvest!

This is a huge paradigm shift for those of us who have been involved in traditional church life. All the resources for any new work are going to be in the harvest.  The premises will come from the harvest.  New leadership will come from the harvest.  The workers for any new area are probably not even believers yet.  

If you ask our Indian friends why you don't take things with you, they will add another reason too.  You don't take anything extra with you because you don't plan to stay!  Again, that's because the workers for the harvest are in the harvest.  You do not move to a new area to lead a church, but you will mentor the new worker from the harvest who will lead the church.

Why do you not stop to greet anyone on the way?  We are looking for a specific person, and Jesus tells us later in the passage how we will recognize that person.  Again our Indian friends have a different perspective.  They say that if they talk to the wrong person, they stand a good chance of being beaten up! It's best to let Jesus reveal the right person.

How to start a simple/organic/house church

We have had the privilege of spending time with the leaders of several church planting movements over the years.  (A church planting movement occurs when there is rapid and spontaneous multiplication of churches, comprised mainly of new believers). We always ask them what principles are behind the growth that they see.  They usually point to Luke 10 (or Matthew 10).  So the next few posts will look at this passage in greater detail. 

Luke 10 is the passage where Jesus sends out the 70 (or 72,depending on your version of the Bible) disciples.  The passage follows Jesus' teaching on the cost of discipleship.

Verse 1: The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

A few points on verse 1:

  • These are "other" disciples–presumably other to the 12.  This means he sent at least 82 disciples (41 pairs) out.
  • He sent them in pairs–not in teams and not individually.  It's interesting to note that when the disciples are listed, in at least one location they are listed in pairs (Luke 6:13-16)
  • Jesus sent them ahead of him to all the places he planned to visit.  If Jesus sends you somewhere, it's because He plans to go there too.  Your job changes, then Jesus plans to meet the new people you work with.  You move house, Jesus plans to touch your neighborhood through you.
  • Jesus not only planned to visit towns, he planned to visit places too.  Maybe Jesus said to them, "You two are to visit such and such a town, and you two go the tavern on the road to Capernaum."

Jesus had a strategy for the area.  He has a strategy for your area too.  The disciples job was to listen to him and to obey when he told them where to go.  We have the same responsibility–to listen to Jesus and do what he tells us.  That is why knowing how to recognize his voice is so important.