28 November 2005

Friendly Fire

"...They revile angelic majesties they do not comprehend...and wind up
with their butts in a sling." (Free translation)

Spiritual warfare is a pretty hot topic In Christian circles right now.
To be honest, I don't know if this is something new (again) in the
church, or if it's been around for a long time, but I've had multiple
opportunities to speak on the topic and I'm not even a pastor. Folks
are interested and the folks who find themselves involved are generally
excited about it and ready to speak...at length...myself included.

I think that in the long run, it's a good trend. I think the most basic
definition of spiritual warfare is simply believing that there is an
enemy, the Devil, and acting accordingly. I think the scope of SW can
cover a wide range of topics from intercessory prayer and fasting to
worship and faithful counsel. The trend is good because it gets people
thinking about the spiritual ramifications and causes of the physical
world and their own lives. In my experience, people who take SW
seriously as a subject for study and practice start taking major steps
in their faith.

Also in my experience, a great many Christians approach the topic far
too lightly, far too innocently and often with bad motives.

Bad motives like:
• A desire for power - "I wanted a sunny day for for grandson's
birthday, so I rebuked that storm!"
• A culturally unassailable excuse for being an asshole - "I'm sorry I
yelled at you, but I've really been under attack recently!"
• An exotic story to impress your friends - "The devil is really
hounding me. It must be that he's against my new quilting ministry!"
• A spiritual bludgeon to get what you want - "I don't like what you
just said. I sense that you have a demon."

The thing is, none of these statements are necessarily off-limits.
Jesus rebuked a storm and we're told that the church will do greater
things; being under spiritual attack will certainly put a person on
edge; my experience is that significant moves toward God tend to meet
opposition; and spiritual discernment is a cornerstone of spiritual
warfare. But motives are everything - it's your heart that matters. And
if a person starts into SW with bad motives they're likely to hurt
somebody else or get hurt themselves.

Spiritual innocence, AKA naivety, looks like this:
• Flash In The Pan - "I cast out this demon of cancer in Jesus' name!
So, now that's over. Where's the potluck?"
• Rambo - "I call you Lucifer by name and bind you! You too Beelzebub!
And Mephistopheles while I'm at it"
• The Flower Child - "Please be gone demon. Don't make me rebuke
you...again...I mean it!"

Angels, and by extension demons (hello!), are incredibly powerful
creatures. Two were sent to destroy the entire Assyrian army. Four will
kill 1/3 of all humanity - that's 2 BILLION people if that were to
happen tomorrow. They shatter mountains, hold back winds, dry up rivers
and the Bible says that there are at least a million of them - one
third of whom want you bleeding in the ditch or dead. Now it's also
true that the spiritual warrior is well armed and equal to the fight,
but we can't afford to underestimate our opponents. We can't afford to
be cocky. We can't afford to be naive.

Similarly, we must understand a few important things about our
adversaries -they are patient, they are tenacious, and they hold no
quarter. In most cases you really shouldn't enter into a spiritual
fight unless you're ready to go the distance. Any significant
stronghold takes time to defeat - sometimes days, but more often weeks,
months and years. Which really should only surprise you if you
accidently thought the phrase was 'spiritual dunk tank' where one well
aimed softball drops the enemy into the water and we go find some
cotton candy. Wars last years, decades, sometimes ages. There are
attacks, counterattacks, flanks and pushes. There is a time to rush the
field, a time to gather intelligence, and a time to strategically
retreat. Don't do anything - ANYTHING - without checking with
headquarters. Wars are also deeply confusing - the 'Fog of War' refers
to the difficulty of comprehending the big picture when the battle is
joined - which brings me to my biggest concern - those Christians who
enter the fight to lightly, too quickly, too foolishly, and wind up
shooting at the wrong team.

'Friendly Fire' refers to the bitter but all too common instances where
combat units accidently engaging friendly units because they are
misidentified as the enemy.

It's foundational to spiritual warfare that our words and prayers have
power, that the spiritual world is more "real" than the physical world,
and that earthly conditions reflect spiritual conditions. Were told
that our words are swords, tongues of fire, able to split sinew from
bone - more succinctly, that we are armed with potent weapons that
deliver mortal wounds. But SOOOOOO many Christians will catch the SW
bug, start binding and loosing everything this side of the Pecos river,
swinging that two edged sword blindly in a crowded room, and deeply
wounding their brothers and sisters.

We have to remember that we're in an environment where 'spirits' come
in more than one shape. You have a spirit, your neighbor has a spirit,
your pastor has a spirit. Why should we think that these eternal being
are any less vulnerable than a demon to being spiritually wounded? Why
should we think that our spiritual weapons are any less indiscriminate
than an MP5?

Special forces units will train heavily in close quarter combat -
moving a team through a tight environment, say a building, without
shooting the wrong people. It requires strict discipline about where
people move, what firing arcs are covered, and how the team
communicates to prevent accidents. "Check your targets!" is a common

If Paul, one of the most spiritually discerning people we know of, says
that we see through a glass darkly - we need to listen. Our ability to
understand the spiritual landscape around us is severely limited. We
have to be careful that we don't accidently wound one another.

Let me give you an example - 'The Needy Girl' is crying again and asks
you to pray with her again. Do NOT whip out the 'cast out the spirit of
depression' prayer. Is it possible that her chronic depression is
spiritual in nature? Absolutely. But you better be certain that you're
hearing that word from HQ and not just responding in frustration
because you're tired of praying with her. Because if that's the case
you're almost certain to do far more harm than good. And if her
depression is NOT spiritual in nature, and she's back at your side two
weeks later, you're likely to pretend like that whole demon prayer
never happened - which is the worst kind of non-accountability BS that
makes everybody look bad.

Look, my real point is this - the subject of spiritual warfare is a
good one and important for a healthy church. But we MUST take it with
the gravity and seriousness that it deserves. It's a matter of long
practice, deep humility, and profound respect. WE must NEVER, EVER
promote a "Spiritual Warfare For Dummies" mentality that sees SW as the
kind of thing you pick up on a weekend retreat (I'm guilty here). That
said, I also don't want to scare anybody away from the topic or the
practice of spiritual warfare, just treat your weapons with the respect
they deserve. Especially when you're waving that thing around inside
the church.

Check your targets!

25 November 2005

Holidays And My Family

At the moment, it's Thanksgiving day and I'm kicking my feet up in the cozy Africa-theme family room of my in-law's house. My wife and he mother are poring over a dizzying variety of yarns and fabrics discussing quilts, handbags and scarves while Wayne, my second father (third?), listens to NPR thoughtfully. In another hour or two we'll
drive to Ann and Dave's place, picking up Grandma Pat along the way and have Thanksgiving with Julie, Kenny, Ross, Jennifer, Annika, Frank, Codie, and Morgan. If we were in California this year, as opposed to Washington, we'd be looking forward to meeting Gus, Ade, Madeline, Mindy, Gene, Johnny, Pete, Dawn, Dante, Shelby, George, Michael, Scott, Nicholas...etc. etc. (That's the Italian side of my family, and I've frankly fallen behind in memorizing all the wives and kids).

At either venue, either over potato sausage or pirrogie (Gene and Ade are Polish...dear Lord I love their pirrogie!), somebody would say, "What are you thankful for this year?", and most folks, with genuine sincerity, would list 'family' as something they are truly thankful for. Without question, I've been deeply blessed when it comes to family. Not only is my first family large and loving, and generous with their affection, but my wife's family has done so very much to accept
me into their midst, and they did so immediately, even before Rebekah and I were married.


Jesus says, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" - Who is my family?

A few years ago, Rebekah and I stayed home for Thanksgiving. Our only guests were our friends the Foxes and their two boys. It was perhaps the best holiday of my life. For my entire life, holidays meant long drives to relatives houses, often two if we had to spend the morning with mom's family, and the afternoon with dad's family. Holidays meant pressure, business, discomfort and too much to do in too little time. But this one Thanksgiving at home was wholly different. I didn't leave the house once except to take the trash out. The Foxes drove all of 1/2 mile and then back again several hours later. The six of us realized that we were all cooking as if it were still the 30 person table we were used to and our table groaned with food. We all sat down, said grace, and ate like locusts before we all looked up and thought - what are we doing? Everybody laughed and took a deep breath...we spent the rest of the languid day sipping chocolate, nibbling on olives and napping near the fire. It was the best holiday in my life, the first that truly felt like a 'holiday' as in a break from normal life, and I want very much to repeat it.

Over the last several years, the Foxes truly have been our family. It's with them that we've shared our faith, our trials and triumphs, and the day-to-day of our lives. For every hour I've sen my own sister, I've seen Matt 100. I know more about Beth's real state of mind, her spiritual health, and the things that she wrestles with, than I know about my own mother. We've shared our lives and our money, and our time, not to mention our reciprocating saws and spring-form pans and whichever car is working. And it's not just the Foxes, it's also Lisa, and the McLoughlans and others. Quite unexpectedly my life has developed a very tight circle of friends that feels a lot like the book of Acts.

"Whoever does the will of my Father is my bother, and my sister, and my mother."

Christ's statement here about family has always seemed coy to me - a kind of hyperbole to illustrate a point. But I never took the next step seriously. "What point am I making then?" he might ask. "Well...you know...how Christians should be...um...kinda like a family...sorta..."

Listen, God is very clear that family (in the natural sense) is very important to him. We're commanded to honor our fathers and mothers and to do so grants us a blessing. I don't think Jesus is suggesting that Mary and James et. al. are somehow NOT his family while his disciples are, but rather that the language about being adopted into God's family is far more real than I suspected. Calling another Christian 'brother' is not just a euphemism, it's a true expression of the eternal relationship between two believers. Perhaps this relationship is more important than our earthly ties - after all, if a marriage dissolves with death, it may be that our earthly families are equally temporal. In contrast, our salvation is eternal - our integration into God's family is for ever.

When the Foxes moved north from California, I knew Matt by his first name, but really he was "Beth's husband." I knew Beth from my home town. We went to school together, had the same friends, and even dated for a spell. So when they came to Newberg, Beth was my friend and Matt was an acquaintance. Right away, they moved in with us and stayed for about a month. They had moved on faith with no job, no place to live, no idea of what to do next, but they moved and we put them up while they found their feet. I wonder if we would have formed the relationships we have now without that first experience but it set a precedent of intimacy that was unique in my life. Our lives were suddenly intertwined by circumstance instead of by choice. We were sharing a home not because we really wanted to, but because we had to. Rebekah and I were newlyweds at that time. We had purchased this home only a few months earlier because God had clearly orchestrated the purchase and we had three extra bedrooms. I suspect it wasn't the first choice for the Foxes either. One of the big reasons they moved north in the first place is because they wanted their own space - getting thrown into a 'communal' environment was doubtful to be their first choice,

Since then - not quite five years now - Matt and I have become very close. In many ways Matt has become the closest friend I've had in my life. And let my be very candid - it has not been all high fives and pork rinds. Matt and I have fought - hard. Matt and I have punched and kicked each other (literally (see Ninjutsu)), we've yelled and screamed
(OK - mostly, that's me. Matt's pretty quiet) and we've thrown up our hands in frustration, anger, and disappointment. He's offended me and I've offended him, many, many times.

But there probably isn't anybody on Earth I care about more than Matt.

He truly is the brother I never had.

He's forgiven me many, many times. He's corrected me when nobody else could or would. His counsel has been faithful. His peace has been a rock. His family has graced my life with more love and laughter, and joy than I knew was possible. As a man, friends like Matt are few and far between. The Foxes are to me the kind of family that I've never really understood before. Where the eternal reality of our God ordained relationship is thousands of times more meaningful than what somebody said last Christmas. Where we share a table with folks we spoke to yesterday, not six months ago at a Christening that everybody left before coffee was served. These are people that I will know FOR EVER -
but who I also know intimately RIGHT NOW.

This Thanksgiving, I find myself deeply thankful for Matt, for Beth, for Will and for Ben.Which I find to be the same thing as saying "I'm thankful for my family."

19 November 2005

Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

This post will pretty brief since the point I want to make is pretty simple, but it informs a significant portion of what I think and is worth putting in black and white.

The very public, stated goal of the United Nations is to stop and/or prevent armed conflict.

The preamble of the United Nations charter reads “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...” In fairness, the preamble also says, somewhat ambiguously “...And for these ends...to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,”

My point is that it seems a dubious proposition to look to the United Nations for approval of almost any use of force, almost regardless of the circumstances. It’s like asking a bank for permission to kite a check – it’s just not in their nature to see the world through that lens.

Despite how this might sound, I’m not dinging the UN here, only trying to recognize its essence. For better or for worse, there doesn’t seem to be much sense is asking the UN if I can go kick somebody in the shins. By doing so, I have a lot to loose (politically and strategically) and very little to gain. Even when the body resolves that a situation way warrant the use of force, like it did in Iraq a few years back, there is no intestinal fortitude to follow through. They have displayed more willingness to see wring their hands over shed blood, i.e. Sudan, Bosnia, or Rwanda, then to dirty their hands by getting involved.

18 November 2005

How Does God Like His Eggs?

I imagine myself at breakfast with God, sitting across from one
another at Pig N' Pancake, sipping coffee and marveling at the White
Sox - when the waitress walks over.

"What can I get you?" she asks...something in her accent sounds

Always the decisive one, Our Lord pipes up, "Number three please."

"How would like your eggs?"

"Poached hard, and rye toast please."

"Great. And for you sweetie?"

What do I do? The creator of everything in the universe, including
eggs, just ordered two of them poached. The guy who knows everything
about everything, including this chef's strengths and weaknesses,
decided against the "award winning sourdough pancakes." What does that
really <italic>mean</italic>? Is it unwise to get breakfast four -
pigs in a blanket? Is it foolish to get my eggs over medium? Is it a
sin for me to order a cinnamon roll?

What I'm really asking is whether or not God has opinions. Is it safe
for me to order whatever breakfast I want, even Spam, baked beans,
sausage and Spam, or does any divergence from His perfect will
constitute foolishness at best, or wickedness at worst? Are there such
things as morally neutral choices? Where we truly enjoy liberty in
every sense of the word - not simply the liberty to obey or conform,
to toe the line or to rebel, but real liberty to make a choice between
two or more equally sinless options.

I can imagine myself in that moment, looking nervously between the
waitress and my savior. "I'll have pigs in..." but then He patiently
starts to shake his head...smiling of course...but definitely advising
against that course. "Um...how 'bout a Belgian..." another subtle
shake of the head and the waitress starts to look at me with pity. "I
think...I'll have..." He looks at me expectantly with a sort of "you
can do it!" grin of encouragement. "...um...blintzes?"

But I can also imagine my Lord looking at me with no sense of
evaluation at all. No disappointment, no approval, no surprise -
simply waiting for me to order so we can go back to baseball talk. He
couldn't care less what I ate or how the eggs are prepared - the
choice is entirely mine.

I know the sovereignty crowd will bite their knuckles, but I've come
to believe that God gives us a great deal of freedom to live our lives
the way we see fit. Yes - there are boundaries. Yes - He usually has
input and advice to offer. Yes - He has a bigger plan laid out for me
- good deeds that He has prepared in advance for me to do. But what
does it mean to say 'all things are permissible, but not all things
are profitable" if we cleave so closely to the God's Perfect Will line
that in any given circumstance there is actually only ONE thing that
is both permissible and presumably profitable?

Part of this thought rises up out of my distaste for the doctrine of
total depravity. But I can certainly see how these two thoughts (T.D.
and soverignity) support one another. If no good thing can ever come
out of me, then certainly I can't be trusted to make even the simplest
decision. Everything that comes out of me is tainted. But part of the
promise of the new covenant is that God will provide me with a new
heart - a good heart; one made of flesh to replace the heart of stone.
If it's true that Christ is IN ME - that my heart has become the
tabernacle of the Spirit of God - how can that heart be wholly
corrupt? If you drop me, I fall to Him. If you break me, I bring my
pieces to Him. If you wound me, I cry out to Him. If that is my
baseline response, the deepest impulse of my soul - how can the
deepest part of me be desperately wicked?

So often, I find that clarity comes when I allow God to close the
distance between us. When I allow Him to display His humanity to me -
as weird as that can get sometimes, but more recently this has
happened when I've allowed Him to show me my own glory - the part of
me that was truly made in His image, the part of me that was fearfully
and wonderfully made, those parts of me that God made strong, a little
lower than the angels, and adopted into His kingdom, destined to judge
those same angels and take up a scepter and a crown...someday. The
glory that is mine not because I've earned but for no other reason
than that it pleased him to invest some of himself in me.

In that case - my own will can be good; to the degree to which my own
will is LIKE his, but not his. I'm not splitting hairs here. Allowing
for the possibility that my own will can be redeemed allows for the
possibility that God might leave certain decisions entirely up to me.
"Lord, what should I study in college? Should I marry this girl?
Should I let my kids read Harry Potter?"

If every decision we make has moral weight, then we need answers like
"Biology. No. Yes, but not until they're 15." and to do otherwise puts
us on the sin road. But if the authentic Christian experience contains
more subtlety and complexity than that, more nuance - than the ways in
which we learn to grapple with complex questions of good and evil, or
just good and better, become more important, and far more eternal,
than any given decision, including life changing decisions like
marriage, career and kids. Even those decisions with potentially
eternal consequences - being a jury member in a capital case for
example, are wholly different because our own hearts and minds and
motivations enter the mix. Learning to abide in his glow without being
subsumed by it, we're no longer rebellious puppets simply asked to
accept the hand in our backs but something far more interesting, far
more powerful, far, far more dangerous. We are little princes and
princesses practicing for our future roles.

"You are my friends...no longer do I call you servants...but I have
called you friends for all that I have heard from the father, I have
made known to you." John 15: 14:15

14 November 2005

Sympathy for Maureen Dowd

Please see:

The article cited above is pretty long but well worth reading. In it,
among other things, Ms. Dowd complains about the difficulty modern,
liberated women have finding husbands. There are about a hundred
different points in that article that I want to talk about but I reckon
I'll start with one...

Last week I attended the wedding of a good friend. This was a fellow
who had managed to keep his virtue for 32 years, and he managed to find
a bride who had done the same thing...but for a few fewer years. During
the service the pastor read a fairly common wedding passage, Eph
5:22-23, "Wives, be subject to your husbands...husbands love your
wives...etc, etc. But right there in verse 32 Paul says "...and the two
shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery."

Paul's a pretty bright guy and uses the term "mystery" precious few
times, and yet here it is being used to describe something that we've
come to take for granted. I'm not just talking about sex, the entirety
of marriage is encompassed here, but certainly sex is a big part of it.

The day before my friend's wedding, Rebekah and I celebrated our fifth
anniversary. Every year I make it a point to really look at what the
last year has brought to my marriage. How it's changed, how I've
changed, and what I might learn. Year after year I'm struck by how
integrated she has become in my life, how I not only love her more, but
my overall capacity to love grows. That as I love Rebekah I learn to
love God and vice versa. And each year I marvel at our ability to be
ever more intimate even when it seems that no more intimacy is

One flesh indeed.

It seems to me that at some point in the relatively recent past, women
believed that their virtue - sex - was a treasure. A thing to be kept,
and valued and protected. But then, perhaps it was part of the sexual
revolution, women were convinced that sex was a source of power. The
truism that men would do and say just about anything to get sex was
taken to mean that women could, and should, use sex as a way to get
what they wanted. It wasn't a treasure, it was a tool, and in fact the
very idea that it was special was just men trying to manipulate women
and control them...again.

Marriage is perhaps the single most civilizing invention ever. When a
society enforces a standard whereby sex occurs inside a marriage, and
only inside a marriage, where children are raised inside a marriage and
only inside a marriage, there is an incredibly powerful force that
supports healthy relationships, healthy kids, and peaceful society.

Part of the message from the sexual revolution was that there were no
healthy marriages - that it was all a scam. There was this "everybody
knows..." way of saying that practically every American family was
riven with sexual dysfunction, wife beating, child molestation and
repressed homosexuality. The image of Ozzie and Harriet stuffing
graveyards full of skeletons into their tract-home closets became a
cliche it was repeated so often in so many books and movies and TV
Specials. And the answer to all this hypocrisy was to cut sex free from
its fetters. To "respect" your sexuality by expressing every facet of
it with anybody you desire and in any circumstance that presented
itself. If you can't be with the one you love - love the one you're

Since then, sex has gone from a source of power to nothing more than
something to do. Casual sex, friends with privileges, fuck-buddies.
etc. etc. Sex is so prevalent on TV because the folks who make TV think
it's puritanical to assign any gravity at all to the act. Sure it can
still be used as a tool. Sure it can still be a source of great joy and
intimacy - but these are only there insofar as the consenting
participants put them there.

But they're dead wrong. There was a time when sex and marriage were
practically synonyms. It was that you got married to have sex in the
proper context, sex WAS marriage. A marriage ceremony wasn't anything
that ceremony was consummated. Sex had intrinsic power - the two were
made one flesh...this is a great mystery...a mystery we've ignored to
our detriment.

I think a great deal of the very real problem Ms. Dowd explores comes
down to the fact that modern, liberated women no longer see sex as a
treasure. (Now before anybody freaks out, I'm not saying that it's all
women's fault, but right now it's women's role that I'm exploring.) If
men know they can only get sex inside a marriage, they will marry - and
that marriage will usually change them for the better almost despite
themselves. But if sex is widely available without taking on that
responsibility, and with attractive, desirable women - then marriage
becomes less and less important. It's a buyer's market and now women,
who long to be wanted, find themselves competing with one another for
who can be the biggest hooch. It's like that dreadful show Elimidate.
And this trend is another thing Ms. Down complains about - not because
it's degrading to the poor ladies who feel it's the only way to get
married, but because she sees it as a step back from the "advances" her
generation made.

In the past, Ms. Dowd has suggested that men wont marry her because
she's too smart, too talkative, and/or too successful. She says, in so
many words, that men feel threatened by her. But if a man knows that he
can sleep with Ms. Dowd with no strings (and I'm not suggesting that's
the case, but it is with many in her cohort), then raise kids with some
woman far less troublesome...what's the reason to deal with Maureeen?
So many of the things that the sexual revolution sold to women as
benefits are actually destructive to what these same women truly

Maureen - I'm sorry for the situation you and your generation find
yourself in. Unfortunately, I don't think there is anything you can do
about it yourself. Even if any given 'liberated' women were to change
her attitude toward marriage and sex, it wouldn't matter. So you wont
give it up without a ring, but your sweatpants wearing neighbor will,
so a fellow will just go over there. Our culture will need to change on
a more fundamental level and come to value sex as magical again -
special - mystical at some level...a mystery. Like it or not, women are
the gatekeepers of that treasure. Men can learn to respect that
mystery, and play by the rules, but will always be like foxes guarding
the hen house if it's left up to us.