What a great way to start the break! There are a lot of things to praise God for, but I wanted to particularly focus on the sermons from Pastor James and what they meant to me in light of the loosely emphasized retreat theme: “Taking Ownership of Your Faith.” You’ll have to excuse me though … this is not well organized and I’m prone to ramble on certain topics more than others. This post is about getting thoughts on paper, especially since I was recently reading old posts and it made me realize how much I have grown.
As a member of the core team, I was able to imagine and shape a vision for the retreat regarding the biblical emphasis. We decided to stray from the common “Crossroads” theme and focus more on the fundamentals: fearing God, reading the Word, articulating and defending the faith, and prayer. We saw these truths as necessary and helpful for the souls of mature and young Christian’s alike.
I would say that Pastor James did an excellent job addressing each subject, but strangely, at least for myself, the theme of retreat took an interesting twist as we left on Wednesday afternoon. He did an excellent job addressing why we ought to read the Bible by establishing its authority in history, reliability, and most importantly, faith. The apologetics message was tremendously helpful for my soul in that I saw more clearly how it served to reveal to the unbeliever his/her blindness and provide a way for the Gospel to go forth. The sermon on prayer focused on praying for protection, a necessary and often overlooked portion of daily prayer. When these truths are reflected upon and lived out, they definitely characterize the life of one who takes ownership of their faith, but as retreat progressed, I saw all of the topics reinforcing a foundational reality in the life of a Christian – spiritual warfare is real and disciplines are necessary to combat our adversary.
Never before had I explicitly tied “taking ownership of your faith” to the reality of “spiritual warfare.” I want to flush out some of the things I shared and discussed with my group on the last day as to how all of these topics are intricately involved with each other in our battle against Satan. A lot of these things are rather arbitrary, but still necessary.
The first message was about the fear of God. Pastor James spoke from Matthew 17 on the Transfiguration, paying close attention the words of Peter as he sought to build three temples for the three figures he saw. My group discussed how easy it is to place Christ among godly men in action while in theory, he is Lord and savior. This point is especially vague, but was pertinent for me. The reason why we often fear men more than God is because we lack faith – we cannot sense our Savior thus it is easy to fear man more and reduce Jesus to nothing more than a casual friend. This is very true – the very essence of faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). I see two primary points being made here, one obvious, the other perhaps is more subtle:
- Faith is the essence of the Gospel. We trust that the perfect historical God-man sacrificed himself to bear our sins, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God to ever make intercession for those who would believe. In the Gospel we have a relationship with an unseen being who has spoken in these last days through His Son. First Peter touches on our imperishable inheritance protected by the power of God which is our living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead (I Peter 1:3-9). There is too much to be said on this … I figure you get the point.
- This is the point that became clearer to me at retreat. Faith is the conviction of things not seen … I feel like there is a dual meaning. Before we knew God we were friends with the world and enslaved to the prince of the air while being enemies of God. Just because we were ignorant of God did not mean he did not exist, so why do believers forget to affirm this divine exchange? Not only did we find a friend in Jesus, but we made an enemy of the devil. We became traitors, backstabbers you could say, to our former master. Christians forget that they made a new foe, one who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Now we do not place saving faith in the devil, but he is one who often goes unseen. The believer must trust the idea that the enemy is real and that an intense spiritual battle began the moment of regeneration. To believe in God and not in demonic forces in hindsight is lunacy, for scripture constantly reaffirms the spiritual nature of our fight.
The church today is much quicker to affirm faith in the supernatural work of the Gospel than to entertain thoughts of an invisible adversary bent on their spiritual destruction. Personally, this is a pretty hard thing to wrap my mind around, that concepts found in C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters could represent a portion of reality. Wormwood! Wormwood! The very fact that the Christian believes in the positive spiritual realm must mean he affirms the negative aspect as well. To fear God is not only to love Him but to make war with a newfound enemy. From the moment of conversion there have been flaming arrows volleyed at the believer. The armor of God is not a suggestion – it is a necessary imperative. If one is to take ownership of their faith they must recognize Satan as a force to be reckoned with. The Gospel compels the believer to recognize this truth.
Here is a supplementary video. This is one of my favorites, and by favorite I mean a rebuke that compels me to reexamine my life.
Means of Warfare, Part 1
Pastor James did not explicitly allude to the passages regarding the temptation of the Devil, but it is by no stretch of the imagination that a message on the Bible extends to the supernatural battleground. The passage in James 4:7, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” was constantly brought up. Upon observation we see how the Savior, to whose image we are to conform, resists the devil. We see Scripture wielded powerfully with discernment as Christ not only defends but also attacks with truth. This is perhaps the means we are most familiar with to thwarting the Devil as the story is well-known to most. There is a lot to be said here but in order to finish this post and get started on other writings, I’ll leave it at this.
Means of Warfare, Part II
Reason oftentimes seems like a separate field from the Bible when it comes to defending the faith. Is this true? I believe Paul contends that they can work together to make a powerful weapon against the enemy. Pastor James alluded to Romans 1:18, that the truth of God’s existence is suppressed in unrighteousness though it has been clearly revealed. I believe apologetics, especifically those of the presuppositional nature, can be very useful for, ironically, opening the eyes of the believer to his blindness. Consider the following passage from II Corinthians 10:3-5:
3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war (A)according to the flesh, 4for the (B)weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful (C)for the destruction of fortresses. 5We are destroying speculations and every (D)lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the (E)obedience of Christ”
First of all I love this passage because the words the English translators use sound so epic, especially verse five. That set aside I believe God intends apologetics as a biblically based method to convince the fool that has said in his heart that there is no God, that they are wrong. Obviously apologetics cannot save but as we see from our next passage, it can begin to shed light on the glorious Gospel. Let us look at II Corinthians 4:3-6
3And even if our (G)gospel is (H)veiled, it is veiled to (I)those who are perishing, 4in whose case (J)the god of (K)this world has (L)blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the (M)light of the gospel of the (N)glory of Christ, who is the (O)image of God. 5For we (P)do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “(Q)Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has (R)shone in our hearts to give the (S)Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Pastor James made the helpful assertion that, again, apologetics serve as a tool to help the non-believers recognize their blindness. By destroying speculations and lofty things raised up against the clear revelation of God we might loosen Satan’s hold and allow for the truth to seep into their darkness. Today I finished reading and annotating the debate Pastor James mentioned between Bahnsen and Stein. This is the transcript. If you did not go to retreat, reading through the debate will give you a good sense of the main ideas communicated. The core of his argument was God-centered and necessary; the transcendental position asserts that no absolute truth or universal laws can be formed apart from God. I am confident that Bahnsen’s reasoning was founded in the unchanging truths of Scripture but with a philosophical accent. I tried to assess both arguments fairly and I came away in disbelief of the atheist system. There is a sense that the veil is too thick for human reason to grasp. Yes all world-views are inevitably circular in their reasoning but we can trust the Bible as we learned in the previous message.
I know this section seems a bit hazy because I am not explaining things well. I figure there will be a post dedicated to the subject down the road. Hopefully you guys can get a sense of the spiritual nature of apologetics – that last paragraph was mostly for me to see if I could convey any of the understanding gleaned from the debate transcript. Apologetics, though it cannot save in itself, can be helpful to heighten the bad news so the good news can provide a saving paradigm shift.
Means of Warfare, Part III
The last message on praying for divine protection is what initially altered my perception of taking the retreat toward the direction of recognizing spiritual warfare as central to taking ownership of the Christian life. There is no need for urgency if there is no fight but the Christian fight is constantly characterized as a race and a fight. There is a great need for perseverance, not only in life, but especially in prayer. Pastor James brought up the necessity of fervent prayer for spiritual protection from the phrase, “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
I was particularly struck by the illustration he used to explain half-hearted prayer which reminded me once again of the seriousness of this battle. He laid out of a setting of one individual versus a large troop of enemies. “Urgent prayer” for spiritual protection is often a mere slap when a machine gun or some other epic weapon is required. Have you trials and temptations? Have you sin that clings so closely that you believe there is no victory? Pray to God! Do you have more faith in the power of Satan and sin or in the precious blood spilt by one who has a greater name than all things? Does your church struggle with certain vices? Let us pray!
Here is another edifying video. It is another one of my favorites on Youtube.
Closing Thoughts & Exhortation
There is not much else to be said and a lot of things have been left unsaid. I apologize for the disorganized scatterbrained thoughts which represent but a small piece of my thoughts. Most of this dawned on me while my group discussed during the last session, most of which I was able to share while other developed since Wednesday. I figured I would write them down before my forgetfulness causes me to be particularly unfaithful to the preaching of God’s Word. I realize I do not remember much from retreat freshmen year … Nonetheless!
Who are the ones who call themselves believers? Let them not only take up their cross but also their spiritual armor, for without it there is no such thing as perseverance apart from recognizing the reality of battle. I know for myself I need to plead with God to open my eyes to the reality of this warfare which frankly, is often beyond my experience. As one who trusts in the Word, I run in a two-fold manner – (1) toward the cross and the hope of heaven (2) away from sin. It is easy to fall into laziness and apathy, which are spiritual symptoms of spiritual attack. Let us call to mind the Gospel and have faith in the promises of Scripture to deliver us from this roaring lion. Let us pick up the means that God has provided for us to defend and attack, in particular the Word, biblical reason (essentially a Christian world view), and prayer for protection. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Let’s do it!