Dear church family,
I hope you are doing well today and rejoicing in the great mercy of our Lord Jesus! He rules all things for your good today. All praise and thanks be to Him!
It’s hard to believe that today is October 1. Nine months of 2014 are already behind us. Our never-failing Shepherd has proven to us again this year how great His mercy is toward broken people like us. With just a quarter of the year remaining, I am excited to see what He has in store for us in the coming days.
Yet as sheep we must remember that we have enemies. Jesus told us as much: “The thief comes only to kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10.10). Some of those enemies are obvious. When we hear of brothers and sisters in Christ driven from their homes, raped, imprisoned, or killed, we recognize that this world is no friend to grace. Much closer to home, we hear God’s Word and see how far short we fall. It bears repeating: our biggest enemy is often the person who stares back at us in the mirror.
But there’s a third enemy, one we often forget, or at least underestimate.
It’s not trendy to say that we believe there is a real adversary, whom the Scriptures identify as Satan. In our scientific age, anything that smacks of unexplainable supernaturalism is met with incredulity or even derision. CS Lewis put it diabolically well in Screwtape’s advice to the younger demon Wormwood:
“The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that he therefore cannot belief in you” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 32).
Perhaps that explains why we think of ISIS as Christianity’s greatest enemy. Or maybe it is our sinful flesh that concerns us most. But we neglect the third enemy, the only one who was present in the Garden and the only one that (unless our Lord returns) will carry on after we’re gone.
We know Paul’s words, and yet forget them. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6.12). We don’t know precisely what the rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil are. We recognize black flags over former church buildings, and know something of the evil within. But this third enemy? It is admittedly hard to conceptualize. But at the end of the day, our neglect of Satan and his strategies is worse than obtuse.
It is foolish.
On my day off yesterday God reminded me of these realities. Yes, we have enemies in the world and in the mirror, but ultimately our struggle is not against flesh and blood. It is against Satan and his cohorts that we wrestle. No doubt they will use other people and our own sinful ways to trip us up. But our battle is ultimately in the unseen realm. Remembering the spiritual nature of our warfare will make us prayerful, for we know we could never contend successfully against such an opponent apart from the grace and power of God.
So why write you about this?
- To remind you. We are not a religious organization or a fraternal society or a community center. We are a church of the living God, a church that Jesus himself is building and against which the gates of hell ultimately stand no chance. But hell isn’t going down without a fight. And so we take seriously our call to action: “to love the captive soul and to rage against the captor.” We’re not playing a religious game. We are serious about our mission: “with the sword that makes the wounded whole, we will fight with faith and valor.”
- To urge you. If you, like I, needed this reminder, then the email was worth it. But when the Scriptures adjust our thinking, the result is a change in our actions (cf. James 1.22). So with this email I ask each of you to take one concrete step: please commit one day this month to fast and pray. Pick any day that works for you, and in place of your meals that day please pray for the gospel’s advance in our hearts and in our city. Of course, please seek medical advice to determine whether you can fast for a day. But please pray. No one of us can meet our challenges—nor can all of us together. We need the Spirit to work powerfully and unmistakably in our midst. So let us pray.
- To inspire you. What prompted my reflection yesterday was a series of unexplainable events, situations that just didn’t make sense, matters that had the aroma of something beyond mere life in a fallen world. That’s when Ephesians 6.12 came to mind. The struggle is real, the opposition daunting, the stakes high. And yet Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16.18). I cannot explain precisely what you as an individual and we as a church are going through. I cannot say how much is related to spiritual warfare versus our own sinful hearts or the opposition of the world around us. But I do know this: Jesus has overcome the world, Jesus reigns in our hearts, and Jesus will defeat Satan. No enemy—nothing—can stand against that great Shepherd of the sheep.
I believe the Spirit is preparing us for something, though I know not what. I’d love to think it is a season of growth and mission, but it more likely will be a time of testing and suffering. No matter what our Shepherd has for us, it will be good because He is good. And in the end His good purposes will endure, for the joy of all His people (even those who do not yet know Him) and the glory of His name.
So let’s do battle with our enemies, confident in that great Shepherd of the sheep.
This letter was sent to members and friends of The First Baptist Church in the City of New York via email on Wednesday, October 1, 2014.