Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

Four years ago I really pissed Satan off. I had sinned, as happens on a regular basis, and he was using my failing against me. ((You might be wondering, “Were you having a conversation with Satan? o.O ” and the answer is yes. Before I was Christian, I spoke with Satan often, though I didn’t know it was Satan at the time for what it’s worth. Satan had first led me to believe he was an angel (and female), and then deceived me into thinking he was the Goddess as Wiccans understand deity. For several years after I became Christian, he would still rear up occasionally to torment me, though that hasn’t happened in some time.)) “See what a failure you are? God will never accept you, and neither will your friends. You’ll always be alone. You’ll always be worthless. You’ll never be able to overcome.”

Angry, I fired back at him. “Try all you want, but nothing you say matters. You’ve already lost, and now you’re just scrambling to take others down with you. You’re a pitiful, inexcusable worm that doesn’t deserve even the memory of the light.” Or something to that effect. I was definitely not the loving Christian God calls me to be. ((I truly believe that Christians are supposed to treat everyone with love, and I’ve come to pity Satan much like Frodo comes to pity Gollum. That doesn’t mean I really treat him with love, but I recognize that I ought to.))

“You’ll regret this night,” Satan replied, and was gone. A bit shaken, but mostly smug, I went to bed.

A few hours later I woke to the sound and feeling of earth-shaking thunder, and not thirty seconds later the tornado sirens went off. I was terrified, more frightened than I had been since I was a child, partly because I had just moved to a new second-story apartment and partly because I knew this was my fault. I had pissed the prince of this world off and he had pulled up a terrible, tornadic storm.

Freaking out, I paced back and forth in my apartment and then asked God what to do.

“Walk with me.”

I froze, mind spinning in circles like a tiny dog chasing its tail, and then jerkily pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, a windbreaker, and my cowboy boots before going out into the torrent. I felt like my life was completely in Jesus’ hands, and that in addition to the devil, God wasn’t too pleased with me either. His anger was palpable, and I walked in fear of my life.

But I didn’t walk alone. Jesus was with me, and I began to pray powerfully and out loud against the storm. I was buffeted by winds and incredibly sharp hail, soaked completely, and rushing on adrenaline for three hours before the storm really abated. It had passed, and I felt like I had taken an important step in my relationship with God.

1. I had learned fear and respect

Don’t whack a wasps’ nest for no damned reason. ((This is an important example for me because wasps are one of the few things on this earth that terrify me. I hate wasps.)) Demonic forces are our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we should challenge or threaten them without forethought. Rather, we must “put on the full armour of God,” a phrase that is talked about so much that it seems to have lost all meaning for most people. They hear, “This is a life and death struggle,” and they nod and smile and say, “Yuss, yuss, we don’t want none of the devil in our lives.”

Most Americans don’t know what it is to be on the edge of death. Most haven’t even been really threatened, and a lot haven’t known anyone who violently died. If they did, in most cases it was a sudden accident like a car crash, not murder. People fear some things, but they don’t fear Satan. At best, they think God will protect them 100%. ((I think we often assume God cares about our bodily comfort more than our eternal souls.)) At worst, they simply don’t believe he exists.

God tells us it’s OK to fear, and even that it’s a good thing. Be humble about challenging the demonic, because you are weak. You have no power. You’re nothing compared to them. Be afraid for your loved ones, and of the suffering that may (and probably will) occur because you challenge the rule of those who set themselves up as rulers.

God will work through you and help you fight, but it’s God’s power. Satan and those with him are fallen angels, but they’re still angels. It’s important to not forget.

God will honour this humility, and he will take care of you. Be not proud. ((As a side/end note: The only protection against the fear of your life about to be taken is to have already given it up.))

2. I learned to trust in God

God said walk, and I did. It was scary, but he was with me. I once thought I could fight Satan with my own power, and I learned that my power was nothing compared to the devil. God is sovereign, and if he wills it, I will prevail.

If he doesn’t, I will fall. That’s fine too.

In a sense, it’s the only option available to me. In another, it’s wonderfully full of love. God has never let me down. He’s always right there, holding my hand or walking in step. When I shouted at the storm, his stern countenance was visible from the corner of my eye. His feet pounded the sidewalk beside my own.

When I lay in the dark, sick and alone and afraid, he didn’t leave me.

I’m afraid God will leave me. He never has. I won’t take that for granted.

3. I learned how to fight

God gives us power, an authority I don’t really understand, but I know two things about it.

  1. It involves being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. It involves direct command, rather than a requesting prayer.

Learning how to really open myself to the Holy Spirit is one of the more complex things, but it seems to come easier when threatened. Someday I’ll have to puzzle this out so I can write more about it.

Authoritative prayer is a bit easier to describe though, and it involves praying in the power of God rather than praying out of supplication. By way of example, compare the following two prayers:

Supplicative Prayer

Dear God, we ask that you stop this storm. Protect the people in this city and place your hand over it. Stop the tornadoes and the lightning, and drive fear from the hearts of the people. Jesus, don’t let us fall to this threat. Oh God, be with us.

Authoritative Prayer

I pray against the wind and the lightning, that it will not bow this city. We will not succumb to the fear you would instill in us, Satan; you cannot take our faith, you cannot separate us from God. I pray against the tornadoes and the hail, that they will not damage property and be a burden to the faithful. In the power of the almighty Christ, I pray against you, and I will not be shaken.

I’m trying to remember roughly what went down four years ago, so this is far less powerful than it was then, but hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusion

If you’re going to engage in spiritual warfare, you need to know what you’re up against. If you’re not afraid, then you are ignorant.

Someone could make all kinds of statements like, “Well, if you really had faith, you wouldn’t be afraid.” I’m tempted to even pursue the Buddhist line of reasoning that if we just released all worldly attachment, we wouldn’t fear and would be stronger.

But God designed us to love others and to form relationships, so we sort of have it wired into us to care about the well being of others. In this war, I’m not so much afraid for myself as I am for my wife and family, or for my friends. Everyone’s in this whether they know it or not. This deal isn’t just for those who actively engage–every human soul was part of this battle from the moment Adam and Eve picked the fruit.

Fear shouldn’t consume us. God is our strength, and his strength is great. But we shouldn’t be stupid either. Know what you’re up against and recognize what the stakes are. Recognize the fear, and never let go of your faith.

Fight well.

Lighting a Signal Fire

Halfway through my vacation, Eric lent me the concluding two novels to the Sword of Truth series. I always enjoy epic fantasy fiction novels because I can escape to a world of adventure where good outwits evil and the shadow falls. I get caught up in these stories and find myself wishing for an epic of my own, to be a hero in a story.

At the same time, I curse my repetitive foolishness. Not many people are left who knew me when I was younger, or are familiar with the details of my youth, but “adventurous” is a good way to describe it. Adventures aren’t generally fun–they’re sleepless nights, constant threats, and always filled with uncertainty. And yet, my peaceful life for the last several years (since I came to college in 2003) leaves me wanting something more. I don’t know why–I know it’s stupid to want those adventures back–but part of me yearns to be part of something bigger than myself despite the consequences.

The worst part of this ambivalence is that God is clearly calling me to something other than what I’m doing right now. As I sat on the plane somewhere over the Rocky Mountains, I whispered mentally that I wished I had something to do, something to fight, and God replied, “You do, if you would just do it.”

For the last year or two now, I have been hearing God calling me back to a fight I left off when I became Christian. Prior to my salvation, I tried to do good things, though I was doing them the wrong way. I was relying on myself rather than God, and subsequently my best efforts turned to ash. They were twisted and tainted by Satan. When I accepted Jesus into my life, he told me quite clearly that I had to leave that life, and that fight, behind. I was to trust in him now, and he would take care of me.

The fight to which I keep referring obliquely, because I can’t find a simple, non-dramatic, and yet evocative and honest way to refer to it, is a fight against the devil, evil spirits, and demonic forces. In our society, even acknowledging the existence of demons causes many to question a person’s sanity. A claim that one is, or has been, involved with fighting them is cause for even greater concern. Such a claim stems from either madness or delusions of grandeur.

I don’t really like it any more than anyone else does, but before I was Christian it was one of the things I did. There were demons, and vampires, ((Vampires are absolutely nothing like what most people think–I’ll be writing about them at some point)) poltergeists and spirits, ((I’ve begun to think of these as kami to help explain them)) and I could see and interact with them. I could harness, fend off, or help them. There wasn’t a whole lot of soul-searching or thought involved with the matter, just as we don’t have to think much about walking or talking. It took a bit of cognizance, but became a part of who I was.

Things aren’t so simple when you’re Christian. Relying on God is a lot harder than relying on yourself, and my methods are useless now that I’m not a witch. A Christian has to go about everything completely differently. And at least in the US, it feels like there’s a lot of social stigma to even considering this matter, let alone actually engaging in spiritual warfare. It’s uncomfortable to write and talk about, so I found myself pulled between three different things.

  1. God is now calling me to engage in spiritual warfare and fight against the demons, devils, and other spiritual beings that struggle against the Kingdom of God.
  2. I’m not entirely sure how to do this, and I’m not entirely certain I even should be. This despite the fact that God has been pretty clear that I should be… so what is it within me that resists? In addition, I can’t help but feel that I’m not good enough for this task, or to be serving God in this way. I am not free of sin, and I’m not that strong. I don’t memorize the Bible, and I’m not picture-perfect. Who am I to do this?
  3. I worry about the social stigma. This isn’t something that can be done in secret–rather, we are called to practice our faith openly–if for no other reason than that I need guidance and support. But I have a regular job working with computers at a university and a decent amount of friends who don’t believe in any of this, both Christians and non-Christians alike. Despite everything, it’s hard to not worry about what others will think.

At the end of it all, though, I do know a fair amount. I fought a number of demons before I became Christian and I have encountered several more in the last couple of years since I started opening myself to the world again. For years I kept my spiritual ears and eyes closed to that world, fearing what God was calling me to, but my spiritual gifting is in discernment. Closing myself to the negative spiritual aspects in this world closes me off, at least somewhat, to the positive as well. God can only do so much in my life when I’ve got my fingers in my ears and I’m screaming la la la.

Three weeks ago at church, I felt a darkness begin to fill the sanctuary, pressing in on us. Closing my eyes, I opened myself to the Holy Spirit and commanded the darkness begone, stating that we would not be closed in, we would not be oppressed and smothered. The Spirit slammed into me and out through the sanctuary, through the area downtown where our church was, and throughout the entire city. On that day when I was in the Spirit of the Lord, I could see everything in Springfield, in regards to the spiritual realm.

When I was a witch, it was relatively easy to slip into the weave, the flow of magic that blankets, permeates, fills and is the entire world. These days, I don’t know whether to still call that magic or whether to rightly think of it as the Holy Spirit, but that was my understanding of it at the time. When I was joined with the magic in that way, I could sense and feel everything, travel the world over with ease, and impose my will with great power.

Joining with the Holy Spirit is a very similar experience, and yet infinitely more pure and… good. With God guiding and instructing, pouring into me and overflowing me with goodness, I was at peace. The darkness fled before his light. That’s how it is supposed to be.

It was like God was saying, “You can do this. You are the one ((Though not necessarily the only one, by any means–just one among many)) I want to do this. You must do this.”

Two weeks ago in church, a young man came in late and walked directly to the first row of chairs, sitting in the seat nearest the aisle. As he walked past me, I felt a disturbance. Not like the hairs raising on the back of my neck, but more just like a red flag going up, or a feeling of tightening in my gut. There was a demon influencing him, twisting him, and I immediately began looking for ways to tackle and subdue him if it became necessary. With my broken collarbone, I was nervous and worried, but I’d do what needed be done if the time came.

This young man soon raised his hand and interrupted the pastor. Speaking loudly, the man denounced the pastor’s teaching, having it completely backwards and confused, ((Joel had heard/understood the opposite of what the pastor was saying and shouted that the temple of God must be kept pure and holy and free from such sinful teachings.)) and refused to be placated when the pastor addressed him by name (Joel) and said they could talk about it later.

An elder from the church came and pleaded with Joel to step outside, eventually convincing him to leave. Worried for the elder’s safety (though what I’d be able to do, I’m still not sure), I followed them out and watched them from a distance. They had left the building, but Joel soon returned with the elder trailing him, not laying a hand on him but telling him firmly not to go back into the sanctuary.

Joel kept repeating that he couldn’t let the church be pulled down this way, couldn’t let it be fouled, and I asked Joel if he’d sit down and explain it all to me. What was it that was upsetting him? What did he perceive was incorrect with Tim’s sermon?

The demon itself had fled as soon as Joel raised his hand to interrupt the pastor earlier, but its influence was clearly the work of years worth of manipulation. Joel seemed to calm a bit, and eventually went into the sanctuary (interrupting the sermon again, from the back this time) to apologize for the interruption and bless everyone there before he left the building for good.

It turns out the elder was Joel’s father, and Joel’s brother was there as well. Joel’s father thanked me for my help and commented that I had a gift to calm him down as I had, and he was very impressed with me. I replied (awkwardly with a bit of stammering),

“I hope you won’t take offense at this, but that boy is being oppressed by a devil.”

“You’re right,” his father replied with a weary smile. “We’ve come close to it a few times, in fact. You’re very perceptive to have picked up on that.”

When everyone had returned to the sanctuary, I went to wash my hands and, at the same time, blessed some water and sprinkled the area. I then went to my knees in front of the door and prayed forcefully.

“I am your enemy now, demon. Know that I will be coming for you.”

It was time to light a signal fire. I knew what I had been called to–had known it for years–but surely I wasn’t the only one. When I was a young witch, manipulating the wind and the weather across an entire continent, I assumed I was the only one with such powers in the world. It was a delight to learn I was wrong, that there were others just like me and that I was not so alone as I thought. Surely, within Christianity, there must be others, so I want to find them. I want to meet them.

Christianity is not a faith of hermitude and solitariness. We are called to join in a community of believers, and that’s what I want. At the end of the church service I went up to the front to pray, as everyone is invited to do. To the two gentlemen who came up to pray with me, I said,

“I don’t know what God wants us to pray, but this is what’s going on.”

I told them about how God had been calling me for years, and about my gifting in discernment. I shared the increased pressure and certainty of the previous few weeks, and how I felt like the time had come to step out and do something. I expressed my concern in regards to stigmatization in addition to my worry for my wife, April. When you set yourself against evil as I intended to do, evil fights back, and there’s not really any way to keep her out of the fight.

We prayed then, for strength and humility, for wisdom and patience, and out of thanks for the opportunities God gives us. I am blessed that Vineyard is a church accepting of the Gifts.

Suffice it to say that I’m pretty nervous about lighting this signal fire. While it may call allies, it will certainly also mark your position to enemies, and I’m not all that excited about putting myself out there again. At the same time, God has called me, and I feel an obligation to do something. I can see things others can’t, and I know how to fight. How can I keep hiding when people need help?

At least this time I won’t be so alone. I have Jesus fighting with me, and whatever else happens, nothing can take me from him.

Romans 8:37-39

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This post is a first step. I want to let people know my intentions and invite them to talk with me, ask questions, or join in on this work. It’s not for everyone–we are all called to different things and God has gifted us for different purposes–so if spiritual warfare isn’t your gig, that’s fine. The body is diverse for a reason.

A big focus of this blog in the future, and of my life and time, is going to be dealing with spiritual warfare. Most of what there is on the ‘Net on the topic is ambiguous at best and oftentimes completely misinformed or founded upon ignorance. I don’t have much to contribute, but I want to write what I can to help others who are working towards the same goals as I am.

Please be praying for April and me, and for our church. Blessed be ((These two words always amuse me because a common exclamation or means of saying goodbye for Wiccans is to say, “Blessed Be.” I always wonder if it’s just coincedence.)) the name of the Lord.

Maybe church has become too inviting

Bear with me, I’m just thinking out loud here.

Though I am generally a rational person, there are many instances in which I rely on my experience and feelings/intuition. If you were to classify my personality, it would fall into the stylized category of INTJ, or Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging, and the description(s) is fairly accurate: I think things through a great deal, but I also trust myself and am pretty self-confident. Part of this intuition, particularly in the realm of theology, comes from the spiritual gift of discernment that God has given me, by which I can discern both the correctness of a teaching and the difference between spirits. In very brief laymen’s terms, I can tell the difference between something from God, something from humanity, and something from Satan.

I can likewise see and interact with angels and devils, though occurrences are rare. And whether it’s due to my past experience or my ineptness, I tend to meet devils with far more regularity than I encounter angels. ((As an interesting sidenote, I generally find devils to be alone and angels to be in crowds, though there are always exceptions. Not sure why this is, though I could hazard some guesses.)) I recently encountered a devil in a rather unexpected place, however: a traditional, Sunday morning church service.

The sermon that morning happened to be on spiritual warfare, a subject not often preached, and I was surprised to sense the devil in the congregation. They aren’t, as you might imagine, visible to the naked eye, but this one was quite bold. It was clearly present in the sanctuary with no fear of remonstration or attack, subtly working its ways among the attendants. As the minister stated that many people in the congregation probably didn’t even believe in devils despite the stories of them in the Bible, I heard it whispering to people, strengthening their disbelief. “Devils, pah… we don’t hold with that nonsense. I’ve never seen one, and neither has anyone else. If there’s a Devil, it’s Man and War, etc. It’s all just metaphor. We don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the greatest victory of Satan was convincing people that he doesn’t exist.

The worst part was when I confronted the devil, asking what it was doing there.

“I was invited,” it replied with a sardonic grin. The truly frustrating part is that this is the second time I’ve received this response in a church setting from a devil.

At any rate, it made me wonder if our Protestant churches haven’t become too inviting. In our bid to be seeker sensitive, to welcome everyone regardless of creed, and to ask relatively few questions or make any demands of parishioners, we often invite in those we would do better to keep outside. I’m not saying we should bar our doors from unbelievers, the poor, or most any individual–since this sort of argument has been used to rationalize blocking all sorts of people from church in the past, I want to make it clear that I advocate no such policy–but I wonder if we aren’t harming ourselves with our open-door policies.

I don’t have a clear solution, but my thoughts as inspired by this experience are as follows: maybe the Catholic Church had some decent reasons for requiring everyone to subscribe to the same core beliefs, to go through classes and professions of faith, and to undergo some testing before being admitted to the church; for excluding people from certain practices at the church before undertaking the sarcraments and such; and maybe our (by which I mean mainstream Protestants) disbelief and avoidance of all things spiritual, including the giftings of God and spiritual warfare, are leaving us vulnerable to Satan. If I had gone to the senior pastor of that church and shared my concern about devils being present in the sanctuary, I am fairly confident he would have been very kind, accepting, and patronizing. He might have let me consecrate the building. I doubt he would have really believed or done anything himself about the matter.

It is the flock that is hurt by this, so I feel like we should be doing a better job to protect them. We, by which I mean mainstream Protestantism as I have encountered it, are not doing a good job training our parishioners for spiritual warfare, and I certainly haven’t seen the leadership of the Protestant churches training themselves to protect the parishioners on their behalf. I don’t know where the Catholic Church stands on this sort of thing anymore, but I operate under the assumption that they’re more active about it than Protestant churches as a general rule.

I’m not about to become Catholic, but I again find myself thinking: they’ve been around for many centuries longer than Protestant churches, so maybe we should be taking some lessons from them on some matters? ((In addition, I’ve been learning some things about Judaism and their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible that answer a lot of questions Protestants ask, yet for some reasons these teachings haven’t made their way into Sunday morning sermons.)) I don’t know where the line should be drawn, or how, but I think we should at least be more aware that there’s a friggin’ war going on. If you duck your head in the sand, all you do is provide an easy, non-moving target.