The First Time I Read Isaiah

I met a Mormon girl at History Bowl my senior year of high school. There were three Mormons in my school, but what made this particular girl fascinating was that she actually knew something about her religion. I had always been interested in studying other religions so I’d read a fair amount about Mormonism, and the ones I knew at school were largely clueless. They spent time with their families, went to church, and did some of the social stuff, but they knew surprisingly little about their religion or its history. The girl at History Bowl was educated.

What’s more, she was also cute, and I was determined to talk with her about her faith because I found that intelligence so exciting. I asked her out for coffee, and when she said she didn’t drink it, I quickly changed my suggestion to tea or hot cocoa. We ended up making plans to go ice skating, and when I went to pick her up at her parent’s house, her dad shanghaied me and we ended up talking about religion for several hours (and eating dinner) before we could get out the door.

One of the things we discussed was the book of Isaiah, which they (as a family) had been studying for quite some time. The father of the family had a huge book that attempted to explain Isaiah, and he said it was the one book in the Bible with which he really struggled. It just didn’t make any sense to him and was really difficult to read.

I was perplexed by this. Having just read the entire Bible for the first time, I blew through Isaiah without any problems. The Holy Spirit had acted as my interpreter and educator and I hadn’t stumbled for meaning. I’ll admit a few things here: I was young, foolhardy, and prideful; I may very well have been wrong and subsequently only thought I was understanding Isaiah; my Zondervan Study Bible was a big help in this endeavor. However, my circumstances led me to believe that my teaching was from God and my understanding of the Bible was solid.

During my senior year of high school, God took me in a powerful way and compelled me to read the Bible. I sat down in our living room one night and started in Genesis, shaken and enthralled. There was nothing else I could do, nothing to which I could turn my attention. When I tried to read for class, I would be distracted after a few sentences or a paragraph and have to pick up the Bible again. I’d read for six hours at a time, sleep, and then wake up and read more. I was inspired.

In six weeks I had read the text. Isaiah had seemed no more a challenge than any of the rest of it.

Since that time, the Holy Spirit has acted as my interpreter less. For the first couple of years after I became Christian, God held my hand and led me through whatever I faced. He taught, comforted, and 100% took care of me. Around my junior year of college, though, he let go. It was time for me to stand on my own, to make my own way in the world, and to put what I had learned towards making my own decisions without influence. God wasn’t going to tell me what to do anymore–he wanted me to decide for myself based on his teachings.

I don’t expect this reading of Isaiah to be as easy as when I was in high school. However, I’ve also learned a lot since then (my degree in religious studies, only six credit hours from completion, hasn’t been an entire waste), and my in-laws just bought me a new study Bible for my birthday, so I’m feeling pretty good.

I’m not going to try and explain all of Isaiah, nor am I going to write about every verse or even every chapter. I’m just going to read and, when something jumps out at me that I want to write about, I’ll say something.

I’m still not sure where to fit the podcast into all this. Doing a dedicated podcast without writing something for those who prefer to read feels odd to me. I think what I might do, vis-a-vis podcast, is take notes throughout my reading and then once a week do a sort of review. “Here’s what the last week of my study has been like.” I’ll write about specifics and podcast about the general overview. Sound good?

Not sure it does to me, but it sounds feasible. We’ll see if it happens.

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.

Living the dream

Some days, I have daydream conversations between myself and an antagonist where they point out all the stuff I’m doing wrong, or failing to do, or where I’m not doing what other people want. Sometimes these conversations are completely irrational and, at other times, they are inspired by conversations from my past. Regardless, the words in the antagonist’s mouth are always painful and intended to inflict shame, embarrassment, or self-loathing.

But as the summer progresses, I keep thinking, “Man, I’m living the dream!” When last semester ended, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. My internship at the church was ended and I knew that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I don’t really want to work at FnC at all any longer. I want something more, something bigger, and also something more personal. I want a deeper relationship with God than that work afforded me. I want to invest the time in opening myself to his Spirit.

When the semester ended and the summer began, I was walking through a forest. I couldn’t see very far because of the trees, and there were no real paths. There was plenty of room to walk, it was shady and cool, and I liked where I was alright… but I wasn’t yet where I wanted to be. I didn’t yet have a path on which to walk.

Now I have that path. I have a plan. I’m worshiping God more, singing and praying and praising him, and beginning to learn about him and his Spirit. I’m writing more, and my site is picking up steam. I’m happy with its layout, the rate at which I’m producing work, and my future plans. On a creative level, I am satisfied with my current level of activity.

It doesn’t matter what those voices say, those antagonistic dreams with their unrelenting expectations. I’m living the dream. I’m doing the work I need to do. I’m climbing to the mountaintop, and no one can take that away from me.