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Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

At Christ Community, we want to be a local church that helps you connect Sunday to Monday — a church that helps you follow Jesus more faithfully where you live, work, and play every day. 

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve found that setting aside time each day to read the Bible, pray, and listen for God’s voice is the keystone habit that shapes my life more than any other. 

But it’s not easy. I find myself wondering what I should read in my Bible next or thinking I want to pray but feel stuck in a rut. 

Whether you’ve been connecting with Jesus for years or just getting to know him, I wonder if you’ve found yourself stuck in similar ways. 

Here are three resources (plus a bonus) that have helped add depth and new life to my times of connecting with Jesus each day.

 

theFormed.life

TheFormed.life website and the companion journals available at any Christ Community campus provide a daily framework for reading the Scriptures, prompts for prayer, and practices for connecting with God and serving others. TheFormed.Life is tied to the current sermon series, so you have the benefit of connecting with God individually and gathering and connecting with others on Sundays who are focusing their attention on the same texts and practices.  

 

Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship

Have you ever had the experience of needing to write an important email, paper, or proposal and found yourself paralyzed by the “blank page”? You stare at that empty word-processing screen with the cursor winking at you, not knowing how to start. Sometimes our moments of connecting with Jesus can feel the same way. 

A bit like a conversation starter at a gathering of friends or family, a resource like Be Thou My Vision can serve as a jumping-off place to get the “talk” going. It is arranged in a monthly cycle of Scripture, prayers, and historic creeds. It has been a regular companion for me since it was published. I don’t always have time to do every element included each day. But it is a gift to sit down with my coffee, open the book and start with prayers and Scripture right in front of me on the page.

 

Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year

This tool is similar to the previous resource but designed for families to use together. It has a two-page spread for all 365 days of the year that allows you to open the book with absolutely zero preparation and use it with your kids around the dinner table or at bedtime. 

It employs wonderful pedagogical techniques and is developmentally appropriate across a wide span of ages. My 4, 6, and 9-year-olds enjoy it but it is also interesting and encouraging for my wife and me.

 

Bonus: When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer

This last resource isn’t like the others. It isn’t a daily resource but provides a beautiful and compelling picture of the “why” behind connecting with God. I highly recommend this resource if you find yourself wanting to pray or not feeling drawn to God in prayer. Maybe there was a season in life where you “felt” God and connected with him easily but now feel he is distant or that you don’t desire him as you used to. 

Early in the book, the author, Jan Johnson, who worked closely with Dallas Willard, warns of the danger of conflating devotion to tools (like the three listed above) with devotion to God. She writes,

Eventually we develop a devotion to the tools. Persistent and regular use of certain activities becomes a guarantee for so-called success. For example, people say, “Read your Bible and pray. You’ll be fine.” So we push ourselves to finish today’s reading plan or at least get to the bottom of the page of a reading, instead of seeing the goal as to meet with God today and Bible reading as a means to that end. Essentially we are trusting tools and our human efforts to use them well, instead of trusting a loving, self-giving God who listens attentively to us and is eager to do whatever is needed to draw us deeper into a discipling relationship with the Trinity. Differentiating between devotion to God and devotion to spiritual tools may seem trivial, but this was a primary difference between Jesus and the Pharisees.

 

When I read that I immediately recognized myself. There have been many times in my life when completing the reading plan or working through each page of the devotional, liturgy, or journal became the functional goal. What’s the result then? When I succeed, I feel good about myself. When I’m failing, I feel bad about myself. In both cases, I end up focused on myself rather than enjoying Jesus enjoying and loving me. That’s the goal of all these tools. They are to be a means to the end of knowing and being known by the One who made you and gave his life to rescue you.

My hope is that these resources will help you find deeper joy in knowing and being known by the Triune God of the universe. He loves you and he is waiting for you. Go to him today.

How to Rediscover Lost Values with MLK

How to Rediscover Lost Values with MLK

One of my personal traditions is to listen to my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr speech each year on MLK weekend. While not as popular as “I Have a Dream” or “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” my favorite speech, entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values,” embodies the compelling moral vision of King and the broader African-American church that we celebrate each year on MLK day. This speech was actually a sermon delivered at Detroit’s Second Baptist Church before the Montgomery bus boycott that elevated him to a national stage. It reminds us that before King became the renowned activist and public persona, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was his deep faith commitments of the latter that propelled him to become the former. The sermon’s correct diagnosis and searing critique of modern western culture’s moral relativism, in both theory and practice, is as relevant today in 2023 as it was in 1954.

King begins by asserting that, as modern people, “the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live.” The profound problems we face in our world today cannot be solved by more information or more economic resources, both of which we have more of today than any society in human history. No, the problem lies within the hearts and souls of human beings and results from leaving behind the value of there being a God-given moral fabric to our universe. King likens this to the story of Joseph and Mary accidentally leaving behind Jesus as a boy in Jerusalem while returning to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52). If we are to move forward as a society, we must go back to rediscover these foundational spiritual and moral values.

The problem is that we have forgotten that God created our universe with moral laws every bit as true as physical laws. Even if you don’t understand Newtonian physics, you know that if you jump off a tall building the law of gravity means that you will fall to the ground and die. Certain things are right and certain things are wrong, in every time, place, and culture, precisely because God made it so… 

It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China! It was wrong in two thousand BC, and it’s wrong in nineteen fifty-four AD! It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it. It’s wrong! It always will be wrong! And it always has been wrong. It’s wrong in every age, and it’s wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. 

Yet, King points out, we think we can disobey God’s moral laws and not face the consequences. He says that we live by an 11th commandment that supersedes the other 10… “Thou shalt not get caught.” You can break any command you want, so long as you don’t get caught and face negative consequences for it. We have deceived ourselves and forgotten the biblical truth that “You shall reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7). This is the result of forgetting the moral foundation of the universe, and the God who upholds it.

At this point you may be amening just like the congregation at Detroit Second Baptist back in 1954. This is when King shifts the focus from our broader culture to the church. He observes that even believers can unintentionally forget God and leave him behind, just like Jesus’ parents accidentally forgot him back in Jerusalem on their way back to Nazareth. It is easy for Christians to “pay lip service to God and not life service.” We create false gods out of materialism or political ideologies that affirm us and how we want to live, and we use those idols to distract ourselves from the real God of Scripture who places moral demands on us and holds us accountable. 

All too often, Christians are passionate about either personal holiness or communal justice, while neglecting the other. King and others in the African-American Christian tradition show us there is a strong moral foundation that should lead to both. There is much the broader church can learn from them. We should seek to know the God who created this moral universe, and follow him by his grace.

This MLK weekend, I encourage you to take some time to read or listen to one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons. Let’s remind ourselves of the moral foundation of God’s created order, and how we follow the God who upholds it.

 

More Resources:

Rediscovering Lost Values

Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember

With the beginning of a new year we often pause from the hustle and bustle of busy schedules to reflect on the speedy passage of time. As the years pile on, we increasingly marvel how the past year has flown by with such breakneck speed. We hear in our hearts with increased beckoning the psalmist prayerful words, Lord teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart to wisdom.  Seeking to live more wisely in the new year, we may consider priority adjustments that require attention; life pace that needs slowing, more consistent sabbath rests, curiosities that need fostering, or relationships that call for greater deepening. Yet, there is a reflective question that we may overlook, one a life of wisdom requires. What may we have forgotten that we dare not forget?

 

The Peril of Forgetfulness 

We often call them “senior moments,” those frustrating gaps in our memory as we age. It may be someone’s name we just can’t recall, a computer password that simply has vanished from our memory, or an important anniversary date. Forgetting is embarrassing, unpleasant, and even annoying, but it can also prove perilous. A missed deadline can lead to an IRS audit, a doctor’s prescription not taken can lead to hospitalization, a burning candle left lit can burn an entire house to the ground.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face is in forgetting God’s manifest presence, his bedrock promises and his great faithfulness to us.

Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the evil one’s temptation strategy to get us to forget God in our daily lives. Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Creation and Fall, Temptation, Two Biblical Studies: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.”

Forgetfulness is not something we take as seriously as we ought, yet it may well be the most perilous obstacle to our spiritual formation in Christlikeness. Just a cursory glance of the Bible reminds us over and over again of the peril of forgetting as well as the crucial importance of remembering. In this new year, as we seek to live an increasingly wise life, perhaps few things are more important than remembering to remember. What do we need to remember to remember? What must we dare not forget?

 In a very dark moment in redemptive history, the writer of Lamentations encourages God’s covenant people to remember to remember. “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23  In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text beautifully. “But there is one thing I remember and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I got left.”

 

Remembering God’s Unfailing Love  

As we enter a new year, let’s remember to remember God’s unfailing love to us. Others will let us down, disappoint us and fail us, but God will not. His promises are golden. His presence is never in doubt. He is always there for you. He will never leave the room on you. As his son or daughter, he simply, purely, and utterly delights in you. The prophet Zephaniah describes God’s loving presence with sheer delight for his covenant people. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) What this coming year will bring we do not know, but we can truly know God’s unfailing love will be there for us both as individual apprentices of Jesus as well as a faith community. Nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from God’s unfailing love.

                                   

Remembering God’s Past Faithfulness

In this new year, let’s also remember to remember God’s past faithfulness. Few things build more hopeful buoyancy in our hearts and minds than remembering God’s past faithfulness. It is seen in his loving protection of our lives, abundant provision for our needs, his guiding and comforting presence even in the midst of suffering, and the many good things he showers on us simply for our delight and joy. How has God shown his faithfulness to you this past year? When God’s covenant people crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, God instructed them to carry with them twelve memorial stones of remembrance so they would not forget God’s past faithfulness in the forty years of rugged wilderness living. What might be a tangible way you can better remember to remember God’s past faithfulness in your life this year? Where are your stones of remembrance? How will they help you not forget what you dare not forget?

 

Remembering Christ Together

Remembering to remember is not only an individual endeavor, it is woven into the hopeful and joyful fabric of local church community. When we  make weekly corporate worship a high priority, together in the power of the Holy Spirit we are remembering to remember God’s good news to us, Christ’s work for us, his unfailing love for us, his faithfulness to us and his manifest presence with us. When our Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his local gathered church, he placed it in a frame of remembrance.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This year will you join me and our Christ Community family on Sundays with greater regularity and more joyful expectation of remembering to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He is the one who has forgiven us, given us new creation life, and welcomed us into his already, but not fully yet kingdom. If we are going to live a life of increasing wisdom in this new year, let’s remember to remember what we dare not forget.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

It is difficult to comprehend the long anticipation for the coming of the Messiah experienced by the people of Israel. In our twenty-first century instant gratification world, we really have no imaginable category to equate the centuries of frustration and longing endured by generations of God’s people. And although we commemorate the season of Advent in the Christian calendar each year, even the congregations most committed to adhering to this season of waiting only experience it in a performative manner. We can’t fully immerse ourselves in such a posture because in the back of our minds we know that Christ has come. As much as some of our greatest Christian calendar enthusiasts try to commemorate it and we try to convince ourselves, we can never emulate that same kind of longing. 

This may be a contributing factor to the lack of Christian hymns and carols that meaningfully capture the Advent season. Therefore it is important to consider those Advent hymns that have endured. One of the most familiar is “O Come Emmanuel,” with text originating over 1,200 years ago and a chant-like melody that shifts from a minor key in the verses to a major lift in the refrain “Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” 

Aside from these aesthetics, the most compelling reason for its longevity may be the deep sense of longing for the Messiah’s deliverance beautifully woven with rich biblical allusions to Jesus Christ and the expectant hope of his coming. Each verse of the song begins with an invitation that highlights a particular biblical attribute of Christ, then describes a new reality once the Messiah comes. 

Considering the lyrics verse by verse provides a better understanding of their meaning and strong Christological foundations. 

__________

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel;
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

 

The first verse begins with an invitation from a waiting, exiled people looking forward to the coming Messiah’s rescue. It also alludes to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 that “…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”


O come, Thou
Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.


The invitation in the second verse references Isaiah 11:1 regarding the lineage of Jesus: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” 


Both of these stanzas focus on the Messiah’s expected liberation of God’s people. In the first, the deliverance is from Israel’s physical reality. When the Messiah comes, the text infers, he will bring deliverance from earthly suffering and oppression. The second verse calls for spiritual and emotional deliverance from the schemes of Satan, the grips of hell, and the sting of death as described in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 


Come, the first two verses say, and set us free!


O come, Thou
Day-Spring, come and cheer,
Our Spirits by Thine Advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1 finishes with these words “…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This phrase, “sunrise from on high,” is translated as “Dayspring” in the King James Version and refers to the Messiah as one who brings a new dawn (The Christian Standard Bible translates the sunrise as the “dawn from on high”). As the sun ushers in a new day, so the Messiah will bring new life to our spirits, will cover the darkness with light, and push the darkness of death away. 


Come, verse three shouts, and bring new life and light!


O come, Thou
Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


In Isaiah 22:22 the prophecy refers to the Messiah as the “Key of David”: 
“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” We see this phrase again in Revelation 3:7, when Jesus is referred to as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Jesus, our Messiah, is the one who opens the gates of heaven to those who believe and, in doing so, closes the path that leads to death, providing the way to eternity with him. 


Come, we sing in verse four, and lead us to our eternal home with you!


O come, Thou
Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.


When the fifth verse refers to Christ as “Wisdom from on high,” it not only draws language from Jeremiah 51:15 but also from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he refers to Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The last two lines of the verse are almost directly lifted from Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 


Come, verse five calls, and teach us to walk in your ways!


O come,
Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.


The final verse of “O Come Emmanuel” refers to a phrase used in the prophecy found in Haggai 2:7 (KJV) “And I will shake all nations, and
the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” Christ, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, “himself is our peace.” He knocks down the dividing walls between us and reconciles us to God in one body through the cross.


As we sing the last verse we invite the Messiah to come and bring peace to the world. 


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


Each verse ends with this refrain. Rejoice. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  Rejoice because the Deliverer
has come and is coming again to make all things as they ought to be!

Why I Can’t Stand Christmas Music but Love This Carol

Why I Can’t Stand Christmas Music but Love This Carol

Confession time…I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music. Maybe that’s because I get tired of hearing the same tunes every year. Maybe it’s just because “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or “dreaming of a white Christmas” don’t evoke the same nostalgia for me as they do for others. These songs don’t resonate with my experience growing up in Africa. Or maybe it’s because the quaint sentimentality of many Christmas songs feel out of touch with my life and the concerns of a broken world. Call me a ‘Scrooge’ but I don’t plan on voluntarily listening to much Christmas music this year.

That being said, when I get past my personal music tastes and really pay attention to the lyrics of many traditional Christmas carols, I find them to have a deeply rich theology. One such song is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. This carol was written by Edmund Sears in 1849 during the aftermath of the Mexican-American War and popularized during the Civil War. The lyrics draw out the disconnect between the announcement of peace from heaven at Christ’s birth and continuing war and suffering on earth.

It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

This opening stanza references the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:14). The carol doesn’t treat this pronouncement as something only given one time in the distant past, but envisions how this message is continually proclaimed. This happens despite the discord and division among humans, referenced by an allusion to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). 

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel-sounds
The blessed angels sing.

The next stanza is often omitted in contemporary hymnals, but it is my favorite. Unlike many sentimental Christmas songs, this carol is not unaware of the suffering and brokenness still experienced in this world. Even two thousand years after Christ’s coming, sin and death still reign in our world. Even still, the lyrics call us to hush the messages that lead us to strife and focus on the message of the Promised King.

 But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring; –
Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

The beauty of Christmas is not found in sanitized and picturesque images of an ideal nativity scene, but rather in God’s entrance into the broken messiness of human life as a real baby to save us. He is the one “who redeems your life from the pit” (Psalm 103:4). This song names those messy experiences of pain and suffering we have, and it invites us to look to Christ in the midst of it.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing; –
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

This carol captures the profound tension of the Advent season. We are caught in the already-not-yet, looking back to Jesus’ first coming with joy, and also looking forward in faith to his second coming, when he will make all things right. Unlike out of touch Christmas tunes, this carol connects with that enduring and timeless struggle.

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When Peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Listen to the recording of this beautiful carol performed by our campus worship pastors. As the music washes over you, may you experience God in the midst of pain, disappointment, and brokenness. He doesn’t ignore the pain you are in, but instead sees you there and enters into the mess to redeem it. 

Equipped: How Role Playing Games Prepared Me for the Reality of Spiritual Warfare

Equipped: How Role Playing Games Prepared Me for the Reality of Spiritual Warfare

I grew up in a normal home (albeit broken, like all of us), but was never equipped with anything beyond a naturalistic, or maybe vaguely dualistic, view of the world. I thought what I saw was all there was, until people died; then there was heaven. But who knew what that was about? It seemed no one knew. 

The primary formative experiences giving me any sense of transcendence, or spirituality then, as odd as it sounds, were playing fantasy games like Zelda, Warcraft, or Diablo with my friends. I forged weapons and armor, battled dark forces of evil, and rescued allies from fire and death.

We were children equipped with the imaginations to rule the world (or at least our front yard), enacting this RPG-instilled transcendence IRL (in real life). 

Eventually, I did what I thought I had to do: I gave up childish ways. I stopped playing “those games.” Not coincidentally, this is also when a more staunch naturalistic worldview began to settle upon my perception of the world.

 

The Living King

Then a sandal-wearing, unarmed, slain Jesus walks into my life who is also now and forever the victorious, living King (Revelation 5:5-6). He obliterated my mistaken sense of self and sense of the world, and spoke words into my heart which the Spirit wielded like a sword to divide up the mess inside me, clear away the debris, and gave me new life (Hebrews 4:12, John 3:3-6). Jesus came to live inside me to empower me from the inside out by his Spirit. He invaded the territory of my life and sent me out to proclaim the excellencies of his glorious reign (1 Peter 2:9). My naturalistic perception became spiritual: as I came to understand that reality is more than what is seen.

 

The King’s Victory Prize

The apostle of our King (1 Corinthians 15:8), Paul writes to us of King Jesus’ equipping of his “saints,” his people-made-holy (Ephesians 4:12). This equipping occurs as a result of Jesus’ ascension–what some scholars have called his “ascension gifting” to the church. His ascension declares Jesus’ utter, overpowering victory against the spiritual powers of evil: having taken them captive, he now leads the captive forces in procession before his people. Then he divides the spoils among them, among us (Ephesians 4:7-11). The gifts of victory that Jesus gives us are precisely those associated with the giving of his indwelling Spirit (see Ephesians 3:16). Pentecost was the King’s victory prize bestowed upon his people (Acts 2:33). 

The subject of Holy Spirit-equipped living can be traced all throughout the book of Ephesians and reaches its climax in chapter 6. We are caught up in a cosmic battle, “not…against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness…” And if you weren’t convinced that Paul is talking primarily about the influence of personal, spiritual, demonic evil rather than merely worldly, political power alone, he sums up our battle as “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). These are the same spiritual entities over which Christ reigns supreme and to which the gathered people of God make known God’s manifold wisdom (Ephesians 1:21, 3:10).

 

The Unholy Trinity

Paul clearly states in Ephesians 2:1-3 that a biblically-formed and fully-orbed gospel includes within it this cosmic conflict. The reality of humanity becoming free from our sinful flesh is not about improving poor choices, but about defending against the influence of personal, spiritual evil on our minds and on the world around us. This passage is a quintessential example of the ancient framework of the unholy trinity, “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” which wages war against the Triune God and his image-bearers.

John Mark Comer has done fine work reinvigorating our understanding of this ancient framework in his book Live No Lies. While admitting the reality of paranormal, overtly charismatic experiences such as power encounters and exorcisms, Comer speaks of the reality of spiritual warfare, especially in the non-majority world, primarily taking place in the realm of evil ideas (the flesh), implanted by the lies of a personal Enemy (the devil, see John 8:44), that then become normalized in a sinful society (the world).

 

No Small Sins

We are at war with evil, but that war is more often a battle for the human imagination, as a primary route to the heart, than it is for the outward actions that flow from the heart. Capture our minds, covertly and “behind Enemy lines” as it were, convincing us to rationalize “small sins” as long as we’re not obviously engaging in rampant wickedness, and the enemy gains a stronghold in our hearts that’s frankly much harder to resist than an overt, all-out frontal assault (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

C.S. Lewis is in full accord in Screwtape Letters, his masterful imaginative account of an arch-demon’s advice to his underling tempter-apprentice:

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

This safe road to hell is paved, not with good intentions (as the saying goes), but rather with captured imaginations, minds that have been vacated of the reality of the spiritual weightiness of thinking itself, of every thought, however minute a thought it may seem.

 

Stand Against the Darkness

How are we, then, to actually engage in this battle against the evil seeking to ensnare our minds and hearts, and thus our lives? In the face of this cosmic conflict, Paul’s heraldic conclusion to the church in Ephesus is to stand, he repeats three times. Then, recalling an Hebraic, prophetic formula, to be equipped, taking up the God-ordained instruments for spiritual battle (Epesians. 6:13-14, c.f. Isaiah 59:17). Having donned the necessary accoutrements, each encapsulating a necessary quality for, one might say, “defense against the dark arts” (Ephesians 6:14-17), we are then sent forth to… what? To vanquish our opponents? No; rather, Paul’s climactic commission into the fray is simply this: pray (Ephesians 6:18). This is how we stand firm together against the darkness. 

It is indeed a collective commission. Paul, as throughout Ephesians, is calling the church, the Body and Bride of Christ, to be thus equipped (Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:26-27). She is to become a veritable fortress of her God, clothed and crowned with her King’s gracious splendor (Revelation 12:1, 19:7-8, 21:2). Praying together is thus mission-critical, and all the more as the final Day draws nearer (Hebrews 10:25). Our charge is not to obtain victory–that has already been accomplished through the cross and empty tomb–but to stand firm by defending that victory for one another until its fullness comes rushing in on the hoofbeats of the King’s return (Revelation 19:11-16).

Prayer is essential. If we stand alone, without God’s supernatural strengthening and the combined power of our allies, we’re dead where we stand. Paul begins the whole section on God’s armor by calling us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of this might.” (Ephesians 6:10). The essential battle practice of prayer is confirmed by Graham Cole, former Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and professor of Systematic Theology: “Prayer rounds out the [armor], and in a way it returns the reader to the beginning, that is, to God, in whom the believer is to be strong. The practice of prayer is to suffuse the whole…The armor of God is not enough without the God of the armor, and prayer is the link.” (Against the Darkness, 169).

 

Fantasy-informed Reality

Beloved, we are in a spiritual battle. Spiritual warfare is very real indeed, much more real and substantial, that is, having a bearing on the substance of our daily lives, than many of the things we think of as real and substantial such as various religio-political ideals, socio-cultural norms, or gender stereotypes. That there is personal evil out there, influencing our minds and cultural systems and attempting to deceive and destroy us, is a radically non-postmodern notion. 

And yet, isn’t this much of the appeal of Tolkien’s legacy of high fantasy? There is a personal evil that seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy”–call it a “Dark Lord” and his forces (John 10:10). And there is the persevering banner of “the Light” that all peoples of good will gather under in an alliance against evil (Ephesians 5:8).

We are undoubtedly not formed to think in this way about our world today, excepting, I think, in the widespread popularity of RPGs. Role-playing fantasy games, when staying true to their Tolkien-formed, biblically-saturated roots, provide categories, affirmed in Scripture, with which to see the reality that, if we follow Christ as King, we have been drafted into the Son’s kingdom of light to ever resist Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13, 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Let us therefore be unwavering to “take up the shield of faith…and the sword of Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17) and to “keep alert with all perseverance” in prayerful fellowship with our Spirit-wrought allies, not hesitating to embrace the radical idea of a real, personal, yet immaterial battle of Light vs. Darkness (Ephesians 6:18). Let us skillfully handle the Word of Truth, embodied in Christ and revealed in Scripture, declaring it boldly as if our lives and the lives of others depended on it (2 Timothy 2:15, Ephesians 6:20). Because, in reality, they do (John 1:1-14).