Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Little Word

As promised, this is another excerpt from Listening to Love (Waterbrook, 2004).  These words about spiritual warfare have been on my mind.

One Little Word

The spiritual momentum in the late seventeenth century was strong, when many were forced to see the church they loved lose its power under a structure of greed and secrecy. (sound familiar?)  As many started to say no to things that grieve God's heart, they became targets, both in their private lives and through the unseen assault, as the subterfuge of the true things was uncovered.  I thing the greatest spiritual warfare song ever penned was written during those days by Martin Luther, who had the guts, or balls, to set off this warfare by pounding his Ninety-five Theses to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Luther was up against the Catholic Church itself, and he was up against the enemies of his own heart.   I love that he wrote "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" in the midst of this personal mission, fueled by love of Jesus' saving grace through faith.  Read the song in its prose form (sadly, we rarely sing the whole thing anymore, and it loses its punch without the story it is telling):

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulward never failing.  Our helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.  For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe - his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate- on earht is not his equal.  Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.  Were not the right man on our side, the mand of God's own choosing.  Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is He - Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same.  And He must win the battle!  And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His Truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him - his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.  One little word shall fell him - that word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.  The Spirit and the gifts are ours with Him who with us sideth.  Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also.   The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still.  His kingdom is forever!

God is limitless.  Evil not only has limits, but it operates under the strictest, most suffocating hierarchy you can imagine.  Because of this, it is limited not just by the authority it is under with Jesus ascended and reigning, but it is limited by its very nature - a fallen, rejected defiler at the helm, who holds memory of untold beauty, charisma, and power ('on earth is not his equal') but who will one dy shrivel like a star-gazer lily in a desert inferno.  When we become naive to evil's limits, we are saying that we live in a dualistic universe - God and his enemy battling it out on the same plane, and we hold our breath to see who will win.  I fall into this trap so quickly when I'm in the midst of a battle with contempt, because the battle is all I can see.  Dark lies feel too real, too big.  But it really is true - "one little word shall fell him." 

Listening for the Threat of Love

Is it cheating when a blog is simply an excerpt of something written by me in the past?  For some reason, these words from Listening to Love (Waterbrook, 2004) are coming to mind, so I share them with you, in a few  installments:

Our Bumbling Authority

I fully believe in the authority given to every believer in Christ.  His authority is our authority.  We no longer belong to evil, and we have a restored dignity that words cannot capture.  Now, this might sound like a contradiction, but can we be honest for a moment and admit that the working out of our authority looks a lot more like Barney Fife than an NYPD chief?  We hold the badge, and we get the job done, but we bumble along more than we're flooded with confidence.  I think God takes delight in this.  God sees Schwarzenegger as we muddle along like Columbo.  He sees Kristin Scott Thamas when we're all over the map like Lucille Ball.  God sees heroes in bumbling hobbits.  Even as I write this, I see an office cluttered and disheveled.  I know I have it in me to be Isabel Allende, typing her novels on an immaculate desk adorned with fresh flowers (on the Argentine coast, no less), but the glory and authority that seep out of me comes as a surprise to me, under protest - and under a few piles most times!  When we do have wonderful, full-glory moments, our hearts are flooded with the yes of eternity, yet we know it is fleeting.  So the question we must ask is, How can our hearts rise with the fullness of no longer belonging to evil, but rest knowing that the working out of our new identity may be, shall we say, less than lustrous?

I love the authoritative buffoon in the book The Fellowship of the Ring.  His name is Tom Bombadil, and he is part court jester, part powerhouse.  In a fearful encounter in the Barrow-Downs, a dark figure (a Barrow-wight) puts an icy grip on Frodo and his friends, leaving them in a slight frozen fog (which is where, if wer're honest, we find ourselves most of the time).  But Frodo knows they cannot remain frozen and survive, much less complete their mission.  Frodo remembers the face of Tom Bombadil and his merry ways as he ruled the forest.  He remembers Tom's lilting attitude about himself and his authority in the woods:

"None has ever caught him yet, for Tom he is the master;  His songs are stronger songs, and his feet  are faster."

Tom understood that he was the master of all powers within his sphere.  But he wasn't taken with himself or prideful; the authority just made him glad!  Frodo was strengthened by this thought and quoted Tom to the thing that gripped them:  "Get out, you old  Wight!  Vanish in the sunlight!"

We're told that "at these words there was a cry and part of the inner end of the chamber fell with a crash.  Then there was a long trailing shriek, fading away into an unguessable distance; and after that silence."  When we listen with the ears of our heart, we can hear that long, trailing shriek, the clamor and fog of condemnation giving way to the silence of grace.  We hear this whenever we remember the authority Christ has given us, and it simply makes us glad.  We are not to be enamored with the authority given to us, but we are to present it as a humble offering to the One we're now indentured to, in love.  This way we can walk wth Tom's confidence, and Tom's humility.

We are in a war and must show up for our place in the war.  But this is a war where all soldiers - men and women, support personnel and Red Cross employees - all have one thing in common:  we all, at one time or another, carried the flag of the enemy.  The minute this is forgotten, we lose our power.  We resist evil in humility, drawing near to God in awe of our change in allegiance.  We lean in and ask if Jesus could possibly want us to give up our own ability to protect ourselves in this war, and we hear his startling reply:  ultimately yes.  He, in fact, does want us to stop fighting in our own power, but he doesn't leave us unarmed.  He bestows his power on us as we humbly remember his power and authority.  There is spaciousness in this, allowing us to say, "Oh good, Jesus."  I can watch a crimson finch outside my window and find a knowing smile grow inside me that says, The one who created this playful little bird is the same one who has crusehd the head of my Enemy.  Somehow, in ways that confound the wise he has this battle fully in his control.