Matthew and I believe, with our whole hearts, that the local church is the hope of the world. We have tried to teach our kids that truth as they grow up and make choices about where they invest their time, talents, and energies. But as I look around at the church in America today, I wonder if the church, itself, truly believes it is the hope of the world.
3500 churches close their doors forever in America every year. Our church is part of a church planting organization (arcchurches.com) that plants upward of 100 churches a year, but clearly the odds are not in our favor there. Only one in five churches in America is growing. The church in our society appears more and more irrelevant in our culture. In large part, the church has turned its focus inward in its effort to merely survive. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when He told Peter, “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.” (Matthew 16:18)
When we look around today, it sure doesn’t seem like we are prevailing over much of anything. How can we when 65% of American believers don’t even believe the devil is a real being? Some believe he is only a symbol of the evil in the world, rather than a real enemy of everything for which we stand. Why fight a symbol?
I have always known that the devil was real, but until a few years back, I figured he was far busier with bigger fish than me, and I had little to worry about from him. I tended to just ignore him and focus on… me.
Until the day he stood squarely in my path, and I was forced to deal with him, that is.
Some believers have a live-and-let-live mentality about the enemy. They think if they don’t bother him, he won’t bother them. My mom used to tell me that about bees. She was mostly right, but sometimes I got stung anyway.
If we are going to believe the things that Jesus said about God and heaven, then we have to believe the things He said about the devil and hell.
In Matthew 4, Jesus does battle with the devil in the desert. I don’t believe for one second that there was any real difficulty there for Jesus, but I think He showed us how to do it because He knew we would have to do it.
In Luke 10, Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.” Satan was once a perfect, beautiful worship leader in heaven who took his eyes off God and put them on himself, thinking that he was greater than the God who created him. He was cast out in a flash.
Following that Luke 10 verse, Jesus goes on to say that, “I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to destroy all the enemy’s power, and nothing will ever hurt you.”
It is our calling as the church to magnify the Lord, not the enemy, but we cannot just pretend he isn’t there doing his best to gain ground in our country, cities, families and in our churches. Just look around. If we think we face a symbolic, weak or a disinterested enemy, then all the better for him.
Are we really willing to give him our marriages? Our children? Our morals and godly standards? Are we just going to cower in our corners, or focus elsewhere, while he takes what he wants from us?
I have spent a good bit of time lately, in the trenches, fighting my enemy. I have gone to Ephesians and pulled out my armor, and I am learning better how to put it on and stand against him. The Bible refers to the church as the army of God. We fight not against enemies of flesh, but enemies and rulers of this dark world and against spiritual forces in the spiritual realm.
As I stand against him in the authority of God Almighty, my fear of him dissipates. He cannot have what is rightfully mine. He cannot have what God has already claimed in His name. There is no weapon he can form that will prevail against me or mine. He is a loser. He is fighting from a place of failure, but because of Jesus, I am fighting from victory! I rather enjoy reminding him of that.
I really do hate the devil. Do you? Have you given it much thought? If the church really is the hope of the world, maybe you should. Maybe we all should.