American Sniper: Lessons in Spiritual Warfare

This is an except from my latest book American Sniper: Lessons in Spiritual Warfare

The main character of American Sniper is a Texas-born redneck named Chris Kyle. The film opens with a scene of Kyle perched on a rooftop in the city of Fallujah, Iraq. U.S. troops have been told that the city was ordered to be evacuated and any military-aged men they find are assumed to be enemy combatants, until proven otherwise. Kyle is checking out the path of a U.S. military convoy through the scope of his sniper rifle. He sees a man on a rooftop in the distance talking on a cell phone. The man appears to be watching the convoy, which Kyle reports to his command through his headset. The man then disappears from the rooftop and a few moments later, a woman and a young boy exit the doorway of the same building and begin walking toward the convoy. Kyle reports the woman and boy to command, and notes that the woman is not swinging her arms as she walks and that she appears to be carrying something. Kyle watches through the scope as the woman removes something from her cloak and hands it to the boy and he realizes it’s a grenade. He reports what he sees and again gets the green light to shoot, but his marine guard warns him that he’ll be sent to prison for shooting a child if he’s wrong. The film then cuts away and the next 20 minutes are vignettes of Kyle growing up as the son of a religious father who stressed the ever-present threat of evil, the virtues of aggression, and the supremacy of the hunt.

As a child, Chris learned to watch over his younger brother, Jeff. When someone picked on him, Chris came to his defense and in one scene, he gave the bully a beating he wouldn’t forget. As an adult, he spent most of his time riding bulls, drinking beer, chasing pretty girls and getting into fights.  In the same way that Chris drifted from one misadventure to another, many Christians find themselves drifting, spiritually. We go to church on Sunday, read our Bibles, and try to avoid getting into trouble, but inevitably, trouble seems to find us. We wrestle with various problems and seem to make little progress, no matter what measures we try.

The first seven years of my life as a Christian I traveled down a dozen different paths leading nowhere. Though I felt at the time I was a passionate believer, I had very few victories over the enemy. I lost more spiritual battles than I won. And perhaps more importantly, I never felt a great sense of significance; I felt like I was just another believer. In many ways I was drifting spiritually, with no real course or destination in mind, other than getting into heaven when I died.

No child dreams of growing up to be insignificant. We all want to do something great. God doesn’t create us to be ordinary. He’s placed a desire for significance in our hearts—a desire to do something to change the world for the better. It’s apparent early in the film that Chris Kyle knew he was destined to do something extraordinary.

The film cuts away to a scene of Chris and his brother watching TV. They saw the news of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Chris was infuriated that U.S. citizens were being attacked and felt compelled to do something about it. His anger over the attacks compelled him to visit a Navy recruiter’s office. The recruiter suggested he might be interested in the SEAL program and handed him a pamphlet, but Kyle remarked that he wasn’t much of a swimmer. The recruiter took the pamphlet out of his hand and said it wasn’t for most men. Kyle grabbed the pamphlet back and proudly replied “I’m not most men.” He didn’t envision himself in a routine job as a sailor. That would be too safe. He set his aim high and endured the brutality of Navy SEAL training.

A new Christian has very little that they bring to the spiritual battlefield from the world. We learn all kinds of ways to defend ourselves and attack our enemies as we go through life, but the Apostle Paul taught that the weapons of the believer’s warfare are not like the weapons and tactics of the physical world. Spiritual weapons are spiritual in nature and it’s only these weapons that can be used effectively against spiritual strongholds. Because spiritual weapons are so different from the weapons we’re familiar with, they require special training and practice before they can be used effectively. My introduction to spiritual weapons was illustrated by the following dream:

Dream
In the dream, I drove my car to a pawn shop with my children. I took some old things that I owned into the pawn shop and traded them in for a strange type of handgun. My kids waited a long time for me to come out. I left the shop with my new gun, but didn’t want my kids to see it, so I walked around behind my car, then took it out and examined it. The gun had a laser sight built into it. It was wide, with a round bulge that seemed to be for the ammunition, though it wasn’t a revolver and it didn’t have a magazine. I didn’t know how the ammunition was loaded. I began trying to figure out how it worked and decided to aim it across the street at a vacant lot. The gun fired two rounds, which I wouldn’t have known, except that I saw puffs of dust rise from the ground where I pointed the gun. It made no sound and didn’t seem to have a trigger, but seemed to fire by my thoughts. I put it in the trunk of my car and that was the end of the dream.

Interpretation
In the dream, I traded in a bunch of things I had obtained from the world for a new, spiritual weapon. I believe this speaks of acquiring a new way of thinking and living. I had to leave behind the way of thinking I had acquired from the world and learn the way of thinking used in the kingdom of God. I also had to learn how to defend myself and wage an offensive attack differently. I had no idea how my new gun fired. I didn’t yet understand how spiritual weapons operate, though I had obtained one that could be used effectively, once I was trained to use it.

You can read more by clicking the link to American Sniper: Lessons in Spiritual Warfare, or click on the image below.

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Will You Come With Me?

This is a re-post of a message written by John Eldgredge that was originally posted here.

January 2015

Dear Friends,

I am among the millions who have fallen in love with the Chronicles of Narnia.

We shared them as a family when our boys were young, and we continue to love them as adults. In fact, Stasi and I are currently reading aloud book six, The Silver Chair to each other in the evenings. I’m struck this time around by how just how dangerous an adventure the children are tasked with. In chapter two, they meet Aslan on his own mountain, and Jill is told why he has summoned them:

And now hear your task. Far from here in the land of Narnia there lives an aged king who is sad because he has no prince of his blood to be king after him. He has no heir because his only son was stolen from him many years ago, and no one in Narnia knows where that prince went or whether he is still alive. But he is. I lay on you this command, that you seek this lost prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house, or else died in the attempt, or else gone back into your own world.

Wait—that second piece: died in the attempt?! My goodness. These are grave orders for a couple of ten-year-olds. Aslan is the best, kindest, most Jesus-like figure you’ll ever meet in literature. This is the sort of story he has for them? Would you send your fifth-grader off to Somalia? And yet, I think Lewis was onto something very true about the character of God. The children are being called up.

You see a similar theme in The Hobbit. Gandalf arranges for young Bilbo Baggins to join a company of dwarves on their quest to recover the Lonely Mountain, and the treasure that lies buried in its halls. The young hobbit has never held a sword, never slept outdoors, never even been beyond the borders of the Shire. He loves books, tea time, his armchair, and he always carries a handkerchief. Furthermore, Gandalf does not know for certain whether or not the dragon Smaug—“chiefest and greatest of all calamities”—is lying there in dreadful malice. Now remember, Gandalf loves Bilbo, loves him dearly, yet he is sending him on a very dangerous adventure. He says to Bilbo that if he does return, “You will not be the same.”

Which brings me to one of the most important truths we can hold onto as we try and interpret our lives: God is growing us all up.

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…” (Ephesians 4:13).

As George McDonald assured us, “What father is not pleased with the first tottering attempt of his little one to walk?” And, God is absolutely committed to your growing up: “What father would be satisfied with anything but the manly step of the full-grown son or daughter?”

It helps us to understand why Jesus keeps changing the picture in our lives; he keeps introducing “new frontiers” to each of us. Just when you think you’ve got parenting down, your kids enter into a new stage; just when you think you’ve got a pretty good grasp on your inner world, Jesus shows you something that needs healing. Relationships are always changing; church life changes; your body, your income—my goodness, can you think of anything that doesn’t change?

And have you wondered why—why does God arrange for new frontiers to always be cropping up in our lives? Because God is growing us all up.

But here is the problem—most of us do not share God’s fervent passion for our maturity. Really, now, if you stopped ten people at random on their way out of church next Sunday and polled them, I doubt very much that you would find one in ten who said, “Oh, my first and greatest commitment this afternoon is to mature!” Our natural investments lie in other things—lunch, a nap, the game, our general comfort. Like Bilbo.

God is growing me up changes your expectations. When you show up at the gym, you are not surprised or irritated that the trainer pushes you into a drenching sweat; it’s what you came for. But you’d be furious if your housemate expected this of you when you flop home on the couch after a long day’s work. Bilbo hesitates; he’s not sure he wants this new frontier being offered him. I think we can all relate.

And that is why, as I was praying for you, and asking Jesus what he wanted to say, he said this: Will you come with me?

God almost always has some “new frontier” for us—something he is inviting us into, new ground he wants us to take, or a new realm of understanding; maybe a move in our external world, or a shift in our internal world; might be a new “spiritual” frontier. Sometimes those new frontiers are thrust upon us; sometimes we choose them willingly. Either way, God is taking us into new frontiers because he is growing us up. This will help you interpret what’s going on.

Where is Jesus inviting you here in 2015? Have you asked him? Maybe he’s already put it on your heart—what new realm would you like to grown into? We are finishing a four-part series on “New Frontiers” on our podast this month; I think you’ll find it very helpful as you (perhaps reluctantly) accept yours.

Now for a word of hope: towards the end of their adventure, Jill is brought to tears by the redemption that unfolds. And the next line in the book brought me to tears:

“Their quest had been worth all the pains it cost.”

That will help you answer Jesus when he says to you, Will you come with me?

Offered in hope and love,

John

Not Hearing From God?

After I was saved, I had a dramatic experience were I was able to hear the voice of God very clearly for a span of about six weeks. During that time His voice was unmistakably clear, but gradually it faded to a barely detectable whisper. I began attending a church, reading the bible and I listened to audio sermons online. This was a time of having my mind established in the foundational truths of Christianity that I desperately needed.  I don’t regret that season of my life at all. But during this time I seldom (if ever) heard the voice of God clearly for myself.  Most of what I would refer to as “hearing from God” came through messages that were given by church leaders. But the day finally arrived when God wanted to teach me things that men couldn’t teach me and show me things they didn’t have a grid for. I needed to learn from a different teacher. I needed to start hearing again from God Himself. So I broke away from the teaching I had grown accustomed to and got myself under the direct instruction of the Holy Spirit. It’s been an amazing journey ever since.

Today, I don’t have anyone in my life that I would call a pastor, although I have many people whom I would call mentors. These men and women are essentially my spiritual peer group. We see each other as friends and equals. There is no structure of hierarchy  in this group. We all receive encouragement, instruction, and occasionally correction from others in the group if and when we ask for it, but we tend to receive most of our instruction directly from God. I still listen to audio messages once in a while and I occasionally attend conferences. I get a lot of benefit from reading a good book. But these sources of information are not where I get most of the direction for my personal life. They serve more as confirmation of the things God tells me personally.  And none of the people I learn from have earned the right to tell me what’s best for me. That responsibility belongs solely to God.

I’m not suggesting that having a pastor is a bad thing. I think we all need someone trustworthy to help us with our walk, especially when we’re spiritually immature. I’m only relating how God needed me to stop relying mostly on teaching from men so that I could come under His direct instruction. After we’ve matured as believers, there comes a time when we need to lean more on God for direction than we do on His kids. Today I feel as though Jesus is my overseer, my covering, my big brother and the Shepherd of my soul, and the Holy Spirit is my schoolmaster. The apostle Paul shared his own story about how he did not go to Jerusalem to be taught by the other apostles after his conversion, but instead he went to Arabia and was instructed by the Lord, personally (see Galatians chapter 1.)

It’s easy to become dependent on men and women we respect to teach us about God. Frankly, it’s probably a lot easier for most of us to listen to a podcast or video than it is to spend an hour in silence allowing God to speak our spirit. I don’t mind sharing with you what the Lord teaches me, but I would advise you not to become too dependent on me or anyone else as your main source of instruction. At God’s request, I made myself dependent on Him, and that ended my dependence on man. He honored my willingness to come to Him directly and He’s made it fairly easy for me to hear and see what He wants me to know. Had I chosen to continue relying on men, I probably would not be hearing from Him as easily as I do today. (By “easy” I don’t mean that I hear an audible voice speaking to me all day. I hear Him mostly through barely perceptible thought impressions, like most people do. It’s just that after a while, discerning His voice isn’t as hard as it is at the beginning.)

If you’re content to hear from men, the Lord will allow you to be instructed by them. But if your heart’s desire is to be instructed by God, He will draw near to you and teach you Himself, like any good father would. Part of the dynamic of hearing God’s voice clearly is deciding in your heart that you want to hear from Him more than you want to hear from others. It’s not always easy to make this kind of change, but if the Lord is calling you to do it, I would advise you to pursue it wholeheartedly. You won’t regret it.

This is an excerpt from my book Hearing God’s Voice Made Simple.

hearing god's voice made simple

Time to Grow Up

A wise man once said “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” I need to tell you something that may hurt a little, because I care about you as a friend.

I think it’s wise to seek prayer from friends for our problems, whether they’re health-related, relational or whether they fall into some other category. Prayer is a powerful thing. But there are problems that cannot be resolved by the prayers of our friends alone.

I have many friends who suffer from chronic aches, pains and illnesses and I have other friends whose relationships have been blown to pieces. When everything is falling apart, it’s tempting to cry out to friends to pray for our problems to be fixed once and for all.

Many of us have not yet learned how to stand against the enemy in our battle against recurring sickness and most of us are responsible for our own relationship problems. Let’s take a look at sickness first.

The battle against recurring sickness is something like how we might deal with a criminal who repeatedly breaks into our home. Jesus used this illustration when teaching about how and why demons return to a person after being cast out of them in Luke chapter eleven. (See Luke 11:21-26)

When a burglar breaks into our home, we have a couple of ways in which we can respond. One option is to stand by helplessly and let them take our property and beat us senseless while waiting for the police to show up. An untrained and ill-equipped believer who relies on friends or the anointed “man of God” to pray for them is like a defenseless homeowner at the mercy of a burglar.

Burglars are opportunistic. They size up their victims and evaluate their defenses, looking for signs of vulnerability. They look for alarm systems, unlocked doors and windows, the absence of a dog, and the likelihood that the homeowner will be armed. They look for homeowners that are the least likely to fight back. Demons do the same thing. They look for points of entry into our lives, through things such as anger, unforgiveness, pride, and emotional wounds.

The first step in defending yourself is allowing the Holy Spirit to remove the things that allow the enemy to have access and influence over you. The second part is to learn how to go on the offensive against intruders when they come around. People who refuse to be trained in spiritual warfare or who never learn how to exercise their authority over the enemy are like homeowners who refuse to secure their homes or fight back against an intruder. They make themselves easy targets for evil spirits. Once word gets out in the demonic community that they’re an easy target, they can expect to be harassed by even more evil spirits. That’s the message Jesus illustrated in His teaching in Luke chapter eleven.

When it comes to healing, many of us are content to let someone else deal with the bad guys. It’s easier to let someone else pray for us than it is to learn how to withstand the attacks of enemy ourselves.  Jesus gave every believer the power and authority they need to defeat the enemy, without going to someone else for help. Recurring problems with sickness and disease are the result of us refusing to take our responsibilities seriously.

You can plead with your friends to pray for your healing all you want, but if you never learn to exercise the authority God has given you over sickness, you’re never going to remain healed. The spirits that bring  sickness will continue to assault you until you learn to take authority over them.

I have a friend who once asked the Holy Spirit “How do you see cancer?”

The Holy Spirit replied, “I can’t see cancer because it’s under my feet. I want it to be under your feet.”

The enemy will continue to beat us up until we learn to put him under our feet once and for all. I’m preaching to myself here as my wife and I don’t always do this, but we’re learning.

My wife was recently healed of back pain when she finally understood that the things she thought about herself , about her symptoms, and about God’s desire to heal her were allowing the enemy to continue to attack her and keep her in pain.

The first problem was that she couldn’t bring herself to believe she was healed as long as she still felt pain. This is a murky problem because sometimes people feel pain in response to a physical problem, while other times the sensation of pain is due only to the presence of a spirit.  To further complicate things, she had an MRI that showed one herniated and two bulging discs. You might think that as long as she has herniated discs, she must resign herself to living with the pain, but we know of people who have MRIs showing herniated discs who had no symptoms of the injury. My wife began to ask, “If some people have herniated discs and don’t have pain, why can’t I be one of them?”

She also wasn’t completely sure at that point that God wanted to heal her. One day she decided to believe that God really did want to heal her and she entertained the idea that perhaps she was already healed. She accepted the fact that it was her beliefs and not God’s reluctance to heal her that was the problem. So she chose to believe that God wanted her healed. She also chose to see the pain she was experiencing as a lie from the enemy. Once she got her thinking straightened out, it removed the power the enemy had over her and the pain left.

One of the major lessons we’ve learned is that the enemy only has the power over us that we allow him to have. Being healed and keeping the symptoms from returning is a battle. Most of the warfare is done on the six inch battlefield between our ears.

Now let’s take a look at problems with relationships.

Many of us cry out to our friends or to God to have our relationship problems fixed, rather than take an honest look at ourselves and admit that we’re the one responsible for our problems. God is not going to take away the consequences of our bad decisions. As we sow, we shall also reap, and many of us are reaping the consequences of manipulation, co-dependency, selfishness, immaturity and a failure to walk in our God-given identity.

Relationship problems are cyclical. The habits we’ve developed over our lifetime create the same dynamics (for good or bad) in all our relationships. When the same problems arise repeatedly, instead of  blaming others or crying out to God to fix the other person, we need to look at why we are bearing bad fruit. The fruit of our relationships is determined by the condition of our heart. It is only by changing the way in which we relate to others that the cycle of relationship problems will end. It’s a sign of spiritual immaturity to blame others for our problems or to expect someone else to fix them. We must be the one to make the change.

Most of us have a lot of growing up to do. It’s time to take the training wheels off and learn how to live as mature children of God.

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Does God’s Plan for Your Life Include Tragedy?

Many people believe that God causes (or allows) tragic events to occur in our lives for a divine purpose. We believe this because most of us have gone through tragedy and we were in some way made stronger. The conclusion we come to is that tragedy refines our character so it must be God’s doing.

Many people are not strengthened through tragedy. They’re destroyed by it. This fact might cause us to consider the question more carefully.

So what is it, exactly, that creates a change of character during a tragic event?

In any situation, whether joyous or tragic, we make a choice whether we’re going to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God or to close ourselves off to His influence. If we open our heart, God can shape and mold it as He sees fit. This is how character is developed. Tragedy is an opportunity to build character only when we choose to yield to the work of the Holy Spirit. Many times during a tragic event, we harden our heart and it becomes embittered which prevents the work He wants to do.

It’s the work of the Spirit in our heart that refines our character; not the nature of the event itself. Great victory can be an opportunity to develop Godly character but it can also be an opportunity to become proud, arrogant or self-centered. The nature of an event itself doesn’t determine how our character is changed. Our response to it does. The same opportunities, both positive and negative, exist in every kind of circumstance—whether joyous or tragic. It isn’t necessary for God to cause tragedy in order to refine our character. It can be developed through any kind of event whenever we’re willing to cooperate with the work He wants to do.

Related
Why Does God Allow…?

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