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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spiritual Warfare...this is life or death.

My sabbatical coach shared a story with me from the Bible that I had apparently blown by before.  It is found in the Minor Prophets in the obscure book of Zechariah in the 3rd Chapter.  I just want to share a short part of the story focused on a guy named Joshua, the high priest at the time who seemed to be under some sort of spiritual attack.

When I talk of spiritual warfare, I am often speechless when it comes time to definitively describe what's occurring.  I feel like most of my rationale is conjecture at best.  I'm swinging in the dark hoping to land a punch, but I'm not sure if I'm making it up or telling the truth.

But I know this, I undoubtedly face spiritual attack and it's brutal.

That's where this passage comes along to give us a picture of what is often only a hunch...
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Zechariah 3:1-5

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan!  The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."  Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."

Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head."  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
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There are days where I can't explain it, but it feels every bit as if Satan is standing right next to me whispering dark speech into my ear and bringing accusations against me so fast and furious that I can hardly stand the barrage of bullcrap.  I know that I have all authority to rebuke Satan in the name of Jesus, but I stand there paralyzed with the nagging feeling that part of what he's saying is true. I'm dead in the water.

I can't deny that I'm standing there covered in the filthy garments of my own sin.  I can't pretend that I haven't wavered or faltered or wandered.  I'm not perfect and I know that, but there's something about him piling on the condemnation that neutralizes me on a good many days.  I feel no right to lead.  No authority to represent God.  No confidence whatsoever that I deserve to be anything more than a withering wallflower...simply existing to stay out of people's way and not screw anything up.

I stand there in the presence of God and Satan fearing that the prosecution against me is air tight and that the verdict will come back, "I find Jason guilt on all counts."  I slog through the day leading with the fumes of what used to be fuel.  I sputter and get by, but there is no torque, no power.  And I think that is the point of accusation, not so much to find you guilty, but to make you feel guilty even if there's nothing there.  If Satan can accomplish that, he nullifies your contribution taking minutes, hours, days and weeks away from your very short life.  Could this all really be about simply stealing precious and fleeting time from us?  The great Pilferer seeks to rob us blind.

But the LORD doesn't wait for Joshua to get "his priest on" in this passage.  He steps in to defend and vouch for him.  He gets aggressive which shows God's depth of feeling for people who are being maligned.  He is not an unfeeling bystander, he is an active participant running interference on our behalf.  He chases Satan away like a Shepherd chases away a predator.  He rebukes him which is to say he shouts him down.  He puts him in his place.  He silences him and then humiliates him.  He sends him away cowering by turning his words against him.  And then he does the unimaginable...

He speaks up for us and into us at the same time.

"Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

He asked the Accuser a question about the identity of the Accused.  He uses a metaphor to let Joshua know how he feels about him.  He calls him a burning stick snatched from the fire.  On the one hand he validates that this guy is burning up, soon to be ash if things don't change and fast.  He acknowledges the trajectory of Joshua's life apart from his "snatching power".

This is important for me to understand: I don't save myself apart from the saving hand of God snatching me from the jaws of death.  And I'm not just talking about burning in hell, I'm talking about burning out in life.  I know what it's like to be a burning stick and to see the hand writing on the wall of a premature expiration date.  And here's the deal...I need God to save me from myself and my sin.  It doesn't take long for a burning stick to turn into a heap of ash.  I know all to well.

But God is a 'snatcher'.  Alway has been.  He sees us burning out and reaches in his hand and grabs us right out of the inferno.  As his hands blister, he holds us in his arms scorched, yet saved.  Nothing can separate us from his love.  His love runs back into the burning house to get us out.  This is his character.  I can't tell you how many times throughout my life he's snatched me from the fire and salvaged what was on the brink of death in me.  I couldn't get out on my own...I couldn't snatch myself from my own fiery fate...he was the Fireman who put his life on the line for mine.

If that wasn't enough, he goes even further.  Grace always does.  He speaks again...

"Take off his filthy clothes...put fine garments on him."

He doesn't just save us from our sin, he takes off our shame.  He knows that Satan loves to pester us about the filthy clothes we're standing there wearing.  It's better than being naked, but not much better.  Our clothes serve as a reminder that we are scum and need never forget it.  I think some religions actually want us to get saved but stay shamed.  This is not our God.  Joshua didn't ask for it, didn't even deserve it, but God said, "Take off the sin and shame and replace it all with purity and righteousness."  This is the love of our God...extravagant and and expansive.  Not stingy in the least.  His desire is for forgiveness and freedom.  Not just forgiveness...freedom!  He wants us to walk away healed, clean, pure, and alive.  Oh, how desperately the church needs the freedom beyond forgiveness!  I do!

But the vision shared in this passage is sort of interesting in that while Zechariah is downloading this revelation from God, he actually speaks into the vision and adds his own two cents...

Then I said"Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

What?  The audacity of this prophet to want even more for Joshua.  The gull to ask God for even more mercy and bounty.  He saw that his head covering was still charred smelling of smoke and soot. He was standing up for Joshua in that moment and asking for everything God had to offer, going to the mat for him.  Man, do I love having friends that truly want all that God has to offer and are willing to fight for my heart.  It is rarified air this thing called friendship, true fellowship.  It is uncommon to have people standing in the gap for you wanting things for your life that you don't even know to want in the moment.

How astonishing that Zechariah gets so personally attached to the vision that he wants to make a suggestion...a revision to the vision.  He noticed that Joshua was mostly free, but not entirely.  He boldly approached God for more and God responded.  He didn't respond as a threatened deity or a territorial king, he granted him his humble request as the angel stood by.

And we have have angels on stand by.  All of us.  They are dispatched to guard and guide us.  To accompany us when we feel alone.  The strengthen us when we feel assailed.  They fight demons for us and stand as watchmen on the walls looking for the ever-circling lion who seeks to devour us.

The characters in the larger story are:

God
Angels
Satan
Demons
Me
Others

And we see in this story how they all interact in the unseen world to bring seen changes to our lives.

I hope this story encouraged you today as much it encouraged me.  Take heart, my friends.

(if my daughters and sons every read this in the future...I hope you are coming to realize the reality of spiritual warfare and how it effects us.  Know that I'm praying for you today, but also praying for your future that you will let God snatch you out of whatever is seeking to scorch you letting Him reclothe you in the garments of his salvation and love.  So much hangs in the balance of understanding this transaction with God.  If you don't know what's happening to you when you're being accused and abused by Satan, you will suffer in sin and shame all the while God is seeking to forgive and free you with his love.  I love you, my children.)

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