Mike Robb

Spiritual Warfare for Practical People (Intermission – Issue 36)

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I woke up with my heart leaping from my chest. My mind and emotions were not at rest. I had made some decisions that might have impacted my family negatively. I felt a lack of communication and a tangible sense of unease in some of my primary relationships. I felt more tired than I thought I should be, flat spiritually and as if discouragement had somehow attached itself to my insides. In other words, I felt some kind of spiritual resistance. I think I was under attack!

Scripture tells us we have three primary enemies: the devil, the world and the flesh. When D.L Moody – an American evangelist in 1837-1899 – was asked one day, “Who is the biggest obstacle in your ministry?” his response was, “D.L. Moody!” That has also been my experience. My biggest problems are usually caused by… well, me, to be honest.  But before we get too discouraged, Moody also said, “If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent.”

And I think that means we don’t need to be spiritual giants or super humans to deal with spiritual attack. But we may need to be alert, because the devil, that enemy Satan, is an opportunist, and just loves to find a chink in our armour. He tries to irritate, distract or harm us. It can be mistakes we make, sins we commit, sins of omission, and even sins we have been forgiven that he may suggest we are not really forgiven for, that Satan will use against us.

So when we find ourselves in what may very well be a spiritual storm, what can we do? Scripture is the obvious place to start, and I love the clear, practical advice in James 4:6-10:

 “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

’God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  

Good old James is so sensible and practical, isn’t he? The following are some practical steps we can take.

Submit to God. Do things God’s way. Am I part of the problem, in my actions and attitudes? Confess it to God. Clean up any unfinished business. Is there anyone I have harmed or neglected etc? Go to them soon, apologise and ask for forgiveness. Then, resist the devil. Simply, clearly and with the authority God has promised in the scripture above. I believe that if you’ve acted on the first two steps, then any legal ground the enemy may have to hassle you is gone. You will find that “mountains” become “molehills” pretty quickly, the fog will lift and you will be able to see the sun and the way forward again.

Just a small example of this. My wife, Ruth, and I pastored churches in New Zealand for about ten years, and we had five small children. And if ever Ruth and I were going to have an argument, it would seem to erupt just before we were heading off to church on Sunday mornings. If ever a child could not find one shoe, it would be Sunday morning. If ever a child was to throw up all over their best clothes, yes, it would be Sunday morning! So, we would not arrive at church happy and serene as befitting our station! It didn’t take too long to see this was becoming a pattern. Did the devil cause these things or just take advantage of them happening? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that he loved to see us angry and frustrated right before we headed off to church.

When we prayed that this pattern – and our reactions – would change, almost immediately things improved. Yes, there was still the occasional lost shoe or vomit, but our reactions to these things became much gentler and more loving towards each other. And, as a bonus, we became more strategic as well! We would make sure all the shoes and clothes were laid out and ready on Saturday night. Also, I (Mike) would try and have my sermon written and finished off by Thursday night to relieve any ‘late pressure’.

Usually, when I don’t see a change for the better or have a breakthrough, it’s because I have tried to shortcut the process, and have not completed steps one and two properly before entering the battle. I have to remember that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I believe the most effective warfare stance is the bent knee and a humble, teachable heart.

Some may say, “This battle is not spiritual, it is emotional, psychological, physical, circumstantial, etc. and I don’t see a devil or demon hiding behind a bush waiting to attack.” Well that is ok; however you perceive it is fine with me. Yet I still think the principles outlined in James will put you in a far more secure place, knowing that you are submitted to God, open to his guidance and striving to be at peace with others in your world.

This will give you victory over many kinds of battles.

Mike works on staff at the NZCMS central office in Christchurch. 

This article is part of NZCMS’ quarterly magazine Intermission. Each article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive a physical copy of the magazine, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call on 03 377 2222. 

A giving heart (Issue 33)

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“Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness” Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church

A great capacity for giving comes from a generous heart, and a generous heart always finds the motivation and the outlets to love all people (including difficult people). The Bible challenges believers to recognise each person’s value and seek ways to validate each person we interact with.

Not that we need reminding, but throughout Scripture it’s clear: each and every one of us has profound value as creatures made in the image of a God who loves us deeply. Here’s just a few examples that speak clearly of the value given to each and every person.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)

I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us (Genesis 1:26)

If we as Christians, as God’s people on this earth, fail to adopt a giving attitude of valuing and validating people, we will be a second-rate church.

You see, it’s not just what we believe or what we think that will count in eternity, it’s what we do with what we think and what we believe that’s really crucial. If we’ve heard the Lord and are obedient to him and claim to have become people who have giving hearts, then it must be showing in our lives. Let’s see it in action. Don’t just think it’s a nice idea. Don’t just talk about it – do it!

Learning to Value, Learning to Validate.

The challenge God is putting to us is that we must stretch our capacity to love others by valuing and validating them. It’s not enough to just believe that we should have giving hearts, and it’s not enough just to accept that it’s a good thing for other people either.

A Pastor of a large North Island church whom I’ve known personally for over 20 years recently shared with a group of leaders some of the lessons he’s learned through the years. He told us about when he was transferred from a moderately small church to take over the Senior Pastor’s role in a large, ‘successful’ church. He was quite intimidated by the prospect and was very aware that he had ‘some big shoes to fill’ as he was still quite young and inexperienced. So, he asked God to speak to him about a strategy or leadership style that he should apply.

All that God told him (very clearly) was “Value and Validate.”

These two words were to be his strategy. And this was to apply to every person he met, irrespective of their office, or standing, or position, or ability.

He was concerned about having such a limited statement to work with, so asked God for a broader strategy, or at least a clearer word of explanation. But all he received from God was “value and validate.”

For the last 20 something years, that’s been his primary call. So in everything he’s done, he’s sought to be a source of encouragement, to build people up, to never let a goal or outcome become more important than the people involved. He’s sought to highlight people’s achievements and listen to their hearts. To value and validate a person means listening carefully to them. And it’s more than simply listening, but recognising and acknowledging that everybody has a story and needs a voice to tell it. It’s finding ways to help people recognise that everyone has a gift, and helping each person find ways to express and practice it.

Of course there are strategies, plans, budgets, trust boards, management, vision casting and everything else involved in a large church’s ministries. But he said it all must be deliberately approached, articulated and out-worked from the call to “value and validate” every individual person that may be involved at any level.

This church has gone from strength to strength. They’ve developed the larger church while also building up a number of satellite congregations, a number of local and international missional enterprises, a large private tertiary training institution, and have recently even purchased a fully functioning medical and counselling centre. And all of that has flown out of the simple challenge to “value and validate.”

For discussion

How are you & your group doing when it comes to valuing and validating people?

What opportunities is God giving you & your group to grow in this area?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

100s and 1000s in mission mobilisation (Issue 31)

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By Mike Robb (NZCMS Personnel Team) 

Hanging on the wall of my house is a small framed picture of those little ‘100s and 1000s’ sprinkles you put on ice-cream. At the top we’ve written “Train 100s to win 1000s.” This was a word God gave Ruth and I about 25 years through a preacher and it’s become the measure we’ve used to evaluate all major decisions since then. Regardless if its involvement in overseas missions, in the local church or in ‘secular’ work places, we ask ourselves whether it’s an opportunity to influence and equip and mobilise others for the furthering of God’s Kingdom. In other words, does it take us closer or further from training 100s to win 1000s? 

‘Mobilisation’ is a word that’s being thrown about in many mission and church circles. All of a sudden it seems we’ve all woken up to the fact that if we don’t mobilise for mission – if we’re not recruiting and equipping and training people – then there won’t be anyone engaging in mission at all! Future generations’ participation in mission depends on us taking mobilisation seriously today.

When the default setting is broke

The main places where the vast majority of Christians live, work and serve are outside the walls of the local church, not within them. Sadly, when we think about serving God, we often have a ’default setting’ that limits ministry to what happens within the church. If you want to serve God, your church offers plenty of options: become a children’s church teacher, a door greeter, a musician, a youth leader, even a preacher. These are all great and necessary, but it’s a very narrow view of what serving God looks like. When someone says they’re “called into ministry” they’re almost certainly talking about either pastoral ministry or overseas missions – it’s just our default way of seeing ministry and calling! But why couldn’t we have people say “God’s called me to medicine” or “God’s called me to be the world’s best postie.”  

I don’t think this ‘narrow view’ is represented by Scripture. As a simple example, look at John the Baptist. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord…”’” (Luke 3:3-4). 

“Into all the country… One calling in the wilderness.” That doesn’t sound like preaching in the temple or synagogues. Jesus too spent the vast majority of his time among the people: in houses, on the streets, at weddings and banquets, fishing at the lake. And we’re to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, taking the Gospel into the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8). “Into all the world” doesn’t sound like going just to the temple, synagogue or church does it?

Your local church is supposed to be the place where all believers are developed and equipped for ministry outside of the church. That’s because most Christians’ primary spheres of influence are in their schools, work places, clubs, communities and neighbourhoods. In fact, in order to reach the lost and build up the church, the ministry of most Christians must be performed outside the local church. Otherwise the local church becomes more like a residential care facility, where the staff look after the members and simply keep them happy. That’s not the vision of Church presented by the New Testament! 

More than seat warmers

Turning back to mobilisation, what if the primary role of the leaders of a local church was to care for and train, prepare and release Christians to be serving in whatever context God has them in? What might happen? What if attending the local church was more a means to a greater end, rather than just being the goal of our Christian faith? 

I’m convinced there’s more in God’s Kingdom for each of us than to just keep a seat warm once a week! What if the nurturing and equipping we received from our local church on a Sunday was to resource and encourage us for the week ahead, where we’ll spend much of our time with others who don’t know Christ? It was these environments that Jesus expected these following words to be applied, not in the local church: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14). 

So how do we move from seeing ministry as what happens in church to it being all about what happens beyond the stained glass windows? People’s giftings and desires need to be explored, evaluated, and possibly most importantly, given opportunities for expression. (From everything we can take away from 1 Corinthians 12-14, one main lesson is that Church and ministry are supposed to be something we all get to participate in.) Leadership of our churches may need to release people, provide training opportunities and nurture a culture of permission giving. Where else will the saints learn how to minister if not within the church?!

Could this get messy, and could some mistakes or disasters happen? Almost certainly! But are we willing to pursue mobilisation anyway? Do we really want to “Go into all the world”? 

NZCMS is all about ‘Making Mission the Centre’ for EVERY follower of Jesus. We want to see all of God’s people mobilised for local and global mission – which includes sending people overseas but involves so much more than that! Talk to us about how we can support you in your mobilisation efforts by emailing office@nzcms.org.nz 

For discussion

What’s the difference between seeing yourself as a seat-warmer and seeing yourself as a minister wherever God has placed you?

What can you, your group and your church be doing to equip people for ministry outside of the church? Are their opportunities for you to be equipped as well?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.