#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

For the Love of Women’s Ministry

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This has been a very interesting summer, as I have been developing a Women’s Ministry college course.  I’ve been entrenched in books on every topic from Women’s Ministry leader books, to deeper books on the biblical stance on women as leaders in the church.  I’ve been digging into the scriptures, looking at historical evidence, and frankly…. my head is going to explode.  There is a lot of information rolling around in my head, and much of it has challenged and even changed the way I viewed certain topics.

It has also increased my passion for women’s ministry, but a different women’s ministry from what I have ever known.  It has also opened my eyes to some of the glaring holes we have in resources, as well as lifted my spirit as I have uncovered things in the works across the country that are going to turn women’s ministry on it’s head.

Women play a huge part in the life of their church, most recent surveys estimate women make up 55-65% of most congregations, additionally they make up about 80% of the volunteer force of the church.  This volunteer force are the ones responsible for teaching and leading other women, teaching our children in Sunday School, leading Kids Clubs, volunteering for VBS, and this is in addition to service like preparing meals for new moms, taking care of hospitality for Sunday morning, rocking babies in the nursery, volunteering for secretarial duties in the church, cleaning up the church, etc.

Yet, it is becoming more apparent, that the majority of these women who are volunteering to teach and lead are not being discipled for those positions.  Are we ensuring that our women are qualified to teach or lead, or thankful for the warm body willing to volunteer?  Are we encouraging our volunteers by equipping them with mentors?

Women’s Ministry has lost focus in recent years, becoming unbalanced in what they offer to the women in the church.  There are more social events, fewer study groups.  Study groups are focused on content from books, versus content from the scriptures.  We are studying books about the bible, instead of the bible itself.  We have lost our ability to interpret scripture on our own.  We come together for social events to foster community, which is important, but at the cost of spiritual growth.

Why has this happened? 

In part, it is because Women’s Ministry has no real support at the moment.

Women’s Minsitries are often independent ministries within the church, that exist in their own sphere.  Pastors, sort of leave the women to fend for themselves.  They lack invested guidance, and many are not truly clear about the church’s vision.  The goal of a women’s ministry should be to use their calender of events and studies to support the vision of the church.  But in order to do so, the leader team really needs to understand what that is.  We need our Pastors to not only allow women’s ministry to exist in the church, but also to step in and help mold it.  We need a Shepherd.

When it comes to resource materials on Women’s Ministry, much of what is available is very outdated.  There are books and websites that lean more toward party planning, and less about making sure our ministry is gospel centered.   Additionally, many of these books are out of touch with the current obstacles and difficulties women face TODAY.    We are lacking books of substance, that train us on how to be effective leaders, run effective and gospel centered ministries, how to minister to the women in our church, and with changes in societal norms…. these subjects are just going to get more confusing.

Women’s Ministries are being led off the cuff, wading the waters and uncertain of what to do.  We begin to mimic other ministries, or do age old activities because “that is what women’s ministry does”.  We are afraid to break those molds, because women won’t come.  Or, we want to… but we can’t get the support of church leadership because of the stereotype of women’s ministry in the past.

I spent the last week speaking to women’s ministry leaders across the country.  I wanted to understand what the greatest obstacles women’s ministry leaders face.  I received the same answers, state to state…. east coast to west coast.

1)  We don’t know how to reach the 20 year old women in our church.

2)  We don’t have a budget to work with, to get the materials we need.

3)  We don’t have support from our Pastors.

I reached out to a woman who wrote her doctorate thesis on Women’s Ministry, and sadly… she didn’t have an answer to these questions.  She confirmed that these are indeed real problems, on a board scale, but there hasn’t been an answer in the church.  She surmised in her thesis paper, the best way to address it was to step outside of the church and start a parachurch organization.

I was saddened that this was her conclusion.

Then I looked at the statistics on the number of women leaving the church, and began to wonder.

I dug a bit deeper…. why are women leaving the church?  Why are women not committing to bible studies?  What are we missing???

Spiritual Gifts.

We are missing the fact that we have a church made up of mostly women, where God has bestowed gifts upon them to use for His purposes.  We are not identifying them in the church, we are not developing them in the church, and we really are not using them in the church.  Women feel as if they have more to offer than child care and making coffee.  They have gifts of teaching and mentoring, that are being unused.  So they leave, looking for a place where these gifts will be embraced.

Spiritual Growth.

Women want to grow spiritually, they want to dig deeper in to the word, and they don’t know how.  We have failed in bible literacy for women, underestimating what they can and cannot do (or understand).  We offer them cake, but eventually they get tired of cake and then they stop showing up for study groups.  It’s because their spirit wants something more substantial…. they may not even realize that is what they are missing.  They do know the group is not meeting a need.  We need to create programs that address this need.   Not just asking for volunteers to lead studies, but identifying and training study leaders.  Give those without confidence, confidence.

Spiritual Community.

Something that really breaks your heart, is when you hear a woman from your church tell you that she is lonely.  Recently a well known author posed a question on her facebook page, she asked what was the one thing women felt they were lacking in their church.  The answer, community.  Women want to not just have a church family on Sunday, or bible study nights.  They want to go back to the earlier church days where we were a community who “did life together”.  Older women responded that they missed having lunch with the church on Sundays after services.  Another commented that in 10 years of being in her church, she had only been invited to dinner with another family ONE TIME, and that her invitations were going unanswered.   She lamented that she had a closer relationship with her “non-Christian friends” than those she worships with.

A women’s ministry needs balance, and needs to be Christ focused.

Have social gatherings, like brunches and ladies night out events.  This is where we begin to form community.  It is the place where we start getting to know each other, establishing trust, and building relationships.  Use these social gatherings as an avenue to tap into the spiritual gifts of the women attending.  As you learn of their spiritual gifts, funnel them toward study groups that will help develop their spiritual growth and maturity, and build closer tight knit community. It is here that women will begin to have deeper bonds and are given the ability to serve each other with compassion and love, counsel and guide, mentor and disciple.  Then, as we wrap it all together, we have built up women to serve the church.  Women who are committed to serving in ways that support the over all vision of the church.

As our Pastors begin to recognize this shift in ministry, where we are intentional about every event & study pointing toward Christ and supporting the church’s vision… I believe we will see greater support for the ministry.

The change must start with us. 

The great news is that there is a widespread recognition amongst women’s ministry leaders that there is a shift coming in women’s ministry.  The are organizations that are developing to train women’s ministry leaders, and provide support and encouragement.  Several are focusing on the Pastors, and getting them on board with effective women’s ministry.  Three books are currently on the market that should be in your Women’s Ministry library.

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As these various organizations and ministries complete their programs for Women’s Ministry trainings, and more support resources come available, I will definitely be sharing them here.

It’s time to look at our women’s ministry with new eyes.  There are many men and women who see a revival on the horizon, within women’s ministry, or at least with women’s ministry a contributing factor.  Churches can’t afford to lose their women because they feel unrecognized, under appreciated, and under valued.  And women, we can’t take a posture that we will just leave the church and do it on our own.  Let’s not divide our churches any further, but restore unity within the body.  Be a part of the solution.