Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Sword of the Spirit

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.



Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.



Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:10-18



As we have studied the armor of God, did you notice that it was all defensive armor? The armor we put on (the belt of truth, the body armor of God’s righteousness, the shoes of preparation to proclaim the Good News, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation) is all defensive armor. This armor is designed to protect us from Satan’s attacks.


Today, however, we finally pick up a weapon. This weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This is a powerful weapon and is, indeed, the only weapon we need. But in order to wield this sword properly, we need to know how to use it.

You see, we’re not talking about a simple weapon that can be wielded well the very first time we try. I always laugh at books or movies where the hero is forced into a new combat situation, something they’ve never done before. Oh, and did I mention that their enemy is always an expert in whatever discipline they’re fighting in? It would be like me being challenged to a joust – I’m kind of afraid of horses, so I’m not a big fan of riding them, let alone riding one toward some jousting expert, who is charging at me with a huge lance, ready to take my head off!
Instead, we need to be familiar with the weapon we are using. We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Let’s look more closely at this sword we wield. It is living and active. The United Church of Christ denomination has a slogan that "God is still speaking." I agree with this wholeheartedly – God is still speaking. Unfortunately, their denominational higher-ups believe that when God speaks these days, He contradicts what He’s said in the past (please understand that our local U.C.C. does not adhere to this belief – they are orthodox in their beliefs, and they have consistently repudiated such talk).

If you wonder if the word is from God, you should be able to check it out against scripture. Does the new word contradict scripture, or does it fit with the Bible? Psalm 18:30 says, "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless." Psalm 33:4 says, "The word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does." And Isaiah 40:8 says, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." If God’s word is flawless, right, true, and stands forever, it doesn’t change. If the "God is still speaking" campaign means what the U.C.C. leaders say it means, that God has changed His mind, it would follow that God’s word was flawed (or at best short sighted), that it was not right and true, and that it does not stand forever.

That said, God does still speak to us. His word is living and active. When we read scripture, however, the first task is to find out what it meant. Only then can we find out what it means. God’s word is alive – it not only spoke to a certain situation in a certain place, but it also speaks directly to us as individuals and as the Church.

This sword is sharp. If you read the Bible, praying that the Holy Spirit will speak to you through it, you will be convicted. Certainly Scripture offers comfort – I’ve heard it said that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The word of God, when properly used, cuts. Try reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 without being cut. "Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." "Do not worry about your life." "Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged." "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven."

Feeling cut yet? Have the attitudes and thoughts of your heart been judged? If not, it’s probably because you’ve tuned this out. Maybe you’ve heard it enough that you’ve gotten immune to it. If that’s the case, you need to re-acquaint yourself with scripture through the lens of the Holy Spirit. And just when you think you’ve got it, that you’ve arrived, you’ll find that you’ve fallen short – that God’s word is more radical than you ever believed, that God’s word is more inclusive than you ever believed, that God’s word is more exclusive than you ever believed.
God’s word is a sharp sword – judging and cutting is what it does.

We read in Isaiah 11:4 "he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." This goes along with Revelation 19:15, which says, "from his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations." In the context of the armor of God, however, we see God’s word as a powerful weapon for fighting against unseen powers and against the forces of evil.

It shouldn’t be a surprise – God’s word was the weapon Jesus used when Satan was tempting him in the wilderness. Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation by saying, "It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"
You see, even Satan knows the word of God. He even tried to use it against Jesus! It’s sad but ironic that many deaths and injuries in home break-ins happen when the resident attempts to use a gun or knife on the intruder – the intruder then can often turn that weapon on the resident. Often the reason is that the resident did not know how to use that particular weapon.
Like I said, God’s word is a powerful weapon, so we have to know how to use it correctly.
Do you know how to use the word of God to repel the forces of evil?

We first have to know the word of God. I grew up memorizing scriptures – that was part of our Sunday School and church camp; we had memory verses. I know that the kids here learn memory verses, and I’m convinced that we adults need to as well. There are some of you who know the scriptures, and that’s awesome. God’s word helps us through good times and bad.
While Bible memorization is a good start, it’s not the only step. I wouldn’t send anyone into a sword fight without training, and I believe we need training as well. In boxing, they call training "sparring" – and in training to use the sword of the Spirit, I believe we learn best when we have a sparring partner. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

On Monday mornings at 8:30, I go up to Salem UMC in Wapak and participate in a Lectionary-based Bible study there. This Bible study is open for anyone who wants to participate – if any of you wants to participate, you can talk to me or you can just show up. This is one of the ways I keep my "sword" sharp and how I can get different perspectives than my own. In fact, I learn a lot even from people I don’t agree with. As it is, I am confident that God does not limit His voice to the Bible alone – he also speaks through His people. Sometimes others give us better perspective into the Word or how God might be working in certain situations. Sometimes it takes someone else to tell us where they see God working in our lives in order for us to fully realize and appropriate it.

Unfortunately, I believe we live in a time similar to the one spoken of by the prophet Amos. He said, "The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." We don’t hear the words of the Lord much, do we? So when someone says, "God told me…" or "the Lord said…" my first reaction is skepticism. We are often so busy or in such a hurry that we don’t hear the word of the Lord. I’m not trying to point fingers – I’m guilty of this as well. Perhaps slowing down just isn’t possible at your stage of life. Perhaps you can’t wake up any earlier or go to bed any later. But I challenge you to find the time to read God’s word and to meditate on it. Think about what you read. Talk about it with someone. Maybe write about it in a journal. You can re-read these sermons on my sermon blog and you can even write your own questions or comments on it. Or you can make your own blog if you want!

But more than simply knowing what the Bible says, we have to do something about it. In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it." What good does it do me if I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, yet I don’t do anything about it?

Just as a sword doesn’t help a warrior if he leaves it in its sheath, neither does the word of God help us if we don’t use it. Quite the contrary – in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan asked King David, "Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what was evil in his eyes?" This might have brought back memories of the prophet Samuel’s words to King Saul, as recorded in 1 Samuel 15: "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king." It is serious business to hear the word and to not follow it. Think of it this way: if you are in a sword fight, hearing the word and not following it is like charging in empty-handed against an opponent with a sharp sword.

Now, lest you think I’m just talking to and about some nameless "them" out there, look at what Jesus said to the "church people" of His day. In Matthew 15, he had a confrontation with members of the holiness movement and the top church scholars of the day. He accused them of breaking God’s commandments for the sake of their tradition. "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship, teaching human precepts as doctrines."

I know plenty of Christian churches that are guided by tradition rather than a mission for God. Though many of the traditions are worthwhile, simply following them because "that’s the way we’ve always done things" is not only unhealthy, but it can even be dangerous – it can end up being counter to God’s word. In fact, it’s like turning the sword on yourselves. This is why we need to be constantly evaluating our ministries; we must determine if we’re doing what the church is supposed to be about. Are we dedicated to making disciples for Jesus, or are we concerned primarily with ourselves? Are we concerned with those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ, or are we busy counting our toes? Do we exist simply to make ourselves feel happy, or are we ready to become all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel? Are we like the first-century church, the church in Acts 4, who were "filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly" or do we make excuses to not speak?

The word of God is a powerful weapon, but, like any sword, we have to use it. We have to practice our skills – meaning, if you’re in a Bible study or Sunday School class, it’s your job to read the material before you get there. Then, once you’re there, give some input. Disagree with something. Ask hard questions. If you’re not in one, join one. If you can’t make it to an existing one or there’s not one to meet your need, start a new one. Really, you don’t have to be the Bible expert to start a Bible study – that’s why we study the Bible, for heaven’s sake! Because we’re not the experts!!!

Now, as we go, let’s sharpen up our swords and do some real damage. We can have Satan on the run if we only use the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God!
  • Note that the included picture was drawn on a children's bulletin during the service. Brianna J (who even signed her artwork) was listening to the sermon and heard me admit that I am scared of horses, so she drew that picture for me.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Helmet of Salvation

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:10-18

As we continue in our study of the armor of God, let’s first review the pieces of armor we’ve already put on.
  • We started with the belt of truth – Jesus Christ is the Truth, and the truth both protects us and sets us free. If we do not know the truth, we are left utterly unprotected.

  • Then we continued with the body armor of God’s righteousness – having a right relationship with God, the kind that’s only provided by God. This protects us by putting us in the right place – in covenant with God.

  • Next we put on our shoes – the proper shoes being the readiness to proclaim the Good News of peace. The good news is that we can have Shalom – health, friendships, prosperity, security, and salvation. In essence, we can have wholeness. This good news was meant to be shared, and the shoes we put on help to prepare us to do so.

  • Last week we took up the shield of faith. This is our confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; and the assurance about things we cannot see. This faith enables us to please God and it allows us to see glimpses of the big picture of what God is doing, even through struggles.

Today we put on the helmet of salvation. You’ve all seen helmets; they’re everywhere. Bike helmets, football helmets, motorcycle helmets. The reason for wearing a helmet is simple – they protect your head.

The apostle Paul tells us to put on salvation as our helmet. Before I get to the helmet part, I feel like I need to do some more defining. The concept of salvation is one that is easily misunderstood, especially as it gets redefined by every generation. In Old Testament times, salvation referred primarily to divine deliverance from enemies. The exodus from Egypt was one such deliverance, and God was the deliverer.

In the Greco-Roman world, the term savior was well used, referring either to gods (who might offer assistance in delivering their devotees from danger or promoting physical health) or even to certain human rulers (who wanted to demonstrate their divine status). The New Testament, however, is consistent in who it calls "savior." Jesus is Savior, specifically through his death and resurrection.

Thus for the Christian, salvation is always linked with Jesus Christ and His action on the cross. Indeed, in Acts 4:12, Peter reminds us that, "There is salvation in no one else" but Jesus. Yes, that is an extremely exclusive statement, but I believe it bears repeating: There is salvation in no one else but Jesus.

This salvation is more than simply being snatched from the jaws of death – it’s more than defeating your enemies or being delivered from slavery or oppression, and it is more than being physically healthy. Even as the Jews cherish the memory of the exodus from Egypt, that salvation was only temporary – Israel was led into exile twice after that.

The exodus from Egypt, however, gave them a framework through which they could talk about salvation – looking forward to an even greater salvation.

Isaiah 51:6 says, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended."

Listen to Isaiah 25:6-9:On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, rich foods filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah was speaking to a troubled people, a people under siege. And compare his words to the words of John, from Revelation 21:
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God’; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

This should stand as a reminder that God’s salvation is greater than anything that the world has to offer. Indeed, God’s salvation is eternal.

So, who can be saved? In Matthew 19 and Luke 18, the disciples asked Jesus that very question, and Jesus told them that what’s impossible for mortals is possible for God – with God, all things are possible.

Salvation is indeed only possible through God – through the person of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith. This means that God doesn’t have to do it, but that because He is merciful, He chooses to do so. Remember what I said about a covenant? That only the innocent party can re-establish a broken covenant? Well, that’s what God’s grace is all about. As the innocent party, He re-established the covenant through the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Some people can discern a specific moment in time when they knew that they were saved. John Wesley writes of a meeting at Aldersgate Street where he "felt his heart strangely warmed." He writes, "I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

This is the case for some of us, but it is not always. The work that is required for salvation has already been done – by Jesus. So what does that leave for us to do? Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, and Romans 10:13 all state that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." In Acts 16:31, the Apostle Paul states that all that is necessary is belief in Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:9, Paul writes, "If you confess with your lips, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

You might be wondering if salvation only has to do with eternity – does our salvation have anything to do with the here and now? It absolutely does! We are not only saved from eternal hellfire, but here and now, we are saved from sin. We are saved from the guilt of sin, from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin.

Very quickly, being saved from the guilt of sin means that whatever we had done before is no longer counted against us. Because those sins are no longer counted against us, we are also saved from the penalty of sin, which is eternal separation from God. Finally, because Jesus’ sacrifice has saved us from the power of sin, we are no longer slaves to sin. God already paid a high price for us. We are each a new creation with the purpose of living for and pleasing God.

This is how we put on salvation as a helmet – and doing so protects us from sinning! After all, because of our salvation, we no longer have to sin!

We put on salvation as a helmet – but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid about it. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t know how to wear a helmet. I see lots kids on bikes wearing their helmets slung way back on their heads, leaving their foreheads exposed. I see lots of adults who choose to wear their motorcycle helmets attached to the back of their bikes. Can you imagine seeing a football player carefully remove his helmet before a play because he doesn’t like the way it messes up his hair. Helmets that are unworn or worn improperly don’t help at all!

So how do we properly wear the helmet of salvation? Philippians 2:12 tells us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." 2 Timothy 1:9 reminds us that God saved us and calls us to live a holy life. It’s not that your work or your holy life is what saves you – quite the contrary – but that work, that holy life, is how you properly wear your helmet.

Beyond this, 1 Peter 2:2 reminds us to crave pure spiritual milk in order to grow up in our salvation. As you grow up in your faith, show it by devouring the Word of God. Show it in leading others. Grow through personal and group Bible study, through fellowship with others, through worshiping God – even in other times and places than in this building on Sunday mornings. Crave that which will help you to grow more like Christ.

As we go this morning, I ask you to put on the helmet of salvation. And as Jesus told the so-called sinful woman who anointed his feet with precious oil, bathed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

We are all given the same opportunity – to go in peace, knowing that the helmet of our salvation will protect us. We need not worry about anything, because we are protected. We are no longer under Satan’s power or the power of sin. So go in peace.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Armor of God #4: The Shield of Faith

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:10-18

One of my favorite scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies is the beginning of the epic battle scene in the second movie, the Two Towers. The armies of evil mass at the base of the castle at Helm’s Deep, preparing for a mighty attack. Up on the top of the castle, in the driving rain, elves and humans prepare to rain arrows down on the marauding hordes. As the battle begins, arrows fly down upon the orcs, killing many of them. It’s only fitting that they first attack with arrows, because arrows are weapons that are best suited for long-distance attacks. An archer does not need to risk hand-to-hand combat to shoot arrows. This applies as well to spiritual warfare, as Satan does not need a foothold in your life in order to attack you with his arrows; he can (and does) shoot them from afar.

I really doubt that any of you have had real, physical arrows shot at you. I know the only time I experienced an arrow attack was when I played with one of those suction cup bow-and-arrow sets. But Satan doesn’t fire real, physical arrows at us. No, Satan’s attacks take different forms. Sometimes Satan uses other people and their sinful attitudes to attack us. He uses:
  • Gossip
  • Unfriendliness
  • Insider vs. outsider mentality
  • Hatred
  • Racism
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Stereotypes
  • Greed
  • Envy
  • Entitlement mentality
  • Constant negativity
He also gets inside our heads, using:
  • Self-doubt
  • Other doubts
  • Guilt
  • Sickness
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Uncertainty
  • Procrastination
  • Boredom
You can fill in the blanks with other ways Satan attacks.
We, however, do have an effective means of stopping these attacks. The apostle Paul tells his hearers to “Hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.”

The scripture says that the shield of faith will stop Satan’s fiery arrows. How does that work? First of all, understand that faith does not stop Satan from shooting his arrows – if the first salvo doesn’t get you, the devil will redouble his efforts.

Something I am assured of is that Satan continues to attack Christians. It seems like perhaps the only way to steer clear of his attacks is to give up – to do no work for God’s kingdom at all. In another scene from the Two Towers, the Theodin, King of Rohan, when asked to fight to save humankind, says, “I will not bring further death to my people. And I will not risk open war.” To this, Aragorn replies, “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”

Even if you don’t like it, spiritual warfare is upon you, whether you would risk it or not. Here’s the deal; if you’re on God’s side, Satan’s arrows will fly toward you.

Though faith doesn’t stop the arrows from coming, faith stops the arrows from finding their mark.

Faith shields us from the arrows. The book of Hebrews defines faith as the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Now, it’s generally easy to have faith in what we see. It’s easy to have faith that is substantiated through the senses and experience. We have great faith in much of science – gravity, for one example. We can’t see gravity itself, but we see its effects, and our experience with gravity has been consistent. So, since we know about it from experience, we know how gravity will act in most situations and how it will affect us.

But how can we believe that we’ll be protected from Satan’s attacks by a shield we cannot see?

I wonder what our relationship with God is like. For some, it is as sure as gravity. You know God extremely well, and you’ve had to. Maybe you can’t explain how it happened, but you know you’ve been under spiritual attack and you were able to make it through. You haven’t given up. You continue doing God’s work. Your faith in God has somehow gotten you through.

I’ve often heard people say such things as, “I don’t know how she does it. If I had as many troubles as she does, I don’t think I’d make it.” Perhaps you’ve said those words yourself. And on your own, you probably wouldn’t. But faith has a way of making things different. Faith has a way of helping us make it where there didn’t seem to be a way.

Faith is always reminding us that there is something bigger going on. When troubles seem overwhelming, faith reminds us that God is the Creator of the universe and that He can help. God has a plan – suffering is even part of that plan, as Romans 5 tells us: suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Even through suffering, we still have hope. While Satan’s arrows try to convince us that suffering is all there is, with faith, we know that there is more.

One of the toughest questions asked of Christians is this: why do bad things happen to good people. Even this question itself can represent the flaming arrows of Satan – the questioner generally assumes that God should stop all attacks (on so-called good people) and that for some reason He just doesn’t. But no matter the motives of those asking; that question is really a valid question. A simple answer is that there is a devil who is constantly on the attack.

Furthermore, faith reminds us that this life isn’t all there is. James 4:14 says, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Even the greatest joys in our lives, though they are all we know, will pale in comparison to the joy that is heaven.

Faith resembles a difficult race like the marathons I’ve run. During the marathon, I had to concentrate on finishing the race. I couldn’t simply concentrate on getting to a certain mile marker, because if I had been satisfied to run 20 miles, I would not have finished. If you ask a marathon runner why we do it, there are two main reasons: we feel great personal satisfaction for finishing the race, and we love the physical benefits of the extreme exercise. These apply as well in the spiritual realm: God promises us great rewards for persevering, and the process itself builds strong character. Faith enables us to persist, even in the face of suffering.

The other half of that is the great reward that awaits us in heaven. To be honest, we cannot imagine how great heaven will be. Too often we rely on lame images of heaven – sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp… I can assure you that heaven will be much better than this! It is unimaginably good – so good that it will make every bit of pain worth it. Kind of like reaching that finish line in a marathon – if you haven’t done it, you wouldn’t imagine how it feels.

On an absolutely basic level, faith enables us to please God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, and anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. Notice that faith isn’t simply belief in God, but it also includes belief that God rewards those who sincerely seek Him.

This community is obviously steeped in the Protestant work ethic – that hard work today will pay rewards tomorrow, and is thus worth it. Faith is like that, but instead of the hard, physical work, instead of the pain of running a marathon, the requirement is to sincerely seek God.

James 4:8 tells us to “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Our faith keeps us near to God, and it reminds us that we are under God’s protection and that He will reward us. And what about those nagging doubts and fears? Faith convinces us that scripture is true, and that our identity is that which God has given us. Listen to how the Bible describes us:
  • The light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
  • A child of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:14,15; Galatians 3:26, 4:6)
  • A new person – past forgiven and everything is new (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • A citizen of heaven (Ephesians 2:19)
  • Righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24)
  • Chosen of God and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4)
  • A member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9-10)
  • Free from the punishment my sin deserves (Romans 8:1)
  • I have the right to come boldly before the throne of God, and he will meet my needs lovingly and kindly (Hebrews 4:16)
Faith allows us to think of ourselves in those terms, not bragging or lording it over others, but realizing how beloved we are. When we get our heads around that way of thinking, it is a shield against Satan’s arrows, and though he will continue to shoot them at us, we will be protected.

The Armor of God #3: Shoes of Peace

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:10-18

Let’s quickly review the last two weeks of our look at God’s armor. We first looked at the belt of truth, remembering that Jesus Christ is the Truth, and the truth protects us and sets us free. Then we looked that the body armor of righteousness, remembering that righteousness is a right relationship with God, and that God Himself, through Jesus’ sacrifice, makes that relationship right. We are thus protected from the devil, as we no longer belong to him and are not enslaved by sin any more. Today we are putting on shoes. Specifically, Paul tells us, “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

Do you like to go barefoot? I do… to a point. I love to be barefoot inside when there is soft carpet. I like to be barefoot in soft grass. I even like to be barefoot on the beach – mostly because I hate to get sand in my shoes. But there are definitely times I don’t like to be barefoot. When I was a kid, my next-door neighbors had a gravel driveway – I always hated crossing that gravel without shoes. It’s hard to walk very far without shoes – there are too many obstacles that can hurt your feet.

Shoes are a foundational part of our wardrobe, not just to keep us in compliance with those, “no shoes, no shirt, no service” signs. [find a sign picture] Shoes protect our feet.

I am very interested in shoes. I have a different pair of shoes for every activity. I have indoor soccer shoes. I have two pairs of outdoor soccer shoes – one for hard ground, and one for softer ground. I have hiking boots and work boots. I have sandals. I actually have four kinds of sandals; my nice sandals, my waterproof Keen hiking sandals, my slip-on sandals, and I even have a pair of flip-flops. I have dress shoes – brown ones and black ones. I have some old school skateboard shoes. And let’s not forget my running shoes – I’ve got several pairs of running shoes. I don’t even need to mention my winter boots or my water shoes, do I? I love shoes. One of the reasons I have so many kinds of shoes is because they have so many functions. I wouldn’t wear my soccer cleats to preach – besides not being appropriate, the cleats would hurt my feet after a while. Indoor soccer shoes don’t work well on the outdoor field – I’ll slip and fall down. I love sandals, but I can’t run in them and I can’t kick a ball in them. My work boots don’t get worn that often, because I don’t do a lot of the kind of work that needs boots. And I’m very particular about my running shoes, especially when I’m running farther than about four or five miles – after that, my feet will hurt if I’m not wearing the right shoes. In fact, I’ll only wear my current pair of “good” running shoes for running. Not for basketball, not for walking around town, just for running. And after I’ve put 500 miles on them, it’s time to switch to a new pair.

This is appropriate to our discussion this morning. Not only do shoes protect our feet, but they also prepare our feet. If we want the appropriate kind of shoes to enable us to stand firm against the devil’s schemes, God has a special kind of shoes for us to wear. These shoes are whatever it takes to make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

Again, we need to define terms. Let’s start with a brief language lesson here. Most of us have heard the word “gospel” before, but have you ever heard it defined? The Greek word for “gospel” is e’uaggelion, from which we get the English word “evangelism.” This word simply means “good news,” so the word evangelism means, “bringing the good news.” Isaiah 52:7, from which Paul certainly got inspiration for this particular piece of armor, says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

The Good News is the news of salvation. The Good News is that while we were yet sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. It’s the news that God has chosen to renew His covenant with us – that we are restored to right relationship with God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Remember last week when I talked about the body armor of God’s righteousness? How that right relationship protects us from the devil? Well, that right relationship is also foundational for the Good News that brings us peace, and that peace enables us to stand firm in the face of the devil’s attacks.

The good news is supposed to be good news of peace. It’s time for more definitions. When Paul uses the word “peace,” he’s not simply talking about the absence of war. Sure, that’s good news, but it’s not THE GOOD NEWS. The peace that is GOOD NEWS can only be understood through the biblical concept of Shalom, a concept that encompasses our entire well being – including health, friendships, prosperity, security, and salvation. These don’t come just by our fights coming to a temporary halt. Paul, in fact, was writing about this Shalom from a prison cell – not necessarily our view of health, security, and prosperity.

Paul found Shalom, true peace, through the good news about Jesus Christ – that Christ died and was resurrected from the dead.

Do you know this peace? Do you know the peace that surpasses even the most difficult times of your life? And are you ready to proclaim this peace? Meaning – will you tell someone about it?

What do you think about when I say the word “evangelism”? Do you think of a crazy guy wearing a signboard saying, “The end is near” or a fire-and-brimstone preacher? Unfortunately evangelism has gotten a bad reputation. It’s unfortunate, especially if you remember that the word “evangelize” really means “to bring the Good News!”

What is the Good News in your life? How has God blessed you, even in spite of the difficult times? When you tell someone about this, you are bringing the Good News. Have you been delivered from sin or from a meaningless life? That’s Good News. Have you been forgiven? That’s Good News! These weren’t meant to be hidden – they were meant to be shared. You see, putting on the shoes of readiness to proclaim the Good News doesn’t mean anything until you actually proclaim the Good News! I had a teammate on a soccer team who showed up one day in a full complement of all of the most expensive brand new gear. He looked really nice sitting on the bench, but he never played. The point is this: don’t just dress like a pro. We called people like him “posers.”

No, we were never meant to be posers. The Church must constantly be moving forward, not simply with changing and updating methodology, but by consistently sharing Christ with those who don’t yet know Him. By proclaiming the Good News.

Here is your assignment for this week. This week, I want you to tell three people about something God has done for you. It doesn’t have to be a stranger – in fact, if you’re not used to doing this, I would recommend that you start out with someone else from this room. This way you can have a good practice session. This is part of putting on God’s armor – proclaiming the Good News.

The Armor of God #2: Body Armor of God's Righteousness

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Ephesians 6:10-18

Last week we put on truth, as truth protects us and even sets us free. Today we put on our body armor – the breastplate in biblical times. A breastplate was vitally important in the case of attack, as it covered the chest and protected the heart.

The heart is obviously vulnerable to physical attacks, be they in the form of arrow, sword, or dagger. But it is also vulnerable to spiritual attacks. In fact, I believe that Satan is always looking for ways that he can attack our hearts. As Christians, we exist in three major parts: heads, hands, and hearts. Our heads comprise our intellect. We can debate, weigh evidence, and reason about spiritual matters. Our hands are the center of our service to others. We do God’s work with our hands. And our hearts are the center of love. We love God and we love our neighbor with our hearts.

It’s easy for our hearts to get sidetracked from love. It’s easy for our hearts to be broken. It’s easy for our hearts to get hardened and callused to the point where we no longer love. In fact, all of these result from Satan’s attacks.

In order to withstand these attacks, we need proper armor, and the proper armor in this case is God’s righteousness. Now before we go any farther, we need to define our terms. The word “righteousness” is a good example of Christianese – it has a certain meaning in Christian circles, but pretty frequently we pastors use this kind of word without defining it, and when we do so, we might as well be speaking German.

So lets define terms. Righteousness is always a relational concept – I could define it as “right relationship with God.”

This is why “self-righteousness” is so ugly; it sets the self up as a god.

Here’s how righteousness worked in the Old Testament: God, who wants to have a relationship with humanity, chose the nation of Israel and established a covenant with them – remember all the talk about Abraham, how God was going to bless him so he would be a blessing to the nations? God promised to be their God, and Israel promised to be His people. But here’s the rub – when Israel rebelled and sinned, they broke their part of the covenant, and only the innocent party is allowed to re-establish a broken covenant! So we humans couldn’t do anything to get back what we’d broken.

This is why we find Jesus making statements like “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) – the Pharisees and teachers of the Law did all they could to follow the Law to the T, but they could not re-establish their innocence.

That’s the Old Testament version, but in the person of Jesus Christ, we find a new hope. You see, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God has re-established the covenant! Of course, as part of this restored relationship, both parties assume certain responsibilities to uphold our parts. Our requirements are to admit that through sin, we have failed to uphold our end, and to accept God’s gift of a restored relationship. Then, as people in a restored relationship with God, we are to obey His commandments.

Remember how Jesus answered the question: “what is the most important commandment?” He answered that it’s most important to love God and to love neighbor. Our hearts are the battlegrounds on which Satan fights to disrupt our obedience to the most important commandment. And our hearts are protected by a right relationship with God.

Your relationship with God is the center of everything. This is why Jesus tells his followers to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”

Think about it – living like this protects us from Satan’s attacks. How many times have we heard about someone whose need for more money has landed them in hot water? As a part of our ordination vows, we are asked the question, “Are you in debt as to embarrass yourself?” The truth is, most of our culture cannot say, “No” to that question. We’re all in debt, and often it’s because we seek that which we do not need. I’ve heard it said about men that we use money we don’t have to buy stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. That’s not living in a right relationship with God.

In contrast, how about the ones who live their lives generously? They give first to God and to ministry and then live off the rest. Have you ever heard them complain, “If only I didn’t tithe…” No, and probably also because those who do tithe don’t make an issue of it – it’s part of their relationship with God – righteousness, that is.

It is extremely easy for money to sidetrack us from a right relationship with God, but this is just one area of our lives. We can allow anything to get between us and God; our relationships, unchecked or unrepented sin, all sorts of things can cause those weak spots in our armor… the bad news is that we can all find those areas all too easily.

The good news is this: do remember how Paul spoke of this particular piece of armor? He called it “body armor of God’s righteousness.” Notice that he didn’t simply call it body armor of righteousness. No, it is specifically body armor of God’s righteousness. This is highly significant, because we all know that we can’t completely live righteous lives on our own.

Let’s do a little exercise – turn to your neighbor and say this: I’ve tried and failed… but God never fails.

God is always in right relationship with us, and if we admit our failings and accept Jesus Christ’s gift, then we are in right relationship with Him! This protects us from Satan’s attacks, because the very nature of our relationship with God allows God to set the boundaries.

Instead of allowing Satan to put a price tag on our integrity, we stand behind God’s body armor, saying, “That’s not for sale – I belong to God.”

Instead of allowing Satan to put our focus on material things and “stuff”, we stand behind God’s body armor, saying, “That’s not what’s important – owning a right relationship with God is more important than owning anything else.”

Well, if this righteousness of God is supposed to be body armor, how can we put it on? Matthew 5:6 gives us a clue. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Basically, this means putting that relationship first. Wanting it, needing it like food and water. And if you aren’t there, asking God to help you want it. Because when you pray like that, Jesus promises you will be filled – you will get it. It might not be instantaneous, but you will get it. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul writes “I don’t want some petty, insignificant brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness. … I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

This is a good place to stop for the day. Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

The Armor of God #1: The Belt of Truth

I believe that this church is at an important juncture in our history. We have a vital opportunity to move forward, to do exciting things for Jesus Christ, to touch this community and even the world with God’s love. We are starting new Bible studies, we are looking for new ways to reach out, being God’s hands and feet, and soon we will be gathering to determine the future course of our ministry.

It is an exciting time, but it can also be a difficult time. You see, the more we try to follow God’s will, the more we end up being attacked by Satan.

Some of you know all too well how that feels. You’ve felt inundated with spiritual attacks. I know how that feels – there have been weeks, even months, where my family has been a spiritual battleground – which is one reason why I need you to pray for us every day. It can be difficult to fight against an unseen opponent – but if you are feeling discouraged, take heart. This sermon series is for you!

Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us the following:

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power as you fight against the spiritual forces of evil. How exactly do we do this? We put on every piece of God’s armor.

Did you notice that Paul told his followers that to “stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth”? He said this because truth is the ground on which we may stand. If truth is undermined, then the ground we stand on will be unsteady. When we stand our ground on the truth, however, we have steady, sure footing.

What is so important about truth? This is the question asked by post-moderns everywhere – and whose truth are we talking about? And how can truth protect us?

Before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed several important prayers. Among them was a prayer for His followers, in which He prayed this: “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.”

Point number one is this: God’s word is truth.

It is vitally important that we know God’s Word. Many have been led astray because they don’t know the Word. They have an idea that something must be in there, because they’ve heard it again and again and it sounds like it ought to be in the Bible. Then when someone comes along with a slick message that sounds good, they fall for it. Some cleverly use proof-texts, the fancy word for taking scripture out of context to say what you want it to say, and others, less sophisticated, write their own translation of the Bible to suit their ideas. Don’t be fooled by impostors; God’s word is truth.

It is important that we invest our time in the study of God’s word, because it is truth, and this truth protects us from the lies that Satan throws at us. Satan tells us that we are not good enough – the Bible tells us that we are God’s children, made in His image. Satan tells us that our checkered pasts are enough to disqualify us from true Kingdom service – the Bible tells us that we are new people – our pasts are forgiven and everything is new. In the realm of spiritual warfare, identity is of utmost importance. The fact is, our lives are built around what we believe to be true. Obviously all of you believe that the pews you sit on are truly there – otherwise you’d be on the floor. We all believe in the truth of gravity – I haven’t seen anyone tethering themselves to the ground to keep from falling up. And if we believe the truth of God’s word, we will build our lives around that Truth.

If you read John’s gospel, you will find that Jesus is even called the Word – John 1 starts out by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What this means is that Jesus Himself is the Word. And if God’s Word is truth, then Jesus is the Truth. Jesus confirms this in John 14:6 where He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

Truth is vitally important – nobody comes to God except through Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Outside Jesus Christ there is no life. And Jesus Christ is the ultimate embodiment of Truth.

We protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks by identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ. Do you know that the word Christian identifies us with Christ? By claiming the name Christian, we are claiming a part of His truth. When we identify ourselves with Christ, we declare to Satan that we are not his. But even moreso, we admit that we are not our own; we have been bought with a great price.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth will set you free. Isn’t that a wonderful thought – being free? But what does it mean that the truth will set us free?

This statement works on two levels. First of all, Jesus is the Truth – and His sacrifice on the cross frees us from the guilt and power of sin. Because of what He did, we are no longer slaves to sin – instead we are free to follow Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Satan doesn’t have power over us anymore. Our old sinful lives don’t define us anymore. We are free!

On a practical level, truth sets us free as well. Have you ever been trapped by a lie? When I was in 5th grade, I once told my mom I was going to stay at the school yard until soccer practice. What I didn’t tell her was that at our last soccer practice, the coach had canceled that day’s practice, so I had decided to go to my friend Marc’s house. But you know how sometimes kids don’t take the messages home – our coach knew that, and he called each home to tell the parents. So my mom thought I just didn’t know about soccer practice being canceled and went to the schoolyard to look for me. Oops – caught in a lie.

Funny – if I had just told her that practice was canceled – could I go to Marc’s after school? – she probably would have let me go!

It’s easy to be caught up in a lie. Then one lie requires another lie to protect yourself from being caught. “Let’s just get our story straight,” you say, but pretty soon, it’s such a tangled web that nobody could keep it together. On the other hand, the truth will set us free.

One summer I was working construction with a friend and we were dismantling this garage. We threw the rickety old attic ladder into the dumpster, but it seemed that our boss wasn’t happy about it. In the morning, he came to me fuming. “Chad threw that ladder away!” I told him, “No, actually that was me. If you want, I can retrieve it from the dumpster.” It turned out that he had accosted Chad in the same way.

The truth set us free.
Truth, however, is more than just “not a lie”. We’ve heard the phrase, “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” so often that it doesn’t mean anything anymore – especially because in courtrooms, that’s often not what happens at all!

Sometimes the truth hurts. A big turning point in my life was when a Christian fraternity brother approached me and said, “You first introduced me to Christ, but now I don’t see you living that lifestyle.” The truth hurt, but when he told me the truth, it was the most loving thing he could do for me. Sometimes the truth hurts – but then it heals.

The healing truth is sometimes called accountability. When one Christian holds another to the standard to which we both are supposed to live, we both grow. I’ve seen both sides of this. I’ve been in a group where we held each other accountable. We had a series of questions we would ask each other weekly – questions like “Did you give your best at work or school this week?” “Did you spend significant quality time with your family and friends?” “Did you look at anyone lustfully?” “Did you tell any half-truths or outright lies

Truth has many enemies – not only lies. One huge enemy of the truth is gossip.

Let me be really clear with you when I say this: gossip is an enemy of the truth. If you don’t want certain people to know about it, then don’t tell people. If you have to say, “Now I’m not supposed to say anything,” then don’t say anything. If someone starts with gossip, your duty as a Christian is to cut it off – ask bluntly, “Is this gossip?”

Now, don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for confidentiality, and that is not a bad thing. But the difference is this: gossip is about someone else, while a confidential statement is generally about yourself. If you come and talk to me about something going on in your life, unless you instruct me otherwise, I will keep it confidential. A problem with gossip is that it stretches the truth and undermines relationships. And when we do so, we allow the devil a foothold.

The bottom line here is that truth is the first defense we have against Satan’s schemes. Satan tries to erode our relationships with one another and with God by undermining the truth. So we can protect ourselves by holding firm to the truth. Read and follow God’s word. Keep others accountable and allow them to keep you accountable. And speak the truth – no lies and no gossip. And continue to prayerfully put on God’s armor every day.

New Blog

Because I've been having trouble on the main church website in posting my sermons, I have decided to make a new blog simply as a clearinghouse for my sermons.

I hope you feel free to post in the comment section, including questions or even disagreements. Please, however, do so in a civil tone - if there are uncivil comments, I will delete them.