Monday, October 27, 2008

The Belt of Truth

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:10-18

Some of you have served your country in the military. Most of us have not. But there’s some amount of common sense to protect yourself in war. If you knew you were going into enemy territory, what would you do? You’d probably want to have some way to protect yourself!
We are, in a sense, like God’s paratroopers, having been dropped behind enemy lines. Paul’s audience would have understood the military analogy – especially as they were surrounded by Roman centurions. They knew that the Roman centurions were trained to stand fast and not give way, no matter what the circumstance. That same quality is necessary in spiritual warfare, and this passage from Ephesians makes our battle orders clear: We are supposed to stand firm.
Before Paul got to the individual pieces of armor, he tells his listeners to:
(verse 10) Be strong in the Lord (strengthen yourselves in the Lord)
(verse 11) Take your stand against the devil’s schemes
(verse 13) Stand your ground
(verse 13) After everything, stand
(verse 14) Stand firm

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. What does a belt do? It holds everything together. This is what truth does. Our culture has allowed truth to slowly be eroded, exchanging absolute truth for "whatever works for you."
We find ourselves asking the same question Pilate asked Jesus in John 18, as Jesus was standing trial (before his crucifixion). Pilate asked Jesus if He was indeed a king. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
"What is truth?" Pilate asked.

So what do we know about truth?
Truth can be known or discerned, but there are also false spirits and idols that lead away from the truth. 1 John 4:1-2 tells us Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
1 John 4:1-2.
People don’t like being called out for sin. It’s hard to even acknowledge sin at all.

In fact, as 2 Timothy 4:3-4 says, For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Satan perpetuates the lie that there is no truth. But to say "There is no absolute truth" is making a statement of absolute truth! You can’t have it both ways!

The basis of truth is God, and the revealer and giver of truth is Jesus Hebrews 6:18 reminds us that because of his very nature, God is unable to lie. 1 John 5:20 We know also that the Son of God has come and given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Truth can only be found in Jesus Christ, and that has ramifications for us. Truth does not just call for intellectual agreement. It is to be obeyed and to characterize the new life in Christ. Listen to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:21-32.
Surely you heard of Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Truth leads to action. It’s not just a concept that as long as we believe the right things then we are fine. The only things you really believe are the things you act upon. I can see that all of you believe that the seats you’re sitting on will hold your weight.

The ramifications of this are staggering. Research is showing little to no difference in behavior between Christians and non-Christians. In 2007, the Barna Group conducted lifestyle research in the areas of gambling, relationships, sexuality, property and finances, substance abuse, and spirituality. In 11 of the 15 moral behavior areas they studied, there was statistically no difference between born-again Christians and non-Christians (you can read the full article here). This is scary. If we really believe in Jesus Christ as Truth, it should have an impact on our behavior.
How should someone behave if they know and walk in the truth?
  1. Admit to having sin. 1 John 1:8: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
  2. Keep God’s commands. 1 John 2:4: The one who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
  3. Do not hate fellow believers. 1 John 4:20: If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
  4. Instead love them with their actions. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul talks about growing in spiritual maturity, using the gifts God has given us to reach unity in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, "truthing" in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:14-15. This is often rendered "speaking the truth in love" but it’s more than that. In Greek, it’s simply a verb form of the word truth. So it’s not just speaking truth, but acting it out. 1 John 3:18-19: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.

This truth is what holds the entire armor of God together and allows us to stand firm. Without the Truth of Jesus Christ, none of the rest of the armor helps at all. So we put on the truth by learning more about Jesus – knowing Him more, and living out his commands, turning from our sin, loving one another, and living out the truth in every aspect of our lives. This is the belt that holds our entire spiritual armor together.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Win the 50-50 Ball (or, Let's Take This Fight to the Devil)

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:10-18

As you probably know, I’m a soccer nut. I have played, coached, and watched the game on various levels throughout my life, and I have made some observations about the game. There is a huge difference between playing levels. One way this can be easily observed is in how a team plays 50/50 balls. To explain, a 50/50 ball is a ball in the air – anybody’s ball. The lower the level of play, the more times the ball bounces. There’s even a big difference between college soccer and professional soccer; in the pros, every single ball is contested.

There are reasons that young players don’t go up for the ball
  1. They think someone else will get it.
  2. They don’t know where the ball is going.
  3. They’re afraid of the ball/They don’t know the proper technique for receiving a high ball.

You might be wondering what this has to do with us. Here’s the scoop: spiritual warfare is a reality, but sometimes, much like a young soccer team, we allow the "ball" to "bounce" before we do anything about it.

Here are some reasons Christians often neglect spiritual warfare:

  1. We think spiritual warfare is someone else’s duty.
  2. We don’t know where Satan is going to attack.
  3. We’re afraid of spiritual warfare or we don’t know how to combat Satan.

This is why we’re even talking about spiritual warfare, a topic that often gets overlooked in today’s "I want to be able to see, touch, and empirically observe everything" culture. Believe me; Satan is real. He is the father of lies, and one of the biggest lies he lets us believe is that he isn’t real. We can be assured that whenever the Gospel is on the move, Satan is on the attack.

Let’s start here: spiritual warfare is the duty of every Christian. It’s never "someone else’s" duty. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." When we ignore him, we are just allowing Satan to pick off the weak, the struggling, the young…

Jesus told a parable about how the Word goes out, and he put it this way: Some people are like seed along the path, where the Word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the Word that was sown in them. He always comes when someone begins to learn and grow in their faith, and, as Christians, it is our duty to be ready – not just for ourselves, but for others.

2 Timothy 3:12 tells us that "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" and this often takes the form of spiritual attack. If we claim Jesus Christ as our lord, we will experience spiritual attack, and we need protection.

To think that it’s just the pastor’s job or the job of the staff or church leadership is ludicrous. It would be like saying that war is the job of the platoon leader. Sure, he’s on the front line, but he’s not the only one fighting! The whole platoon fights, and likewise, the whole church fights. It would be like telling a soccer team captain to go get every 50/50 ball – it just doesn’t happen that way.

Remember that our fight isn’t against flesh and blood – it’s not against people, but against all of Satan’s minions: the rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

How can we know where Satan will attack? He will attack where the church is moving forward. He will attack when we are obeying God’s will. Remember the verse I read about the devil? He is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Lions don’t attack their prey in the strength of the herd. They look for a straggler, one who has gotten separated from the others.

Are you separated from God? Are you separated from others? Satan loves to pick off lonesome Christians. This is one reason why it’s important to come together to worship. It’s also a huge reason why cell groups are so vital in the life of a growing church

So how do we fight against these types of opponents, these rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces? How do we win at spiritual warfare? We take the fight to the devil. James 4:7 tells us to Submit to God and resist the devil, and the devil will flee! Spiritual warfare is the created against the will of the Creator. Because God is love, God allows free will and gives choice. He allows us to make bad choices. He allows us to choose to fight or to choose not to fight against Satan.

We resist the devil by simply not allowing him to influence or sway us. If we know the word of God, we can be sure that we know right and wrong. By doing "right" instead of "wrong" we resist the devil!

We also put on the armor of God, which we’ll be looking at in detail starting in two weeks.
Our most powerful weapon is prayer – we have been given the privilege of speaking directly to God for our empowerment and protection.

Not only that, but the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Paul concluded his letter to the Ephesians with the admonition to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

Because we’re committed to taking the fight to the devil, I know we’ll face spiritual opposition. And rather than just guess that we’re going to pray for one another, we need to start now.

We ended the service by pairing up and praying for one another - not chit-chatting or sharing prayer requests, but simply beginning to pray in the Spirit. If you're reading this online, find someone to pray for and pray together.

Jesus is the Blessed One!

Over the past two months, we have given a lot of time to the same portion of scripture: Matthew 5:1-12, in which Jesus pronounces blessing upon blessing. These "blessed are" statements were common in Jesus’ time – Jews were used to knowing who was blessed by God, why they were blessed, and specifically how they were blessed. The promise of Shalom, blessing, wholeness, and salvation was often what carried God’s people through, especially when they experienced tough times.

Unlike traditional Jewish blessing statements, however, which usually come one at a time, Jesus pronounced multiple blessings, blessing upon blessing, if you will, on those who know and understand their need for God, who mourn their sin and the sin of the world, who willingly place themselves in subordinate obedience to God, who want a right relationship with God more than anything, who show mercy, whose hearts are pure, who make peace, and who are persecuted because of their relationship with God.

The blessings: They get the Kingdom of Heaven, comfort, the earth as an inheritance, satisfaction in a right relationship with God, mercy, they will see God, they will be called God’s sons, and theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – great is their reward in Heaven.

If you’ve been reading these, you’ll notice that the rewards given in the first and the last of the beatitudes are the same: yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. This is on purpose: it’s a literary device called "inclusio" meaning "bookends." When you see this, you can be assured that everything in between goes together. In this case, we can understand that all of the blessings Jesus pronounces are "Kingdom of Heaven" blessings.

Does this mean that we won’t get any rewards for living this Jesus-kind of life until we’re dead? No, because in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has already broken into the world! The Kingdom of Heaven is among us even now, so the blessings Jesus presents are available to us now!

We Christians sometimes throw the word "blessed" around pretty willy-nilly (I know I’m guilty of this), but the blessings Jesus pronounces are anything but. The blessing Jesus talks about – this Shalom, is the end goal of all of life, and only God can bless us in this way. The blessing God presents demonstrates God’s character: who is God? Is God good? Is God just?

The conditions of the blessings – these conditions that Jesus pronounces, they are hard. Make no mistake: it’s not simple to be a Christian. When I was a teenager, I thought it was supposed to get easy when you became an adult, but it doesn’t. It is hard. But the truth is this: it is absolutely worth it. The rewards Jesus announces are so worth it.

Why? Because there is only one thing that will satisfy, and that is God Himself, and that’s what God gives us. When we look at the blessings Jesus pronounces, there is something unique. Jesus Himself satisfies every condition. Jesus Himself is THE Blessed One, and He is the One whom God sent to us.

Let’s look at it a little deeper.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit. In Philippians 2:5-7, we read this: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Our God became flesh. Jesus, who was by nature everything, emptied himself, becoming nothing. He spent countless hours in prayer. Before his ministry started, Jesus spent forty days and nights, fasting in the desert. This is someone who had all the credentials to do it all himself, yet chose to follow the Father.

Blessed are those who mourn: In John 11:35, we find Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus. But not only did Jesus mourn the death of his friend, Lazarus, in Matthew 23:37-39, we find Jesus mourning over Jerusalem. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’" Jesus wants everyone to come to him, and it grieves his heart when we don’t.

Blessed are the meek: Jesus embodied meekness. He was all-powerful – did you realize that when the soldiers approached him to arrest him, they all fell to the ground before him? Yet this is the way he was described in Philippians 2:8-9: And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! This is the Jesus who pleaded with God, "If there’s any other way this can be done, please do it. But not my will, but Your will be done."

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The Jewish view of righteousness went something like this: righteousness was given to Israel and to humanity as a main part of creation, and the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is the guide on the way to righteousness. They believed that the Torah, when rightly interpreted, was the means by which the hunger and thirst for righteousness could be met. One of Matthew’s goals was to demonstrate that Jesus embodied the Torah – that He was the One who was greater than Moses, and that it’s Jesus Himself who we are to hunger and thirst after. After all, according to Matthew 3:15, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. When he died on the cross, Luke 23:47 reports the centurion saying, "Surely this was a righteous man."

Blessed are the merciful: You cannot look at Jesus’ life without noticing his mercy. Jesus constantly went to the people on the margins. He touched the untouchable. His life was characterized by serving the outsider, the poor, the hungry, the broken. He healed bodies and forgave sins, and, in his death and resurrection, he did the ultimate in showing mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: Jesus embodied the pure heart. Listen to what two of his closest friends had to say about him: 1 John 3:5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
1 Peter 2:22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."

Blessed are the peacemakers: Jesus wasn’t just a peacemaker; he is the Prince of Peace. It was his death on the cross that allowed us to have peace with God. Romans 5:6-11

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness: Jesus was insulted, beaten, lied about, betrayed, and killed on a cross. He never sinned, but he willingly faced death, as that was God’s will.

As we travel along this journey toward our ultimate "great reward" we receive reward after reward as God unites Himself with us, reconciling Himself to us through Jesus Christ, setting
us apart (sanctification) and transforms us more and more into Christ’s likeness until one day we will be receive our ultimate goal of perfection.

Know that the blessing God gives will satisfy every desire. It’s not just a "sit on a cloud and play a harp" kind of boring version of heaven; it is having every single desire satisfied.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: If you know your utter need for God, He will give you Himself.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. If you mourn your sinful condition, God will give you Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, who died for your sin.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. If you willfully place yourself in obedience to God and are satisfied in all circumstances, God will give you Himself – as well as dominion over His creation.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. If you seek for God with everything, He will give you Himself, and you will be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. If you are merciful, God – whose name is Mercy, will give you Himself.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. If you’re pure in heart, God will give you Himself.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. If you make peace with others, rooting out sin, God will give you Himself.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If you build your life around a right relationship with God, you will be persecuted. Stand firm in persecution, because God gives you Himself.