Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Sword of the Spirit

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.

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 breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation) is all defensive, designed to protect us from Satan’s attacks. But didn’t I say we were going to be taking this spiritual warfare thing to the devil? Why has it all been about defense? Isn’t the best defense a good offense? True. So today we finally pick up a weapon. Take up 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. In fact, when we examine how the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, we find that he knows the scriptures, too, and he can use them as a weapon against us if we aren’t careful. He often attacks us by taking scriptures out of context or by twisting their meaning.

I love to read, especially mystery or suspense novels, but I’m kind of a snob when it comes to what books I enjoy. I have a bunch of rules; for example, I feel like an author cheats when the culprit is someone who hasn’t been introduced until the end of the book or if the only way the hero finds out what really happened is to have the bad guy confess to him. Another "cheat" is when 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. There is a mainline Christian denomination with a slogan that "God is still speaking." I agree with this wholeheartedly – God is still speaking. Unfortunately, this denomination’s higher-ups believe that when God speaks these days, He contradicts what He’s said in the past.

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 denominational 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. 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."

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.

God’s word is 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, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"
Remember that even Satan knows the word of God and he 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 fight the forces of evil?

We first have to sharpen our swords: by knowing the word of God. I grew up memorizing scriptures; memory verses were part of our Sunday School and church camp. That’s not just for kids, though. 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."

I have found that my biggest spiritual breakthroughs have always come when I’ve been meeting regularly with like-minded Christians. I currently meet w/ a couple of other pastors for encouragement, accountability, and spiritual growth. This is one of the ways I keep my "sword" sharp and how I can get different perspectives than my own. In fact, I even learn from discussing scripture with people with whom I don’t agree. 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. This is why our cell group ministry is so vitally important. Even if you missed out on the launch, you can still join. We’ve developed a calendar of when they are meeting, and if you’re interested, you can fill out one of the white cards in the pews and Rudy can help you get hooked up.

But more than simply having sharp swords, we have to be able to use them. 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 1 Samuel 15, Samuel said to Saul: "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 into battle empty-handed.

In other words, instead of just knowing the Bible, we have to do something about what we read in it. In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it." James 1:22 tells us Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. What good does it do me if I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, yet I don’t do anything about it?

Please remember that we are supposed to use our swords 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. The word of God cuts, and we in the church sometimes have a tendency to cut down the wounded. Instead of using the word of God to attack people, use it in love. Find encouragement. Find ways to share the Good News. Use the Word of God to attack Satan’s strongholds and to attack the powers and spiritual forces of evil. Live out a life built on the Scripture: that is one of the greatest weapons we have against Satan… when people can look at you and say, "There’s something different about you; something good…"

Now, as we go, stand firm, taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Helmet of Salvation

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

Take the helmet of salvation…

It’s a different day we live in today. I was always outside playing with the kids in the neighborhood. I was always up a tree. Anyone’s parents were in charge of discipline. And I was the only kid I knew who regularly wore a helmet when I rode my bike. You see, my dad had raced bikes for years, and he knew the value of wearing a helmet. I learned that value first-hand when I wrecked my bike and broke my helmet in half…

A helmet is an extremely important piece of armor. Last week we talked about the shield of faith and its value for extinguishing the devil’s long-range attacks. We’ve talked about wearing the right footwear and about the breastplate, which protects our hearts. We’ve talked about the belt of truth, which holds our armor together. Today we talk about protecting our heads.

The classical view of the head was that it was the origin of the person. It was seen as important as the source of speech. It was placed nearest to the heavens and thus drew from heaven its power, distributing the power to the rest of the body. This is why Paul wrote "From Him (Christ, the Head), the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

We protect our heads by wearing the helmet of salvation.

So, what do we mean when we say salvation?

That’s a good question, because in the scriptures, there were several distinct meanings of the word, and if you take into consideration the general thought of the day, we can add to that total.
In the Apostle Paul’s cultural environment, many gods, Zeus, for example, were called "savior." Roman emperors were given titles such as "lord" and "savior" and their power as savior was evidenced by their ending of war and bringing of peace. As an aside, the good news of this peace and prosperity was often called euangelion. What was salvation? It meant being delivered from hostile enemies and from war.

In the gospels, the word salvation is often attached to Jesus’ healings. Salvation, in that case, is primarily from disease or infirmity.

Then, of course we hear about Jesus also saving people from their sins. So which is it? What is salvation?

It means being delivered from enemies. Psalm 37:39-40 says The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them because they take refuge in him. It also means being healed – not just from physical illness, but being made whole: health, wellness, and goodness. It even means deliverance from sins. But it doesn’t simply mean deliverance from. It also includes what we’re being delivered into. Colossians 1:13 says: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

So what does it mean to put on salvation as a helmet? God’s salvation protects our head, which thus distributes protection to the rest of the body. Note that I said "God’s salvation." I said this because salvation comes from God alone through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We can refer to salvation in the past, because Jesus already died and rose again, sacrificing himself for our sin. He already did it, and there is nothing that can undo what he did. It is also a future hope, because we are saved for something: we are saved for heaven, for our future glorious life face to face with God.

But more than just saving us in the past and saving us in the future, God saves us in the present. He saves us now. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:8, saying, For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." He goes on to say this: I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. Did you notice that he says "now" twice? He wants everyone to be clear of the urgency here. Salvation doesn’t have to wait!
What does it mean to be saved now? God saves us three ways: from the guilt of sin, from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin.

God saves us from the guilt of sin. Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but verse 24 goes on to tell us that we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. What that simply means is that we were made as if we had never sinned. Therefore we aren’t burdened by guilt and shame.

God also saves us from the penalty of sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We do not have to pay the penalty that is due for our sin. Jesus already paid it for us! Sin brings death, but Christ brings life to those who are dead in sin.

And God saves us from the power of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice defeated sin and death once and for all; we are no longer slaves to sin. God already paid a high price for us. Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. We are each a new creation with the purpose of living holy lives for God in order to please Him.

Remember that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. There is no salvation anywhere else. Ever. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the one great act of salvation, once and for all. And because of his action, salvation is available for everyone.

It’s not that we deserve it; we don’t, but because of God’s grace, we receive it anyway. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

Please understand this: as we put on the helmet of salvation, helmets that aren’t worn or that are worn improperly don’t help. I remember going mountain biking with my friend Roby, and long story short: we ended up camping with these two brothers. The younger brother was really crazy and rode really hard, but he had a helmet… nicely affixed to the back of his bike.

That kind of helmet doesn’t help. And neither does salvation if you haven’t accepted it. Salvation is available for everyone, but God doesn’t force it on anyone. 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. We’re not talking about a superficial "avoidance of the consequences of sin" but genuine calling on the LORD, coming from the conviction that I’m in desperate need and that God can and will save.

Unfortunately, even though salvation is available to everyone, right up to the last days, people will perish because they don’t love the truth. Remember how the Belt of Truth holds our armor together? 2 Thessalonians 2:10b tells us that They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. The truth is that Jesus Christ saves. Acts 4:12 tells us that Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. If you refuse to believe in him and put your faith in him, he will not defy your wishes and save you.

Salvation is a helmet that protects us. As the Psalmist wrote, in Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

Likewise, in Psalm 62:1-2 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress. I will never be shaken.

So stand firm, with salvation protecting your head and all of your life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Shield of Faith

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. nd 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

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite movies is the Lord of the Rings. Actually, it’s three of my favorite movies. But 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; Satan doesn’t need a foothold in your life in order to attack you; he can (and does) shoot his arrows 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.
His main weapons are doubt, fear, worry, disbelief, guilt, and despair. His target is truth, and he attacks by spreading doubt. He makes us fear, especially the unknown. He makes us worry – is God really in control? Then he makes it seem irrational to believe in anything. He buries us in our past; the guilt of sin, telling us that there’s no way out from under it.

How can we hope to stand firm in the face of all of these attacks? Thankfully, we have an effective means of keeping safe from Satan’s arrows. The apostle Paul tells his hearers to take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

How does this work? Let’s look at the Roman shield. They were large: big enough for a soldier to hide behind. And faith is likewise large enough to shield us. 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.

Please 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.

I am positive that Satan will continue to attack Christians. Sometimes it seems like the only way to avoid his attacks is to give up: to do nothing for God’s Kingdom at all. In another scene from the Two Towers, the Theoden, 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 does stop the arrows from finding their mark.

If you want to be safe from Satan’s arrows, you’ve got to put up your shield. You do this by knowing and remembering the Truth. Jesus Christ is Truth. God wins, Satan loses. God made you in His image and loves you. God knows what you are going through. Truth is Truth, no matter what the circumstances.

When Satan attacks you, remind him of the Truth. James 4:7 tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from you. Remind Satan whose side you’re on. Remind him that Jesus Christ died for you and that you have hope because of Him.

Then steadfastly refuse to believe Satan’s lies. Pastor Ray Steadman said this: Our problem is that we have become so accustomed to believing our feelings as though they were facts. We never examine them. We never take them and look at them and ask, "Is this true?" We simply say, "I feel this way. Therefore it must be true." This is why so many are constantly defeated; because they accept their feelings as facts. What if we would examine our feelings, always in light of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us? Like where it says in Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Satan can’t condemn. He can only lead you down the road to condemnation. Judgment is by Jesus Christ, not Satan! And if Jesus says "no condemnation" that’s what He means!

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, and suffering can even be part of that plan. Romans 5:3-5 tells us: to rejoice in our suffering, because 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.

But 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 a marathon. When I was running, 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 wouldn’t 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.

Remember this: faith is always in action. James 2:17 reminds us that faith without works is dead. Real faith, like Truth, acts in accordance with what you believe.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shoes of Readiness

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

Are you ready?

I remember the first week of 6th grade. I was in a new school with new friends and new responsibilities and new privileges. One of those privileges was that as 6th graders, we could participate in school sports. My friend David and I decided that we would go out for the cross-country team. I was excited about running, but I didn’t know much about the sport. So on my first day of practice, I came out, wearing my basketball high-top shoes. I soon found out that they were terrible running shoes. They were heavy and stiff – they were like running in work boots.

I’ve found that it’s important to have the right shoes for the right activity.

Our shoes are a foundational part of our wardrobe, not just to keep us in compliance with certain signs. Shoes protect our feet. I remember going barefoot all summer... but my next-door neighbor had a gravel driveway, and I sure didn’t like walking across it to fetch a ball… you can’t stand firm without shoes!

Stand firm… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

The shoes we are wearing are shoes of readiness or preparedness. We’ve got to be prepared! The Greek word that Paul uses here is used in the Greek Old Testament to mean a stand or a base, driving home the fact that if you’re going to stand firm at all costs, you have to have secure footing.

This "stand firm" thing should be familiar to you – it’s our battle order. Our secure footing is provided by the Gospel (appropriated and proclaimed). That makes it all clear, doesn’t it? Except that the word "gospel" is a good example of "Christianese" – one of those words that we Christians repeat so often that we often don’t grasp its significance. The Greek word here is euangelion, from which we take the word "evangelism."

Evangelism has gotten a bad name in our culture. For many, it brings up a thought of someone on a street corner, loudly denouncing passersby. This is not evangelism.

The word euangelion means "good news," so the word evangelism means, "bringing the good news." Isaiah 52:7, from which Paul most 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!’"

So when the Apostle Paul talks about the gospel, he’s talking about the good news: the message of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. There is no gospel apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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.

The Good News is the news of peace – and the ultimate peace is having peace with God. We can only have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.

Because we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, we are able to stand firm in the face of the devil’s attacks. Do you know this peace? Are you able to stand firm, no matter what’s going on? Even in the most difficult times of your life, can you truly say you have peace?

If you don’t have peace with God, it’s time to make that peace. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He is already extending you His peace, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace in spite of outward circumstances.

The shoes we put on, then, are the shoes of readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. What are we ready for? We are ready for Satan’s attacks, because we have the assurance that we are in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We have peace with Him through what Jesus did.

Not only do we have peace, but we are also ready to proclaim the good news of peace. This good news isn’t good news if it isn’t proclaimed! You see, putting on the shoes of readiness to proclaim the Good News doesn’t mean anything until you actually proclaim the Good News! Romans 10:14-15: How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring 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."

We were never meant to be posers. The Church must constantly be moving forward by consistently sharing Christ with those who don’t yet know Him. By proclaiming the Good News or peace.

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.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Breastplate of Righteousness

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.

Our battle order is to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks. Be strong, take your stand, stand your ground, after you’ve done everything, stand, stand firm.

Last week we were reminded that God’s truth is the centerpiece of our armor, holding everything together.

Today we’re focusing on the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate was one of the last pieces of functional armor to be used on the battlefield because it protected the vital organs without limiting mobility. In fact, even today, we outfit our soldiers with a sort of breastplate: the bulletproof vest.

A breastplate is important, again, because it protects the vital organs, most notably the heart. The heart represents the center of who we are. The heart was understood as the center of emotion, thinking, understanding, judgment, desire, wisdom, and morality. The heart receives God’s teachings, which thus influence our character. People in Bible times regarded the heart as the source of all the body’s activities. This means that whatever you do is controlled by your heart.

Proverbs 4:20-23 tells us this: My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Did you hear that? Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. This is what’s most important to guard, and Satan knows that full well. Satan will attack your heart, because he knows how important the heart is.

Here’s something to consider: every heart has a ruler. Every heart is ruled by something. What rules your heart? Well, what keeps you awake at night? What gets you super excited? Where do you spend a majority of your time? There’s a good chance that one of those things rules your heart.

Does God rule your heart, or do you? Jesus tells his followers to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well. Many of us find ourselves seeking first after "all these things" – and losing out on the Kingdom in the process. What that means is that you’ve allowed your heart to be ruled by someone or something other than God…

So, how do we guard our hearts?

We guard our hearts by following one of the most memorized passages of scripture ever: Deuteronomy 6:5, where we’re told to love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.

Paul tells us to stand firm, with the breastplate of righteousness in place. What does this really mean? Remember that righteousness is simply the seminary word for being in a right relationship with God. To protect who we are, how we think, how we make decisions, whatever we do, we must be in right relationship with God.

How can we do that?

We recognize our need for God; we have sinned and that messed up our relationship. God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice, and sin cannot remain in His presence. If we do not recognize and admit our sin, there is nothing we can do to get back in God’s favor.

We accept that Jesus already paid the price that was required to reconcile us to God.

We grow in our love of Jesus and in likeness to Him, putting Him first in everything we do.
Putting our relationship with Him first protects us from danger during Satan’s attacks.

How does this work?

We gain confidence in who we are. God reminds us of who we are: we are fearfully and wonderfully made, says Psalm 139, created in God’s image, says Genesis 1.

God reminds us Whose we are: if we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, then we have been set apart by Him and for Him. And if God is for us, who can stand against us?

As God transforms us, He helps us overcome temptations and to cease sinful behavior.
So let’s prepare for Communion by wearing the breastplate of righteousness.