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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Supernatural Battle - Part Four

Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:14-15)  

Alister Begg, a pastor in Cleveland, Ohio, told his congregation a sad but poignant story about former Beatle, John Lennon. 

In the 1960s, John Lennon, Ringo Star, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were enjoying the limelight of near-worldwide fame. On February 9, 1964, the group made their American debut to a record breaking 73 million viewers on the Ed Sullivan show. It was in 1965 when Lennon wrote these lyrics of one of the Beatle’s more popular songs:

Help! I need somebody, Help! Not just anybody, Help! You know I need someone. Help!

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way. But now these days are gone and I'm not so self-assured. Now I find I've changed my mind, I've opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down. And I do appreciate you being 'round. Help me get my feet back on the ground. Won't you please, please help me?
Some fifteen years later, a music magazine interviewed Lennon. When asked about the background of that song, Lennon, whose name was instantly recognizable in nearly every corner of the globe, said this about the lyrics: 

“’It's real. I mean it. When ‘Help!’ came out, I was crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock’n’roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time . . .  but later, I knew I really was crying out for help.”

We have already looked here, here and here at the evidence of the growing and encroaching supernatural evil all around us. We examined the ‘belt of truth’ with which we are to gird our loins, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shield of faith with which we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the supernatural enemy. 

Today’s message centers on our footwear in verse 15. The Christian Standard Bible translates this section from the Greek: (Verse 14): “Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, [and now verse 15]: and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.”

The Scriptures speak of many different types of peace – peace with our neighbors, peace in our homes, peace of heart . . .. It also talks about being at peace with God. It is on that peace I want to focus today – being at peace with God.

Most people probably don’t think much about being at peace with God. They’re too busy with their lives to let eternity get in their space. 

But – and this is important for our evangelistic efforts – let me be quick to say this about those who hardly ever think of God: There was a time when I lived for years not giving God even a passing glance. But then it happened;

In the stillness of the night, when I was all alone and far from home and friends and family, God broke through my self-imposed isolation from Himself. 

And I am today still serving Christ, nearly 50 years later.

You and I can never know what is going on in a person’s heart in the stillness of their night. As Augustine wrote in his classic book titled, Confession, “God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

I don’t know if John Lennon ever recognized, even to the day he died, his God-designed cry for help was, well, God-designed. His lyrics had their source in God’s move in his heart to look to the ONLY one who could ever truly help him.

Which circles us back now to Paul’s point to sandal up our feet with readiness to present to others the gospel of peace. 

The gospel tells the good news that you, I, and all the John Lennons of the world, can have peace with God. We can be reconciled with God. We can be adopted into His family of sons and daughters who’ve been purchased for Himself with the precious blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus our Savior, Jesus our Messiah. 

The soles of the Roman soldier’s sandals were studded with what would resemble cleats. Those cleats – like those on the bottom of some athletic shoes which help the athlete maintain a firm grip in the dirt or sand – the Roman soldiers’ ‘cleats’ helped them ‘stand firm’ on the dirt as they battled with an enemy. 

Today’s text is all about stability in the battle. That’s why Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2: 15).  When we battle for our souls and for the souls of others, we don’t want to be slipping and sliding from one philosophy or religious idea to another as we fight. Biblical truth anchors us, it roots us, it steadies us in the battle. 

The truth of the cross is God’s assurance to humanity of His desire that we all reconcile with Him. It is His affirmative answer to all who wonder in the stillness of their night and in the emptiness of their own isolation, “Is there hope for me in God? Is He forever angry with me for what I’ve done? Has He turned away from me? Does He even know my name?”

Don’t you know we interact every day with people who ask themselves those very questions? 

Christian, listen! Put on your God-given sandals and bring them the good news that the Savior not only knows their name, but that He longs for them to reconcile with Him. Hold this truth from Romans chapter five like a tight belt around your waist: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10)

Reconciliation with God. Peace with God. The Scriptures make that promise from one end of the Book to the other. And get this: Almighty God has privileged us to be His ambassadors, to bring that unfathomable truth to the perishing. 

Here is what He tells us through St. Paul: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:20) 

Many of you know the words of Fanny Crosby’s hymn: Rescue the Perishing.

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.”

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”

“Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting, waiting the penitent child to receive; plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently. He will forgive if they only believe.” 

“Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore; touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that are broken will vibrate once more.”

“[Oh] Rescue the perishing, duty demands it. Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide; back to the narrow way patiently win them, tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.”

Do you think you are unqualified to rescue the perishing? Don’t let Satan trick you into selling yourself so short. If you love Jesus, if you serve Jesus to the best you are able, then God will use YOU to rescue them. 

Remember, neither you nor I stand alone in this battle. If all we could do was read the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the Holy Spirit would use that list of names to draw someone to the Savior. 

We are not alone, and Satan’s prisoners need ambassadors for Christ – people like you and me – to tell them how they and all the John Lennons of the world can find peace with God. It really is so simple, a child can easily understand the process: 

1. We must tell God of our sins. That requires humility, to admit we are wrong, and God is right.

2. We must apologize to Him for those sins and ask His forgiveness. That also requires humility, to admit we are wrong, and God is right.

3. We must ask Him to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve Jesus the Messiah for the rest of our life. That, too, requires humility, to admit we cannot live for Jesus in our own strength and with our own resources.

4. We must follow the Lord’s commandment to be baptized. Again, humility, to publicly acknowledge to everyone that you are wrong, and God is right.

None of the Roman soldier’s armor was superfluous. Each piece was vital to his safety and the safety of his comrades-in-arms. And each piece was necessary to successfully wage battle against the enemy. 

In the same way, none of our supernatural armor is superfluous. Each is vital to our protection and the protection of others. And our armor is also vital to successfully wage battle against our supernatural enemy.

Gird your loins with truth – God’s inerrant and infallible word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Put on the breastplate of righteousness which God credits to us through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus the Messiah. Take up the shield of faith with which you will extinguish the enemy’s fiery lies and doubts and temptations and confusions. And put on your battle-designed shoes, prepared and ready to tell all the John Lennons of this world, “God loves you. God died for you, so that you and He might be reconciled forever.” 


Sunday, July 28, 2019

One Year Ago Today

The urgency of the message and of the moment drifted across my thoughts and settled in my heart when I realized earlier today what day this is.

It's Sunday as I write this. One year ago today, on a Sunday, I stood before a group of residents at the 55+ community where I preach each week. Mom sat where she always sat: Front row of folding chairs. First one on the aisle to my right. My text that day was from the first two verses of Romans 12: Present your bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice. Don’t be molded into the attitudes of the culture, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I didn’t know -- I could not know -- on that Sunday one year ago today that on the following Sunday, I’d be preaching Mom’s funeral.

That is why, as I remembered Mom’s sudden and unexpected death, the urgency of the message I was about to preach today from Ephesians 6 – placing on our feet shoes that bring good news that any of us can be reconciled to God – the urgency of that message became a bit more insistent for me.

No one knows where any of us will be a week from today.

When the managers of the community where mom lived called me that Wednesday night, I knew – even in my nearly inconsolable grief – I knew where my mom was. She’d been following Jesus for better than three decades by then. She was with her Savior.

Yes, the message of reconciliation with God is an urgent message. It is a pressing message. I hope everyone who reads this will consider it carefully.

As God reminded me a year ago today, no one knows where any of us will be – even tomorrow.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Finally, I Gave My Heart

I love to read the stories of ordinary people who suddenly discover Jesus loves them. Jesus died for them. Jesus paid the death penalty they themselves deserved to pay in eternity. These stories are full of hope -- hope for the reader who can realize Jesus loves him or her, too. And what God did for this person -- my wife, in this case -- He is so willing to do for anyone who will come. I posted this a year or so ago. It's good to remind people, again. ------ I Finally Gave My Heart
By Nancy Maffeo For some people, accepting Jesus comes easily. For others, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
The morning I tried to crucify my mother, I discovered my sinful nature. I was five when I positioned the pointed end of a bobby pin against her hand. I thought, If I nail Mommy to her bed, the baby will have to wait until I let Mommy go. “Pound, pound,” I said as my fist tapped the pin. My mother awoke with a scream, grabbed the bobby pin, and shouted, “What are you doing? That’s what people did to Jesus.” Hot guilt flooded over me. I love Jesus. I’d never do anything to hurt Him! I ran into my bedroom, jumped beneath my blanket, and sobbed to Him, “I’m sorry.” By the time I was eight, I no longer hid in my bed when I felt guilt. I ignored it. I didn’t know denial of sin was the same as denial of Jesus. Later that spring, an evangelist spoke at our church. He asked, “If Jesus came to your house, would you invite Him in?” I was frightened by that thought. I knew I lied to my parents, sometimes hated my sister, and hid toys under the bed when they belonged in the toy box. I wouldn’t want Jesus to visit me. The next Sunday the evangelist offered us a way to welcome Jesus: We could sing, “Into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus . . . .” I sang the song and meant it. But only for a while. One evening during my second year in middle school, I devoured a large pepperoni pizza. By 2:00 A.M. my overly full stomach rumbled and ached. I prayed, “Jesus, I’ll follow You if You will just keep me from throwing up.” Minutes later I felt a peace flow over me and my roiling stomach quieted. Thankful, I tried—really tried—to keep my end of the bargain in the weeks that followed, but my heart had not changed, and I forgot my commitment once again. What I lacked in constancy I made up for in service. I attended church every week. I taught Bible classes and helped the youth director during my summer breaks from college. But when it came to making a formal declaration of faith, I stalled. I knew that any decision I made must be one of total surrender; I had to be willing to change. After college I found a job as a kindergarten teacher in southern California. I no longer attended church, preferring to fill my life with a boyfriend, long hours in my classroom, weekend visits with my family, or trips to the coast. During that time, I joined a painters’ guild and entered art shows, fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming an artist. Outwardly, I seemed to be prospering, but inwardly I was lonely, fearful, and insecure. During my third year of teaching, a fellow teacher mentioned that her daughter planned to attend an evangelistic series in the next state. The event would be televised in our area. The term evangelistic meetings brought back long-forgotten memories of Vacation Bible School, church picnics, and sitting with my parents in the church pew. I decided to tune in on a Friday evening. I set up my paints and turned on the television. The six-foot canvas titled “Homage to Hindu Thought” was almost complete. As I worked color glazes over the face of a Buddha, I listened to the music and the opening words of the evangelist’s address. The Holy Spirit caught my attention, and I laid down my brush.
I can’t remember what the preacher said that evening, but when he gave the invitation, an urgency charged me with purpose. “Choose now!” I recalled the many times I had refused to put my life, hopes, dreams, and future in the outstretched hands of Jesus. This might be my last chance. I bowed my head, asked forgiveness for my sins, and acknowledged Jesus as the one and only Savior. I knew that this time I’d made a binding promise. With all my will I committed my life to a relationship with Christ. I had no idea what wonderful plans God had for me. Nine months later I flew to Japan to teach in an elementary school on a navy base. There I met Rich, my future husband. God has blessed our marriage with three children and impressed me to leave my teaching career and become a full-time mother and homemaker. Writing for publication is another opportunity I would never have imagined. God helped me, a poor speller, to write clear sentences and to encourage others through my published articles. I will be forever grateful Jesus kept calling me. I have never regretted the evening I finally gave Him my heart.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

MAGA: Make America GODLY Again

While scanning the newscasts about the latest brouhaha between President Trump and those who wish him gone, I thought of his candidacy slogan – the one that’s become a household term: “Make America Great Again.” 

Over the last two years, entrepreneurs have created MAGA hats, MAGA T-shirts, MAGA coffee mugs, and a dozen other items for the Trump faithful.

As I mused about that slogan – which I think of as more a ‘goal’ than a simple slogan – another dropped into my mind, formed with the same letters. And the more I thought about THAT new slogan – that NEW goal – the more I realized it’s far better than the first:

MAGA. Make America Godly Again. 

If we could Make America Godly Again, all our current social and political dramas would melt away. 

All of them. 

So, how might Christians help bring such a thing to fruition? Here are some ideas off the top of my head. You can probably think of additional ones. And maybe if enough of us who are bought with the blood of Jesus do what we can do, God will send a spiritual revival to our great nation, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. 

1. You want a godly nation? Be godly yourself. Can your relationship with Jesus be better? More obedient? More devoted to His truth? Then make it a concentrated matter of daily prayer during which you seek – and determine to follow – His guidance toward becoming yourself more godly. 

2. Tell others the true story of Jesus as found in Scripture and proclaimed through historic Church teaching. The Jesus of Scripture said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) A few chapters earlier Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) 

Of course, there are many other examples in Scripture which demonstrate Jesus is humanity’s ONLY hope for peace, justice, and eternal life. And yes, I know, such a narrow and exclusionary declaration flies in the face of our pluralistic culture. 

So be it. 

Either Jesus is Almighty God-in-the-flesh or He was a madman. Those are our only two choices. And if He is God, then everyone who hopes for eternal life must fall only at His feet in obedience and worship. To Make America Godly Again, Christians must redevelop a laser-like focus on the life, death, resurrection and soon return of Christ. 

3. If we want to Make America Godly Again, then those who name Jesus as their LORD must implore Him for a holiness revival in our nation. Every spiritual renewal that has EVER occurred anywhere in all of history began when men and women went to their knees and begged God for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit across the length and breadth of their land. 

Christians often quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 – especially around an election cycle: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  

Look at that text again. The critical verbs within that promise are “humble themselves” and “pray’ and “turn from their wicked ways.” God’s promise to heal the land is contingent on what we as His people do to bring His healing. The ninth chapters of the Biblical books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah form a Biblical template for such a nation-wide prayer. 

4. If we want to Make America Godly Again, Christians must vote according to godly principles. We get what we vote for. 

There will always be problems that face Americans, problems such as immigration and healthcare reform – problems about which godly lawmakers can reach negotiated agreements based on God’s word. 

But in virtually every election cycle, candidates appear on the ballot who support and promote Biblically non-negotiable issues, as abortion and the redefining of marriage. 

“Thou shalt not murder” is one of the clearest of God’s commandments repeated throughout the length and breadth of God’s word. Any high school biology textbook will tell the reader that what is growing in the womb is a human being. The fetus is simply a person in an early stage of development, just as a neonate is in an early stage of development before becoming a toddler. A toddler is in an early stage of development before becoming an adolescent, and so forth. Another non-negotiable has to do with same-sex marriage. Both testaments warn against such sins that are a stench in God’s nostrils. 

If we are to Make America Godly Again, then those who call Jesus their Lord must vote against politicians who promote and support godless and evil practices. To vote for them is to tell God He is wrong, and our culture is right. 

President Trump and those who support him want to Make America Great Again. That’s a wonderful and worthwhile goal. But a greater goal, a higher goal, a goal that must again be the foundation of this great nation is to Make America Godly Again.

Nearly three millennia ago, the psalmist wrote words that ring as true today as when they were first penned: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12) 

May God help us do a better job at being ourselves godly, to do a better job telling others about the only One who opens for us heaven’s door, to do a better job in turning from our own sins, and do a better job voting according to godly principles. 

In the matchless name of Jesus, Oh, Lord, hear our prayers. Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Supernatural Battle - Part Three

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints . . . . (Eph 6:12-18)

In the first of this series on spiritual warfare, we looked at the evidence of the growing supernatural evil all around us and the supernatural protection God gives us by His presence within each Christian, and the protection provided us by His angels. In the next essay we focused on ‘girding our loins’ with the belt of truth.’ The Roman soldier’s belt was an essential piece of his armor. It held in place not only his short sword, but it also securely held the breastplate that covered his vital organs.

“Gird your loins with truth,” Paul warned. If Christians don’t securely hold on to truth, if we compromise and dilute His truth, then we open ourselves to devastating attack by our enemy. So, let’s now look at that breastplate armor held securely by the belt of truth: Paul calls it for the Christian the breastplate of righteousness.

The word ‘righteousness’ in Scripture often carries the idea of ‘thinking and acting according to God’s commandments.’ Virtue, integrity, and moral purity are always considered godly principles.

Seems simple enough. Obey God’s laws – the more scrupulous the better – and you’ve got nothing to worry about. But Scripture tells us God has something deeper in mind when it comes to Biblical righteousness. The former Pharisee and strict teacher of the law we now know as the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi what surely confused and angered his former colleagues. Paul said he longed to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith . . . (Philippians 3:9)

It seems he must have been paying attention to Jesus when the Lord said to the crowd of disciples, curious onlookers, and some religious leaders during His Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom. (Matthew 5:20)

The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in their observance of the Law of Moses, as well as the multiple oral interpretations of those laws. According to the two major theological schools of the time, oral traditions were as authoritative as the written laws handed down by Moses and the prophets. Those same oral traditions informed them that if they rigorously followed their traditions, God would consider them ‘righteous.’

Yet, can you imagine what the crowd thought to themselves when the Lord Jesus told His disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of their religious leaders, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven! If the holy religious teachers of the Temple will not enter heaven, then who can ever be saved?

Who, indeed? 
The New Testament writers repeatedly inform us, Biblical righteousness is not defined so much by what we DO, but by what we ARE. And when our breastplate of righteousness is held securely by the belt of truth, our lifestyle will change to reflect the works and words and attitudes of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Righteousness becomes imputed to us – accredited to us by God – not on the basis of works, so no one could boast. It is imputed to us on the basis of our faith (Ephesians 2:8).

That’s why painstaking observance of religious rituals and good works by themselves save no one. Why? Because sin is so much a part of our inherited nature, written like some genetic code into our souls – which is why sin invariably leads us away from the Savior.
That was St. Paul’s lament. Feel this man’s passion as he cries out about his sin nature:  “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want . . . I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:15-24)

Yet, Paul also recognized the good news that God calls us righteous because of our faith. Here is Paul again, this time from Romans 3: “But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe . . ..” (Romans 3:21-22). And once again he writes, “[N]ot having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith . . . (Philippians 3:9)
Did you catch that? The righteousness that God gives to us is based soley on our faith. No wonder Paul didn’t stop with the bad news of Romans 7. He moved directly into chapter eight this way: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? It’s all about our faith in the finished work of Jesus on that Calvary cross. It’s all our faith in God’s gracious gift to those who believe that Christ’s blood atoned for their sins.

Let me repeat myself for emphasis: It is not so much what we do as what we ARE that imputes or credits to us God’s righteousness. It’s about what God already did the moment we are born again. Just as God calls us ‘saints’ – meaning ‘holy ones’ (e.g. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1) because of our relationship with Him through His Son, God calls us ‘righteous’ for the same reason. Our righteousness, our ‘saintliness’ in God’s eyes is a fait accompli.
That’s God’s view of us; Holy and righteous. But if the enemy can create doubt in your mind about God’s truth concerning what we already ARE in Christ, if he can insinuate uncertainty in the unalterable promises of God, then he will have created a critical chink in your breastplate – and he will go in for the kill.

That is why girding ourselves securely with Biblical truth is so important to the Christian. God’s truth alone produces the kind of faith that sets us FREE from fear that God lied to us about of His promises, or that His promises don’t apply to us because of our past sins.

A few days before I presented this message to the people I regularly meet with at a 55+ community, I had a sad conversation with an elderly woman in another facility. I asked her if she loved Jesus. She said she did not. I asked her why. She said, “Because He doesn’t love me.”

Her matter-of-fact statement startled me, and I tried to reassure her of His love for her, of His willingness to forgive whatever it is she thought Christ would not forgive. But I could tell she wasn’t buying any of it. She’d been made a prisoner of war in this supernatural battle.

I implore you. Take this danger seriously. Don’t let it happen that you or those you love be taken captive by Satan’s lies.

None of the Roman soldier’s armor was superfluous. Each piece was vital to his safety, and to his ability to successfully battle the enemy. In the same way, none of our spiritual armor is superfluous. Each piece Paul mentions in this sixth chapter of Ephesians is rooted in God’s truth and is vital to our safety – and the safety of others. Our armor, all of it, is vital to our ability to successfully wage battle against our supernatural enemy.

Gird your loins with God’s inerrant and infallible truth. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Then put on the breastplate of righteousness which God credits to you through your faith in the sacrificial atonement of Christ.

Next time we’ll look at the shield of faith, another important piece of our supernatural armor.