Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winning With Defense

I hope nobody will be annoyed with me if I continue to use football analogies to illustrate some of my points in this blog, but the truth be told, love it or hate it most people are familiar with the game and it's rules. For those who follow the game, there is an ongoing debate that never gets resolved and that is the question "do great teams win with offense or defense"? I'm sure most would say both, but it is a question that many fans enjoy arguing about, simply because there are those who love watching a great offense at work, and others who would rather watch a great defense. In the fight against Satan which all Christians participate in, we really don't have the option to choose because God tells us exactly how we can win, and that is with a good defense.

We have been looking at Ephesians 6:10-18, and learning how God has prepared us for battle with Satan and his angels. One of the most important points Paul makes here is in verse 11 where he tells us that what is expected of us as believers is simply to "stand". He repeats this in verse 13 where he tells us that after doing "everything", we stand firm. In his way, God is telling us through Paul that all that He expects from us is to play defense, not to play offense. We saw last week how in verse 14 we are told we can stand firm if we remember those parts of God's armor we have already put on when we made the decision to follow Christ. Those were reminding ourselves of the truth of Christ in which we believe, remembering our position before God thanks to the righteousness of Christ, and resting in the peace that is ours from the knowledge of the first two which was promised to us in the gospel of Christ.

So where do we go from here? Well, in verse 16 Paul introduces us to the most practical piece of our armor, the one that we will need to use the most, and that is the shield of faith. Now personally I like this picture because to me, it really illustrates well what Satan is trying to do to us as believers, and the way he tries to attack. First of all, an arrow is not all that large, and if one is coming straight at you I expect it is pretty hard to see. Second, I have watched people shoot arrows with the compound bows used today and I can tell you for a fact that those arrows fly very very fast. No way anyone is going use some ninja move to get out of the way because those arrows really move. Third, they are pretty quiet. You can look at an arrow as the first of the stealth weapons, because the first time you hear them is when they hit you, and obviously by then it's too late to do anything about it. Fourth, and even more important is the kind of arrow Satan uses. It's not your everyday arrow, but a flaming arrow which not only wounds you, but starts a fire that will continue to burn until put out.

As a result, God tells us that we need to take up the shield of faith. Hopefully like me, you have had the opportunity to watch a movie that illustrates the use of a shield to defend against an attack by arrows. I know I have seen a few that have done a great job showing what it must have been like to be in a battle like that. You have an army marching forward, carrying their shields which are almost as big as they are tall, and the opposing army launching their arrows. As soon as they fire the opponent kneels down and hides behind their shields as thousands of arrows fall from the sky. As the attacking army continues to fire their arrows, the defending army simply waits behind their shields until the advancing army is out of arrows, and then they begin their attack. God tells us something in verse 16 that I think is very critical for us to remember. He says that if we take up the shield of faith we WILL be able to "extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." Not some, ALL. Wow, talk about a winning defense!

Since we know we can win with God's help, it is also important to understand what these arrows will look like so we can recognize the "stealth" attack by Satan. I think the clue is in how God describes them when He says they are "flaming". Obviously a flaming arrow will start a fire, which then burns until put out. How does Satan "burn" us inside? I think these arrows will have two characteristics no matter what form they may come in. Remember they are coming from Satan, and we already know his method of attack. Satan want us to doubt the truth from God in which we have believed, so first of all these flaming arrows will come out of our own thoughts. It's a sneak attack that seems to come from nowhere when we begin to doubt what we believe in. Secondly, they will attack our position in Christ, the faith in Him that we have, which has already been described in the first pieces of armor we put on. You see, the key to overcoming a good defense is to first create doubt in the mind of your opponent that he is capable of defending himself. That works in any sport you can think of, as well as our fight against Satan.

Most important to us, though, is to understand the difference between what we believe, and the shield of "faith" which we are instructed to take up. What is faith? The best answer I can give you is faith is "acting" on your belief. You see, belief is one thing, but making decisions, taking action, demonstrating your belief in what you do is faith. Faith is always action. I can say I believe that the airplane will fly, but unless I get on board I won't be demonstrating faith. The fact that you may have doubts proves that you have faith. So apply your belief to everything, every situation you find yourself in, and you will be demonstrating faith and defeating Satan and his arrows. We need to be "active" believers, Christians DOING not just believing. Ever notice how the defensive players in football are always moving around before the snap? That's what we need to be as believers, moving targets that make it harder for Satan to hit.

James 4:7 tells us that if we "resist the devil", (another way of saying take up the shield of faith and act), the devil "will flee from you". We can win this battle. God has not only told us how, but given us the tools. We only need to follow His instructions to be successful in our fight. But the best part of all is knowing we only have to play defense. Guess who plays offense for us? Next week we will look at that.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Get Pumped Up

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the picture of a coach giving his players a pep talk before the big game. I know I've seen many examples on the television, as well as experiencing some back in the days when I was active in sports. Everyone is suited up, ready to go out and do battle, and the coach calls everyone together for a last minute talk before they enter the playing field. How many of us though, have ever really given that picture a lot of thought? I mean, just why does the coach do that? Haven't they done all the preparation in the preceding week? Obviously, if so many coaches do it there must be a good reason and purpose behind it. Even more so if you look at the passage in Ephesians that we have been looking at and see that Paul essentially does the exact same thing.

We saw last week that Paul introduces us to our adversaries, and warns us of what we should expect as far as the their tactics. Now, in Ephesians 6:13-15 Paul in reality gives us a little pep talk before we go out and reminds us of the reasons we need not fear. In these verses Paul makes the point that there are three things God has already done for us that have prepared us for the battle we face.

At first, for the second time we are told to put on the whole armor of God, which, if you think about it, obviously is very important or Paul would not have repeated himself so quickly. But there may be another reason as well, and that is that we are being reminded because it is something that may be easily forgotten! I guess sometimes the simple things are the first to be forgotten, so Paul here is simply reminding us not to forget. From here Paul goes on to describe the first three pieces of our armor. I think it is important to note that when Paul reveals these three pieces, he introduces each with the past tense verb "having". In other words, we have already put these three on and he is simply reminding us that we are already wearing them. When was that you ask? Well, I believe what Paul is telling us is that we put these three on when we made our decision to allow Christ to come into our lives and asked forgiveness of our sins. In other words, when we became Christians, we were issued these pieces to wear once and for all, and Paul is simply reminding us that we are wearing them.

The first is the "girdle" of truth. I know, you really are surprised to find you are wearing a girdle, but let's see if I can explain this in a way you can understand. In the Roman Army, soldiers wore short skirts not unlike a Scottish kilt. ( I'm Scotch so I get it.) Over this, they wore a longer cloak which was cinched at the waist by a girdle, not unlike a wide belt. (See, it's not so bad after all.) When they prepared to go into battle they would tuck their cloak up under the girdle to free up their legs for quick movements. It was the first thing they did before battle, so what Paul is saying here is the first thing we need to do before battle is be reminded that we are fighting for the truth! When we made our decision to follow Christ, we decided Jesus was truth embodied, and we believe in His promises. We are not fighting for something that is false, but we fight for the truth of God, and His message to us. This is usually where Satan attacks us first, trying to get us to doubt the truth in which we have chosen to believe.

The second thing Paul tells us is that when we first believed, we put on the "breastplate of righteousness". Now it's easy to see that the breastplate protects our "vital" organs. These are the parts of our bodies that ensure our very lives. But what is righteousness to the believer? It is our standing before God, and the assurance that we are an acceptable sacrifice to Him. How often does Satan attack us with doubts about our worthiness to approach God? He points out our weaknesses, shortcomings,and failures hoping to cause us to doubt. What Paul is reminding us here is that when we believed, Christ became our "righteousness"; in other words although we can never do anything on our own to approach God, Jesus did it all by sacrificing Himself for us. It is His sacrifice, His righteousness, that allows us into the presence of God.

The third piece of armor Paul tells us about is the shoes we wear called the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. Now as someone who spent many many years running, I can tell you that good shoes are one of the most important pieces of equipment you need to run a race. How often does Paul describe our Christian lives as a race? And we are talking about a long one, not a quick sprint, so the shoes we wear need to go the distance. But the word translated "equipment" or "preparation" depending on your translation, actually means "readiness" in the Greek. So what Paul is telling us here is that the third piece of our armor is actually a mental one. It is the knowledge and confidence in the Gospel that gives us a "peace" or calmness and courage. In other words, there is no need to be afraid of anything Satan can throw at us because we are at peace with the knowledge of the Gospel we believe in.

How like a good coach Paul is being here. We are getting ready to go into battle for our Lord, and Paul takes the time to remind us that we are already prepared to do battle because we are wearing three pieces of armor that were gifts from God when we first made the decision to believe. All three of these are designed to give us confidence and peace going into battle. Are you ready?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Changing Tactics

So the Super Bowl is behind us but for those who enjoy sports, basketball is in full swing and Nascar and baseball are just beginning. So where in the world am I going with this you ask? Well I was just thinking of an interesting correlation between these sports and what we have been talking about lately; that is, what we can expect from Satan as we approach the end of this age.

You see, if you follow sports at all you are certainly familiar with how the game changes as you approach the end. In football, we see the two minute offense where the team that is behind stops using the huddle to call plays and does whatever it can to speed up the game and try to catch the other team off guard. In basketball, the game actually slows down because the team that is behind begins to foul in order to get more time to try and score more points. In baseball, the team that is ahead brings in their closing pitcher to try and put the game away while the team that is behind uses pinch hitters to try and jump start a rally. In auto racing there is always more action at the end because that is when drivers who have been holding back throughout the race begin to make their moves to try and position themselves for a win. In other words, if you are behind, the closer you get to the end tactics change in order to try and pull out a win.

Now do you see what I'm getting at? If we are approaching the end of this age as many believe, then certainly Satan knows that as well. If we think seriously about it, we should readily admit Satan probably knows the Bible a lot better than we do. This is, of course, the individual who tempted Jesus by using scripture to justify his arguments. There is no question in my mind that Satan is fully aware that his time is running short, so it should be easy to believe that he will change his tactics the closer we get to the end. He will do whatever he can to take as many down with him as he can. So as believers, is it too much to expect that attacks on ourselves will increase in frequency and severity?

Knowing this, I thought it might be appropriate to look closer at what Paul had to say to us in the book of Ephesians about our fight against Satan and his forces of darkness. In chapter six, verses ten through eighteen, Paul outlines all we need to know about defending ourselves from these attacks, so I think we will spend a few weeks reviewing his points. Let's first of all look at verses ten through twelve and see what we are up against.

As always, you know my mantra is "context is everything" when studying the Bible. Here we see that Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus and explaining God's purpose for the church, as well as outlining what God expects from His people.
God knows what we can expect from Satan, so He goes to great length here to teach us how to defend ourselves. In verse ten Paul's first point is that our strength is from the Lord, and it is His strength that will fight our battles for us. How often do we fail because we think we can fight our own battles rather than let God do it for us? So our natural reaction to this point is to ask the question, "what am I to do then"? Easy.

Paul's second point is in verse eleven where he tells us that we need to "put on the full armor of God". Now that might seem like a no brainer, and yet many fail because they only go into battle with part of it on. Paul's point here is that to be successful we need to wear the whole suit. It may sound funny, but I remember something that happened when I was playing football in college back in the dark ages. I was a receiver, technically in that particular offense called a split end, and my job was to catch balls over the middle of the field rather than out by the sidelines. I had missed a few balls that were over my head, and I decided that it was my shoulder pads that were hindering my ability to stretch my arms as high as they could go. So I figured a little modification was in order, and after taking some of the "excess" padding off, I could then catch the passes that had up till then been a little out of my reach. All was well and good until the inevitable collision occurred which convinced me that removing part of my protection was a really bad idea. This is Paul's point. To succeed in defending ourselves from the "schemes" of the devil, (or tactics), we need to put on the complete armor leaving nothing off. Why?

The answer to that is Paul's third point. In verse twelve he tells us we need to do this because of who and what we are facing. He tells us "our struggle is not against flesh and blood". You see, if it was, we would probably only need to be defended from our front where an attack by a person would probably come from. But we are facing a fight from two fronts; rulers, forces, and powers of darkness of this world, and spiritual forces of wickedness from the heavenly places. So there are at least two fronts to defend ourselves from, and these attacks can come from any direction. There is no way we are capable to defend ourselves in this kind of war. We need to put on the complete armor God has provided, and let Him do the fighting for us.

Remember what Paul told us in Romans 8:31; "If God be for us, who can be against us"?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Doctrines of Demons

The dictionary defines the word doctrine as; " a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated".So let's bear this in mind when we read what Paul has to say to Timothy about believers that live in the "later times". In 1 Timothy 4:1 he says that just before the return of Christ some believers will "fall away from the faith" and "pay attention" to the "doctrines of demons". As hard as this is to believe, since God said it would happen, maybe we should examine what the "doctrine" of demons is.

Since it is always best to start at the beginning, let's go back to Genesis where man first encounters Satan and is introduced to what he teaches. In Genesis 3:1-5 we find Satan appearing to Eve with the intent to lead her astray. Satan is described as a serpent, but in truth, this is a poor translation of the Hebrew word. The word is "nachash" in the Hebrew, and it literally means "to shine" or the "shining one". So although the serpent may represent Satan, whatever form that appeared to Eve was a shining one, or with great attractiveness. Next we see he is described as "subtle", which is translated crafty or cunning, and we are also told he is more cunning than any other creature. This alone should give us plenty of warning about how formidable an opponent he really is. Finally we are introduced to his "doctrine" when his first words to Eve are in the form of a question concerning what God has specifically said. In other words, the first thing Satan did was to question God's word, and the authority that went along with it!

So if we compare what we know about what Satan believes and teaches with the statement in Timothy about believers in the last days, what God is telling us is that believers are going to begin to question God's laws and the authority of His word. Taking into account that Satan is also described as cunning, his arguments are going to sound very logical and appear attractive to us in some sort of way. Does this not sound familiar to you right now? We talked last week about how people in general are looking everywhere else but to God for the answers to the worlds' problems, and are in God's own words becoming "fools". But here we see that God tells us that even believers are going to start to fall away from Him, accepting Satan's argument that it is okay to question God's laws and His authority to make them.

It is no secret that today there are huge churches in America that are wildly popular because they in fact teach that very thing. These churches espouse doctrines such as parts of the Bible are irrelevant in this day and age, or we can change the world through social programs instead of evangelism. Spreading the gospel to an unbelieving world has taken a back seat to being politically correct, and practicing toleration and acceptance of any religion or lifestyle. It doesn't matter that God's word tells us different, because as Satan has led us to believe, God isn't always right now is He? This is the same line he used on Eve in the garden. On the one hand we could say Satan isn't very original but on the other hand, the same argument he used then still works now, and believers are buying into it.

Paul says it best in 1 Timothy 6:3-4 when he tells us that those who advocate a different doctrine are "conceited and understands nothing". Ouch. What's more, he says that these people have a "morbid interest in controversial questions". So do you know anyone like that? Unfortunately there are way too many people in the church now that are more interested in trying to stir up trouble by questioning what the Bible has to say, rather than accepting God's authority and doing what we are here to do; evangelize. This of course is exactly what Satan wants, believers that are distracted from doing the work God has for the church.

How do we as believers avoid falling into the trap that Satan has for us? Well, first we need to know what to look out for, and that seems to be evident in what we have talked about today. God's word is truth, and anyone who says different is falling for Satan's big lie. The Bible is our authority for any and all questions, and we can know what it says only by investing time and effort in studying it to know what Gods' positions are for whatever concerns come our way. I hope you have already set aside time every day to read and study God's word. Next week we will talk more about specific things we can do to combat the lies Satan tries to use against us.

As to current events, only one more week until elections in Israel. It would not surprise me at all if something happens in the Middle East this week as those opposed to the state of Israel try to somehow affect the elections. Keep watching.