Sunday, December 27, 2015

Suit Up!

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;    Ephesians 6:13-17  NKJV

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.

In this passage from Ephesians we see that Paul essentially does the exact same thing. In reality, he gives us a little pep talk before we go out to do battle and reminds us of the reasons we need not fear. In these verses Paul makes the point that there are four things God has already done for us that have prepared us for what we will face. At first 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 pieces of our armor. I think it is important to note that when Paul reveals these first pieces, he introduces each with the past tense verb "having". In other words, we have already been issued our armor and he is simply reminding us that we should already be wearing them. When was that you ask? Well, I believe what Paul is telling us is that we received these 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 should be wearing them.

The first is the "girdle" of truth. Now some of you might be 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. Over this, they wore a longer cloak which was cinched at the waist by a girdle, not unlike a wide belt. 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, our 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 and 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 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.

Fourthly, Paul reminds us of the necessity of taking up the shield of faith.  This to me, personally, seems to be the most important one.  Why?  Simply because our adversary is not going to allow us to go through this life without a fight.  We are told often enough in scripture that we will be persecuted as believers, and I am sure all of us have stories to tell of different ways Satan has made our lives miserable with personal attacks which were intended to cripple our witness.  Most of us have had the opportunity to be burned in some way by fire.  I’m sure we can all agree on how much it hurt, how painful the recovery, and even the scars that were left behind.  The darts from the evil one are described as “fiery”, so there is no question they are intended for harm.  Yet the promise from God is that His shield can quench them all.  Not just some, but all.

Finally we are told to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit with us as we go into battle. Now I don't know about you, but when I read this, the first thing I thought of is the use of the phrase "And take". It's almost as if it's a reminder because it's something you often forget. Do you remember your mother telling you as you went out the door in a hurry not to "forget" something? I almost get that feeling here. It seems like Paul is telling us not to forget our helmet and sword on our way out. Why would we do that? Well, most often by being in a hurry. It may well be that Paul is trying to tell us that when we know we are going into battle, or we feel we are coming under attack, don't be in such a hurry to fight that we forget two very important pieces of our armor.

Why so important? I think we may be able to answer that if we remember how Satan chooses to attack. Remember we found that he always attacks what we have chosen to believe. He tries to create doubts, so what we need most is protection of our thoughts. Paul tells us that the "helmet of salvation" protects our head, or mind, by helping us remember that we are saved. No matter what, once we have made the decision to accept Jesus into our hearts we are saved. No one can take that away, so our minds can be protected by the knowledge of our salvation.

We are also instructed to take up "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". Now most people would say this is an offensive weapon, and in fact, many commentaries do say this. Though I wouldn't necessarily disagree, within the context of this passage where we are being told that we are to be "defensive", I wonder if we need to look at it in a different light. Notice first of all that Paul mentions the sword along with the helmet in the same sentence. He also goes further by using the word "and" to tie them both together. That tells me they must work together, or sort of "hand in hand". How so? Well if we are to use the helmet to guard or protect our minds, the sword, which Paul describes as the word of God, must also protect our mind in some way.

A verse that comes to my mind when I think of this is Psalms 119:11 where it says that "Thy word have I kept in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." You see, although the word of God is most certainly an "offensive" weapon, it is also used defensively to keep us as believers living godly lives which then are a visible witness to an unbelieving world. Look at Hebrews 4:12 where Paul again tells us that the word is "sharper than any two-edged sword", but then goes on to say that it is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart". So in fact, we as believers are being told we need to use the word defensively by using it to control our thoughts and actions.

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 the pieces of armor that were gifts from God when we first made the decision to believe. All of these are designed to give us confidence and peace going into battle. Are you ready for the coming year and the battles we will engage in?  The closer the Church gets to our deliverance, the more we will need to be wearing our armor.  As my coach used to say; “suit up”.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Gift of Life

As Christmas arrives this coming week, our thoughts are, and should be focused on the greatest gift of all which is the birth of a Savior for a sinful world in the person of Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection for our sins could not have been possible if not for His miraculous birth to a virgin named Mary, chosen by God to carry and give birth to the Savior of the world.  His birth was made even more special to me this week as I was able to hold two new lives in my arms yesterday as my oldest daughter gave birth to twin girls on Thursday afternoon.  Yet I am sure the feelings I had as I held them did not compare to what Mary felt as she held Jesus in her arms knowing it was a miracle from God.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.          Luke 2:1-16 NKJV

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, I hope we remember that He was born to die, so that we can live. While we celebrate His birth by giving gifts to one another, may we never forget that it was His gift to us, the ultimate sacrifice, which allows us to make the choice to accept Him as our Savior and become one of His own.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to allow Jesus Christ to come into your heart, and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by simply praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered all of us by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Season of Giving, or Getting?

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”                             Luke 12:20-21  NKJV

Christmas is rapidly approaching and along with it comes the normal anticipation of just what we might find waiting for us under the tree on Christmas morning.  I’m sure most of us have memories of when we were children and the hopes we had looking at all of the presents that had our names on them.  As parents, I’m equally sure we have the memories of our own children and how excited they were at this time of year as they counted down the days until Christmas morning.  Yet while we enjoy this time of year and all that accompanies it my question to you today is this; in all of the excitement of the season, is it possible you have overlooked the one person most deserving of a gift?

Many of us are familiar with this passage from Luke, but as is often the case, sometimes we can overlook parts of the passage by generalizing the message.  You see, if you ask ten people what this passage is about they would probably say greed or selfishness.  Yet what would you say if I said it was about stealing from God?  Now if that sounds a little harsh, I suggest we look pay attention to the phrase “and is not rich toward God.”   Why “toward” God?  The answer to that lies in the realization of where all that we have comes from in the first place.  The Word is very clear on that subject; all that we have comes directly from God the Father.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  James 1:17  NKJV

Have you ever received a gift from someone at Christmas whom you didn’t expect to get one from?  What was your reaction?  If you are like me, your first thought is to run out and buy one for them as well.  It would just seem to most of us to be a natural reaction when receiving a gift from someone else that you would want to reciprocate in some way.  Yet if we apply that train of thought to our relationship with God, and acknowledge that the Word is clear about the source of our gifts, are we really as concerned with giving back to God the way that we should?  If not, exactly how does that appear to God?

You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.    Malachi 3:9-10  NKJV

Holding back from God is considered to be robbery.  Now while most of us might not look at it quite that way, God makes it perfectly clear He sees it that way. The phrase “try me now” is also translated “test me”.  It is the Hebrew word “bachan” which literally means that God is telling us that if we don’t believe Him, test Him!  See if He won’t deliver on His promise to literally give us more than we know what to do with.  It introduces something I have come to call the circle principle, which God has proven to me over and over again.  It is simply this; as He gives to me, I simply give back all that He has asked for.  As long as I do that, God has always given me more.  As He gives me more, I then give Him more, and the end result is an increase in blessing.  I now find that what I am left with after giving God what is His, is steadily more than what I used to have when I held back.

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”                         Luke 6:38  NKJV

What I failed to do, and what many other believers fail to do, is to take God at His word.  As I thought about that, it occurred to me that in essence, I was really calling God a liar.  As hard as it is to admit, that is really what it comes down to.  You either choose to take God at His word and believe Him, or you don’t.  For quite some time I found very reasonable excuses to give back to God a little less than I should have and then always wondered why I could never get ahead.  Thankfully there came a time where I realized what I was doing and made the choice to test Him as He asked, and as you would expect, He kept His word and blessed me more than I even expected.

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.      2 Corinthians 9:6-8  NKJV

This is the season in which we celebrate giving.  Not only did we receive the greatest gift of all, God’s Son in flesh to deliver us from our sins, we also, by receiving that gift and becoming a part of God’s family, receive the promise of His generosity towards us in ways we cannot even imagine.  All we need to do is simply remember Him when it comes to our giving, and give to Him first all that He so richly deserves. We all love to receive gifts, especially at this time of year but the question remains, have you first given to God that which is His?  Test Him and see.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:9-10  NKJV

If you have never made the choice to accept His gift of salvation to you, I pray you would do it today.  Just pray and ask Him to forgive your sins and to take control of your life, because you believe His Son, Jesus Christ was born, died, and rose again so you could have life, and have it more abundantly.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Shaken not Stirred

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.    Hebrews 12:25-29  NKJV

Though not entirely unexpected, I am still nonetheless curious as to why so many are exhibiting surprise at the violence we are seeing not only around the world but now, obviously, here at home as well.  I am convinced that the reason some are being taken by surprise is that they may have held the mistaken belief that the conflicts we are seeing are simply disagreements between cultures or religious beliefs which some feel compelled to radicalize.  I would like to suggest that this view may be a little shortsighted in that it ignores the fact that we are told without question that there is a war going on all around us that we do not see, and that is the war in the heavens.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12  NKJV

My question for you today is simply this; “do you really believe a war between heavenly forces in the heavenly places would not spill over into our world?”  While we may not be able to visibly see what is going on around us, it certainly makes sense that we would see the effects manifested in some way in our dimension.  I would further suggest that the closer we get to the end of this age, and the more intense the battle between the forces in the heavens gets, the greater the effects in this world will be.  Does it not then make sense that the increasing violence we are seeing now is a reflection of that escalation?

I believe the fact that the writer of Hebrews chose to quote from the Old Testament book of Haggai concerning the shaking of the heavens and the earth is a clue that there is yet a future time where God will again shake His creation in order to reveal Himself as God in such a way as there will be no question as to what is happening.  There is no doubt in my mind that the “perilous times” in which we are now living is simply proof that this time has arrived, and in fact, will steadily get worse. In the book of Isaiah we are even told that the heavens, as we understand them, will be completely changed and actually rolled up to reveal the awesome power of a mighty God over His creation.

All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.    Isaiah 34:4  NKJV

The purpose, however, is not to only reveal Himself and His power over His creation, but to also reveal that which cannot be shaken to the disbelieving world.  This is, of course, the kingdom of those who have chosen to accept the gift of salvation offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  While we might naturally be concerned with what we are seeing occur almost on a weekly basis, the truth is that we are promised in the passage from Hebrews that we are part of a kingdom created by God that will be untouched by the shaking He tells us will come.  Ray Stedman puts it this way in his teaching on this passage from Hebrews;

Jesus answers his frightened disciples again and again: "Be not troubled." "Let not your hearts be troubled." "Be not afraid." "Fear not, for I am with you."

This is the word which cannot be shaken today. What should our response be? The writer of Hebrews says two things: First, "Therefore let us be grateful" -- grateful hearts, praise and thanksgiving to God that we have a place to stand when all around is being shaken.

Has your home been shaken this year? Mine has. And it is great to have a place to stand which cannot be shaken. What praise rises from my heart to God for the unshakable things which cannot be removed!

When everything else begins to rock and shake, when our foundations are trembling and there is upheaval on every side, how grateful we ought to be for things which cannot be shaken.

Having grown up in Southern California, I have experienced my share of earthquakes and the feelings of helplessness you have when you realize you have no control over what is happening.  One of the things I realized from experience when subjected to shaking such as an earthquake is that your first reaction is to try and grab something solid to hang on to, as if that is going to help somehow.  As I thought of this, I could not help but notice this portion of the passage from Hebrews;

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably”

How do we serve God acceptably?  In this time of shaking, many will look for something solid to hang on to.  If we as part of the “kingdom which cannot be shaken” appear to others as having something to hang on to, is it not a perfect opportunity to “serve God acceptably” by sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ? 

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.    Matthew 16:16-18  NKJV

The rock Jesus speaks of here is the statement by Peter that Jesus is the Son of God.  Anyone who confesses their sins and asks for forgiveness believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God becomes part of this rock, the “kingdom which cannot be shaken”.  The shaking we see was prophesied by God thousands of years ago as a sign of the end of the age.  Time is running out for those who refuse to believe, and become a part of the Kingdom of God.  Have you made your choice yet?  If so, rest in the knowledge you cannot be shaken by all that is happening around us today.

Keep watching.

PS.  As I was finishing this post I came across another on the same subject written Friday by Alf Cengia, a contributor to the Omega Letter and someone I respect greatly.  I have included the link so you can read his perspective as well.