Monday, September 3, 2012

Be Strong

Audio available.  Message from Aug 26.  From 1 Samuel 17 and Ephesians 6.10-20.

"Spiritual warfare" --so many misconceptions are floating around. On one hand, our national election campaigns resemble holy wars and the party conventions a tent revival. Voting for this candidate is a strike against the devil! Sometimes, the contrast is painted so clearly that we forget that the political process is about power and not salvation. As Paul reminds us, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood"--not in politics, not in labor-management conflict, not in personality conflicts. Our struggle is a spiritual one.

On the other hand, we have spiritual warfare made exotic and perhaps glamorous by The Exorcist and shows that deal in the occult. And then, we have spiritual warfare made into an ever-present reality as the devil is suddenly behind the traffic light turning red when we are late to church. (Does anyone have to go through a light to get here?) Martin Luther, the great German reformer who wrote the 95 Theses reportedly quipped that when he saw the devil peeking in the window, he dropped his pants and mooned him. Somehow, that never quite makes it into Paul's list of "the armor of God".

We err when we secularize spiritual warfare. Certainly evil is active in this world of ours and in our social structures, political and otherwise. But Jesus never used the power systems of this world to bring salvation and deliverance. Neither can we.

We err when we glamorize spiritual warfare into the hiddenness of the occult, into special words for special prayers, into claiming the blood and naming the name of Jesus as magic words rather than as the Christ of God. The Ephesian Christians would remember the story in Acts 19 of the seven sons of Sceva who tried to cast out demons "in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches". They thought this a "formula", "recipe", "prescription". And they were sorely defeated--stripped and beaten by the possessed man--because they did not truly know Christ. And the Ephesian Christians would remember that great bonfire, in which 5 million dollars worth of magic and occult scrolls were destroyed.

We err when we standardize spiritual warfare, making it part of the every-day, every-moment routine. It is not an exceptional or unusual thing, but neither can we look at every event in life as being formed by the conflict of good and evil (except the good and evil that we ourselves bring to life).

At the same time, we must affirm that there is an actual battle, that there is a dire struggle in which we are engaged. It is with "the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". (NOTE: This is a different idea of "heaven" than we typically expect, an idea that defines heaven as the realm of spirit and spirit power, whether of darkness or light.)

And what does Paul want for us in this spiritual battle? Paul wants us to "be strong" and "to stand" "when the day of evil comes" (NIV).

When we or someone we love is looking death in the eye; when debt has sprung its trap or the job we've depended on has fallen through; when drought threatens our livelihood – it is an evil day.

When we are drawn into unfaithfulness; when depression calls us to leap over the edge; when anger threatens to consume our souls; when bitterness has hollowed us out – it is an evil day.

When AIDS is the leading cause of death for young adults aged 25-44 (1997 HIV/AIDS Sunday materials); when children and women are beaten by those who should protect them; when older adults are consigned to finishing life alone and without family – it is an evil day!

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes . . . . 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."

If we trust in our own integrity instead of wearing the belt of God's truth, the devil will catch us with our pants down (though probably a little differently than Martin Luther).

If we trust in our own righteousness rather than God's, we will discover our heart's deceitful desires exposed and its affections leading us astray.

If we trust in our own footing rather than the gospel shoes of peace, our feet will run for trouble.

If we place our faith in our selves or in another, we will soon discover how weak our life is without God as its foundation.

If we trust in our brains to save us, we will quickly discover the meaning of "hard-headed", or, perhaps, "dim-witted".

If we rely on our "way with words", we will simply injure others rather than allowing the Spirit of God to put the word of God to good use.

"Put on the full armor of God".

David and Saul’s armor

this is the armor of God, not ours, not another’s, but the Lord’s

No protection for the backside

no retreat, but stand and fight

advance against the enemy

Objective: proclaim the gospel of peace boldly – our MISSION

"Put on the full armor of God." The armor of God is indispensable, but it is not tangible. It is being clothed with Christ, or, in the opening words of this section, "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power". So, how to put it on, Paul? "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. Pray also for me. . . ."

Prayer is important not because it coerces God into action. No, God does hear and respond and interact, but God is independent from us. Prayer is important not because it beats the devil into submission. No, Christ Jesus has already won the victory over evil of every kind.

Prayer is important because through it we stand in the Lord, we are strong in the Lord. Prayer is important because through prayer we enter into the victory already achieved in Christ. Even the holy apostle requested prayers!

The path to standing firm in the Lord, the path to being clothed with the armor of God, is simple--and very difficult. It is prayer--on all occasions, of all kinds, at all times, for all the saints. Obviously, we cannot be on our knees for 24-hours a day, every day! But we can learn to turn all our living into praying. Prayer is not always verbal, but it is a living and constant connection. Husband and wife can sit together in silence and yet be deeply connected. It is in the realm of depth that God calls us to live, because the realm of depth is the "heavenlies". And it is prayer that takes us into that realm and helps us recognize the deep currents that move through us and our days.

Practical tips on growing your prayer life:
Use formal prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms
Pause, multiple times each day
Breathe the Jesus Prayer, "Jesus, Savior, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a Sinner!"

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