Monday, June 19, 2017

Trade in Your Old Gear (Continued) --Spiritual Warfare XI

Let's continue to examine our gear versus what the Word says about us armoring up.

The Shield of Faith versus The Shield of Christian Culture
Faith in what? Is it in our faith? In Jesus? In our denomination? Our pastor? Our leaders? I know what you are thinking: “I have faith in Jesus Christ!” But, here’s the test: Where do you run when life and the enemy throw fiery darts at you? Do we raise Jesus’ Word in front of us, or do we raise something else?

The Shield of Faith means we believe those fiery darts will be quenched by the power of Jesus. We do not doubt that our faith will hold. Jesus used the parable of the man who built his house on the rock using His words as compared to the man who built on the sand, using what the world says. The rain and storms hit both houses. Only the one built on Jesus and His words stood the battering. (Matt. 7: 24-27) So, when we raise our Shield, we are showing that we trust in Christ alone. Not just in our faith, or a faith in faith, but faith in Christ, His love and His provision.

Such a soldier believes that Shield will extinguish the darts (the lies) of the enemy and it will hold up battle after battle. That’s why it’s raised. The very act of raising it shows the soldier’s confidence in its capacity. It is faith is action. A shield, sitting in a dusty shed somewhere, may look fine. But this Shield must be raised, wielded and never left behind. Why? The more it is used on the battlefield, the greater its value to the soldier. Every dart that is extinguished will increase the soldier’s confidence in the Shield.

Faith that is battle-tested is strong. We have learned that Jesus never leaves us, gives us strength and helps us fight the battle. So, as we face a new battle, we remember how He has been with us in the past: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, [your enemies] for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut. 3:16)

But, if we raise the Shield of Christian Culture, now we have a problem. Why? Our confidence will be short-lived, because this culture is short-lived. It changes all the time, following after the dictates of Christians who don’t want to offend anyone. These Christians appear to believe that because the world and Christianity have had a falling out, it’s up to them to fix the damage. They compromise the Word and apologize for its perceived “intolerance.” Many Christians are training with the compromised Shield of Christian Culture as opposed to the Shield of Faith grounded in God’s Word. Culture changes, trends and ideas come and go, but: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." (Is. 40:8)

Many Christians today take their cue about what is right or wrong from the larger culture. It’s as if morality is determined by the 51%, not by God’s Word. If enough people in church think that the Biblical position on an issue is too outdated, uncompassionate or insensitive because the larger culture does (and being relevant is the goal, not the truth) then out comes the Christian Cultural Shield. It’s so much lighter and easier to handle. But, once out in the battlefield, we notice a curious thing. The darts do not go out. They grow stronger and stronger. This Shield becomes more and more battered. It doesn’t stand up well to the lies that the enemy is directing at us. So, we run to the next Shield, the next compromise, hoping it will be able to just dim or divert the darts and not offend the other side. But that doesn’t happen. We lose faith in this Shield.

Soon, Cultural Shields are scattered all over the battlefield. None of the compromises have worked. The world continues to grow hostile to Christianity. Why is that? "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4)

The enemy’s plan is to make us doubt faith in general; doubt that we are at war; doubt that our side is the victorious one and doubt that we should even fight. He whispers that perhaps we need to lower our Shield altogether and not be so hung up on God’s Word: Embrace the other side! Faith is far less satisfying than a group hug!

We are at war. Period. If we lay down our Shield of Faith in God’s Word and His Son, replacing it with the well-intentioned but totally misguided idea that we must accommodate the culture and its trends, the enemy’s darts will come, no matter what we are holding. Our compromised shield will not be able to stand under fire. And you? Perhaps the better question is: Regular recipe or extra crispy?

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Faith is not something we try to psyche ourselves into or work hard to feel deep in our souls. This Shield is a gift from God Himself: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV) 

Jonathan gave David his garments and his weapons to show that they were in covenant with each other. (1 Sam. 18:3-4) We have been given God’s armor to show that we are in covenant with God.

If we set aside this Gift and walk out thinking it’s all good because we are now culturally relevant and tolerant, one day we will be on the sidelines, nursing a broken heart and wondering how it all went so wrong. The world will be one step closer to Hell and we helped.  The old saying that “If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” then it is maintained by compromise.

The Helmet of Salvation versus The Helmet of Doubt
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s) are life-altering. Spiritual TBI’s are equally as devastating: The blow of doubt can cause serious damage to our faith. Doubt can alter how we see God and how we are to live in Him.  We are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind: "He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…'” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

We need a helmet to protect us and not just any ol’ helmet. It must be the Helmet stamped with the word “salvation” in big red (the blood of Jesus) letters. If doubt is one of Satan’s favorite weapons, then the Helmet of Salvation is essential to ward off his blows.

The Shield of Faith is good for warding off the long-range missiles Satan sends, the ones you see coming. Perhaps getting laid off, being gossiped about, being misunderstood, or getting rejected are some of the fiery darts flying your way. They come at you and up goes your Shield of Faith. They hit your Shield with a fiery thud. But the Helmet of Salvation implies the enemy has gotten close enough to whack you with a blow you did not see coming. These unexpected blows demand strong protection. Our salvation is just that: strong protection. Satan probably thought he had it made in the shade when Jesus was on the cross: "None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Cor. 2:8 NIV)

But Jesus died to secure our rescue from sin and death by being our sacrifice for sin and overcoming death itself. Satan stopped laughing that Sunday morning when a gentle breeze swirled inside an empty tomb.

Consider this: We have been wearing our Helmet of Salvation for a while. But the cultural pressure on us to be more tolerant, more open-minded, can be overwhelming. Some time back, we accepted with a child-like faith the salvation Jesus offered; now, in our ever-progressive world, we feel an open mind might be a better way to go.

So, we trade in our strong, battle-tested Helmet of Salvation for the much lighter and no-brainer Helmet of the Open Mind. Satan sees our weakness and here he comes...

Whack! How can you insist that Jesus is the only way to God?

Whack! How you be sure that the Bible is accurate?

Our head starts to hurt. Then, seeing the dents, we get a new helmet: the Helmet of I Am Trying to Stay Open...

Whack! How can you claim that Jesus died for the world?

Whack! Are all other religions wrong?

Now, our head really hurts. Then we put on the Helmet of Doubt. It looks sturdy, doesn’t offend anyone and it tells everyone that we are not going to make any rash decisions that limit our intellectual horizons...

Whack! Jesus is fine for you, but we are all on the same path to God.

Whack! The Bible is just a collection of stories and is no more inspired than other stories in other religions.

Whack! You need to think for yourself.

Whack! You are so superior to all those sheep out there.

(But do you notice how that deep discontentment just won’t go away?)

Satan is never going to stop with the head blows. He wants us out of the battle altogether: we have either walked away from our faith or we are so demoralized in sin and shame we no longer fight for what is right.

We must keep our Helmet of Salvation on, seeking through God’s power to possess more and more the mind of Christ: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16)

The Helmet given to us by God is the only one that can withstand Satan’s onslaught.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Our salvation was secured by Jesus on the cross. He seeks daily, through our experiences and our thoughts, to transform us into His image: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters." (Rom. 8:29 NIV)

God wants us to be more and more of what He intended for us all along, before we were derailed by sin: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18)

We can only be transformed by the renewing of our mind if we are secure in the knowledge that He died for us: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Rom. 12:2 NIV)

We must equally be secure in the knowledge that He now wants to live in us: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20 NIV)

No other helmet will stave off the blows of the enemy.

The Sword of the Spirit versus The Pool Noodle of Excuses
The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. You can’t use it unless you know it. You can’t stand on the promises of God if you don’t know what they are. You can’t whack Satan back if he parries with half-truths and you don’t know the whole truth. Time in the Word is like sword practice. You only get better as you use it. But if you are not prepared in the Word, do you grab The Pool Noodle of Excuses? I am too busy to read the Word! I don’t understand it! I don’t think it’s culturally relevant! It’s a bit out of date! It’s not translated correctly!

OK. The next time Satan throws his darts your way or slams down on your helmet, you give him a shellacking with that Noodle. When he’s done laughing, watch out. We must be prepared to fight Satan by countering his accusations with the Word of God. We stand on the Word alone. We are not to stand on our knowledge, experience or how many years we have been a solider. If we stand on our strength alone, with pride as our driving force, we will have a false sense of security. We will then venture out into territory for which we are not prepared.

An unprepared soldier is a delightful target for the enemy. The enemy will use friends, family or life itself to give us a whack and send us reeling. The day will come when people, even those who sit in church, will prefer to have their ears tickled by the culture: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV)

The culture is not about truth. It is about feeling good. If your Sword is gathering dust, your Noodle of Excuses will be about as useful as a carwash in Seattle.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work
Satan’s attacks focus on slaying God’s character and thus His promises. If our knowledge is blunted (limited) or weak (pool noodle-like) we will not discern the lies when they arrive. The only good sword is one that is sharp: "For the word of God is alive 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." (Heb. 4:12 NIV)

The Sword’s job is to divide the truth from what is false. Satan attacks us to injure and destroy us; the Sword of God is intended to cut away anything that stands between us and God. It’s painful to have those beliefs and behaviors cut away, but in the long run, we will be freer and deeper in Him. Why? Because anything that compromises or diminishes our walk in Him leaves us less and less in the light of His power and strength.

Satan injures us so we will stay in the dark. God heals us so we will stay in the light. It’s our choice.

Stay close to your Commander-in-Chief, soldier.  Dark days are ahead but we are children of the Light. 

Excerpted from S.T.A.N.D. Spiritually Trained And Not Defeated: Our Position in Christ, Our Mission in Christ A Handbook on Spiritual Warfare.  Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Trade in Your Old Gear-- Spiritual Warfare X

You are a soldier of the Lord. We have established that. You face warfare every day. Sometimes Satan is subtle in his attacks; other times, he is bold and aggressive. Regardless of his tactics, the kind of gear you put on each day will make the difference between a victorious encounter and one that leaves you feeling beaten.

Have you examined your gear lately? Does it look a bit worn? Does it look like, well, you? That is why we put on the armor of God. Not the armor of church, religion, denomination, family, good intentions, or good deeds, but of God and Him alone.

In order to run a mission for the Kingdom of God, you must check your armor periodically and make sure you haven’t substituted one part of it with something of your own creation. It’s easy to do.

Let’s say that you haven’t been in the Word for awhile, so your sword has been sheathed for awhile. Instead, you have been reading good Christian books, talking online and enjoying your pastor’s messages. These things are reasonable to do but you need time in the Word. You need to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. You see His faithfulness in action as you read through the Bible. History becomes His Story, and you see how He never leaves nor forsakes His children. You seek a deeper understanding through revelation as the Spirit teaches you what you need to know.

So, let’s examine two sets of gear: God’s and yours. Most Christians are going to have a mixture of both. Let’s evaluate what you are currently wearing. If it’s your gear, it must go and be replaced with God’s gear.

God’s Gear versus My Gear:  
The Belt of Truth vs. The Belt of Least Offense 

The Breastplate of Righteousness vs. The Breastplate of “I’m Not Hurting Anyone” 
Gospel Shoes vs. Gospel Slippers 
The Shield of Faith vs. The Shield of Christian Culture 
The Helmet of Salvation vs. The Helmet of Doubt 
The Sword of the Spirit vs. The Pool Noodle of Excuses 
Standing vs. Snoozing 
Prayer vs. Pride 
Diligence vs. Indolence 

Does God’s gear wear out? No. But we do. We sometimes assume that God’s gear might not be quite up to the task. Perhaps we think, deep down, that God’s gear is not quite as good as our gear. In other words, we know best. Then our adversary whispers that yes, we are right: God’s gear is inadequate and you ought to go out and get your own. After all, you know what’s best for you.
So, let’s examine our gear. Is it effective for spiritual warfare?

The Belt of Truth versus The Belt of Least Offense

I know, I know. Truth is fine when everyone agrees with you and THE Truth is fine in church where everyone agrees with you. It’s out in the trenches, or sadly, even in some churches, when it’s hard to stand on the truth, speak the truth and speak of the Truth—Jesus. But the Truth, our Jesus, holds everything together: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."(Col. 1:17 NIV)

Jesus is the very embodiment of truth. He gives form and substance to our lives. If you are sleeping, you don’t need to hold your pants up. But on the move, out in the field, the truth holds you up, sustains you and pleases the Father-heart of God. Ask: Am I pleasing God or pleasing men? Be honest with yourself here: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10 NIV)

The Truth is offensive to those living outside of it. The Truth, because it is based on the Word of God, is not just another version of “truth” that the world can accept. The Truth also reveals who is at the center of your universe: your self, with all of its wayward desires. His Truth shines a light into our darkness: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." (John 3:29-31 NIV)

Jesus as The Truth was not well received by His people; we are to expect no less: "God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way." (Matt. 5:11-12 NLT)

Think of a courtroom for a moment. If truth does not prevail, a murderer walks free, an innocent person goes to death row or a rape victim doesn’t see her assailant go to prison, taking him off the street and away from other potential victims. Justice is served by the truth. We serve a just God. We serve Him with the truth. He sent Truth to us, wrapped in flesh and named Jesus. So, if we serve Truth itself, how can we worry about telling the darkness that it’s dark? The emptiness that it’s empty? The lost that hell awaits? We must always speak the truth in love: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Eph. 4:15-16 NIV)

Our love for the person, whether they are a non-believer or a wounded Christian, will preserve our words from becoming confrontational or hurtful. We must speak only when the Holy Spirit prompts us: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." (Eph. 16:13 NIV)

We must then trust Him for the results: "It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it." (Is. 55:11 NLT) When we run missions, we wait for orders from our Commander: Jesus, the Head of the Body of Christ. You are the messenger of His love and His words. Are you speaking Christ’s words? 

Another way to think about it: Would Christ speak your words?

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

If we are not fighting for the whole truth revealed in His Word, and only for some diluted version of it, why bother? Anything less than the Gospel in all its fullness (yes, even all those “intolerant” passages) is not the Gospel at all: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8-9)
Jesus was all-in when He went to the cross: He didn’t die for some sin but for all sin; not for some people, but for all people; not for the current generation, but for all generations; so, why should we fight for anything less as we follow Him?

The Breastplate of Righteousness versus The Breastplate of “I’m Not Hurting Anyone”

Righteousness is given to us by Christ. He imparts it to us by His sacrifice: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:8-10 NIV)

We are clothed with His righteousness: "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…" (Is. 61:10 NIV) We are covered and our heart is transformed by His blood. Remember how God killed an innocent creature to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned? God has not only covered us with His innocent Son’s blood, but He has taken away our sins: "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Heb. 10:11-14 NIV)

If we leave our breastplate at home, what are we covered with? Without His righteousness ever before us, reminding us of our weakness and keeping us humble, our heart with its sinful desires will take over. Our heart is deceitful: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9) So, if our heart is allowed free rein, then we will follow what our heart wants us to do. The enemy only has to drop in a few tantalizing suggestions, and away we go. Jesus warned us of what a heart that is not under the Holy Spirit’s control is capable of: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Matt. 15:19)

Christians can rationalize their behavior just like everyone else when the heart is at full throttle. They think, as long as I don’t hurt anyone, and I ask God later on for forgiveness (which He is happy to provide!) then I’m good.  Wrong. The hurt we cause is sometimes invisible for a while. But it will come out. Maybe not now, but someday...

The parents who think their children don’t notice _________________ (fill in the sin) because they are “too young.” (But someday they will figure it out.)

The spouse who thinks the other spouse doesn’t notice _________________ because the relationship still seems good. (But someday the spouse will find evidence and be devastated by it along with the deception.)

The friend who thinks no one notices ____________________ because everyone does it and everyone seems fine. (But someday that friend goes into the ER and doesn’t come out.

Think of it like this: Why do you think Jesus equated hate with murder, a longing glance with lust and name-calling with hellfire? (Matthew 5). It’s simple: "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:45)

So, if we are speaking, thinking, and acting with His heart guiding us, righteousness prevails. If we are speaking, thinking and acting with our own heart, chaos prevails.

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

The heart without the covering provided by Christ is a playground for our flesh and the enemy. When we go out in the battlefield with God’s armor in full view, we are telling Satan we know he is out there and we are ready. But if we forget to put on the Breastplate of Righteousness on, Satan knows where to aim first: our heart with all of God’s promises stored there.

Gospel Shoes versus Gospel Slippers

Shoes are for walking: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” implies well-made shoes and a readiness to go. How often have we said, “Wait! I am coming! I just need to get my shoes on!”

Bad shoes mean disabled soldiers. Think about how painful even a short walk becomes with a nasty blister; how a hole in your shoe lets water in, making your feet cold; how shoes that are too small make your feet ache; how shoes that are broken down will injure your feet and you can’t walk or run for a long time until you recover. The Gospel isn’t just about sharing words. It is about walking alongside someone, understanding their pain and trying to do what is best in the situation. It’s being in the mud and the blood of the battlefield. Satan leaves quite a trail of destruction as he moves through this planet. That’s where we come in.

The Gospel goes out, because the lost don’t always come in: "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?" (Matt. 18:12 NIV)

You go where the need is. The need is out there, because that’s where the wounded are. The Gospel means shoveling a neighbor’s driveway; helping a friend of a friend move; watching a toddler while a young mom gets her hair done; going and picking up the person you invited to church. The Gospel means movement. Shoes that are well-made (well-grounded in the Word) and a willingness to go (Lord, send me!) are a far cry from Gospel slippers. Slippers are comfy and are meant to wear at home. If your Gospel is comfy and only found inside the walls of your church home, then how will people hear the Good News? "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?" (Rom. 10:14 NIV)

Why Our Gear Won’t Work

Wearing footgear that is not intended for outdoor use is useless. Not being prepared to go out and share the Good News is useless to the Kingdom of God. If our feet get pierced (we fall pray to Satan’s deception) because of shoddy footwear, we are sidelined. Let our shoes take the hit: God’s Word is strong enough to take all that Satan and the world can throw at it.

Next time...more inventorying of our gear!

Excerpted from S.T.A.N.D. Spiritually Trained And Not Defeated: Our Position in Christ, Our Mission in Christ A Handbook on Spiritual Warfare.  Buy it on Amazon.
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