Ephesians 6:10-18 – Spiritual Warfare

Temptation in the Wilderness by Briton Riviere 1912
Temptation in the Wilderness by British artist Briton Rivière, 1912

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (NIV)

Today’s New Testament lesson has some densely packed verses concerning spiritual warfare. There are three major imperatives or commands for every believer and every church:

  1. Be strong in the Lord because we are in an invisible war.
  2. Put on the whole armor of God and prepare for spiritual battle.
  3. Take up your spiritual weapons and fight.

We are to be vigilant since Satan and his wicked spirits are highly organized for evil with devious schemes and stratagems designed to blunt our spiritual growth.  We are to put on the necessary armor of truth, righteousness, and peace to defend ourselves against the inevitable attacks.  We are to use our spiritual weapons of faith, salvation, and the word of God to advance against the darkness.

To do just that, the following is a focused and thoroughly Christian prayer I have used for many years both for myself and with others. I suggest praying it out loud in its entirety each day for the next two weeks to push back the dark forces:

Heavenly Father, I bow in worship and praise before You.  I cover myself with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ as my protection.  I surrender myself completely in every area of my life to You.  I take a stand against all the work of Satan that would hinder me in my prayer life.  I address myself only to the True and Living God and refuse any involvement of Satan in my prayer.

Satan, I command you, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to leave my presence with all your demons.  I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us. 

Heavenly Father, I worship You and give You praise.  I recognize that You are worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise.  I renew my allegiance to You and pray that the Holy Spirit would enable me in this time of prayer.  I am thankful, Heavenly Father, that You have loved me from eternity past and that You sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to die as my substitute.  I am thankful that the Lord Jesus Christ came as my representative and that through Him You have completely forgiven me; You have adopted me into Your family; You have assumed all responsibility for me; You have given me eternal life; You have given me the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ so that I am now justified.  I am thankful that in Christ You have made me complete, and that You have offered Yourself to me to be my daily help and strength. 

Heavenly Father open my eyes that I might see how great You are and how complete Your provision is for this day.  I am thankful that the victory the Lord Jesus Christ won for me on the cross and in His resurrection has been given to me and that I am seated with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven.  I take my place with Him and recognize by faith that all wicked spirits and Satan himself are under my feet.  I declare that Satan and his demons are subject to me in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I am thankful for the armor You have provided.  I now put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of peace and the helmet of salvation.  I lift the shield of faith against all the fiery arrows of the enemy; and I take in my hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  I choose to use Your Word against all the forces of evil in my life.  I put on this armor and live and pray in complete dependence upon You, Holy Spirit. 

I am grateful, Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ disarmed all power and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross.  I claim all victory for my life today.  I reject all the insinuations, accusations, and temptations of Satan.  I affirm that the Word of God is true, and I choose to live today in the light of God’s Word.  Heavenly Father, I choose to live in obedience to You and in fellowship with You.  Open my eyes and show me the areas of my life that do not please You.  Work in me to cleanse me from all ground that would give Satan a foothold against me.  I do in every way stand into all that it means to be Your adopted child and I welcome all the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life today. 

warfare praying

By faith and in dependence upon You I put off the old person and stand into all the victory of the crucifixion where the Lord Jesus Christ provided cleansing from the sinful nature.  I put on the new person and stand into all the victory of the resurrection and the provision He has made for me to live above sin. 

Today I put off the old nature with its selfishness and I put on the new nature with its love.  I put off the old nature with its fear and I put on the new nature with its courage.  I put off the old nature with all its deceitful lusts and I put on the new nature with its righteousness, purity, and honesty. 

In every way I stand into the victory of Christ’s ascension and glorification, in which everything was made subject to Him.  I claim my place in Christ as victorious with Him over all the enemies of my soul.  Holy Spirit, I pray that you would fill me.  Come into my life, break down every idol and cast out every enemy of my soul. 

I am thankful, Heavenly Father, for the expression of Your will for my daily life as You have shown me in Your Word.  I, therefore, claim all the will of God for my life today.  I am thankful that You have blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  I am thankful that You have given me new life into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  I am thankful that You have made provision for me so that today I can live filled in the Holy Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  I recognize and affirm that this is Your will for me and so I reject and resist all the attempts of Satan and his demons to rob me of the will of God.  I refuse today to believe my feelings of worthlessness and I hold up the shield of faith against all the accusations, distortions, and insinuations that Satan would put into my mind.  I claim the will of God for my life today. 

In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I completely surrender myself to You, Heavenly Father, as a living sacrifice.  I choose not to be conformed to this world.  I choose to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.  I pray that You would show me Your will and help me to walk in Your ways today. 

I am thankful, Heavenly Father, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world, but have divine power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  I take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  Therefore, in my own life today I tear down the strongholds of Satan and smash the plans of Satan that have been formed against me.  I demolish the strongholds of Satan against my mind, and I surrender my mind to You, Holy Spirit.  I affirm, Heavenly Father, that You have not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.  I break and smash the strongholds of Satan formed against my emotions today.  I give my will to You.  I choose to make right decisions of faith.  I smash the strongholds of Satan formed against my body today.  I give my body to You and recognize that I am Your temple.  I rejoice in Your mercy and grace. 

Heavenly Father, I pray now and through this day that You would strengthen and enlighten me.  Show me the ways Satan is hindering, tempting, lying, and distorting the truth in my life.  Help me to be the kind of person who pleases You.  Help me to be aggressive in prayer and faith.  Help me to think rightly, and actively practice Your Word.  Help me to give You Your rightful place in my life. 

I cover myself with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and pray that You, Holy Spirit, would bring all the work of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and all Your work of Pentecost into my life today.  I deliberately surrender myself to You, God.  I refuse to be discouraged.  You are the God of all hope.  You have proven Your power by resurrecting Jesus from the dead, so I claim this victory over all satanic forces in my life.  I pray in the Name and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ with thanksgiving.  Amen. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Acts 7:44-53 – God is God, and I Am Not

throne of heaven

The tent of testimony was with our ancestors in the wilderness. Moses built it just as he had been instructed by the one who spoke to him and according to the pattern he had seen. In time, when they had received the tent, our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua’s leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled. This tent remained in the land until the time of David. God approved of David, who asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for God. However, the Most High does not live in houses built by human hands. As the prophet says,

Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
‘What kind of house will you build for me,’ says the Lord,
‘or where is my resting place?
Didn’t I make all these things with my own hand?’

“You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. Was there a single prophet your ancestors did not harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you have betrayed and murdered him! You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.” (CEB)

In the doldrums of summer’s heat and humidity and the uncertainties of what is to come in the autumn season, it is a good time to remind ourselves of where we are in the Christian Year. When a long and difficult season comes upon us, whether in secular or sacred time, it may be far too easy to lose sight of what is important.  We have come through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, as well as Pentecost.  With the giving of the Spirit, we have entered Ordinary Time.  A healthy way of remembering this period in time is that, in this longest season of the Church Calendar, it is the ordinary vocation of each Christian and every Church to grow in Christ and share the good news of Jesus with the world.

Yet, we forget. The vicissitudes of this life and a penchant for hand wringing can easily take our eyes off our calling from the sovereign God.  Like the ancient Israelites for whom Stephen railed against in our New Testament lesson for today, we might become stubborn, hard-headed, and inflexible. We get lost in doing things our own way to the neglect of what God wants. When that happens, there is damage to God’s people, God’s name, and God’s law. Rather than tongues being used for praising the Lord and encouraging others, God’s prophets who are calling us to holiness are verbally decapitated. Ironically, those who speak and act in the name of the Lord are resisting him.

Every time individuals and groups of people believe they have piously figured everything out, they will soon find themselves fighting against God. The Lord of All has not called us to figure out every mystery and nail down each uncertainty. Those who claim to have done it are living in a delusional world. Perhaps they will eventually discover how large and immense God really is – much bigger than our puny thoughts and misguided practices.

Village Church

How then shall we live? What are we to do?  Let go of our illusions of power and privilege. Submit afresh to the Lord for whom we must bow in all things. If we can do that, then we are well on our way to seeing the only true God in all his immensity. Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and set aside self-righteous pride so that he may exalt and honor us at the appropriate time of his choosing, not ours (1 Peter 5:6). Take up our holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors, having become new people and knowing the reconciling power of the cross, through the proper spiritual tools of faith, hope, and love (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 Corinthians 13).

The following practices can help us become more spiritually flexible and open to the Spirit’s work:

  • Stretch your faith muscle. Physical muscles which get little to no use will atrophy – which is why people who are confined to bed or with limitations need physical therapists to help work the muscles. Spiritually, if we are rarely or never in positions which work our faith muscle, then that faith will diminish and eventually atrophy. Faith is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be worked.
  • Breathe deeply. Proper breathing is essential in using our bodies. The same is true spiritually. Fear, worry, and anxiety cause us to have shallow breathing and unable to think straight. When we are amped-up about something, focus on doing some breath prayers, i.e. breathing in saying, “More of you,” and breathing out saying, “Less of me.”
  • Avoid extreme positions. A hyper-extended muscle will tear and cause a lot of damage. An acceptance of limitations and an awareness of our body’s true capacity prevents us from trying to do something our body simply cannot do. Our faith will not support extreme positions which alienate people and put God to the test.
  • Move more. Getting in bodily shape does not have to be dramatic and involve triathlons (but, hey, if you can work your way up to it, more power to you!). Most of us simply need to get out of our chairs and move a bit more and we would be a lot healthier. Faith is mostly lived in the mundane daily decisions of life. Consistently taking small steps of faith each day will go a long way toward our spiritual health and vitality – not to mention helping us see a big God at work.
  • Listen, do not ignore. It is always best to listen to your body— only push it as far as it can handle, even if it is little by little. Many people would be better served if they would just listen to their gut and the spirit God put within them – rather than pushing themselves and others beyond what they can handle. Behind the attempt at doing too much is typically an issue of wanting the kind of control God possesses.

To do the will of God, we must have a growing awareness and knowledge of a huge unlimited God and a small limited self. This will take loosening up on the stubbornness and opening to greater flexibility. In doing so, we bless both God and the world, while discovering our true calling. And, we might just discover the largeness of grace operating in our lives.

Holy God, heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool.  You cannot be kept within any one church or any single place.  You are much too big for that!  Forgive me for my small thoughts of you and my weak faith.  I humble myself before you so that you can live in and through me for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Sower

The Sower by Van Gogh 1881
“The Sower” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1881

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, NIV)

Introducing the Parable

I have been preaching sermons for over thirty-five years, so I have seen my share of people falling asleep in church.  The most common ways of drifting off during a sermon are, what I call, the “Snapback” in which the head dramatically snaps back from its gradual descent backward; the “Pious Nod” where it might appear the person is praying until the head either hits the pew in front of it or snaps up, as in the snapback; and, the “Cozy-Sweet” where the head goes to the side and eventually lands on its neighbor’s shoulder for a bit of a nap.

I tend to believe if you need to sleep, you need to sleep – and I find the nodding-off antics of parishioners as bringing some light-hearted levity to my life. That said, for the Christian, it is important to listen to the Word of God.  We need, first and foremost, to take a posture of listening, really hearing what Jesus has to say so that we can do the will of God.

The Parable

“Whoever has ears, let them hear,” said Jesus.  Truly hearing Jesus’ words and listening with focused attention is the key to life.  Our ears are the soil of our lives.  Ears that are attentive and devoted to listening to Jesus are good soil; ears that are distracted and inattentive and stopped up with ear wax are the bad soil.  Receptive listening to the Word of God brings a fruitful harvest of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  The Parable of the Sower (or Soils) lets us know that sowing (planting) the Word is important.   It is sown on four different soils….

  1. The seed on the path. A path is for walking, which is why the seed never takes root.  Here there is no listening. When we act without listening, our actions will be misguided.
  2. The seed on rocky soil. Here there is no deep listening.  A lack of attentive hearing results in a shallow person who perhaps relies more on Christian clichés or on his/her personality or abilities instead of the sown Word.
  3. The seed on the thorny soil. Here there is significant listening. However, there is too much listening to a cacophony of voices and not enough singular listening to the sown Word.  Listening to the wrong voices will cause an unfruitful life, so we must be careful to the kind of preaching and type of preachers we hear!
  4. The seed on good soil. A devoted listening to the Word without distraction leads to a productive, fruitful believer.

The Nature of Parables

A parable is a genre of biblical literature.  Parables are as much about concealing truth as they are conveying truth.  A person needs to give focused attention to the story to learn from it, much like a good novel conveys truth about the human condition without being preachy or outright saying the truth; or, much like a good movie that relies on character development and the power of story for its message instead of being a straightforward documentary.

Jesus neither strong-arms people into the kingdom nor puts a person in a full nelson to force them to do God’s will.  We will miss the kingdom if we are looking for a big dramatic hoo-ha of an event, because it comes as an awareness within people and works its way out. For the person who has no intention of changing, they will find Christ’s words confusing.  They might “hear” Jesus yet fail to really listen since they have their own ideas about how the kingdom ought to operate.

Yet, grace is present.  The very fact that Jesus addressed the crowd of people demonstrates he cared enough to communicate.  He could have said, “Hey, you guys, get lost, I’m just going to interact with people who really listen to me.”  Jesus, however, is full of mercy.  Instead of coming at the crowd and bursting through the front door, he came at them through the side door so that they would be able to receive the message well.

When I was a young Christian, I had a habit of puking the good news of Jesus all over people without really listening to them.  Being blunt without being attentive is not the best approach; neither is being worried about saying something offensive, so nothing is said at all.  Others cannot listen if we are either obnoxious or silent. A better approach is to ask permission to tell your story of what Jesus means to you, or what you have learned from God’s Word.

The Sower by Van Gogh 1888
“The Sower” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The Parable Interpreted

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23, NIV)

The focus of the interpretation Jesus gave is the experience of the seed in a variety of soils.  The outside powers that act on the Word – devouring birds, rocks, the burning sun, choking thorn-bushes – demonstrate that the Word is central and needs to be received well:

  1. The soil on the path is the person who hears the message yet is unable to hear God’s Word because their heart is hard. The devil snatches it before any real understanding can take place.  We see that the devil is real and has ability to influence people who have listening issues.
  2. The rocky soil is the person who hears just enough to respond with joy but drops out when hard circumstances come around. “I didn’t sign up for this!” is their cry.  They needed to count the cost of discipleship before responding to the message.  This is merely a professing Christian, nothing more.  Rather than listening and internalizing the Word, there is only positive affirmation without any action or practice. So, tomorrow the message is gone and forgotten.  When difficulty comes, there are no supporting words to draw from, so the person fades away, unable to navigate life successfully.
  3. The thorny soil also hears and responds to the message. This person is also a professing Christian, nothing more.  The issue with such a person is that he/she also listens to the voices of worry and wealth.  Like some sort of spiritual attention-deficit-disorder, there is no ability to filter all the voices calling out, and so there is no growth.  The Word of God must reign supreme; there cannot be two thrones of Wealth and Word and two Masters of God and Money.
  4. The good soil is listening with the intention of understanding and putting into practice the message heard is what brings about fruit. Receiving the Word through careful listening brings about spiritual growth.  God brings the growth when we focus on the Word.  So, priority must be to listening well to the Word of God.  When a whole group does this, then it creates a greenhouse effect in which people cannot help but grow in the Lord!

Conclusion on the Parable

The simple reception of God’s Word makes a person fruitful.  The first soil did not receive the Word at all, though it listened to it; the second received it with joy but under pressure let it go; the third received it with only one hand because the other hand was busy; only the fourth soil received the seed of the Word with both hands.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, NIV)

George-Whitefield
George Whitefield (1714-1770) preaching outdoors by English artist John Collet (c.1720-1780)

George Whitefield, arguably the greatest of all revivalists, addressed the topic of listening in a mid-eighteenth- century sermon based on the words of Jesus in Luke 8:18, “Take care how you hear:”

  1. Come to church out of a sincere desire to know what God has to say to you. Sermons are not for entertainment. They are to reform our hearts and teach us our duty towards God and men.
  2. Give focused attention to the things that are spoken. Listen as you would to the voice of someone you respect; the King of Kings demands even more respect! The stuff of sermons concerns eternal matters and not just the things of this world.
  3. Guard you heart against prejudice to the minister. Even when ministers urge us in the ways they themselves have trouble with, don’t refuse the urging on that account. If what they urge is biblical, receive as though Jesus were the one who spoke.
  4. Guard your heart at thinking more highly of a minister than you ought.It was the Corinthian evil that they began to prefer one preacher to another openly with terrible consequences for the body of Christ. Though one may minister to you more than another, respect both for what God does through them to the body of Christ and remember they are people just like you.
  5. Make application to your own heart of everything that is said.  Beware of that roving eye that says in a sermon, “That was meant for him” or “I sure hope she heard that!”
  6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after the sermon. Pray that the minister might be endued with power and boldness to declare the whole counsel of God and not be intimidated by anyone. Pray that God would apply the words to your own heart.

Whitefield concludes: “If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!”

May it be so, to the glory of God.

John 12:44-50 – Christ’s Philosophy of Ministry

Jesus teaching
“Sermon on the Mount” by Laura James

In a loud voice Jesus said:

Everyone who has faith in me also has faith in the one who sent me. And everyone who has seen me has seen the one who sent me. I am the light that has come into the world. No one who has faith in me will stay in the dark.

I am not the one who will judge those who refuse to obey my teachings. I came to save the people of this world, not to be their judge. But everyone who rejects me, and my teachings will be judged on the last day by what I have said. I do not speak on my own. I say only what the Father who sent me has told me to say. I know that his commands will bring eternal life. That is why I tell you exactly what the Father has told me. (CEV)

Everybody has a philosophy of ministry of how to proceed with the actual doing of Christian works and service to others. We might think of philosophy as a theory about how to gain knowledge and what we are supposed to do with the knowledge we possess. We all have philosophies, even if they are not written down for others to see.

Ponder the thought that Jesus had a philosophy of ministry… which he did.  If Christ’s words carry a lot of weight for us, then perhaps he articulated what he believes about the nature of knowledge; what to do with that knowledge; and, how to handle humanity. Contained within today’s Gospel lesson is the heart of Christ’s philosophical (and thus practical) approach.

Here are several observations about Christ’s philosophy of ministry:

  1. True faith is Trinitarian faith.
  2. Jesus came to dispel darkness by deposing its ruler.
  3. Jesus did not come to nit-pick, harangue, or reject people.
  4. Jesus came to save the world.
  5. Jesus has the authority to save the world.
  6. Belief in Jesus brings deliverance from sin, death, and hell.

Yes, there is a Day of Judgment coming – but that day is not today. Today is the day of salvation, of availing oneself of the opportunity to discover the life, teaching, claims, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Jesus has declared (in a loud voice so we can hear him) that he is the light of the world, the path to God, the Savior of humanity. Those are some very audacious assertions! So, before tomorrow comes, we need to consider the claims of Christ today.

Those whose philosophies include generous portions of people-pleasing and posturing for people-praise will not be judged or rejected by Jesus today (and, so, ought not to be rejected by us, as well!) but will be judged by the words and message of Jesus on the Last Day. According to this philosophy of ministry, there is neither a precedent nor a need to step in and (attempt) to do the Spirit’s work. Rather, we place our faith in Jesus and allow that belief to shape our conversations and interactions with others.  A Christian philosophy of ministry does not need to be complex; it just needs to be Christ-centered.

Great God of deliverance, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to save people from their sins.  I believe in you and what you did and what you stand for.  Each time I open my mouth, may you form my words so that they are not judgmental, but helpful in bringing others to realize life-giving faith through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.