Sunday, May 27, 2012

We're gonna hafta cheat.

5/27/12  FBCRB

“Rebuilding the Walls”, Pt II

Is anybody else out there an optimist?  I don’t mean a member of the Optimist Club.  I mean do you have an optimistic outlook on life?  I do.  I always have.  I have always felt that if I wanted to do something bad enough and worked hard enough to get it that I could do anything I wanted.  I have always felt that way…in spite of the fact that many times it just doesn’t happen.

In my senior year of high school, we were playing Wichita Falls Hirschi in football at their stadium in WF.  It was the first time I had ever played on astroturf.  It was a huge stadium and it was packed on their side.  We had nobody on our side in the stands.  They were a huge school with lots of players and all the best equipment and by halftime we were down something like 42-0.  They were already putting in the second string before the half.  We were well on our way to getting slaughtered.

When we went to the locker room at halftime, even the coaches were depressed.  We were just no match for them.  Nobody had too much to say and we were all just sitting there waiting to be called back out there to have our heads handed to us and so I stood up and started in with the best “win one for the Gipper, dig down, man up, be a warrior” speech I could give.  And   I really got everybody fired up.  We ran back out on the field with war cries and high fives and we were convinced that if we really, really tried that we could actually win this game.

And when the game was over the scoreboard read…65-14.  The only reason we were able to get 14 was because they literally had 4th stringers playing.  I’m pretty sure at one point some of their lunch ladies were taking snaps.  It was awful.  And by the way, I was never allowed to say anything at halftime again. 

Now, this may seem like a strange way to start a sermon encouraging you to rebuild the walls.  We saw last week from the book of Nehemiah that, like Jerusalem, we also have some walls that need to be rebuilt.  I mentioned that our walls of democracy, decency and doctrine have fallen almost completely down and we need to rebuild them so why would I start today’s message by telling that kind of story?

Well, the harsh reality of this world is that sometimes the work we need to do is just too much for us.  We don’t have enough people and we don’t have the supplies we need and we have to admit that we just don’t have the talent we need to get it done.  It looks hopeless.  The obstacles before us are too big and we are too small and as hard as we try we have to admit that we are no match for the job at hand and so I have an idea.  I do.  Now this may sound crazy but hear me out.  I say we cheat.

If I could have figured out a way to cheat in that football game and not get caught I have to admit I probably would have done it because I knew that there was just too much shame in losing that game that bad.  I was embarrassed to go home and tell people that we tried as hard as we could but we still lost.  I felt like I let down my team, my school, my family and my community and I don’t want to feel that way again in this real –life battle for the walls of democracy, decency and doctrine and so I say we still work real hard but we cheat by using the power of the One who is all-powerful.  We will use the wisdom of the One who is all-knowing and we will do our part to rebuild these walls because we have the favor of the Creator, the Sustainer and the Deliverer.  And when God commands us to do something, He always provides the way.

Turn to the book of Nehemiah.  As we saw last week, Nehemiah got word from his brother that the walls around Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates burned and the people that remained there had no protection from their enemies and were also living in great shame since they were supposed to be God’s chosen people.

 Now, Nehemiah had every excuse in the book not to even attempt to solve the problem.  What could one man do?  He didn’t have the people or supplies.  This wasn’t caused by his failure.  He wasn’t even born when the walls were torn down by the Babylonian army and …oh yea, he was a slave in a land far away from Jerusalem.  He had to know there was no human way he could ever rebuild the walls and yet that was evidently what God called him to do and so the first thing Nehemiah does…is cheat.

Do you remember in grade school when you were playing football in somebody’s front yard and some kid would go ask his dad to be their quarterback?  How fair was that?!  That’s what Nehemiah does right off the bat in chapter 1.  It says he mourned and fasted and prayed to God.  You see, Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian king.  That meant he had to choose and then taste the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisonous.  It was a job that required a lot of trust but he was still a slave and therefore really had no rights.

Let’s start reading in chapter 2.  Read 1-4a.

Stop right there for a second.  I can just picture this.  Nehemiah has been praying for months for God to open the door for him to have a talk with the king but it just hasn’t happened.  And as a slave, just going into the presence of the king without a smile was enough to get Nehemiah killed but he just couldn’t help how he looked today and the king asked him about it and so what does Nehemiah do?  He cheats!  He prays that quick “breath prayer” that we have probably all prayed when we are desperate for God’s help.  I don’t know if he prayed for wisdom or boldness or what but maybe he just prayed “God help me!”  And look what happens.  Starting back with 4b – 6.

We don’t necessarily know how but Nehemiah has obviously heard from God and God placed it on his heart that he needs to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.  In fact, Nehemiah has prayed about this from the start and do you remember from last week what he prayed?  That prayer he prayed in chapter 1 from verse 5-11 is basically repeating back to God what  God had told the Israelites time after time; that if they didn’t turn back to Him that He would scatter them among the nations. Nehemiah acknowledged that.   But Nehemiah also prayed that God would remember that God promised to bring them back together.  Nehemiah was praying in the Spirit and heard from God and now God has told Nehemiah what to do and Nehemiah was obedient.

Then what happens?  God blesses his effort and the Persian king allows Nehemiah to leave which in itself is pretty amazing but in the next paragraph Nehemiah gets bold.  He asks the king for protection and provisions for his trip and the king gives Nehemiah supplies and provisions and letters to all the rulers of the country through which Nehemiah will have to travel telling them to give him safe passage.  I guess if Nehemiah had asked the king to give him a piggyback ride over there he would have done that too.  Which just shows how when we are obedient, God blesses.

God wants to bless you.  He is waiting to bless you.  In fact, because God is so gracious and loves you so much He wants to give you more than you even ask for.  God is not offended by how much we ask Him for.  He is offended by how little we ask Him for.  We know that God is loaded, right Ron?  It’s time we ask Him for what we need.  I don’t mean ask God for everything we want.  I mean it is time we ask God for everything we need to do what He has called us to do.

We as a church have heard from God.  We know our goal as a church is to further the Kingdom of God.  But it is difficult being a small church.  We don’t have all the people, money and resources we really need.  We don’t have the talent or the leadership or the supplies.  Let’s ask God for it today.  Not for our glory or our benefit or our comfort or to make us look good to other churches or other people.  Let’s ask God to give us what we need because if we fail there are people’s eternities at stake. 

It’s time for us to pray that God would give us everything we need to make Him look good and we can’t do that while we try to make ourselves look good so just forget about that.  It is time that we pray back to God what He has told us in Matthew 6:33 that if we seek His Kingdom first that all these things will be added to us.

Do you believe that?  Do you believe that God can and will give us everything we need to be world-changers?  Aw, Todd, that’s asking too much to be world-changers.  Let’s just focus on Runaway Bay.  Well, that’s where it starts.  I have said before that the local church is the hope of the world and so changing the world starts right here with us as individuals. 

Todd, those are real pretty words but what does it mean for me tomorrow.  That’s a good question.  Let me give you some practical ways that we can start rebuilding the walls of democracy, decency and doctrine.  The first thing you need to do is vote.  If we are going to repair our wall of democracy then you pick up the first stone by doing your homework and walking into the voting booth and being obedient right there.

If we are going to rebuild the wall of decency in our society the first stone we have to pick up is in our own lives.  You have heard it said that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging.  Stop having just a little more decency than the world has.  We are called to be holy not a little holier than most.  I told you we are going to have to make sacrifices just like Nehemiah did and that means we don’t watch the same TV as the world, we don’t tell the same jokes, we don’t go to the same places and when somebody asks why you haven’t heard Lady GaGa’s new song, you say because I’m gaga about Jesus.  Let me tell you what He has done for me lately.

If we are going to rebuild the wall of doctrine in Runaway Bay then today is the day we start owning the Bible.  I don’t mean just purchasing one from the book store but really living out what is said.  When the opportunity arises we need to lovingly tell people that the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin.  We need to show people Deuteronomy 5:11 where God says not to misuse His name and that the name of His Son is not to be used as a cuss word.  They need to see in our lives and in our Bibles that revenge is not our business but God’s.

Those are just some of the first stones that we need to pick up as we start the long process of rebuilding the walls of democracy, decency and doctrine.  This is not going to be easy.  This isn’t going to be quick.  But we have seen in the life of Nehemiah what happens when we are obedient.  We see God blesses.  He heard from God.  He smothered the situation in prayer and God blessed.  Now do you know what happens next?  After we are obedient and after God blesses, what always happens? 

I’ll close by giving you a hint and reading one last verse from chapter 2.  Read verse 10. 

We have seen Nehemiah be obedient.  We have seen God bless and now this is just a foreshadowing of what happens next.  Knowing that our battle is not against flesh and blood, this can only mean that Satan is about to attack.  We will see next week how to deal with those attacks. 

I will tell you this much.  While there are several things that we have to do, we don’t overcome those attacks in our own power.  We have to cheat.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rebuilding the Walls - Nehemiah 1

“Rebuilding the Walls”  Nehemiah 1

How many of you have any problems today?  Really?  That many?  I thought I was the only one.  How many of you don’t know what to do about some of those problems?  How many of you know what to do but it is hard to do it?  Do you wish you had some help?  I have some thoughts on that before we get to the real help we find in our passage today.  First, your church is here to help you.  Believe it or not we don’t just meet on Sundays and Wednesdays for worship.  This church is made up of individuals that love and care for each other and I know for a fact that they would enjoy helping you and that the hindrance to you getting help with a lot of things is your own pride and I, I mean we, need to get over that.

Secondly, James says in his book that we are to consider it pure joy when we have troubles because that means that God is giving us the opportunity to grow and to have everything we need.  That’s what it says:  everything we need.  That ought to encourage you.  We have seen lately that there are benefits to _____?  Obedience.  And consequences to ­­­______?  Disobedience.  BOOCOD.

Sometimes we have problems because we weren’t obedient in the first place.  Sometimes our problems continue because we are not obedient and sometimes no matter what we do we still have problems.  I read about the man who went to put some bricks on a house and wound up with some problems.  Here is his letter to his boss: 

  I went to the building after the storm, checked the building and saw that the top needed repairs.  I rigged a hoist and a boom, attached the rope to a barrel and pulled the bricks to the top.  When I pulled the barrel to the top, I secured the rope at the bottom.  After repairing the building I went back to fill the barrel with the leftover bricks.  I went down and released the rope to lower the barrel but it was heavier than I and jerked me off the ground.  Halfway up I met the barrel and received a blow to the shoulder.  I hung on and went to the top where I hit my head on the boom and caught my fingers in the pulley.  In the meantime, the barrel hit the ground and burst open, throwing the bricks all over.  This made the barrel lighter than I, and I started back down at high speed.  Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received a blow to my leg.  I continued down and fell on the bricks giving me cuts and bruises.  At this time I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go of the rope and the barrel came down and hit me on the head.  I respectfully request sick leave.

Sometimes no matter what you do you are going to have trouble.  Job said, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.”  (14:1)  The question is, what do we do about it?  The book of Nehemiah is a fascinating book of the Bible that tells so much about the who, what, where and whys of Jewish history but if you only read it for the history you are missing out on some incredible insight into how to handle problems.  This is good to know for us as individuals, for our families, church and even country.  Turn to Nehemiah chapter 1.  Nehemiah is after Ezra and before Esther in the Old Testament.  One last thing before we read that chapter, this will be a short series on how to deal with our problems.  And you know me.  If I have a problem and say Jeremiah or Zechariah or Zephaniah, just bear with me.  Nehemiah is the only “iah” I should be talking about, just so you know.

Read Nehemiah chapter 1.

There are 4 quick things I want us to look at in this passage.  The first 3 are the walls that need to be rebuilt and the 4th is where we start to solve those problems and start rebuilding the walls.

Nehemiah is an old book, obviously; written some 400-plus years before Jesus but it was written well after Jerusalem was destroyed.  If you remember, so much of the Old Testament was a warning to the children of Israel that if they didn’t repent and turn back to God then He would have them punished and their land destroyed.  He warned and warned and warned and finally He said, “Enough is enough. “  And when the army of Babylon walked out of the city of Jerusalem it had been reduced to rubble.

The vast majority of the people of Israel that weren’t killed were taken into slavery; dispersed to countries they probably had only heard of.  Their houses were destroyed.  Their families were broken up.  And even the walls around the city had been broken down and the gates burned.  No longer was this a land where God’s chosen people could live.    Without walls they had no protection from the enemy.  Without walls there was no use planting a field much less trying to raise a family.  Anything you had could easily be taken away from you.  There was no police, no army.  Even the wild animals had some protection but not the few left in Jerusalem.

It was also a great shame to the people and to God.  You see, everyone knew Israel was God’s chosen people and the city of Jerusalem was the absolute heart of God so now whenever somebody would walk past that city they had to wonder what kind of God would allow such a thing.  “Where’s your God now, Israel?!  He must not be very powerful to let such a thing happen!  What a bunch of fools.”

I starting looking at the book of Nehemiah wondering if there might be a few things we could learn from it.  What I didn’t realize at first was that it was practically a letter addressed to 513 Port O Call and should start with the words, “Dear FBC RB, please study this closely so this never has to happen to you.”  I don’t know what is going on at the Community Church.  I don’t know if FBC Bridgeport is being obedient.  I don’t have any responsibility for what Grace Fellowship does.  I pray that God would give them wisdom and guidance but unless we want to be haunted by the words of the Old Testament prophets just like the Israelites were, then change has to start right here with us!  I guarantee you that the US is headed for the same place and there are too many lives at stake for us to just sit back and let it happen.  Too many souls are headed for eternal Hell, damnation and separation from God for us to be apathetic.

While the walls around Jerusalem were real, physical walls, we have walls in our lives as well that are under attack just as sure as Jerusalem’s were.  I want you to see and know that our walls of democracy, decency, and doctrine being threatened and they have been neglected.  Yes, the very walls of our country’s democracy are being eroded, attacked and chipped away, little by little every day and if it doesn’t stop immediately we may not have anything to save.  We may wake up one day and find that our national language, our national currency and our national religion are now what someone else wants them to be.

You may not have enjoyed studying history when you were in school.  For some of you there was considerably less history to study when you were a kid but no matter.  If we want to keep from going the way of the dispersed Israelites then a quick glance at history would be appropriate.  I understand that the average age of a civilized nation is about 200 years.  They also say that the life and death of a nation can be followed in 9 steps.  It starts with the people going from bondage to spiritual faith, then from spiritual faith to courage then to liberty, abundance and then selfishness.  From selfishness they go to complacency and then to apathy and then to dependence and from dependence they go back to bondage.

Look at how many people are dependent on the government today.  1 out of 4 people receive some sort of financial assistance from the government.  That’s the last of the 9 steps.  How much longer do we have? 

How much longer does this country have when God is taken out of school and the courts?  How would you like to be the one to tell a child in school or the criminal in the court that they should start to live right when you have no guide to tell you what is right and wrong?  Without the Bible, who is to say what is moral or immoral?  Without God’s wisdom our leaders are guaranteed failure.  When we try to appease the Muslims so we don’t hurt their feelings at the expense of Christian values, how long do you think God will let that go on?  I don’t hate the Muslims.  I just hate the lie of the devil that they have believed and that will contribute to the destruction of this nation.  The very walls of our democracy are definitely being threatened.

The walls of this country’s decency are also being chipped away and there is not much left.  I pray all the time as I drive down the road that God would not allow my mother to see a bumper sticker like the one I just saw.  I pray that my sweet, innocent niece never sees that billboard or that TV show or that magazine cover.  God please protect their precious eyes like only you can!  What used to be only for what we considered sick perverts is now available all over the internet.  I read something the other day that said that nearly 90% of men have a problem with internet porn.  If half of that is true then how long is God going to allow that to continue?  By the way, after reading that and praying about it I cancelled my internet at home.  It saved me money and I’m not tempted nor will anybody ever have to wonder about what I do.  It might be something you need to pray about.  Because the walls of our decency are being attacked and it starts with us.

The other wall that is in need of repair lest it fall is the wall of doctrine.  And by doctrine I don’t mean that this world would be better off if everybody was a Baptist.  I mean this world would be better off if men, in and out of the pulpit would say, “Thus says the Lord!”  If women would teach their children what the Bible says instead of what Dr. Phil says.  If preachers would get up and preach what God puts on their hearts from what the Bible says instead of what will tickle the ears of the congregation.  That hip, good-looking pastor in California who says there is no hell is going to be judged harshly for giving his opinion over what God says.  Don’t doubt it.  I just pray he doesn’t lead too many astray.

In the name of tolerance our walls of democracy, decency and doctrine are being torn down daily right before our eyes and we act like we don’t see.  We act like there is nothing we can do about it.  I want us to see from the life of Nehemiah that there is something we can do.  You see, Nehemiah was not a prophet or a priest or king.  He was not powerful or rich.  He was a slave.  His ancestors had been taken from Jerusalem and he had been born in Persia.  He had never even seen Jerusalem but when word got back to him that the walls had been torn down and that the city still lay in ruins all these years later, he was broken hearted. 

He saw the danger his people were in and he saw the shame it brought to them and to God.  It is time for us to realize the danger we are in and the great shame it brings to us and to God for our walls to be torn down.  You say you can’t do anything about what goes on in our nation and you are right if you try to do it alone but look at what Nehemiah does in verse 4.  He mourned and wept and fasted and prayed.  We saw in Ephesians last week the power we have in the weapon of prayer.  James 5:16 says that fervent prayer is powerful and effective.  The very first thing we should do to halt the attack on our walls is to pray.  Not just a casual prayer; something you real quick before you eat.  In the last chapter of Colossians Paul says that Epaphras sends his greeting and that he is always wrestling in prayer for you.

Have you ever done that?  Jacob wrestled with God and said he would not let him go until God blessed him.  I am going to challenge all of us to do that this week.  Instead of a quick prayer before you eat, how about praying instead of eating?  Just one meal.  Take the time you would have spent eating and spend that time wrestling with God and begging Him to restore our walls of democracy, decency and doctrine, before it’s too late.

Monday, May 14, 2012

FBC RB 5/13/12

“This Means War, Pt. VII”  Eph. 6:10-18

Some of you may have noticed the title of the sermon in today’s bulletin.  I added all of the Roman numerals just kind of as a joke, wondering if Belinda, who prints the bulletins every week, would catch it.  Of course she did.  When I sent her the title I couldn’t remember what number we were on so I just added a bunch of x’s and I’s and V’s.  This is the last sermon in this series on the armor of God.  I hope you have seen in the past few weeks the seriousness of the battle that we are in but also the hope and the help and the power that we have to overcome the schemes of Satan.

In looking for illustrations for this series I have enjoyed looking up battles and weapons and techniques that militaries have used over the years and I saw something this week that just fascinated me.  In 2009, British sniper Craig Harrison made a world record shot with his rifle in Afghanistan.  Corporal Harrison, of the British army, holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill in combat, at a range of 2,707 yards.  That’s about a mile and a half.  You can’t see a bus at a mile and a half but not only did Harrison make the shot, he did it twice, killing two insurgents with consecutive shots and then he shot the machine gun they had set up so that it couldn’t be used again.  At that distance it takes over 6 seconds for the bullet to hit the target after the trigger is pulled.  He had to account for the wind, the humidity, bullet drop, even the spin of the earth at that distance.  No kidding.

That’s the guy I want on my side in battle.  That’s the guy I want next to me, somebody that can reach out and touch the bad guys from a long distance because I don’t want to get any closer to the enemy than I have to.  It’s nice to be able to call on somebody that can break out the big gun and knows how to use it.

Today we are going to look at the big gun in our arsenal in defending ourselves in the spiritual war we are in.  In the passage we are going to read in just a second Paul warns us to be ready when the day of evil comes.  He doesn’t say if the day of evil comes .  He said it is coming and for most of us we have to fight the devil and his forces every day.  If we have to fight this battle every day we wake up then shouldn’t we be prepared?  Shouldn’t we make full use of every piece of armor and every weapon we have?

We have seen in Ephesians 6 that the armor available to us includes the belt of truth and that everything else hangs on that belt.  If the Word of God is not truth, if what Jesus said and Paul and the others wrote is not truth then every other weapon and piece of armor falls off and is useless.  But since the Bible has proven itself true over and over again, we know we can depend on it and it will not fail us.

We also have the breastplate of righteousness to protect our heart.  It includes the imparted righteousness of Jesus Himself that He gives to us when we believe on Him and accept Him into our lives to be Lord and Savior.  It also includes the imputed righteousness that we live out, with His help, by keeping ourselves pure and holy.

Our feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace and that means that when we are obedient to God that we have horizontal peace with others, vertical peace with God and even internal peace but we have to choose the benefits of obedience or we suffer the consequences of disobedience.

Then we pick up the shield of faith and when we don’t understand why we are going through something, we don’t know why somebody else would treat us this way or we can’t imagine being able to get through this difficult circumstance but because of our faith in God we are able to survive and even thrive.  Because God, like His Word, has been proven faithful over and over again in our lives and in the life of our church, we know that He is in control of this situation and when we resist the devil then God is there to reward us.

We have the helmet of salvation strapped on tight knowing that our salvation from this world has not yet been realized but will soon be here when Jesus comes back riding His white horse with angels singing and trumpets blowing; and He will take us to our ultimate reward in Heaven.  Come, Lord come!

We also have the sword of the Spirit which means we have portions of scripture memorized and handy ready to pull out of the scabbard and fend off the attacks of Satan by telling him, not what we think, but what the Bible says just like Jesus Himself did in the desert.

All of that makes for some pretty formidable armor and weaponry.  That makes you a force to be reckoned with if you choose to wear it; if you choose to put it on every day and every hour because the day of evil is here and Satan is just waiting for you to forget to put on one piece of the armor and then the worst thing in the world happens.  Sin happens and we lose the battle.  We haven’t lost the war but our relationship with the Lord is broken, our witness is shot and our peace and joy lay bloody and dying on the battlefield and we are left to face the consequences of our choices.

I Corinthians 10:13 should be part of our sword, part of the verses we have memorized or handy.  It says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

So, let’s (finally) look at our passage for this morning and let’s look again at all the ways we have to escape with a concentration on the last part, the big gun.  You may already be there.  Ephesians 6:10-18.

Paul knew that all good sermons have 3 points so he laid it out with three things for us to look at as we study what he says about prayer.  We are to pray:

·         In the Spirit

·         On all occasions

·         Always

Now I know some of you are tempted to elbow your spouse and say, “Oh no, he’s talking about prayer again.  I’ve heard this.  I could have stayed in bed and now I have to sleep here.”  And that’s fine but while Sam Colt’s revolver was called the “Great Equalizer”, it couldn’t hold a candle to the big gun of prayer but you have to know how to handle it.  Some of what will be said you may already know.  Some of it you may need a refresher and some of it you may already be doing and didn’t realize it.

But it is vital that we follow Paul’s guidance here and begin with praying in the Spirit.  I have probably a dozen different commentaries that talk about the armor of God in Ephesians and I’m disappointed with every one of them.  About the most I got from any of them about this was that we are to pray with the power of the Spirit.  And that’s true and I hope that helps you come Monday morning when the day of evil comes and Satan starts hammering on you.  I hope those pretty words benefit you but for me I want to know more.

This is the most difficult of the 3 points to understand and the one on which I will spend the most time.  It is difficult because a lot of people think Paul is talking about our own spirit.  They think that to pray in the Spirit means you have to pray in tongues or that you have to work yourself into a frenzy for God to hear you but since I don’t see anywhere that Jesus did that I don’t think that’s true.

On the other end of the spectrum I see people who go long periods of time, sometimes their whole lives, without ever tapping into the power that they have available through the Spirit of God.  They try to live their lives on their own power, go to work, keep a marriage alive, raise kids, worship, even pray without ever connecting with and utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit should be a normal part of our lives not an extreme part.

The question before us now is, “How do we do that?”  Well, we have the Sword of the Spirit mentioned earlier.  What is that?  The Word of God.  It is called the Sword of the Spirit because as II Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed…”  It is the inspired word and inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and just like every passage of the Bible was written by a person who was inspired to write it, so can our prayers be inspired. 

And how did the Spirit speak to the authors of the Bible?  With loud words and thunder and smoke and lightning using blood on the walls and clouds to form the words in the sky?  Um…no.  He spoke like He spoke to Elijah; with a still, small voice; a voice so quiet that you have to be very close to Him to hear.  And that is how the Spirit speaks to us today.  And what we need to do to pray in the Spirit is to go to God and say, “God, your word says to pray for my friends and so I am.  It says to pray for my enemies and so I do that now.  It says to pray for my leaders and to pray without ceasing and to pray fervently and so I do all of that.  But right now, God, what do you want me to pray for?”

Have you ever done that?  Have you ever prayed about what to pray?  Do you think that is a prayer God wants to answer?  When you tell God you want what He wants and you want to pray for what He wants, do you think God will answer that?  When there is no barrier of sin between you and God and you are so close to Him that you can hear His still, small voice and you ask what prayer would please Him, He will answer you.

Especially in the context that Paul is telling us to pray so that we resist temptation, God wants to help you.  He wants to answer that prayer.  “God I can’t do this.  I’m not strong enough.  I’m not tough enough.  I have to admit that it looks like fun but not my will but Yours.  Tell me what to do and how to do it and then help me do it!  Please God.  Amen.”

That’s praying in the Spirit.  That’s praying like Jesus prayed.  And that is a prayer God is anxious to answer.

I know we are short on time so I will hit the next 2 points quickly.  They are similar in that we are to pray on all occasions and to pray always but a little bit different.  Let me give you a Mother’s Day example of praying on all occasions.  I was talking to my Mom a while back about prayer and she told me she sometimes gets embarrassed because she finds herself at the store praying that God would help her find the best deal on something.  If you know my Mom you would believe that.

She says she prays and then feels like she needs to apologize to God for wasting His time praying about such trivial matters but I tried to assure he that Paul said we are to pray on every occasion.  Then she said she finds herself sometimes praying as she plays Solitaire that God would help her.  I said that’s probably pushing it too far.  But that comes from a woman who is so used to praying about everything that it is just natural and normal to her no matter what she is doing to include the Lord.  She would be embarrassed if she knew I told you all that but it is because God has proven Himself to her over and over again that she knows the value of prayer.  She knows from where her salvation comes.  She knows the truth.  She has the peace.  Faith is her shield.  And while she is not perfect and is still learning she knows how to wield the sword and wear the armor.  She continues to make that choice.

She would also tell you to make the choice to keep on praying as Paul says.  Keep on praying on all occasions.  Keep on praying in the Spirit.  Don’t give up.  She has been known to keep on praying.  I won’t mention names for fear of embarrassing somebody but she has been known to pray for long periods of time for some pretty stubborn people.

If you look at what is probably the very next page in your Bible Paul tells the church at Philippi that he thanks God for them every time he thinks of them.  He knew how to pray in the Spirit, on all occasions and how to keep on praying.  James 5:16 says those prayers are powerful and effective.  Isn’t that what you need in a big gun, one that is powerful and effective especially since we live in the days of evil?  Make the choice to put on all the armor every day and when the day of evil comes, then you can stand.  Let’s stand right now.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

FBCRB 5/6/12

“This Means War, VII”  Ephesians 6:10-1

General McKenzie was in charge of the Navy, and he was visiting his colleague General Marshall, who was in charge of the Army. McKenzie arrives at the military camp and is greeted by Marshall. They both walk around the place, and McKenzie asks: "So how are your men?""Very well trained, General McKenzie.""I hope so. You see, my men over at the Navy are so well trained, you could see they're the bravest men all over the country." "Well, my men are very brave, too.""I'd like to see that."
So Marshall calls private Cooper and says: "Private Johnson! I want you to stop that tank coming here with your body!""Are you crazy? It'd kill me, you idiot! I'm out of here!" As private Johnson ran away, Marshall turned to a bewildered McKenzie and said: "You see? You have to be pretty brave to talk like that to a general."

How many of you have been in the military?  You have my sincere thanks and admiration for your service.  As a soldier, what is your basic function?  Your most basic function as a soldier is to fight the enemy, correct?  And as a soldier, what is the worst thing that can happen to you?  Injury or death; anything that takes you out of the battle is the worst thing to happen to you.  You are of no use to the team if you can’t fight.

Now, as a Jesus-loving, God-worshiping, Spirit-filled Christian, what is the worst thing that can happen to you?  I think it is important for us to see this morning that the worst thing that could happen to us as Christians is not death. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.   The worst thing to happen to us is not an injury or physical ailment.  Again, Paul says in Philippians 4:11 that he is content in whatever state he is in. 

No, for a Christian, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be taken out of the battle.  The Bible tells us in several places that we are in a battle.  The passage we have been going through in Ephesians tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but that we are definitely in a battle and what is the only way we can be taken out of the battle?  Sin.

For a Christian, sin is the absolute worst thing that can happen to you.  Not death, sickness, disease, poverty, divorce, abuse, or persecution.  We don’t usually see it that way, do we?  Maybe when we see it in the life of somebody else but when we have sin in our life, it’s not that big of a deal.  We know that God will forgive us and besides it’s not like we did something really bad.  We are still better than the other guy, right?  God understands we aren’t perfect so what is a little sin among friends?

If sin is not that big of a deal then tell it to Adam and Eve.  All they did was eat an apple, right?  No, they disobeyed God and paid for it the rest of their lives.  Tell it to Uzzah, who in I Chronicles 13 touched the Ark of the Covenant and paid for it with his life because God had told them not to touch it.  Likewise, Annanias and Sapphira misled the apostles in Acts 5 and failed to take another breath because of it.  This should lead one to believe that God takes this sin thing pretty seriously.  It is that big of a deal.  It is, in fact, the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.

As we have talked about before, when there is sin in your life it effectively takes you out of the fight because sin puts a barrier between you and God, ruining your relationship, nullifying your witness and killing your joy and peace.  And for Satan, that’s a mark in the win column.  He gets a big kick out of that at your expense.  Satan laughs at you with great contempt every time you fall for his deception.

Now, what if I told you I had the answer?  What if I told you I know how you can keep Satan from laughing at you; how you can stay in the fight, keeping your relationship intact, your joy complete, your witness strong all the while furthering the Kingdom of God?  The good news is that it actually isn’t something I came up with.  It has been around for a few years and has proven itself to be a reliable form of defense against the schemes of the devil.  As good soldiers would turn to their military handbook, I ask you to turn to Ephesians 6:10-18 where we will continue our study of the armor of God.  Our focus will be on the second part of verse 17 but to keep it all in context and to remind us of the whole armor I want to read verses 10-18.

If we are to protect ourselves from the very worst thing in the world happening to us then we need to do exactly what Paul tells us here.  We have already put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, shield of faith and last week we put on the helmet of salvation.  We have seen that with all of this armor we are a force to be reckoned with.  We have the ability to fight off most of the lies of Satan, the deception of the evil one who is prowling around like a roaring lion waiting to kill you dead but we need to add one more piece of armor and this one is vital.

No Roman soldier would think about going into battle without his sword.  This was not the big broadsword mentioned in other places that took two hands to swing.  The word used for sword here in the original Greek is talking about a razor sharp, two-edged sword that was smaller (from 12-24 inches) and would be carried at all times in a scabbard, ready to go.  It was the same kind of sword Peter used to cut off the ear of the guard when they came to get Jesus in the garden.  It was small but very deadly and could be used with precision.

I continue to be amazed at how well this analogy works and how well Paul writes about how to defend ourselves from Satan.  I can just see him sitting there writing to the church in Ephesus thinking, “Now how can I illustrate what I want to say?” and then he looks at the Roman guard he was chained to and goes, “That’ll work.”  Every piece of armor the Roman soldier had was just the right analogy for what we should do to protect ourselves from sin, which is basically what Paul is helping us with here.  And this sword analogy is just perfect as well.

It says that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God and we all know what the word of God is, the Bible.  But the word used for “word of God” is not “logos” which means the whole Bible.  The word used is “rhema” which means specific parts of the Bible.  Now I tell you that mainly to impress you with my vast knowledge of the Greek language.  But since most of you know I can’t even speaks English gooder enough there must be another reason to bring it up.  It just goes to show how good the analogy is that instead of saying that when Satan attacks us we are to swing the whole canon of scripture around and hope we hit something when in reality, when Satan attacks us we are to bring up specific scriptures that apply to the specific attack we are enduring.

Don’t swing the big sword when the job calls for the dagger.  In practical terms: we need to have scripture handy or memorized that will pertain specifically to our struggle.  Bill’s joke.  I heard the story recently of the general store owner who was known to always quote scripture every time he rang up a sale.  A little boy came in one day and bought a piece of hard candy.  As the store owner rang up the sale he said, “Honor thy father and mother…”  Another time a man came in and bought a calculator from him so the store owner rang up the sale and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  A woman bought a lantern and as he took her money he quoted, “He came as a light unto the world.”  Then one day a fancy truck pulled up outside pulling a horse trailer.  A well-dressed man got out and came in the general store and told the owner he wanted a really nice horse blanket for his horse.  The owner went to the back and got the only horse blanket he had and took it to the counter.  He told the man, “That will be $10.”  The wealthy horseman said, “$10?  I have a thoroughbred racehorse out there.  I want the best quality, most expensive horse blanket you have!”  So, the store owner takes the blanket to the back with him, stands there for a second and then takes the blanket back to the customer.  He said, “Ok, sir, this is the best blanket I have.  That will be $500.”  The wealthy man said, “Good.  That’s better.”  He bought the blanket and walked out as the store owner said, “I saw a stranger and I took him in.”  That’s Bill Lightsey’s joke.

You see, there is an appropriate scripture for whatever situation you are in and the absolute perfect example of this is in Matthew chapter 4 when Satan tempts Jesus.  Jesus had been fasting by Himself in the desert for 40 days.  It is no accident that Satan picks this time to tempt Jesus.  Satan often tempts us when we are physically tired and hungry.  At the end of a long week, Satan often puts it in our heads that we deserve something and when we are tired reality starts to get cloudy and we start to believe that something is ok when other times we might know it is not.

So, Satan must have seen his opportunity and jumped on it.  3 times Satan tries to get Jesus to sin and 3 times Jesus quotes a specific “rhema” or part of scripture.  Note that Jesus does not tell Satan that he doesn’t think that would be right or even that the Bible teaches not to do that but he says, 3 times, “It is written…”  and then quotes scripture.  He draws his sword, which was hanging from his belt of truth and fends off Satan’s attack.

Jesus had on the entire armor of God.  He had His belt of truth.  He knew what truth was and he based everything else on that.  He had on his breastplate of righteousness as He was righteous.  His feet were shod with peace between Himself and God and Himself and men.  His shield of faith brought Him joy and peace and a strong witness.  His helmet of salvation was on tight as He knew when and from where His salvation would come.  And when Satan attacked Him with some flaming arrows of temptation they might as well have been spitballs.

And you have the ability to put on the very same armor and wield the very same sword of the Spirit.  But you have to do it.  I can’t do it for you.  Your mama can’t do it for you.  Just coming to Sunday School isn’t going to be enough.  Do you really want to avoid being taken out of the fight?  Do you really want to not hear Satan laughing at you?  Do you want to do your part in furthering the Kingdom of God? 

A good soldier would practice for hours and hours with his sword so that when the time came to use it, it flowed naturally out of the scabbard and felt like an extension of his own arm.  If you are not spending time in God’s word every day I don’t want to hear about how Satan keeps getting the best of you.  Of course he is!  Dig into God’s word and find your passage or passages.  You know what I’m talking about.  Whatever your little pet sin or sins are, find in the Bible where it talks about that.  Memorize a “rhema” or small part and when Satan comes at you next time and says, “Hey, you really need to go into work this Sunday to help pay some bills.”  You can tell him that Deuteronomy 5:12 says to keep the Sabbath day holy and not to do any work.

When he tells you to look at something you shouldn’t on TV or online you come back at him with Psalm 101:3 that says “I will put no vile thing before my eyes.”  He may come back at you with his favorite line about nobody ever finding out and you just tell him that Proverbs 5:21 says that a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord and He examines all his paths.

If you are tempted to gossip find a passage that will help you with that and jab it in Satan’s eye when he tells you it’s really just asking for prayer for someone.

If you are tempted to steal or cheat or do mean things to puppies with a fork, whatever it is, have a scripture ready when Satan comes calling.  I’m going to give you some homework.  There are 31 Proverbs.  One for each day of the month.  Perfect for reading as part of your devotional.  Go through Proverbs with an eye for finding a nugget or two every day that will help you in your struggle against the schemes of Satan.  Start today reading Proverbs 6 since today is the 6th and read it every day.  It’s something you can do the rest of your life, in fact.  Every day just read that day’s Proverb and see if the Spirit helps you find just the right verse for what you are going through.

I will tell you again that Satan hates you and wants only the worst for you.  It is time for us as Christians to realize that the very worst thing that Satan can do to us is lead us into sin.  And sin is that big of a deal.  If sin wasn’t that big of a deal do you think God would have allowed His only Son to die to pay the price for our sin?  It is that big of a deal and so Jesus did His part.  It is time for us to do our part.  Ask Him into your heart to be Lord and Savior and then live like He is.