Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How Not To Get Licked By Life - Part 2

If you read my last post, then you know that I've been thinking a lot lately about the spiritual nature of trouble. Trouble has been a not-so-welcome companion of mine lately, and I decided to review the notes from a sermon series I preached a while back on spiritual warfare. What follows is the second half of my one-on-one therapy session with myself. I invite you once again to look on!

A Bit of Review

Paul says that our struggle with trouble in this life is not of this world. He says that our struggle is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Satan’s forces are well organized and ranked, and they are out to wound us...and ultimately defeat us. But, there is hope. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 tells us about the only armor and weaponry that will work for fighting and winning the spiritual battle we're engaged in. Last time, we explored the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Here are the other items that the Lord has made available to us...

Gospel of Peace Shoes

Jewish historians had much to say about the shoes of the Roman soldier, because the quality of his shoes directly impacted his ability to fight. His shoes were boot-like and were thickly studded with sharp nails for support and stability. They were like a combination of combat boots and football cleats. Historians tell us that the successes of both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were due to their shoes!

If the purpose of wearing our spiritual armor is to stand firm when Satan attacks, then the importance of good spiritual shoes can not be overstated. Without them, we’re sure to fall. For believers, Paul says that the shoes we are to wear are “gospel of peace” shoes. But what does he mean by this? What do these shoes look like?

The "gospel of peace" is the wonderful, life-changing, life-altering truth that – in Christ – we are now at perfect peace with God. We are one with Him. Therefore, when our feet are fitted with these “gospel of peace” shoes, we are able to stand in confidence because we are sure of God’s love for us; we're sure of His union with us; and we're sure of His commitment to fight for us. When we stand with our “gospel of peace” shoes on, we don’t need to fear our Enemy because when he comes to attack us, our feet will be firmly planted. Our "gospel of peace" shoes will secure our ankles, and the cleats will dig solidly into the ground. We will not fall!

Satan wants nothing more than to shake our confidence in God’s love for us. He wants to shake our confidence in what God accomplished on the cross. If Satan can get us to doubt that, then He can gain an advantage over us. So, we’ve got to put on the “gospel of peace” shoes if we’re going to have any chance of standing firm when Satan attacks.

The Shield of Faith

The shield of the Roman soldier that Paul is talking about here was a shield about 2 ½ feet wide and 4 ½ feet high. It was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier and was big enough that he could crouch down and be completely protected by it. It was made of a solid piece of wood and was covered either by metal or heavy, oiled leather. Often, soldiers would stand side by side with their shields together forming a protective wall. And, because their enemies would often light the tips of their arrows right before shooting them, the Roman soldier would often soak their shields in water before going to battle. The leather would absorb the water - making it heavier - but the water would extinguish the flaming arrows of their enemy.

For believers, Satan is continually bombarding us with the flaming arrows of temptation. Temptation to be immoral, to hate, to envy, to sin in our anger, to covet, to doubt, to be proud, to fear, to despair, to dishonor God. Without a shield, we’re doomed. We will be hit, pierced, and burned by his flaming arrows of temptation. The shield of the Roman soldier was made of wood, metal, and leather, but the shield of the believer is made of faith.
The faith that Paul is referring to here is a basic trust in God. It’s the faith that brings about salvation through Christ, and it’s the faith that continues to bring blessing and strength as we trust Him for everything we need. This kind of faith not only believes that Jesus is the Savior, but it believes the promises that God has made to us as well. It also believes in God's love for us, in His mercy toward us, and it believes that He will someday return for us. It believes that whatever comes our way, He is in control and will allow nothing to happen to us – nothing good and nothing bad - without it first being approved by Him.

If you find yourself giving into temptation; if you’re feeling defeated by a pattern of sin in your life, then you have to ask yourself if you are truly placing your trust in God. Hebrews 11:6 says that "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This is the kind of faith that makes up the shield that we so desperately need in order to extinguish the flaming arrows of the enemy. We’ve got to pick up and use our shield of faith – alone and together - if we’re going to have any chance of standing firm when Satan attacks.

The Helmet of Salvation

The Roman helmet is quite different from the helmet worn today by our military. The Roman helmet was not just designed to protect the brain, but it had a sloping edge down the back to protect the neck, because one of the best ways to kill an enemy back then was to approach him from the back and cut off his head. It also had two flaps covering both sides of the face, and sometimes, it had a piece that covered the front of the face, leaving only the eyes exposed.

For believers, the helmet is essential, because Satan likes to hit us in the head with discouragement and doubt. If he can stir up discouragement and doubt in our minds, then he can easily overtake us. He loves to point out our failures, our sins, our unresolved problems, our poor health, or any other negative scenario in our lives. If he can manage to draw our attention to these things, then he knows that discouragement and doubt will set in. A helmet will protect us from these destructive blows aimed at our heads.

The Roman soldier’s helmet was made of heavily molded or heavily beaten metal. Our helmet is related to our salvation. Why? Because if we lose hope in the promise of our salvation (both for now and for the future), we’re doomed, and Satan knows this. The helmet of salvation is the great hope of our salvation that gives us the confidence and the assurance that our present struggle with Satan will not last forever. We will be victorious in the end because of what Christ did for us on the cross! We know that the battle is only for this life, and even a long life of 100 years is a split second compared to eternity. We are fighting a battle that is short (intense but short), and we will win!

Satan wants us to forget what Christ did for us on the cross. He wants to make the battle so fierce that we lose sight of the cross, and we lose sight of the hope that lies ahead in Christ. He does this by attacking our minds...by messing with our thinking. We've got to place the helmet of salvation firmly on our heads, and we’ve got to always remember the great hope of our salvation that gives us the confidence and the assurance that our present struggle with Satan will not last forever.

The Sword of the Spirit

This is where it gets good. All the items mentioned so far have been defensive in nature, but this one can be used for offensive purposes as well as defensive purposes. The sword of the Spirit is something we can use to inflict pain and suffering on our enemy!
The sword referred to here by Paul was a sword that varied in length from 6 to 18 inches long. It was the common sword carried by the Roman foot soldier and was the principal weapon used in hand-to-hand combat. The sword was not very big. What made it such an effective weapon was not the sword itself, but the skill of the soldier. Roman soldiers were the best swordsmen in the world. They were put through rigorous - and sometimes brutal - training, and their teachers were relentless. The sword was used for both offense (to strike a blow) and defense (to glance off the strikes of their enemies), and they were made out of the most superior metals forged by master blade smiths.

For believers, our sword is made out of the Word of God and is forged by God’s Spirit. As we rigorously read, study, and meditate on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit acts as our tutor, burning the deep truths of His Word on our hearts and bringing it to our minds as we need it. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, what weapon did He use to fend off the strikes of Satan? The sword of the Spirit. The Word of God. In the same way, the sword of the Spirit is the weapon that we must use as well.
The Word of God is the most powerful weapon we have against Satan. I love what Scottish pastor and writer Thomas Guthrie said about the Bible: The Bible is an armory of heavenly weapons, a laboratory of infallible medicines, and mine of exhaustless wealth. It is a guidebook for every road, a chart for every sea, a medicine for every malady, and a balm for every wound. Rob us of our Bible and our sky has lost its sun.

A Word of Caution
Just like the Roman soldier had to diligently learn how to use his sword, so too must we diligently learn how to use ours. Satan will attack us hard, and we must know the Word of God well enough to fight off His strikes and send some powerful strikes his way. Just like the Roman soldier, we need to go through rigorous training in order to know how to skillfully wield our sword.

God has blessed us with gifted preachers and teachers who can explain in a clear way the truths His Word. He’s also blessed the Christian community as a whole with gifted writers who have written helpful Bible studies designed to help us understand the Word. We have no excuse for not knowing God’s Word. Every single one of us has an endless amount of biblical resources at our finger tips. We can learn how to skillfully wield our sword; we just need to do what it takes to learn.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mike...your lesson is powerful. I just wanted to share a pastor's experience (pastor to pastor, I suppose) that was related to me during my family visit to Shreveport. I attended my brother's church, Broadmoor Baptist Church last Sunday. Evidently, the week before, the senior pastor gave his sermon to the early church service as usual. At the second service, he humbly got up and stated that he just couldn't speak to the worshipers at that hour. He told them he had suffered for years in secret with depression and panic attacks. The Lord answered his prayers with a denial to take this pain away. He was having a bout with his illness. I'm sure he felt humiliated in front of the congregation that looked to him for a message of truth. He probably felt so weakened at that moment and ashamed of not fulfilling his responsibilities on that Sunday, ashamed of having nothing to offer the worshipers. Instead, the congregation held a prayer meeting at his suggestion, and he left for the day.

The next Sunday,the one I attended, he was full of vigor, humor,and calmness. He gave a wonderful message to us about the purpose of pain and trials. His momentary humiliation was over and he was not at all defeated by the experience. It gave him the testimony of gratefulness. He preached to us to be grateful for those painful moments because God has gone before us in time to prepare this situation we are to face. Christ has endured in it with us, giving us truths to remember for our continued pleasure. God had given this pastor a great measure of strength to endure, peace, and continued joy throughout the time of trouble. Then, when it subsides (I say it this way because some pains and trials return over and over. They aren't necessarily permanently removed.)he opens our heart and mind to see why He gave us this lesson and delayed our joy and calmness. This pastor held his head high this past Sunday, not in pride, but in recognition of the God who upheld him, walked the walk with him, and brought him through another episode of the testing of his faith and another testimony experience for others to view and be strong in.

I saw this pastor as a very strong, faithful teacher of the Word, who was not destroyed by being laid out in pain in front of the public eye. The Lord built him up again during that week at home. He remembered, through the Spirit who teaches and restores, that it would be another moment in time before his testimony of faithfulness would be seen. He was patient and waited. The pain may be now and here with no relief in sight, but dress yourself with the armor of God, as Mike teaches. Look with hope and thanksgiving for the time that your experience will affect others' faith.