Friday, December 31, 2010

Train of thought

This is just really cool. Well done. Check it out.

Train of Thought from Leo Bridle on Vimeo.

War for Joy (1)

One of my favorite movies of all time is "It’s a Wonderful Life." There’s a scene in the film that I find gripping.

George Bailey’s world is falling down around him. He goes home and one of his kids asks, “Daddy, how do you spell ‘Hallelujah?’” He says, “How should I know? What do you think I am, a dictionary?”

His daughter is practicing a Christmas carol on the piano. George says, “Janie, haven't you learned that silly tune yet? You've played it over and over again. Now stop it! Stop it!”
They are all looking at him with confusion and fear. Then he asks, “What's the matter with everybody?”

Now, George feels bad that he asked Janie to stop playing the piano. “Janie, go on. I told you to practice. Now, go on, play.”

Finally, Mary, George’s wife, says, “George, why must you torture the children?”

I think that what’s so arresting about this scene is that it’s a picture of what happens in lots and lots of homes at Christmas time. The words are different. The circumstances are different. But the same kind of angry, joyless daddy (or mommy or brother or sister) shows up.

I don’t know if you dreamed of a white Christmas or not. But I bet your family is dreaming of something about you. They are dreaming that you will have a heart that’s joyful. They are dreaming that you will get joy and give joy.

Maybe you are carrying a heavy load right now and as you look around at all the holiday excitement your load gets heavier. Maybe it seems like everyone is full of joy, except you. You’re just trying to get things done. You’re anxious, stressed out, tense, in a hurry, worried, concerned, uptight. Where has your joy gone?

It’s time. It’s time for us to…

war for joy

The joy that the world is experiencing outside of Christ is not working. People are mad out there in those malls. They are unhappy.
 
Think about the songs we sing during the holiday season: "Happy" holidays. We wish you a "Merry" Christmas. God Rest Ye “Merry” Gentlemen. “Joy” to the World. Have a Holly "Jolly" Christmas. We sing these songs, but we don't have joy.

Families would like to have smiles from dad more than they would like stuff from dad. You need joy. We all do. More laughs, less stress. More fun, less fights. More smiling, less stressing.

Christ has come so we can war for joy. Jesus came at that first Christmas to give us joy.

An angel announced the birth of Jesus to some shepherds. Shepherds were in their fields keeping watch over their flocks.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)

great joy = (charas megales) mega joy

I wonder, “Are you filled with mega-joy?” Christ has come to bring us great joy. But have you missed His joy? Do your spouse, children, parents, friends at work, teammates see a person of doom-and-gloom or a person of joy?

I remember visiting with a man who used to be one of our custodians, Dominic Guthridge. He was fighting cancer. Typically when you asked him, “How are you doing?” he would say with a smile, “I’m blessed and doing well.” He said that for years. But what would he say now that he had cancer? I asked, “How are you doing?” He said the same thing! “I’m blessed and doing well.” He had walked with Jesus long enough to know that He works all for good in every situation. He was an example of someone who had “mega joy” in spite of his cancer.

How about you?

A Note of Encouragement...

A few weeks back I received a wonderful note of encouragement from a CVC member. After he had attended service during our "Armored" series where I mentioned running into an old acquaintance at a local store who had "heard I retired," he was kind enough to share his thoughts.   Enclosed with his note, he copied a page from his prayer journal.  I asked him if he wouldn't mind me posting it to my blog to share with and encourage others.  He agreed ...

***
Rick:

Thanks for another outstanding message this past weekend. I am so glad that you are not “RETIRED.” This last series on the Armor of God was very good – it is something that we all need to hear from time to time. I have copied the very first pages from my prayer book – you can call it a journal, or whatever. It is not very sophisticated and obviously not very articulate. The point is however, that you and CVC are the first persons I pray for each day. Thanks for being there for us.

Cuyahoga Valley Church

"I come to you Lord, in thanksgiving for all you have done at CVC to make it a place where my family, friends, and I come to worship You. We know the hearts of Pastor Rick and all the associate pastors, elders, and members of the true CVC family.
Father God, I ask you to continue to bless our congregation. Send your Holy Spirit to dwell in each and every person who in any way is affiliated with CVC. Father, I pray that you enlighten each of us and cause us to respond in the proper way to Your Word. Help us all, Lord, to know what you want us to do – help us to do Your will. Thank you for giving Maryann good health when she first started to attend CVC.

Thank you for leading me to a life of faith through the community of CVC.

Please Lord, give wisdom to Rick and the staff so they can continue to lead others to You.

Thank you Lord for the fellowship, bible study, and small groups. I ask you to continue to bless me and my family as we seek to walk in the steps of Jesus. Give us the wisdom of Your Word and direct our paths to You. I pray this prayer in the name of Jesus."

Let us work together to help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ. Father God, the glory belongs to You alone!

***
P.S. You probably didn’t know this – the inscription on Mary Ann’s headstone reads, “To God Alone Be the Glory”…where did I get that idea from?

John Z.

Are we too comfortable? A conversation between Chan, Driscoll, and Harris

Watching a video conversation (see below) between Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, and Josh Harris prompted this deeply personal post.  I thank my friend, Andy Sikora, pastor of Renew Communities, for encouraging me to watch the conversation.  It stirred something deep within me.  


People ask me sometimes why we are making a leadership transition at CVC.  


"Why did you bring in Chad Allen as co-teaching pastor?  Why are you going to pass the baton of senior leadership to Chad sometime over the next couple of years?  Why don't you want to stay on as senior pastor for the next 10 years until your 'retirement' age?  Why are you willing to give up senior leadership and its perquisites - what you worked so hard to achieve?  What are you going to do when you are no longer senior pastor?  Why would you give up your leadership and influence?  Why are you taking a step down?  Don't you know most pastors would never give up a role like yours?"


The answers to these questions are complex for me.  


One of my answers to the above questions have to do with wanting the best transition possible for CVC. 


Think about it.  Every current senior pastor  - every one of them - is on his way to becoming the former senior pastor.  That means that transition is coming sooner or later.  It's my observation that many, many times senior leaders hold on way too long.  And their church, which is supposed to be effective in reaching young families, becomes less and less effective at that mission as the senior leader becomes older.  Before you know it, the church is filled with grey and balding heads.  And the next generations are not being reached.  


So, one reason for making this transitional move now is related to the mission Jesus has given us.  I want to help CVC continue to have a young voice so CVC can reach the upcoming generations for Christ.  We are making this transition because I love the church - I love CVC - for whom Christ died and I greatly desire CVC to be as effective, relevant, and fruitful as possible.  We need constantly to have an influx of younger, empowered leadership if reaching next generations is going to happen.


Other answers to the above questions have to do with my own personal sanctification.  


To be sure, being the senior leader of a growing suburban church has its challenges.  The complexity of a larger congregation causes a dependence on God.  The challenges of handling conflict and growth means that you can't lean on your own understanding.  These kinds of challenges cause dependence on Christ and a closeness to Christ and are, therefore, sources of growth in my soul.


But sometimes I think that being senior pastor of a large, growing church in the suburbs has done some "violence" to my soul.  Being a senior leader of a larger church has sometimes been distracting and inhibiting to some of my more missional impulses because we have to "play it safe" as a congregation.  (We have a large staff with families to provide for and we have a mortgage to meet.)  Pastoring 2,000 plus people has been personally challenging since I am a person who is reflective by nature and the role I have had to play has pulled me out of my comfort zone since I have to deal with people in "large doses."  I've had to lead in conversations and help determine CVC's positions and policies when it comes to secondary issues, personnel decisions, and conflicts.  These things have sometimes been distractions from a contemplative life and sometimes have rubbed against the core of who I believe God has made me to be.  


I really do think all this has been good for my soul in some ways, but bad for my soul in some other ways.  It's all good in the sense that God never wastes a problem.  He is always seeking to use everything to sanctify us.  So, there is a sense in which I am to embrace every aspect of senior pastoring as part of the process God is using to conform me to the image of Christ.  But sometimes I look in the mirror and think about where I am and wonder, "Is this person I see and the responsibilities I have really who God made me to be and what God designed me to do?"


As I think about my past and my future and who God has made me to be be, I believe that God has wired me to want to do things that are risky and sacrificial.  God wired me to want to be someone who lives more on the edge - to do things that are more sacrificial.  In fact, that's what I think He's called all of us to do.  Check out Luke 9:23.


From a personal human standpoint, our desire to be risk-taking, sacrificial, missional followers of Jesus is why CVC even exists.  God allowed Maryanne and me the privilege of leaving the security of family and familiarity behind in order to come to CVC as missionaries to start a church.


And sometimes, I feel that the "success" of our mission has become a distraction from who God has made me to be.  I look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the "live on the edge" follower of Jesus.  Before, Maryanne and I had only vision, prayer, and promises.  Now, I have a nice, comfortable job with a nice, comfortable house with a nice, comfortable lifestyle. 


Yes, I know God has given us all things to enjoy.  And I don't want false guilt to drive my decision-making.


But I'm wondering what's next for me.  The elders, including Chad,  and I believe that it's connected to CVC - that it will involve more personal focus from me on missions, evangelism, and leadership development.  


I want whatever is next for me to be more and more reflective of a radical, revolutionary, revived life in Christ.  I want to follow Jesus and know Him more intimately.  


In 1974, I memorized Philippians 3:10 from the Amplified Version of the Bible.  God has been bringing that back to my mind lately.  Like Paul, I want to say, "[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection, and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death" (Philippians 3:10, Amp).


Today, I watched a conversation between Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, and Josh Harris.  Something deep was stirred within me as I listened to the struggles and the desires that Chan expressed.  I found myself saying, "Yes.  You are expressing some of what I have been feeling ever since we moved into our building. "


So, I include the conversation here.  If you are sensing God's call to you to move more and more away from security and to move to more and more sacrifice and risk, then you will find this conversation fascinating and inspiring.  If you are not sensing God calling you to move more and more away from security and to move to more and more sacrifice and risk, then maybe you should watch this conversation so you can feel God's conviction and be repentant.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Storming the Gates of Hell to Take Back Ground (5)

Paul is not shy about asking for prayer. He knows he can’t advance against the enemy in his own strength and by his own power. He can’t do this alone. So, he asks for prayer. Over and over. For example, he asks for prayer from the believers in Colossae.

Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:3-4 (ESV)

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of weeks how important it is for me to ask for prayer. Pray for me. Pray for Chad Allen. Pray for your spiritual leaders at CVC – the elders, the staff, your CG leader. How?

Praying for your spiritual leaders to be ambassadors for Christ:

Our Father in heaven, advance Your kingdom here in NE Ohio.

According to Ephesians 6:19-20, I pray for __________ to get Your words, to open his/her mouth, to be more bold, to share the Good News, and to pay any price in suffering for Christ.

According to Colossians 4:3-4, I ask You to open up doors for the Word that ____________ might be able to share Christ clearly as he/she ought to speak.

Through ____________, wage spiritual war, defeat the devil, take back ground, win the lost, and change people's lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.

This is the way to pray for your spiritual leaders. This is the way to pray for me. Would you pray this way for me?

And you have a spiritual responsibility, too. Would you pray this way for yourself?

As a follower of Christ do you see yourself as Spiritual Soldier or a Civilian?

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him
II Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV)

• A civilian – Pursues the world’s pleasures
• A soldier – Pursues God’s purpose

• A civilian – Lives as if it’s peacetime in a playground
• A soldier – Lives as if it’s wartime on a battlefield

• A civilian – builds his own kingdom
• A soldier – builds God’s kingdom

• A civilian – sees church as joining a club
• A soldier – sees church as enlisting in an army

Are you a solider or a civilian?

Want to know why at CVC we are always talking about planting more churches here in NE Ohio? Want to know why we are involved in missions? Want to know why we seek to ask people week after week to pray to receive Christ? Want to know why Maryanne and I left our home in the south to come to NE Ohio? Want to know why Chad and Rica Allen left their home in CA to come to NE Ohio? It's because we are soldiers, not civilians, who want to storm the gates of hell and take back ground form the devil for the glory of God!

Question: Why has God left you here? Think about this: In heaven you will worship, serve, love, learn. But in heaven, you won't be able to storm the gates of hell, take back ground from the devil, and win souls for Jesus. That's what we have been left on this planet to do.

Do it now. The time is now!

Why has God left you here? To storm the gates of hell to take back ground.

So, if somebody ever says to you, “I hear you’ve retired” I hope you will say, “Never!”

You might retire from some job. But you can never retire from this war. You are a soldier of the cross. And your job is to storm the gates of hell and to take back ground from the enemy.

Will you ask Jesus to make you a hell-emptying, heaven-filling, kingdom-building, soul-saving, church-planting, ministry-starting, God-loving, people-serving soldier of the cross? Will you ask God for grace so you can die with your gospel boots on and the sword of the Spirit slicing and dicing the enemy in your hand?

Say, “I will get God’s words. I will open my mouth. I will be more bold. I will spread the news. I will pay any price. I will storm the gates of hell to take back ground.”

Say it with me, “I will storm the gates of hell to take back ground.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Storming the Gates of Hell to Take Back Ground (4)

In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul is asking for prayer because he is waging a war against the enemy. Paul knows this is a fierce battle. His is desperate here. He is passionate here.

19 And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

Paul asks for prayer that he might spread the news.

"...proclaim the mystery of the gospel..."
Ephesians 6:19d

A mystery in the Bible is something that was hidden in the past but is now revealed. People didn't get it. But when God opens their eyes, they do. So, what didn't people get? What don't people get?

The gospel. It literally means "the good news."

The bad news is that people without Christ are dead in their trespasses and sins and are doomed to suffer the wrath of God because of their rebellion against God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. All our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. Our human morality, our religion, our good deeds don't impress God. We are doomed. That's bad news.

We will never know how good the good news is until we know how bad the bad news is.

The good news is that God has sent a Savior, Jesus. God does for us what we can't do for ourselves. We don't have to behave our way into heaven. Jesus died on the cross in our place to pay the penalty we should have paid for our sins. He paid a debt He didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay. When we put our faith and trust in Him, we are forgiven, saved, changed. We get to go to heaven based on what Christ did for us not based on what we do.

We are saved by grace through faith. It is the gift of God, not a result of our works.  Good news!

Who have you shared that good news with?
Maybe you are thinking about someone in your family who needs to know this. They are religious and joyless. Their religion is a duty rather than a delight. They think their religion will get them a ticket to heaven. And Satan has them right where he wants them. On a good works treadmill. And God brought you here today to say, “Spread the news - the good news about Jesus. Storm the gates of hell and take back ground that the enemy has wrongfully gained in family members' lives.”

Paul says, “Pray for me that I will spread the news.” Can you pray that for yourself? Would you ask someone to pray that for you?

Paul asks for prayer that he might pay any price.

Actually, Paul is already paying a big price.

"...for which I am an ambassador in chains..."
Ephesians 6:20a

Paul was imprisoned in Rome for preaching Christ when he wrote this. He didn’t see himself merely as a prisoner, though. He saw himself as an Ambassador, a representative for Christ, in chains.

Paul was very productive for the kingdom of God while in Roman chains. He wrote four letters to instruct and encourage churches (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon) and he was surrounded by the opportunity to share Christ with Roman guards (changing guard 6 hrs or so), roman officials, visitors and other prisoners.

Talk about Missional living! Wherever you find yourself and whatever you go through, you are on mission as God’s representative.

As Chad Allen says, “You are an ambassador for Christ, a missionary… cleverly disguised as a student... as a friend, as a barista, as a fire-fighter, as a guest in a hospital (doctors/nurses come to you)… get the point?”

Paul is paying a price (as all follower of Christ do) for being faithful to the Lord. A life of following Christ is not easy and will result in some degree of suffering and persecution.

Paul is an ambassador in chains. But notice, he doesn’t request prayer to be freed from the chains! But instead, requests prayer for that which he will need while in chains! We would probably pray to be freed, right? Our nature wants to build an easy comfortable life. No waves, no struggle, and no discomfort. But is that really possible as a follower of Christ?

If you are not experiencing difficulty, are you really in the battlefield? What are your chains...Sickness? Suffering? Unbelieving family? A job you don’t like? A difficult neighbor or neighborhood?

Paul considered even his present difficult circumstances to be an opportunity to serve Christ. And so should we.

Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

If anyone comes to Me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters -- or even life -- more than me, he cannot be My follower. Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow Me cannot be my follower. You must give up everything you have to be My follower.
Luke 14:26, 27, 33 (GWT)

A cross is the place Jesus died. If you want to be His follower, there’s got to be a sharing in His death. I will sacrifice for Him. I will say “no” to myself to help people be brought to a relationship with God.

Look at Jesus’ challenge to people. Never will you find him saying, “Trust me and then go do your own thing.” Time and again he calls us to believe and then he says, “Based on your belief, follow me. Put aside your agendas and plans. Stop pursuing your beloved career and hobbies and lusts and follow me.

The German pastor, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis said the call of Christ is “Come and die for me.”

Soren Kierkagaard was a philosopher who was a follower of Christ. He said, “I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, ‘If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.’ And I looked around and [wondered why] nobody was laughing…”

Jesus wants me to carry a cross.











Paul says, “Pray for me that I will pay any price.” Can you pray that for yourself? Would you ask someone to pray that for you?

How important are good deeds for our salvation?

Learn - 

7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:6-9 (ESV)


Observe - 


What are the cloths of righteousness?  These are righteous deeds.  Evangelicals are so very right when we emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith and that we are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Sometimes, though, we can unwittingly minimize the importance of good works.  We are not saved by good works but we are saved to good works.  As James says, if we have no good works then our faith is useless.  It is a pseudo-faith.


Notice in the passage above that we are "given" the ability to cloth ourselves in fine linen - in righteous deeds.  God gives us the ability, but we still have the responsibility.  It's God who is at work in us, but we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).  So, we cannot take credit for our good works but we have responsibility to do them.


If we try to get to heaven through (or because of) our good works, we will be denied.  If we try to get to heaven without our good works, we will be denied.

So, do you have righteous deeds?  Have you been granted the gift of clothing yourself with righteous deeds?  This is what it means to be part of the Bride of Christ.  Good works are necessary to be ready for the return of Jesus.  Good works are proof that we are saved by grace through faith and, therefore, worthy of the invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  

Here are some important verses on the nature of "the righteous deeds of the saints."
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10
For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. Psalm 11:7
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. I Peter 2:12
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
[Have] a reputation for good works: [bring] up children, [show] hospitality, [wash] the feet of the saints, [care] for the afflicted, and [devote yourself] to every good work. I Timothy 5:10
Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share. I Timothy 6:18
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity.  Titus 2:7
[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:8
And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.  Hebrews 10:24
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13

Value - 

Look for good deeds - good works, righteous deeds - to do today!

Express - 

Lord Jesus, You are the King of kings, the righteous Lamb.  You are preparing a party, a supper for Your bride, the Church.  You were the perfect example of One doing good deeds.  You went around doing good.  How much more should I do the same.  I repent of my selfishness.  I repent of my failure to see needs and to meet them.  Let me be Your hands and feet and eyes and ears today.  Let me bring hope and encouragement and help.  Thank You for forgiving me by Your shed blood on the cross.  I am not worthy.  But by Your grace, may I be counted worthy of an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  I do not want to miss what's coming.  May I prove my worthiness by my righteous deeds which are granted by Your grace.  Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Storming the Gates of Hell to Take Back Ground (3)

In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul is asking for prayer because he is waging a war against the enemy. Paul knows this is a fierce battle. His is desperate here. He is passionate here.

19 And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

Paul asks for prayer that he might open his mouth.

"...in opening my mouth..."
Ephesians 6:19b

In verse 19 we see the word “proclaim” = to make known. There are things that people don’t know about God, about Jesus, about sin, about judgment, about salvation, about grace, about faith and we are to make these things known to them.

In verse 20 we see the word, “declare” = to be free in speech. Some of us are bound up so that we can’t speak freely about the things of God. We need to have mouths that are set free.

In verse 20, we see the word “speak” = to talk, to tell, to utter a sound. Make some noise for Jesus!

Proclaim. Declare. Speak. Open your mouth!

Maybe a businessman is reading this blog. You are living a good life. You represent Christ well at work. You have great relationships with people on the job. You can see things in the lives of people at work that you know are hurting them. You know the truth that would set them free. You know who is lost and needs to come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. But when it comes to sharing spiritual things, you are silent. And the enemy is having his way. And God brought you here today to say, “Open up your mouth at work. Start a Bible study once a week during lunch hour. Do something to give yourself and opportunity to open your mouth. Storm the gates of hell and take back ground that the enemy has wrongfully gained in your co-worker’s lives.”

Paul says, “Pray for me that I will open my mouth.” Can you pray that for yourself? Would you ask someone to pray that for you?

In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul is asking for prayer because he is waging a war against the enemy. Paul knows this is a fierce battle. His is desperate here. He is passionate here.

19 And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

Paul asks for prayer that he might be more bold.

"...boldly to proclaim..." "...that I may declare it boldly..."
Ephesians 6:19c, 20b

Paul is a prisoner. He is surrounded by people hostile to his message. He knew he would not just need the right words, but that he would need a boldness to share the message. Twice in these verses he asks for people to part for him to be bold.

Are you bold for Christ? Too many of us are shy about Jesus. And that's why we don't storm the gates and take back ground and advance the kingdom. We fall into the devil's trap when we are ashamed of Jesus.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16 (ESV)

Maybe a student is reading this post. You’re a student in Middle School or High School or college. You hear conversations all the time that dishonor God. You see they way your friends at school act and dress that show that they are held captive by the enemy. You hear your teachers teach things that are contrary to the Bible. There is something inside you that wants to lovingly, wisely, winsomely speak up and speak out. Yet you hold back. And the enemy is having his way in the lives of the people at your school. And God brought you here today to say, “Be more bold at school. Join that Christian group on campus. Pray before your eat your lunch. Invite a friend to church. Be seen reading your Bible. Stop being ashamed and gutless. Realize that people without Jesus are headed to an eternity in hell. Storm the gates of hell and take back ground that the enemy has wrongfully gained in your classmates' lives.”

Paul says, “Pray for me that I will be more bold.” Can you pray that for yourself? Would you ask someone to pray that for you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Storming the Gates of Hell to Take Back Ground (2)

We have been left on this earth to storm the gates of hell to take back ground for Jesus. You might be thinking, “What does Rick mean, ‘Storm the gates of hell’?” I’m referring to something Jesus once said in Matthew 16.

[Jesus said], I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18b

The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Gates of hell. It’s a figure of speech to describe the domain of the devil, the fallen angels, and then enemies of God. I’ve heard people say that the gates of hell not prevailing against the church means that the devil and the fallen angels will not be able to destroy the church.

But think about it. Gates are not offensive military weapons. In the ancient world, the gates were there to be a defense against attack. So, “the gates of hell” is a figure of speech describing the devil’s attempt to stop Jesus from defeating the darkness.

When Jesus says that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, He’s saying that we will advance – that we will be taking back ground that once belonged to the devil, that souls headed to eternal death will be rescued, that people who are in spiritual bondage will be set free, that depressed people and addicted people and angry people will be delivered.

The goal of spiritual warfare is not that the devil just leaves us alone so we can live in affluence and comfort. That’s a peace-time mentality. We are in a war.  This passage about spiritual warfare ends with a prayer that the kingdom of God will be advanced. That we will take back ground. That we will storm the gates the hell!

We wage warfare to advance the kingdom of God. Souls are saved. Churches are planted. Ministries are started. People are set free. We are not neutralized. We advance. We move.

We’ve talked about wearing the armor of God. The shoes of the gospel of peace are for moving forward to storm the gates of hell to take back ground. What we are shod with is the READINESS of the gospel. Now what does that mean? John Piper says, “I think it means, ‘Let your feet be ready to move with the gospel.’ Feet are for moving from one place to another. If you put on shoes of readiness, then the idea would seem to be readiness to do what feet are for, namely, moving. And if the readiness is readiness of the gospel it probably means ready to move with the gospel—move with gospel power and for gospel purposes.”

The sword is for us to attack back in precise ways to storm the gates of hell and take back ground.

There is no place for a passive warrior. There is no place for a retired soldier. This is war. Too many of us are playing the coward. Too many of us are AWOL. Too many of us are far, far behind the front lines playing it safe. We just don't want to get hit. We have been neutralized. What God is looking for are front line warriors. When soldiers are on the front lines, we pray for them.

In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul is asking for prayer because he is waging a war against the enemy. Paul knows this is a fierce battle. His is desperate here. He is passionate here.

19 And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

Paul asks for prayer that he might get God's words.

"...that words may be given to me..."
Ephesians 6:19a

Do you really say what God wants you to say?

Paul was known for his speaking and his writing ability. But here you see that he isn’t depending on his verbal skills or his writing ability or his education or his experience. Instead, he’s asking for prayer that God would give him the words he needs.

Get God's words. My words don't matter. Your words won't make a difference. But God's words change everything.

God says in Isaiah 55:11, "My word will not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

If we are going to fight and win in spiritual warfare, god words aren't good enough. We must get God's words. We read the Bible. We pray. We listen to the still, small voice. And we say what God says for us to say.

Maybe a mother is reading this post. And as you look at your son or your daughter, you see where the enemy has made inroads into your child’s life. You wonder, “Where did that sweet, sensitive, passionate kid go?” And God brought you here today to say, “Get My words to use in conversation with that child. You’ve been using your words. And nothing is changing. Come to Me. Spend time with Me. Get my words to use in your conversations. Storm the gates of hell and take back ground that the enemy has wrongfully gained in your child’s life.”

Paul says, “Pray for me that I will get God’s words.” Can you pray that for yourself? Would you ask someone to pray that for you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Storming the Gates of Hell to Take Back Ground (1)

Recently I was in a store in North Royalton when I saw an old friend who doesn’t go to CVC.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. We exchanged the typical pleasantries. “How are you doing...” “How are you doing...” “How’s the family...” “How’s the family...”

Then he said, “I hear you’ve retired.” I said, “No. Who told you that?” “My wife heard it from somebody.” “No. I haven’t retired.”

And as I thought about what he had said, my emotions welled up. And inside I’m thinking, “Doesn’t he know me any better than this? Ministry is not some kind of job to me. Serving Christ is who I am. It’s what I’m about. Does he think I’m a pastor for the money? Retire? Are you kidding me?”

Finally, I could contain it no more. This series on spiritual warfare was in the forefront of my thinking. So, I said with great passion in my voice, “Retire? I’m a soldier. I’m a soldier of the cross. As long as there is darkness in this world, as long as there are souls to be saved, as long as the kingdom of Christ needs to be advanced, I’m going to fight. A soldier doesn’t retire.”

By this time, I’m sure that the people three aisles over were thinking, “What’s going on over there?”

I said, “Yes, we’re in transition at CVC. We have a new pastor, Chad Allen, who will one day be the next senior pastor at CVC.  I’m going to be passing the baton of senior leadership. But I’m not retiring. God willing, I am staying on staff at CVC and I’m going to be even more involved in missions and evangelism and leadership development. But retiring? No way.”

I’m sure the guy was thinking, “OK. OK. I get it. Thanks for clarifying things for me.”

A passionate follower of Christ doesn’t ever stop. I want to be a hell-emptying, heaven-filling, kingdom-building, soul-saving, church-planting, ministry-starting, God-loving, people-serving soldier of the cross. I want grace from God so I can die with my gospel boots on and the sword of the Spirit slicing and dicing the enemy in my hand.

Listen, I am asking God to use me to storm the gates of hell and to take back the ground that enemy has stolen here in NE Ohio and around the world. I am in this fight to the finish. This is not a job. It’s a calling to advance – to advance the kingdom of God.

How about you? Are you in this fight to the finish?

A lot of us miss the fact that an invisible war is raging around us. We can’t see it. We just see things in two dimensions.

We understand that as we try to live better lives, we battle against something in us that pulls us away from God – our sin nature, our flesh. And understand that as we try to live better lives, we battle against the world – this ungodly system that pulls us away from light, from right, from truth.

We see thing in two dimensions. We see that we struggle against the world and the flesh. But we need to see things in three dimensions.

3D is the big rage with all the new movies. Maybe you remember when “Avatar” came out earlier this year. You have to wear 3D glasses to see not only height and width, but depth.  I don’t like paying the extra money to see a 3D movie. But I appreciate experiencing the film with more dimension. We hope this series on spiritual warfare has had the effect of giving us 3D glasses spiritually – that you can see that this battle is a battle against 1) the world, 2) the flesh, and 3) the devil and his fallen angels.

There is more going on than most people know. We battle not against flesh and blood, but that we are involved in an invisible war. And this is why we need prayer. It’s why Paul asks for prayer in verses 19-20.

19 And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:19-20 (ESV)

Pastor Chad Allen has encouraged us at CVC to be not only armed, but armed and dangerous. This verse is really a continuation of verse 18. So, this post is about being "Armed and dangerous, part 2."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Are all good people heaven bound?

Stephanie Samuel of the Christian Post reviewed the work of David Campbell that shows us that most evangelicals believe that most people are heaven-bound with or without Jesus. She writes, "The majority of Protestants and evangelicals believe that good people and people of other religions can go to heaven, according to author David Campbell.

"Campbell, who co-wrote American Grace, How Religion Divides and Unites Us, contends that surveys of 3,000 Americans, used to write the book, show that American people of faith, though devout, are very tolerant. So much so that most believers also believe that good people, despite their religious affiliation, can go to heaven.

"Among the faiths, 83 percent of evangelical Protestants agreed that good people of other religions can go to heaven. Ninety percent of black Protestants also believe good people can go to heaven.

"When prodded further, more than half – 54 percent – of evangelical Protestants said yes, people of religions other than Christianity can go to heaven. Sixty-two percent of black Protestants agreed with the statement.

"Campbell, an expert of religion, politics and public policy, explained at a Thursday discussion of his book that the numbers can be explained with the 'Aunt Susan' theory. Aunt Susan, he said, is the nice family member who is well-loved and is an all around do-gooder.

“'You know that if anyone is destined to go to heaven, it’s Aunt Susan,' described Campbell.

"However, Aunt Susan is of another religion. Rather than condemn that person to a lost eternity, Campbell said, most American believers choose instead to believe that that person is heaven-bound."

Read the rest of the article here.

These kinds of stats have been a great concern to me. 

This year we did a series called "Coexist: Jesus among other gods" where we sought to lift up the uniqueness of Jesus compared to Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Jehovah Witness "faiths."  In the series, we talked about the 5 solas of the Reformation, one of which is solus Christus: only Christ!

When we worked our way through I John in the "I know that I know" series this summer, we preached several times about the necessity of passing the "belief" test - believing that Jesus alone is God who has come in the flesh.  Chad Allen, for example, spoke of the difference between the gospel of Jesus and the "gospel" of other modern day so-called prophets like Oprah and Deepak Choprah.

Last year in our WHY series, we used John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 as the main texts in a message and played a video of Joel Osteen waffling on this issue in order to make the point that many churches are not clear on this issue and that CVC stands firmly on the point that Jesus is the one and only way.

This coming year, we are planning a series to attack the prevalent belief in many churches that some are calling "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." This belief system basically believes that being good, "using" God to help oneself heal, and giving token homage to "the man upstairs" is what Christianity is all about.  It is a Christless "Christianity."  So, we want to hit this false belief head on.

We also are planning a series on evangelism.  One can't have a passion for evangelism without being convinced that people without Jesus are lost.

Perhaps we need to take a look at promoting some small group training for children, teens, YAs, and CGs that deals with the uniqueness of Christ. Maybe your small group can choose a study this year dealing with the fact that trusting Jesus is the only way to be saved.

This is a very, very sobering issue for the church at large and, therefore, for CVC. Our teens are especially susceptible to the idea that people of many faiths can and will make it to heaven. They have been raised in a culture that prompts "tolerance" as a supreme virtue.

What will you do to take a stand on the truths of John 14:6. That's where Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me."

Do you believe that? Will you take a stand for Jesus. The one and only way?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great thoughts from great people about JOY

Rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. I Peter 1:8b (ESV)


***


Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. - John Piper


The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go. - Martha Washington


Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. - Henri Nouwen


Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. - Abraham Lincoln


Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste, that they hurry past it. - Soren Kierkegaard


It is pleasing to God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart. - Martin Luther


This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. - George Bernard Shaw


I think I began learning long ago that those who are happiest are those who do the most for others. - Booker T. Washington


If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it. - John Templeton


Joy is increased by spreading it to others. - Robert Murray McCheyne


If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. - John Piper


The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves. - John Piper

Key Themes in Revelation

As CVCers wrap uo reading theough the NT this year, we are now reading through the book of Revelation this month. Many are no doubt confused by the symbols, images, and prophecies.

(It's one reason why we are promoting the sale of the ESV Study Bible at this time of year. Pick one up or order one in our church foyer. Next year, we will be reading together 365 key chapters in the Bible. A good study Bible will be rurally helpful as we read the Word together. A good study Bible will help give perspective and insight from godly scholars. So, I hope that if you don't have a good study Bible, you will pick one up this year. What a great Christmas present it might be for someone in your family!)

The ESV Study Bible has as great summary of the themes in Revelation. I thought I would include it for you as an example of the helpful notes in the Bible and also to help you get a bird's eye view of the teaching in Revelation as we continue to read the book together this month.

***

Key Themes

1. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus Christ has conquered Satan, the accuser, and has ransomed people from every nation to become a kingdom of priests, gladly serving in God's presence. 1:5, 18; 5:5–10; 12:1–11

2. Jesus Christ is present among his churches on earth through his Holy Spirit, and he knows their trials, triumphs, and failures. 1:12–3:22

3. World history, including its woes and disasters, is firmly in the control of Jesus, the victorious Lamb. 5:1–8:1

4. God is presently restraining his own wrath and his enemies' efforts to destroy the church as he patiently gathers his redeemed people through the testimony that his suffering people proclaim about Jesus. 6:5–11; 7:1–3; 8:6–12; 9:4–6, 18; 11:3–7; 12:6, 13–17

5. Present disasters (war, drought, famine, epidemic disease), though limited in scope by God's restraint, are foreshadows and warnings of escalating judgments to come. 6:3–16; 8:6–13; 11:13; 16:1–21; 20:11–15

6. By maintaining their faithful testimony to the death, believers in Jesus will conquer both the dragon and the beast. The martyrs' victory, now hidden, will be manifest in their vindication at Christ's return. 2:10–11, 26–29; 3:11–13; 6:9–11; 7:9–17; 11:7–12, 17–18; 12:10–11; 14:1–5; 15:2–4; 20:4–6

7. Satan attacks the church's perseverance and purity through violent persecution, through deceptive teaching, and through affluence and sensual pleasure. 2:1–3:22; 13:1–18; 17:1–18:24

8. At the end of the age, the church's opponents will intensify persecution, but Jesus, the triumphant Word of God, will defeat and destroy all his enemies; the old heaven and earth, stained by sin and suffering, will be replaced by the new heaven and earth; and the church will be presented as a bride in luminous purity to her husband, the Lamb.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Putting on the Full Armor of God - Defense (4)

the defense

When we sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us. But He convicts us so we’ll repent. Then He comforts us and reminds us that we are forgiven and accepted and beloved. So, the Spirit convicts to comfort. But the enemy accuses to condemn.

When we sin, the enemy wants us to wallow in our guilt and self-condemnation. “How could you do that? How could you say that? You can’t serve Christ. You must not be a real Christian at all. How could God love you? You’re a loser. You’re no good.” Lies from the accuser of the brothers and sisters.
We have to learn to discern the voice of the Spirit who convicts to comfort and the devil who accuses to condemn.

God knows we are just dust.

A few years ago, Pastor John Piper was speaking to college students. He was concerned that the devil was accusing many of them for their sexual sins of the past and was sidelining them from future service to Christ. He said to them:

“What… breaks [my heart] today, is not mainly that you have sinned sexually, but that this morning Satan took your [sexual sin]… and told you: ‘See, you’re a loser. You may as well not even go to worship. No way are you going to make any serious commitment of your life to Jesus Christ! You may as well go back to school and get a good practical education, and then a good job so you can buy yourself a big wide screen and watch [TV] till you drop.’”

And that would be a wasted life.

I want to help you deal with the guilt of your failure so that Satan does not use it to cause you to waste your life.

Piper gave the college students a couple of verses from the OT prophet, Micah:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, [so there has been a temporary "fall"] I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, [so there is a season of darkness and guilty feelings] the Lord will be a light to me. [so the Lord who is angry with him is nevertheless his light] I will bear the indignation of the Lord [so the Lord is displeased, and angry with him – but it is not the anger of a condemning judge, but of a light-providing disciplining Father! He spanks the child and sends him to his room for a time, but he does not turn off the light of hope] because I have sinned against him, [so there is real sin] until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. [so this angry God is FOR HIM and not against him. He will justify him and not condemn him!] He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Micah 7:8-9 (ESV)

Alright, I want to take that passage from Micah and show you how to put on the armor of God with that passage. This is they way you wear the armor when the enemy is accusing you to neutralize you.

Putting on all the armor…
So, the enemy rejoices over my sin to accuse and then neutralize me?
Yes, I have fallen. And I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought to Jesus.
But Jesus, You have given me salvation. My past, present and future sins are forgiven. Therefore, I will rise. I will rise.
For now, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I am guilty. But that is not all that is true about me and my God. Jesus, You bring light to my darkness. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You are at work in me to make me righteous.
Yes, I have sinned and I am bearing the indignation of the Lord. But I believe the truth that You—the very one who is indignant with me—will plead my cause.
So, the enemy says that You, Jesus, are against me and can’t use me any longer because of my sin?
That is a lie. I wear the shoes of the gospel of peace. I have peace with God and will take this message to peace to the world.
By faith, I see that You, Jesus, are even now pleading my cause before the Father. On the cross, You were judged in my place.
The word of God tells me that Jesus is for me, not against me. For me! Jesus, You will surely bring me out to the light and vindicate me.

Why don’t we fight this way? We don’t wear all the armor all the time.

That is what I mean by wearing the armor of God. This is the way to persevere in our life in Christ in view of our constant failings. When I fall I will rise. Though I have sinned, the very one against whom I have sinned will plead my case and execute justice for me - not against me, but FOR me! Wear this armor! Live these truths!

Now. Now is the time to wear the armor. Wear all the armor all the time. We have to decide to wear the armor. It’s not automatically on us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

War for Joy...In Action

This week I was encouraged by Ryan Cole's email.  His wife, Joelle, had an opportunity to put into practice what she learned from God's Word through Sunday's message.  The title of the message was "War for Joy." I asked if I could share it and they graciously agreed.  

By way, are you "warring for joy?"  And if you have it, will you give it?
***
Rick,

Joelle told me a story Sunday afternoon that I thought you would like to hear. As you head to Florida this week, I hope that it gives you some encouragement.

My wonderful wife was heading to a "shower" for Tonia Darge. The idea was to provide the Darge's with gifts, gift cards and things that would go beyond what you would find at a normal baby shower. They wanted to provide for the whole Darge family.

Knowing that Brad and Tonia both love Starbucks, Joelle stopped by a store with a drive-thru window to pick up a gift card on the way. When she pulled up to the window, Joelle handed over her debit card and the gal disappeared from view. After a few moments, the Starbucks employee reappeared and handed Joelle her debit card and a drink. With confusion in her voice Joelle said, "Um...I was just getting the gift card... remember?" The employee half-heartedly huffed back, "Well you should have reminded me." It turns out that they had charged Joelle for the drink ordered by car behind her.

As you would expect, they asked for her debit card so they could reverse the charges. Joelle paused for a minute and handing back the coffee that she didn't order, she said, "Well, seeing as you already charged it to my card... How about you just tell the person behind me that I said 'Merry Christmas' and you can just get me the gift card."

The confusion had gathered a bit of a crowd behind the drive-up window and one of the gals working there
teared up and said,"Oh my word... That is like the first real bit of Christmas Spirit that I have seen this year!"

Joelle's response to this gal was classic, bold and just over-all awesome! She leaned toward the window and said, "Well, today in church, we talked about joy and how we are supposed to share the Joy of our faith with
others." The girl in the window responded that the best part about what Joelle had just said was the fact that she had now only taken something from the message, but that she had applied it to her life and was seeking ways to share her joy!

My wife was running late, but she didn't get irritated. She was inconvenienced, but she didn't let it ruin her day. She might not have been really happy, but she kept her joy...and passed it on. Through a simple and random act of kindness, my bride not only did something nice for the person in the car behind her, but she made a huge impact on the gals working behind the drive-thru window.

I just thought you might get a kick out of hearing how the message and words God gave you to share are making a difference in the world.

I will be praying for you during your travels to Florida.
Blessings,

Ryan C. Cole

Putting on the Full Armor of God - Defense (3)

Being armored doesn’t mean that we go through some superstitious ritual where we pray some rote prayer that we think will magically keep the devil away.

“Today, I put on me and on my family the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, and the shoes of the gospel of peace. We are holding the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Now, Jesus, keep the devil away from me and the people I love. Amen!”

I wish it were that easy.

Being armored means that 24-7-365 we live in light of the fact that we are saved – that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and that, therefore, we can live righteously. Being armored means that we know the truth and that every day we disbelieve the devil’s lies and live according to the truth. Being armored means that because of the gospel, we claim our peace with God and we live in peace with others who have been forgiven by Him. Being armored means that when the devil’s darts of doubt and fear fly against us, that we who are saved by faith live by faith all day and every day – that no matter how many difficulties come at us, we trust in God, that God is for us, not against us. Being armored means that we use the word of God wisely.

Wearing all the armor of God is not about finding some quick fix or immediate solution to struggles in life.  No one piece is insignificant, and no peace can be ignored. If any piece of the armor is missing, a gaping hole remains – and we are vulnerable to the enemy.

God has provided the “whole armor” for us, and we dare not omit any part. Satan looks for that unguarded area where he can get a beachhead (Eph. 4:27).

The enemy will try and scheme against us...What are the schemes of the enemy against us?

Let’s take a look at three of these schemes.

tempted.

Jesus faced the devil as tempter…

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil… And the tempter came and said…
Matthew 4:1, 3a (ESV)


He knows our weaknesses. He knows what trips us up. With Eve, he caused her to focus on what she thought she was missing. He makes sin look good. The enemy presents the bait and hides the hook.

Sin will cost you more than you want to pay and will keep you longer than you want to stay.

Why do we fall to temptation? We have forgotten to wear all the armor all the time.

Schemes of the enemy against us? Tempted.

accused.

There is a cycle of temptation and then accusation. Once you commit the sin, the enemy will then tells you that you are the worst. We fall to his temptation and then he beats us to death with accusation.

The accuser of our brothers… accuses them day and night before our God.
Revelation 12:10 (ESV)

Have you ever been in prayer, pouring out your heart to God when all of a sudden out of nowhere come these blasphemous thoughts? Or maybe you’re at work or in the neighborhood and the idea of having a sinful relationship enters your mind. Horrible thoughts. Wicked thoughts. Depraved ideas. And doubts and confusion follow. And then you think, “How can I even be a Christian? How could I ever say that I love Jesus after thinking that?” And this frightens you. You wonder, “Where did this come from?” You reject it. But it was there.

Schemes of the enemy against us? Tempted. Accused.

neutralized.

As Josh Harris writes, “[Maybe] you are eaten up by guilt. You can’t stop looking at the flickering images on your computer screen. You feel like a monster walking around mentally undressing the girls you see. You feel powerless to change. None of the tips and tricks for being good – trying to control your thoughts, only looking at girls’ faces, having a QT every morning – seem to be working for you. So, you’ve stopped trying.”

What’s happening? Tempted, accused, then neutralized.

Schemes of the enemy against us? Tempted. Accused. Neutralized.

In the next post, we’ll discover some truths about how we can defend ourselves from the devil’s schemes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Putting on the Full Armor of God - Defense (2)

The Lord has not left us defenseless. And Ephesians 6 talks about the gear.

the gear:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God...
Ephesians 6:13a (ESV)

These verses show us 6 pieces of armor and I want you to learn these pieces of armor today. For me, it’s easiest to start from head to toe. So, let’s learn these from the top down.

the helmet of salvation

... and take the helmet of salvation...
Ephesians 6:17a (ESV)

I believe that in all these pieces of armor, the emphasis is not on the noun, but the object of the preposition. So, the main point being made here is that when it comes to spiritual warfare, we have to live in light of the truths about our salvation.

Guess what? Jesus Himself is our salvation. An angel said about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21 (ESV)

Jesus is our salvation. He saved us from the penalty of sin. That’s justification. He is saving us from the power of sin. That’s sanctification. He will save us from the presence of sin. That’s glorification. Jesus saves. And knowing that makes a difference when we are attacked by the enemy.

The helmet of salvation helps us stand firm against all the devil’s schemes and enables us to look beyond death, doubt, and disappointments toward our destiny.  If we did not know we are saved, then in the midst of hardship and difficulty we might fall to despair and defeat. But we know we are saved. So, we continue to fight the fight with a “blessed assurance” of our salvation.  Are you saved? Do you have salvation?

the breastplate of righteousness

Stand therefore... having put on the breastplate of righteousness...
Ephesians 6:14 (ESV)

Righteousness. It’s being right with God because we live the right kind of life. But if we are honest, we have to say, “That’s not me. I have sinned.” However, when we trust Jesus and His work on the cross in our behalf, He makes us righteous.

For our sake He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son, Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
II Corinthians 5:16-21 (ESV)

In Jesus, we are righteous. God looks at us just as if we had never sinned. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. That’s called positional righteousness.  And that leads us into practical righteousness. We are to live out a life of righteousness. Daily righteous living ought to be the norm for us.

Are you living a righteous life?

The life we live either fortifies us against Satan’s attacks or makes it easier for him to defeat us (2 Cor. 6:1–10). When Satan accuses us, it’s the righteousness of Christ that protects us. But our positional righteousness in Christ, without practical righteousness in the daily life, only gives Satan opportunity to attack us.

So, when the enemy starts accusing us, we can stand on God’s righteousness (see Rom. 8:33-34; Rev. 12:10).  We put on righteousness as a breastplate by becoming slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:17-19)

the belt of truth

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth...
Ephesians 6:14a (ESV)

The belt of a Roman soldier was a wide leather belt designed to hold the soldier’s clothing in place. The soldier tucked his outer garment under the belt so that it wouldn’t hinder his fighting. When his belt was tightened, a Roman soldier was ready for battle.

Truth makes us ready for the fight.  To put on the belt of truth is to put on Jesus because Jesus is “truth.”

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
John 14:6

And that’s important to remember because Satan is a liar (John 8:44). The best defense against his lies is truth. Jesus, who is the truth, said that God’s Word is truth.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:17

Are you living according to the truth?

the shoes of the gospel of peace

When we face spiritual battles, standing firm requires the right footwear. The Roman soldier usually wore strong boots with heavy soles for protection and studded nails for traction. Particularly because the soldier often fought in hand-to-hand combat, his footing had to be sure – a soldier who lost his footing would be vulnerable to the enemy.

... and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
Ephesians 6:14 (ESV)

If we are going to “stand” and “withstand,” then we need the shoes of the gospel of peace.

The gospel is the good news about Jesus. He died in our place for our sin so we could have peace with God, so we could have peace in our hearts, so we can have peace with each other.

Look at what this says about Jesus.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.
Ephesians 2:14

In The Covering, Hank Hanegraaff wrote, “To stand firm with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace is to have peace with others. While we cannot make everyone love us, we can love everyone. Fitted with the gospel of peace, we can tread confidently through conflict and controversy with other Christians.”

C. H. Spurgeon once said, “An unwillingness to think badly of any Christian is a sandal most easy to the foot… Wear it in the church, wear it in all holy service, wear it in all fellowship with Christians, and you will find your way among the brethren greatly smoothed. You will before long win their love and esteem and avoid a world of jealousy and opposition that would otherwise have impeded your course.”

Are you at peace with God and with others?

the shield of faith

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
Ephesians 6:16 (ESV)

The shield for the Roman soldier was large, usually about four feet by two feet, made of wood, and covered with tough leather. The soldier would hold it up and be protected from spears, arrows, and “fiery darts.” Arrows, dipped in pitch lit on fire, would be released. When the flaming darts collided with the shields their flames were put out.

In ancient warfare, the shield was prized by a soldier above all other pieces of armor. He counted it a greater shame to lose his shield than to lose the battle. The Roman soldier thought it would be an honor to die with his shield in his hand.

Do you have a shield of faith?

Faith is a defense for all defenses. If you have the shield of faith, the enemy might scorch your shield but he won’t sear your soul.

The greatest demonstration of faith is trusting God even when we do not understand.

This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.
I John 5:4

If faith is the shield, then doubts must be the darts. A mother contracts Parkinson’s; a father-in-law comes down with cancer; a wife lives with constant pain. Why? Why me? Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? The solution to our disappointments is never found in answering the question why – it is found in trusting God in the midst of our whys.

Do you have the shield of faith?

the sword of the Spirit

And take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17b

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