Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Combat Training” #4

I was shocked, confused, bewildered as I entered Heaven’s door, not by the beauty of it all, nor the lights or its d├ęcor. But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp; the thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics and the trash.  There stood the kid from seventh grade who swiped my lunch money twice. Next to him was my old neighbor who never said anything nice. Herb, who I always thought was rotting away in hell, was sitting pretty on cloud nine, looking incredibly well. I nudged Jesus. “What’s the deal? I would love to hear your take. How’d all these sinners get up here? God must’ve made a mistake. And why’s everyone so quiet, so somber -- give me a clue.” “Hush, child,” He said, “they’re all in shock at the thought of seeing you."

This morning we are going to be talking about what the Bible says about righteousness; what it is, what it means, how to get it and the difference in righteousness and self-righteousness as shown in our opening poem but I also want to discover if there is any room for our own righteousness in our lives.

When I say “righteousness” many of you think about the kind of self-righteousness displayed in the poem; the kind of righteousness that Isaiah 64:6 says is like filthy rags and deserves to be thought of poorly.  Why, then, would Paul tell us to put on righteousness in our passage this morning?

Turn to Ephesians 6:10-18 and let’s take a look.

Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD's people.

Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of righteousness in verse 14 and that is what I want to concentrate on today.  In the two previous weeks we have identified our enemy in this life and that is Satan and now we are looking at the armor and weapons we have at our disposal.

Last week we saw the importance of putting on the belt of truth and how, without believing and taking hold of absolute truth, we might as well not have any defense against the enemy.  We put on the belt of truth first and everything else hangs on that belt.  This week we will put on the breastplate of righteousness and attach it to the belt just like the Roman soldiers of Paul’s day.

A modern-day example of this would be the bullet-proof vest that military and law enforcement wear every day but in the days when Paul wrote Ephesians the Roman guard that was probably guarding him as he wrote this was probably wearing something made out of leather and metal. 

It was made up of small metal plates which were tied together in a similar fashion to the way roof tiles are placed on a roof. The armor was then placed over the shoulders to protect both the front and back of the soldier. The bottom of the armor was tied to the belt. On a Roman soldier’s armor, the breastplate was custom made to fit that soldier. It was specifically designed for him to protect him from attacks. This breastplate protected the soldier’s heart and major organs from a potentially devastating wound by protecting their area of weakness. Paul refers to this part of the armor as the breastplate of righteousness.

Some of you may be thinking about now that all of this “putting on the armor” stuff is a whole lot of work.  All you want to do is go to work and come home, minding your own business and here I am telling you that you have to put on belts, breastplates, shoes, helmets, etc.  You’re thinking, “Do I really have to do all of that?”

The answer, actually, is no.  You don’t have to do all of that.  But the Bible says that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion trying to kill you dead.  It says that he is the Accuser and that he stands before God constantly pointing out your every flaw to God.  In Job, Zechariah and Revelation it shows Satan standing before God saying something like, “Have you seen that Pastor Todd?  How can you call him your child?  He never does this and he’s always doing that and just the other day I heard him say such and such.”

And when he is not accusing you before God he is trying to steal your joy, your peace and your witness, not to mention your very life.  24/7, 365 he is constantly trying to do you in, one way or the other.  Do you really want to spend one minute without all your armor on?  And as we will see, this breastplate of righteousness will protect your very heart.

As we talk about righteousness I want us to see that there is more than one kind of righteousness.  There is self- righteousness, which as we have seen is as good for protecting you against the accusations of Satan as a filthy rag.  But there is also imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness.  Seeing the difference in these is critical but only if you want to stay alive spiritually and even physically.

I’m going to ask you a couple questions but don’t raise your hand.  Just think about it.  Do you know anyone who you would describe as self-righteous?  Probably.  There might even be some in this church.  Now, would you consider yourself to be self-righteous?  Probably not.  It’s a rare person that can consider his own life with such discernment that he can see his own self- righteousness.

It has been said that self-righteousness is the only disease that makes everyone sick except the person who has it.  None of us wants to see our own self-righteousness.  I looked up the word in the dictionary and it basically means to feel that you or your situation is better than the average person.  It was interesting that in the dictionary the word “sententiousness” is used as a synonym.  I’m thinking if you use the word “sententiousness” it may put you in the category of self-righteous.  That’s just a freebie.

What makes a person self-righteous?  Is it what he does or how much he does?  It has everything to do with motive.  What is your motive for doing what you do?  Motive is the difference between a filthy rag and a breastplate.  In Acts chapter 5 we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  They had seen others bring gifts of money to the church and they wanted that recognition so they sold a piece of property and turned the money over to the apostles but kept some back for themselves which would have been fine but they led the church to think they were giving all the money.

In Acts chapter 5 verse 3 Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”  You know what happens after that.  Satan gets his wish as their witness and their very lives are lost immediately thereafter.  Did you catch that part where Peter says that Satan has filled your heart?  Self-righteousness is no breastplate that protects the heart.  It is a bull’s-eye.  Be aware of your motive.  It could make all the difference.

If you remember I said regarding Paul’s illustration of a breastplate, that a breastplate would be usually made of 2 things:  leather and metal.  So too is our breastplate of righteousness made up of 2 things.  I won’t insult you by trying to pronounce the original Greek word used for righteousness but it basically means to be right with God and it includes the imputed righteousness that God gives us through our belief in His Son Jesus and it includes the imparted righteousness that is done through us by Christ living in us.

Let’s look at imputed righteousness first.  When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, we are given a status of being righteous. This righteousness is God’s gift to us based on what Christ did for us on the cross.  If you look through a red piece of glass you will see things all red.  If you look through a blue piece of glass everything will be blue.  When God looks at us He sees us, as Christians, through Christ-colored lenses.

So when Satan says to God, “Look at what she has done.  She can’t be your child!”, you know what happens?  I John 2:1 says we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.  So when Satan attacks our character to the Great Judge, Jesus is our Lawyer and He says to the Father, “That debt has been paid in full by Me”.  That is imputed righteousness.  We don’t deserve it.  We didn’t earn it.  All we can do is accept it when we accept Jesus into our lives to save us and forgive us.

I have 3 verses to go along with our imputed righteousness.  "For as by one man’s (Adam) disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one (Jesus) shall many be made righteous." Romans 5:19
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Corinthians 5:21
"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:" Romans 3:22

Imputed righteousness is one part of the breastplate of righteousness.  The other part is imparted righteousness.  If we are imputed with righteousness, then as a result Christ’ righteousness should flow out of us in righteous living!  Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We all have good intentions, right?  We all want good things for ourselves.  We want good things for other people.  We want to do good things.  But you remember what makes something self-righteous?  Motive.  What Matthew 6:33 is saying is that when we go to God and say, “I can’t do this.  I want to do good but I’m afraid I’m going to make it about me.  I want your righteousness.”  When we seek first His righteousness all those good things will be given to you.  Maybe it is because God gives you what you want and maybe it happens when He changes what you want.

Either way, when we allow God to work through us, He does it right and He gets the glory and we get a blessing, maybe now, maybe later.  The temptation one may have is to say that since I have imputed righteousness and no matter what Satan says Jesus has me covered that I will just not do anything and it doesn’t matter if I sin.

It is very similar to when Paul says in Philippians 2:13 that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  We don’t do anything to deserve our salvation but once we are saved we let God work in our lives to prove our salvation.  It’s the same with His righteousness.  We don’t deserve His imputed righteousness but because we are righteous in His eyes we allow Him to prove that through our imparted righteousness.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a powerful Baptist preacher in the late 1800’s.  Blackmailers once sent him a letter saying that if he did not place a certain amount of money at a certain place at a certain time then they would publish some things in the newspaper that would slander his good name and embarrass him, ruining his ministry.  Spurgeon left a note at the certain place that said, “You and your like are requested to publish all you know about me across the heavens.”  He knew his character was blameless before men and so they could not harm him.

Our heart is representative of our character, our drive, all our wants and needs.  When somebody says, “He put his heart into it” or “He has a lot of heart”, “she wanted it with all her heart” it says a lot about that person.  It tells you who they are and what their motives are.  That’s why Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of righteousness because it protects all of that.  Our imputed and imparted righteousness protects who we are and even what we want to be.  Don’t put on just part of the armor.  For your sake and for the sake of furthering the Kingdom, put on all of God’s armor.

I was looking at some bullet-proof vests yesterday. I thought it would be cool to have to use as an illustration here today. I wanted to get one that was military style and use it for today’s message and then keep it around as decoration with the other military stuff we have in our auditorium.

Now, I don’t really understand why civilians need these. Do you plan to wear it all the time or just when you go to the bad part of town or are you planning to rob a bank and expect to get shot? But anyway, I thought it would be cool to have…until I saw the price tag.  Let’s just say I didn’t want it bad enough. You know what I mean?

It’s the same way with the breastplate of righteousness for some people. Make no mistake, it’s not cheap. It will cost you and some people are just not willing to pay the price. How much does it cost? Well, let’s just say it may cost you your ability to do whatever you want. If you want the breastplate of righteousness it will cost you your ability to say what other people say, do what other people do and go where other people go. You can’t live like the world and expect to wear this piece of armor. It will not fit over worldly clothes.

The breastplate of righteousness is being right with God which means knowing what pleases Him and being obedient to do it all the time. When we sin there is a barrier between us and God so we have to immediately ask for forgiveness. Sinning doesn’t mean we lose our salvation. We still have the imputed righteousness of God, but sin keeps us from having the imparted righteousness until we repent of (turn away from) that sin and ask God for forgiveness.

I see people all the time with flaming arrows of sin sticking in their hearts and they can’t understand why they can’t overcome this or that problem and I want to scream at them to get out of that worldly lifestyle and put on your armor. I know it’s not easy but if you want to protect your heart from the evil one and be blessed by God then you have just one choice. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Put on the full armor of God and then stand as He fights for you.

Maybe you need to do that today. This is our time of invitation and prayer. I would love to pray with you about anything in your life. Maybe you want to join the church or rededicate your life or maybe you have never asked Jesus to be Lord of your life and to forgive you and you need to do that today. Do it right now. Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and Christ Fellowship, we will serve the Lord.

Monday, March 5, 2018

“Combat Training 3” – Ephesians 6:10-18 – Belt of Truth

Don’t make a big deal out of it but turn and glance at your neighbor on your right.  See that person? Now, turn and look at the person on your left.  Just a glance is all you need. I want you to know that person is not the enemy. Now, if you are married, it may seem that way at times but I promise you that person is not the enemy.

Your neighbor down the street that walks his dogs through your yard…not your enemy. Your boss that steals your ideas and gets a raise for it…not him either. Oh, make no mistake. We are in a battle and the enemy is real but it is not North Korea or Iran or Russia or Isis. Those are not our true enemies.

The Bible tells us that our enemies are spiritual. Now, when I say that, some of you might relax and think I am talking about mythical enemies or ghosts with white sheets over their heads but the word “spiritual” does not mean fairy tale no matter what some people think.

I read a poll from the Barna Research Group that showed nearly 2/3 of American adults believe that Satan is not a living being but a symbol of evil. It said that even among evangelical Christians, 52% deny Satan’s existence which explains why one of the largest battlefields is in the American church. We have seen just in this church how Satan will tempt us to sin or cause bad things to happen to us just because we are believers and Satan hates us.

We have seen and we know the cycle. You remember the cycle. God blesses. The people are obedient…and what happens next? Satan attacks. It’s all through the Old Testament and into the New Testament and into our lives as well. It is a battle and we are on the front lines. So far, we have gone through Boot Camp and learned the basics. Now we are in Combat Training where we have seen that we are fighting a spiritual battle but since we are physical we have to fight in God’s power and His strength as it says in Ephesians 6.

We face a spiritual enemy that wants us to be not only spiritually but physically dead.  Did you hear what I said?  Our spiritual enemy wants us to be spiritually and even physically dead.  Now, when I say that, some of you may be thinking I'm being a bit dramatic because surely spiritual enemies only fight spiritual battles, right?

How do you think Job would answer that?  In Job chapters one and two, Satan actually approaches God and basically asks for permission to afflict Job with all sorts of physical problems.  He kills his children.  That's pretty physical.  He afflicted him with sores from head to toe.  That's pretty physical.  And he kills all of his livestock.  Those are all very physical problems.  Yes, it affected him spiritually but it was a physical attack.

What is the very first reaction of Job?  Does he curse God?  Does he make excuses?  Does he claim to know the problem or the answer?  Does he blame somebody else?  Does he allow his emotions to dictate his thoughts?  No.  The very first thing Job does is what Paul later tells us to do and that is Job buckled the belt of truth around his waist.  In Job 1:21 the first thing Job says is, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."

Job here is falling back on truth.  He could have justified any other response but he made the decision to, as some versions say, gird his loins with truth.  What Job is saying is that God is sovereign.  He allows all things.  All things have to cross the desk of God and get his approval.  Job doesn't lie and say it is ok or that he understands why it happened but the first thing he does is realize, believe and hold on to truth.

Turn to Ephesians 6:10-18.  I want to focus on just one part of verse 14 this morning but it is important that we read the whole passage to remind ourselves of the context in which it was written. 

Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD's people.

 Read 14a again. After reading this, I want us to see just two things:  What is truth?  And why does it matter?

I first want to think about why Paul used the Roman soldier's uniform as this analogy.  I mean, it fits perfectly but what brought this to his mind?  I have an idea that being chained between two Roman guards night and day would give you a pretty good opportunity to see firsthand what all was involved with getting suited for battle.  Paul says later in the chapter that he is an ambassador in chains.

Can you imagine getting assigned to guard Paul as a Roman soldier?  "Oh, no!  Not that guy again!  All he wants to talk about is Jesus."  Well, obviously Paul noticed how these soldiers were dressed as he was being guarded and makes use of them in this illustration.

Our idea of a belt doesn't do this word justice.  The Roman soldier's belt was actually a thick and wide leather piece that not only was used to tuck in his tunic so he could move around easily, it was also used much like a modern policeman's belt to hold some of his weapons.  It also provided support for his lower back and abdomen.  The breastplate was then fastened to the belt as well.  The belt was not just an adornment, but an essential piece of the armor that held everything else together.

It’s actually not surprising at all that the first piece of armor that we are to put on in preparation for our battle with Satan is the belt of truth. As we saw last week, Satan is a liar and his main weapon is his deceitful schemes. The truth is the primary weapon that we use to stand firm against his lies and deceit.

We have talked about this before but what is truth?  The original Greek word for this truth is "aletheuo".  It is slightly different from the word Jesus used when He said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..."  This "truth" means to know and speak reality.  Paul uses this exact same word in chapter 4 of Ephesians when he tells us to speak the truth in love. So, what am I talking about when I say absolute truth?

I remember years ago talking to a lady about how to be saved.  I told her that Jesus was the only way and that when we accept Him into our lives to be Lord he will forgive our sins and we can have a relationship with Him and spend eternity in Heaven.  I remember she said she was glad that I had that and she was sure that was true for me but she preferred to get to Heaven another way and that was her truth.

No, no, no.  I told her the absolute truth.  I told her aletheuo.  Absolute truth is truth that is true for you and for me and for everybody yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Some examples of absolute truth include

• God is the all-knowing and all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules it today;
• Jesus Christ never sinned
• Satan is real
• Salvation is received through faith in Christ, not by good deeds
• Every follower of Christ has a responsibility to share their faith with non-believers
• The Bible is accurate in all that it teaches

There are many others.  When someone comes to you and says they are living in a lifestyle that is contrary to what God approves of what do they always say?  "I do this and that BUT it's ok because of ..." or "I don't do this or that BUT it's ok because...".

I cheat on my wife because she doesn't love me.  I have to work on Sundays or I would come to church.  I had to lie to her or she would be mad.  I had to steal that because I can't afford one and he can.

I'm sure God in Heaven is saying, "Oh yea, I wrote those 10 Commandments but if you have a note from your mother I'll give you a pass.  It's not that big of a deal."  In the book of Exodus, when Moses came down the mountain with the 10 Commandments it says that the people actually backed away and told Moses to talk to them from a distance because they didn't want God to talk to them or they were afraid they would die.

Today we know what the truth is we just choose to put our fingers in our ears and say, "nanny, nanny, nanny" as we live however we want to.  We know what the truth is but it's not always easy and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable.  If I hear any more about comfort I am going to be sick.  Everybody wants to be comfortable.  We all have to make sure that nothing we say or do makes anyone uncomfortable.  Talking about Jesus in school makes people uncomfortable.  Standing up for the sanctity of life or against gay marriage makes some people uncomfortable.

You know why it makes people uncomfortable?  Because it is truth.  It is aletheuo.  And when people are living contrary to truth God allows them to be uncomfortable.  Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:34, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."  Jesus didn't come to make people comfortable.  His coming brought conflict - conflict between Himself and Satan, as we have seen in this passage; conflict between His followers and Satan's followers, between light and darkness and between lies and truth.

We know what the truth is and sometimes it is uncomfortable.  Now let's look at why it matters. 

Have you ever noticed how often what is said in Sunday School directly relates to what is later said in the sermon?  And how what is said in the sermon directly relates to something we learn on Wednesday night and relates to what you are going through Friday morning?  Do you know how we do that?  Well, the Leadership Team meets every week with Ben and me and we decide what is going to be taught and what conversations are going to happen and how the music will relate to all those things and make it match up to what is happening in your life this week.

And most of you are thinking right now, "He is preaching on truth and telling a lie!"  No, we don't do that.  The Holy Spirit does that when our church preaches and teaches and sings about truth.  When it all matches up then God blesses that and uses all of that together to bless and encourage and prove what is heard.  Our very unity depends on truth.  If somebody comes in and starts teaching something that is not truth then there will be a division; something else Paul knew all too well.

Now, let me tell you another reason why truth matters.  Let's say you are studying your Bible in your quiet time tomorrow morning and you stumble across a passage that doesn't make sense to you.  So you study it and pray about it and get out a commentary or two and you realize that this verse is not true.  You read in James 5:16, for example, that fervent prayer is powerful and effective.  But in every other place that talks about prayer it says that it is only good for making you feel good or maybe it is just a ritual that we are supposed to do.  What then?

I'll tell you what happens to me.  If I find a passage, a verse or a word that is not true in the Bible, I become an Atheist.  If there is one word that is not truth, aletheuo, then how can you believe any of it?  But in my studies, I have found everything written from cover to cover to be absolute truth.  I have learned firsthand that fervent prayer is powerful and effective.  I can give you examples.  God continues to reveal to me the depth of truth in His Word and without truth everything falls apart.

Remember, Paul said this was the belt of truth.  And like a Roman soldier's belt, everything hangs on it.  Without truth then we have lost the sword of the Spirit, the breastplate of righteousness goes twisting around, the helmet of salvation is useless if the rest of us is uncovered and we might as well join the other side before we get a flaming arrow in the heart.

But when we put on the belt of truth before we do anything else we know we will be able to stand because we know that when God says there are benefits to obedience and consequences of disobedience, we know it's true.  When God says thou shalt not we don't make any excuses.  When we see the blessings of truth in our church we accept nothing that isn't.

Knowing truth doesn't mean you will be free from trouble but like Job, when trouble comes we will be able to say, "God, I don't understand.  This isn't fair.  It doesn't make sense but I know that you are sovereign.  You are in control and You love me.  And so I trust You and I will stand in the battle.  I will stand when the enemy attacks.  I will be strong in You and in Your mighty power."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“Combat Training” #2 – Eph. 6

In 1993, the US military was involved in the Battle of Mogadishu. The movie “Blackhawk Down” was based on this conflict. There was civil war in Somalia and the US sent special forces in to capture the leader of the opposition force. The entire operation was estimated to take no longer than 30 minutes so most of the 160 men involved did not take all their gear. They thought since it wasn’t going to take but a few minutes that they didn’t need their night vision equipment nor extra food or water or even all their ammo. I mean, what could go wrong? Well, right off the bat, two of the Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and several others damaged. In trying to save the soldiers in the downed helicopters, several brave men lost their lives. Several had to wait overnight to be rescued while holding off the enemy.

In what turned out to be a battle lasting two full days, 18 American soldiers were dead and 73 wounded. While it may have been a poorly planned offensive, how many lives could have been saved if those soldiers had brought all their gear to the battle? And how much more do we need to bring all our spiritual weapons and armor to the battle we are in?

Do you believe we are in a battle? I hope it’s easy for you to understand that all of us are
in a battle every day. We know that 1 Peter 5:8 describes Satan as a roaring lion but did you know that scripture also calls him the accuser, the adversary, the beast, the deceiver, the dragon, the enemy, the father of lies, the evil one, a murderer, serpent, tempter, thief and wicked one. Yea, he’s a bad dude and he hates you and if you don’t think you are in a battle with him, then just give him an inch and he will take a mile and he will keep taking it and keep taking it until you and your witness are dead.

All he needs is one little opening into your life. It starts as no big deal, just a thought, then a temptation, then a foothold and then he has a full-blown stronghold in your life and you are helpless against him. So far this isn’t a very fun sermon, is it? Well, let me give you some good news. In fact, it is great news in 2 Corinthians 10:3 that says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Do you have a stronghold that needs to be demolished? Maybe a friend or loved one has a stronghold of Satan in their life. Well, have you tried trying harder? Maybe if you had an intervention and you promised your friends and family that you would do better and you really meant it and you cried and then tried really, really hard. Maybe that would do it. Do you think? No? Maybe some counseling would help you kick that habit or that addiction. Maybe you can come up with something on your own to get back the peace and everything else you have lost in your life. Maybe a good self-help book would keep you from falling for the lies and the tricks of the greatest trickster and liar and schemer in the history of the world.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who have tried all of that and yet they still struggle with sin in their lives or they struggle with circumstances they continue to find themselves in and they can’t seem to find their way out. Does that mean we shouldn’t try at all or that we shouldn’t get help where it’s available or even pick up a self-help book? No, that’s not what it means. In fact, as we will see in scripture here in just a second, we are to do all that we can do; get all the help we can; take every step that can be taken.

But it says that if you want supernatural power to fight off the supernatural enemies that are waging supernatural war in you and against you that cause real physical, mental, financial and relational problems, then we are to do one thing: stand. To see this, turn to Ephesians 6:10-18. This should be a familiar passage to those of you who have been around here for a while. We have studied it several times and I make no apology for going back to it. There is no better passage for us to know and understand about how Satan and all the forces of evil work and how we can go to battle against them.

This is week two of our Combat Training where we will learn practical ways to defeat our supernatural enemies. We graduated from Boot Camp where we learned the basics and now we get into some constructive and applicable tactics that we can and need to use in our everyday lives.

The author of Ephesians, Paul, knew about spiritual warfare. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul famously “boasts” about being flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, left for dead and had a thorn in the flesh that was a messenger of Satan sent to torment him and yet he ends by saying that he delights in all these things because, as he says at the end of chapter 12, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now, without the passage we are about to look at, this might never have truly made sense to some of us. I want to read all of this passage but concentrate on a small part that will help us to understand how Paul could say – and mean – “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Let’s read Ephesians 6:10-18. Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power.  Stop right there for a second. How can I be strong when I am weak? I am strong “in the Lord”. That’s important to remember. Let’s go on… 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD's people.

I may be mixing my metaphors a little bit here in my illustration of this but let me shift from a battlefront scenario to the Olympics. How many of you watched the Olympic games the past couple of weeks? Did you notice the athletes mentally going through their jump or their routine of whatever they were about to do? Even at the top of the hill as they were just about to slide down or just about to go out on the ice, they would be mentally preparing themselves to go through it.

They would visualize the routine or the course or the jumps they were planning to do in their minds but also physically acting it out. That is a time-tested and proven way to effectively prepare for anything but absolutely necessary for battle. You don’t wait until the enemy is charging to learn how to use your weapon or put on your armor. You practice it and visualize it over and over again so that when the time comes, you know exactly what you are going to do. That is exactly what we are going through in this Combat Training. We are preparing for spiritual battle before we see combat.

Now, when it comes to putting on the full armor of God and standing against the devil’s schemes, you may feel more like a golfer than an Olympian. Do y’all like to play golf. To me, golf may very well be a scheme of Satan in and of itself. It’s of the devil, I’ll just say that. A friend of mine used to be a golf pro and he gave me some free lessons one time and I’m sure he was a good teacher but it was an awful time. First, I showed up wearing the wrong clothes and wrong shoes. I hadn’t even started and I messed up. Then I showed him my swing. He said it wasn’t bad but it needed a few changes and then he changed EVERYTHING about my swing. Grip the club like this. Stand with your head down, eyes on the ball, this arm stiff, this arm loose, hips forward, ears back, elbow behind the knee…and just relax, he said.

When it comes to putting on the armor, you may feel the same way. How can I remember all that, much less do it? Well, Paul starts with the most important part. When you are in a spiritual battle with spiritual enemies with more power than you, don’t fight in your own physical or mental power. You will lose every time. Fight “in His mighty power”.

But what does that look like? How do we do that? Well, sometimes an example of how not to do something can be our best example. In the Book of Revelation there are letters written to the churches of Asia Minor at the time and those churches are prototypes of churches that have existed ever since. In John’s vision he saw Jesus commanding these letters be written and the first letter is written to the church in Ephesus, the same basic group that Paul is writing to in our main passage this morning.

The Christians at Ephesus were active in good works. They persevered through trouble. They were intolerant of sin, opposed false teaching and patiently endured hardship for Christ’s sake. Jesus points all that out first and I’m sure when they read it they were glad. But then Jesus said in Revelation 2:4, “Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love.”

They had a lot of good things going for them but they had forgotten their original, single-minded and devoted love for the Lord Himself.  (MacArthur, Ephesians, page 333) They were good at church and religion and good works but there was no excitement or devotion, no passion for the life, death, burial and resurrection of the Savior. Do you remember when you were first saved; when you first accepted Jesus to be your Savior and to forgive you of your sins? Do you remember how you felt, like you wanted to tell everybody? You listened to Christian music in your car. You carried your Bible to school or work and you just couldn’t wait to go to church. You didn’t have all the answers but that didn’t stop you from trying to make God look good in every situation.

Does that still describe you? Are you still excited? Does the thought of Jesus dying for you on the cross still give you chills? Are you still in awe of Him and what He has done? Oh, sure you are, right? You still enjoy going to a biblically sound church and you tithe and do good stuff. You and Jesus are tight. You may even be offended that I would ask except you just assume I am talking to the other people in your pew.

I’m reminded of Peter who was shocked and offended when Jesus questioned him three times whether he really loved Him (John 21:15-17).  He said, “Jesus, you know that I love you.” Peter’s theology and morality were sound, but where was the passion? Where was the absolute devotion? I’m asking you and I’m asking me, where is the absolute desperation for God to work in your life and be glorified in your life no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the other Christians are doing and no matter what the world thinks? Are you desperate for Him? Are you completely devoted and sold out? Are you all in? Whatever you want to say, however you want to ask it. You know the answer and if you are not completely and stupidly in love with Jesus then you are not fighting in His power.

Billy Graham died this past week and what a party there must have been in Heaven. He was the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul. He had influence over presidents and celebrities and dignitaries all over the world and never had a sex scandal; nobody ever accused him of misappropriation of funds or lying to get something he wanted or anything like that. He led more people to the Lord than most of us will ever see. And do you know what his secret to success as an evangelist was?

He had a passion for Jesus. He wanted everybody to have what he had. He wanted everybody to know he loved Jesus. You can have this world. Give him Jesus. That’s why he was a spiritual force to be reckoned with. I bet when he died there was a party in Hell too with all the demons saying, “Man, I’m glad that old man is gone!” Too bad for them that Billy’s son and grandson are following in his footsteps.

If you ever hear any of those Grahams being interviewed on TV or radio, they make a beeline for Jesus, no matter what questions they are asked.  Interviewer: Well, Mr. Graham, how ‘bout them Texas Rangers?  Graham: Well, Bill, I think they’re doing good and that reminds me of what Jesus has done in my life! Let me tell you about it!

Because their love for Jesus is real and passionate, God obviously has been their strength and their shield and the force that carries them and protects them.  If you want to be a powerful soldier for the Lord; if you want to resist temptation and react correctly when Satan attacks, then remind yourself of what God has done for you in the past, what He is doing in your life now and what He has promised to do in the future. That ought to make you passionate about Him and following Him and telling others about Him.

In short, this life isn’t about you. It’s about Him and when you live like that, you are living and fighting and being strong in the Lord. Yes, we are to do everything we can do as far as putting on all of our armor, as we will talk about in the coming weeks, but if you don’t fight in God’s strength and in His mighty power by loving Him and making it obvious to the world and making Him look good…then the armor just won’t fit right.

Let me ask you a question. What are you known for? When people talk about you behind your back, what do you hope they say? He’s a good provider. She’s a good mom. He doesn’t sweat much for a fat guy. Whatever it is, even your enemies ought to be able to say, “I didn’t really care for them but they sure loved Jesus!” One of our favorite songs around here is by the band Casting Crowns and it’s called “Loving My Jesus”. One of the verses goes like this:

When all is said and done
When my last song's been sung
I stand face to face with the One
Who gave all for me
May all I have to show
Be all that mattered most
Making Your great name known
Let this be my only legacy

Does that describe you? I hope it describes you and I hope it describes me. Let’s spend a few minutes in prayer with each of us asking God what in our lives needs to change to make Him look good and to make Him famous. Maybe you need to ask God for forgiveness of your sins, repent of those sins and ask Him to be Lord of your life. Maybe you need to rededicate your life to Him or join this church.

Whatever your prayer need is, I would love to pray with you about it. Let’s do that now as the music plays.

Monday, February 19, 2018

“Combat Training” #1 – 2 Kings 6:15-17

Little Becky was a middle schooler who dreaded going to school, not because she hated school but because of the older boys who always picked on her on her way home. There wasn’t any other way for her to go to get home and she knew that everyday those older boys were going to call her names and pull her hair and make fun of her. They would knock her books out of her hand and basically just be jerks and bullies like boys can do.

It happened every day but one day she was so worried about what was going to happen that she fervently prayed that God would help her as she went home. So that day, as she rounded the corner and saw the boys, sure enough they started in on her, calling her names and laughing at her. Becky was so angry and humiliated that she looked around to find something to throw at them but could only find one little rock.

She picked up that rock and yelled at the boys to back off and leave her alone or she would chunk that rock at them. It was just one little rock and there were several of them but to her amazement the boys’ eyes got big and they started backing up. One even ran off. The others had their hands up and were apologizing and asking for forgiveness and looked scared to death. Becky was amazed but she got a little more confident and hollered at them to never mess with her again and finally all the boys turned around and ran away!

Well, you can imagine Becky wasn’t scared little Becky anymore. She was big, bad Becky with an attitude as she watched those boys run…until she turned around and saw her big brother who had just graduated from Marine boot camp standing behind her in his uniform with his arms crossed. When she saw him, she knew she was protected, not by a little rock, but by her brother who loved her.

I know we all feel like Becky sometimes. It seems like everyday we are being attacked either by temptation or some serious problem happening in our lives. That’s how Satan attacks. He is prowling around like a roaring lion looking to see who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) and if God won’t allow him to kill you, then Satan will tempt you or cause some kind of problem for you. Satan hates you and has a plan for your life and he is bigger, stronger, faster and meaner than you and has been doing this for thousands of years. He is very clever and very powerful and has underling demons doing his work all over the planet.

When it comes to us versus Satan, we are like middle school girls standing in front of a roaring lion. We don’t stand a chance. But behind us, and in front of us, and all around us we have the great I AM, the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer, Sustainer and Deliverer, King of all kings and Lord of all lords protecting us and providing for us because He loves us. The One who is and was and always will be, the sovereign God is in control and loves us so what in the world are we worried about?

Now, for some of you, I could stop right there and with that reminder you would be encouraged to continue fighting the good fight, not giving up and continuing in prayerful obedience, you would take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:11). But I want to show where I get this idea scripturally. We learned in Boot Camp that our first response to every idea or problem should be, “What does scripture say about it?”

So, today, as we start our next phase of preparing for spiritual battle called Combat Training, I would love it if you turned to the Old Testament book of 2 Kings. It goes 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles. If you get to 1 and 2 Ezra, you have gone too far…and you need a new Bible.

In the military, you go through Combat Training to prepare you for…you guessed it, combat. In our training, we will see what practical steps you should take when Satan attacks. Most of our focus will be centered on the armor of God as laid out by Paul in Ephesians 6. We went through that last year but there is no better example of how to combat the schemes of Satan than in that passage and now, after Boot Camp, I believe we will be better able to use that armor than ever before.

But today, I want us to see that we truly are in a spiritual battle. I know it feels like it is a physical battle or a financial battle or a relational battle that you are going through but ultimately everything we go through is allowed by God to happen to us as a test. God never tempts us. James 1:13 tells us that but He does oftentimes test us and sometimes, despite what the armchair prophets on Facebook say, He gives us more than we can handle.

When that happens, we can either turn to God and ask for His unlimited help, strength and wisdom or we can turn from God and get whatever help we can from this fallen world. Good luck with that. May karma smile on you. May the force be with you. May glittery unicorns and little green leprechauns give you favor and all that other made up stuff. All of that is man-made malarkey. Spiritual warfare is God’s idea and so we go to God’s Word to see how to do it most effectively and the first thing we have to do is realize who our enemy is and where they come from.

In the book of 2 Kings, chapter 6, we see a great and powerful passage of scripture that is also part of some of the most comical scripture, in my opinion, in the Bible. The king of Aram was at war with the king of Israel and kept trying to catch that army in an ambush but every time the Israelis went around it. Finally, the king of Aram tells his advisers that one of them must be a spy because Israel obviously knew what they were trying to do. One of his advisers told him that there was no spy but that the prophet Elisha was telling his king everything the king of Aram said, even what he said in his bedroom.

So, the king of Aram decided to capture Elisha. Instead of saying, “Hey, we better not mess with this guy” or “This guy is fighting supernaturally like we can’t do” or “Maybe we take this prophet guy a nice present” he decides instead to find him and capture him. Well, we will see that the unicorns and leprechauns were not smiling on him that day. They find Elisha in the little community of Dothan and surround his house in the middle of the night. This huge force was sent to capture one man.

Turn to 2 Kings 6 and let’s read verses 15-17.

When the servant of the man of God (Elisha) got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh no, my LORD! What shall we do?" the servant asked. 16"Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17And Elisha prayed, "Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

"Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Did you know that one of God’s Hebrew names is Jehovah-Sabaoth? It means Lord of Hosts. We sing that song sometimes called “Whom Shall I Fear” and in those lyrics it says, “I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies
Is always by my side”
. That is Jehovah Sabaoth who rules the hosts, the millions and billions of warrior angels.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and powerless when Satan attacks you? Then run into the Strong Tower of Jehovah Sabaoth, crying out to the LORD of hosts. "May Jehovah answer you in the day of trouble! May the NAME of the God of Jacob set you securely on high. Some boast in chariots, and some in horses, but we will boast in the NAME of Jehovah Sabaoth, our God. (Psalm 20:1) Our Redeemer, the LORD of HOSTS is His NAME, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 47:4) (Precept Austin)

One Sunday morning a Sunday school class teacher said to his young pupils, "OK children. We've been learning this morning just how powerful the Kings and Queens in Bible times were. But there is even a higher power than Kings and Queens. Who can tell me what that higher power is?" An 8-year-old instantly raised his hand and shouted out, "It’s Aces, teacher! Aces are higher than Kings and Queens!" (John Gaston)

You know, you can’t argue with that but I want the power of Jehovah Sabaoth in my life and I want my eyes to be opened through faith to see that those who are with us are more than those who are with them. It is because of this very scenario that we are preparing for battle by going to Boot Camp and Combat Training. I see people all the time who feel overwhelmed with problems, addictions, temptations and the difficulties of this life and they just give up and fall over in the fetal position and Satan beats them to a bloody pulp.

I’m not saying that the difficulties for these people are not real or are not serious. Not at all. You, too, may be going through something very real and very difficult; something that is far more than you can handle on your own. In fact, that’s a common position to be in. Elisha’s servant wasn’t imagining the danger to their lives when he stepped outside that morning. Those men were there to capture and probably kill Elisha and anybody that was with him.

Now, I told you that this was a comical passage so let me tell you how it ends really quick.  Elisha prays for the servant’s eyes to be opened and they were. He then prays that the army’s eyes would be blinded and they were. Elisha then just walks up to them and tells them that they are in the wrong place but if they would just follow him that he would take them to the right place so they could capture this Elisha character. He then leads them right into Israel’s capital city at the time where their eyes are open to the fact that they are now prisoners of Israel.

The army that came to capture Elisha was captured by Elisha. That just shows me that Elisha and God had a sense of humor. There is also a fascinating story in Numbers 22 where Balaam’s donkey has his spiritual eyes open and sees the warrior angel in their path and warns Balaam by speaking to him.  In Daniel 10, an angel appears to Daniel and tells him that he was sent to Daniel three weeks before but he had been engaged in battle by a demon and had to get assistance from one of the chief angels.

We have always been in a real, spiritual battle. If we had our spiritual eyes opened, I’m sure we would be able to see angels and demons engaged in battle all around us just like they did then. The good news is that those that are with us are more than those that are with them. Do you believe that? Sitting here in church on Sunday morning, of course you believe that.

Then why do bad things happen to us? Why can’t we always overcome the evil forces since we have more on our side? Do some of us get assigned some sissy angels while others get the tough guys? Maybe some angels are lazy or just incompetent. I don’t think that’s the case and there are several reasons why we have bad things happen to us but let me give you one explanation from scripture that started out right here where Elisha was in 2 Kings 6.

The city of Dothan is mentioned twice in the Bible. Evidently there wasn’t much there except a couple of wells. In fact, that’s what the name Dothan means, two wells. It was in Genesis 37 that Dothan is otherwise mentioned when it says that Joseph found his brothers there. You remember the story. Joseph shows up wearing that fancy schmancy coat of many colors and his brothers throw him in one of those wells.

Where were all the warrior angels? Could they not have kept Joseph from being thrown in the well? What about when he was sold to the Ishmaelites? Come on angels! Where are you? Then he was sold to Potiphar. No angelic help at all. He was thrown into prison, forgotten for years, accused of crimes he didn’t commit all the while Joseph was a godly man with no real sin ever noted in scripture. Talk about spiritual warfare and yet one might think God had abandoned him. It was a hard life for Joseph for many, many years even though he was a good man and feared God. Did God leave him or forget about him?

Just the opposite. All through Joseph’s story toward the end of Genesis it says that God was with him. When Joseph was in the pit, God was with him. When he was in the jail, God was with him; in the palace, God was with him and then, in one of my favorite verses in all the Bible, Joseph confronts his brothers and instead of being angry or getting justifiable revenge, Joseph tells them in chapter 50, verse 20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

God intended it for good. That means that God allowed it to happen, knowing full well that Joseph would live all those years in difficulty. Now, I don’t know whether the difficulty you are going through will save many lives or not but God is allowing it for your good and for His glory. We talked about giving God glory all through Boot Camp and how that should be our focus in the good times and in the bad.

Yes, sometimes we go through difficult times because there are consequences to our disobedience. That’s not what we are talking about here. As true believers, sin should be the exception in our lives and as true believers, when difficulty does come our way, we know that the powers of God far outweigh the powers of the evil one and so we should be able to accept whatever difficulty comes in our lives as coming from an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God. If that’s the case, what do we have to worry about?

If you struggle with this, you ought to take down a few verses that will help you.  1 John 4:4 says, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” That goes right along with what Elisha told his servant. There are more with us than against us. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

Also, Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Oh, isn’t that comforting? That reminds me of a story I heard about John Paton who was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave.

A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?" Paton knew no men were present--but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station. (

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him! Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Is God for you today? Do you have a personal relationship with Him through His Son Jesus? I’m not asking if you have religion or church membership or if you have been baptized. None of that will save you. None of that gets you to Heaven and none of that will protect you when Satan and his minions attack. I’m asking if you have asked Jesus to be Lord of your life and accepted His free gift of forgiveness, freedom and salvation. Do that right now as the music plays.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Boot Camp 5 – Salvation – Eph. 2:8-9

Well, we have come to our last Sunday morning of boot camp and I want to do a quick review to make sure y’all are ready to graduate.  First, tell me why we are even in boot camp.  What’s the point? We are in boot camp to know who our enemy is and how to fight him but also to know where our true help comes from and to do that we must become masters of the basics.

We want to know who we fight but also we need to know why we fight. Why should we continue to fight against Satan when the going gets rough? We know he is bigger, stronger, faster, meaner and has been doing this a lot longer. What is my motivation to continue in the good fight?

Well, I don’t want to let my church family down. Also, I have seen and heard and read about a whole bunch of people that have gone before me and I want to do honor to their memory – people like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, John and Peter. But ultimately my reason for fighting, in fact, my reason for living is to bring glory to God. That’s why God created me and when I do what I was created to do, through Christ who gives me strength, then no matter what life hands me, I can live a full and abundant life as I make God look good.

I don’t have to know all the answers. I just have to know that God changed me so I will give Him glory. Remember John 9:25. “I don’t know. One thing I do know is I was blind but now I see!”

Now, in this battle, we have many weapons but what is the greatest weapon that we have in our arsenal? Prayer is the greatest weapon of all time because it is the power of Almighty God Himself. We saw in James 5:16 that to truly have effective and powerful prayer, we have to be fervent and also righteous. This weapon is to be taken seriously and used correctly but when it is, no scheme of Satan has a chance.

Then in week three we talked about how the Bible is our guidebook and is the way to getting righteous and staying righteous and we should use the whole canon of scripture when we need to make a decision. In week four, we talked about why we come to church and what is the purpose of the church. Just like our reason for existing is to give God glory, the church exists as the body of Christ to give God glory.

So, here we are in week 5 to master the basics of salvation. First, let me ask a question. When we talk about salvation, what are we saved from and what are we saved to? Don’t worry. You don’t have to sugar-coat it. The Bible doesn’t. We are saved from everlasting fire and separation from God in Hell and we are saved to eternal life with God in Heaven as co-heirs with Jesus to all the good things Heaven has to offer.

Heaven is going to be better than we can ever imagine and Hell will be worse than we could imagine. Some people asked me why salvation was the last week. They thought it should be the first week. My response was that I am assuming that anybody that goes through boot camp is going to already be saved and bound for Heaven so this is not so much about encouraging someone here to be saved but to encourage us to tell others the correct way to be saved.

So, in thinking about how to tell someone how to be saved, I want you to use your imagination with me for a minute and think about a set of old-time scales, like the scales of justice or the kind of scales they would have used to weigh gold or silver or something. You have a set amount of weight on one side and you add something on the other side to see if it is lighter or heavier.

Now, on this scale, I want you to put all your good deeds on one side. Think of all the good stuff you have done, all the times you held the door for somebody or didn’t slap the office fool when he deserved it. You know, all the good stuff on one side. Now, on the other side you put all your sins. Put on there every time you displeased God; every lie, every impure thought, every time your car went over the speed limit (ouch!).

Do you have all that in your mind? Now, shove that scale off the table onto the floor and smash it with a bat because salvation has nothing to do with that at all. Absolutely nothing, not even close. Don’t ever think about it like that again. Okay? I know that makes sense in our human minds and that is why every other religion in the world is based somewhat on your good deeds outweighing your bad deeds.

The Mormons say they exist to make bad men good and good men better. Well, that’s real nice but what about us really despicable men; men that are horrible? If we got better, we would still be bad. I don’t need a fake god that wants to make me a good man. I need a real God that will make a dead man come alive!

I don’t want some vague hope based on how good I am or how many magazines I have sold to get me to Heaven. I want a hope that is certain of something that just hasn’t happened yet. I want to know that I know that I have the assurance of Almighty God, written in infallible scripture, assured by the peace of the indwelling Spirit of God and paid for by the blood of the Son of God that I am going to Heaven, not based on who I am or what I have done but based on Who He is and what He has done.

Now, the problem is, I have good news and I have bad news. I heard the story of a farmer like that. A farmer went into his banker and announced that he had bad news and good news. "First, the bad news...""Well," said the farmer, "I can't make my mortgage payments. And that crop loan I've taken out for the past 10 years -- I can't pay that off, either. Not only that, I won't be able to pay you the couple of hundred thousand I still have outstanding on my tractors and other equipment. So I'm going to have to give up the farm and turn it all over to you for whatever you can salvage out of it." Silence prevailed for a minute and then the banker said, "What's the good news?" "The good news is that I'm going to keep on banking with you," said the farmer. Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992.

For us today, I’ll do the same thing. I’ll give the bad news first. If you think about it, the Old Testament is bad news.  It is full of laws and commandments that are impossible to keep.  It meant trying to live up to a standard of living that was literally impossible. Following the law involved sacrificing all kinds of animals any time there was sin.

There were several different kinds of sacrifices, some might involve different kinds of grain or oil or bread, but if there was sin involved, I’ll save you the gory details, but an animal had to be sacrificed. Bulls, cows, sheep, goats, birds all had their place in the Old Testament Law that God gave Moses. They would kill the animal, cut it up and put the meat on the altar and spread some of the blood of the animal on the altar and that blood was said to make atonement for the sin.

Do you know what atonement means? It’s not a word we use very often in daily speech but it simply means to make reparation or satisfaction between God and man for man’s sins. Depending on the sin and what the sacrifice represented, they would probably burn that sacrifice up completely and it was often said that the smell of that sacrifice was an aroma pleasing to the Lord as that sin was atoned for. They would then take the body of that sacrifice – the parts that were left like the hide and head and take that outside the camp where they were living and burn it up completely.

It was a lot of work for those priests to cut up all those animals and it was also very costly for those making the sacrifice.  Can you imagine if every time you displeased God you had to sacrifice some kind of animal? Some folks would need a zoo just to make it through the week. But that is what the Law of Moses required. Where there was sin, something had to die and in that sacrifice we see just how seriously God took sin.

Now, here is just some of the bad news I was telling you about. God still takes sin that seriously. In Malachi 3:6 God said, “I the Lord do not change” and that includes how He still feels about sin. He still hates sin and requires a sacrifice for it.

Now, don’t you wish God would relax a little with His hatred of sin? Don’t you just want to tell God, “Look, you need to chill with that. I didn’t mean anything personal against you. I just felt the need to lie (cheat, steal, gossip, lust, whatever it is you like to do) and I know it wasn’t the best thing to do but is it really that big of a deal?”

I understand that line of thinking but the problem is that God is perfect and can’t have anything to do with sin. He can’t be around it. He can’t hang out with it or be seen near it. It’s sort of like when somebody has the flu. We have seen a lot of that here lately. How much can you hang around someone who has the flu? None! You don’t want to be in the same zip code as that person.

That’s not a great analogy because sin always leads to death and God is perfect and CANNOT sin or be close to it. The thing is He wants to be close to you. He wants to have a relationship with you and He created you for the sole purpose of bringing Him glory and you can’t do that with sin in your life. I’ll say it again that sin is the worst thing that can happen to you because it puts a barrier between you and holy God.

Now, here’s some more bad news. We are all sinners. Every one of us has displeased God. That’s what sin is. Sin is anything that displeases God and we are all guilty. You are guilty. I am guilty; your mama, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Hitler and everybody in between. You can hide it or deny it or lie about it but you are still a sinner.

The drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he'd received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he'd pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. "You were drunk last night, weren't you!" "No, honey." "Well, if you weren't, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?" (

It is bad news that we are all sinners. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You want some more bad news? It just keeps on coming. Well, it says in Romans 3:23 that we are all sinners and then it says in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin – what we deserve for our sin - is death, meaning eternal death in Hell separated from God and all other people.

That is bad news. God is loving but He can’t allow sin to come into Heaven and when we die, we go either to Heaven or Hell and since unforgiven sin can’t go into Heaven, there is only one other place to go. God is loving but He is also just and if somebody chooses not to repent of their sin and ask God to forgive that sin then He allows them to choose to go to Hell, a place God created for Satan and his demons.

Now, if you were listening close you might have caught hold of something that sounded like it might be a silver lining in all of this bad news. Yes, God will forgive sin but how is that possible? Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” That is exactly right and this leads us to the Good News about Jesus. The good news is found in John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave Jesus, His son, to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. That was His plan from the beginning. Jesus didn’t come to abolish any of the Law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17) and He did fulfill this part of the Law the best way that it could be done.

Jesus bled, died and was sacrificed as the Perfect Lamb of God for all of our sins. That’s a price we could never pay with every bull, cow, lamb, goat or sheep ever born, much less by ourselves and all we have to do is believe. But let’s talk about that word “believe” for a second. It literally means, as it is used here in John, to commit fully to or to rely upon.

It’s an old example but it’s the best that I know of to use a chair to show what it means to commit to or rely upon. I can believe in my mind that this chair is going to hold me up. I can examine it and see that all the bolts are tight and the wood is solid and I can believe with my mind that this chair will hold my weight. But it is that the “belief” the Bible is talking about? No.

It is only when I put my full weight in this chair that I can say I truly believe in this chair. I am now fully committed to this chair, relying on it fully. If it falls apart then I will get hurt but I examined it and I truly believe that it is solid. In our spiritual life when we are committed to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, that means that I have examined Him in scripture and while I may not completely understand how He works, I believe that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no man gets to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).

I believe that when God’s Word, the Bible, holy scripture says something that it is for my good to obey that word. I believe that when the Holy Spirit, Who lives inside me, guides me to do something that it is the peace of God ruling in my life. I believe that God is in control and that He loves me and so what in the world do I have to worry about?

My life has been changed. God has changed me and so I will bring Him glory. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate. I don’t know how prayer works. I don’t know how Jesus could be all man and all God. I don’t know and don’t care what happened to the dinosaurs. One thing I do know is I was blind and now I see. I know that God has changed me and so I will give Him glory in the good times and the bad times of my life because He is good.

Now, for some people that is good enough but for me, I want to know, not just how I am saved…I want to know why. I want to know why God loves me, why He saved me and why He would allow me to grovel in a shack in the worst part of Heaven much less give me crowns and allow me to share His glory and why He looks at me like He looks at His precious Son Jesus.

You want to talk about “fair”? That’s not fair! What have I ever done to deserve that? Who am I to merit that kind of love and favor? If God really knew who I was and what I have done, He would thump me off the planet like a paper football. Well, let’s find the answer to this problem in the New Testament book of Ephesians. I’m just about to get started preaching here. Thanks for being patient.

We finally get to the passage that I want to preach on. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9not by works, so that no one can boast.” I have an imperfect analogy to illustrate all of this.

Suppose a motorist, by careless driving, kills a child. He is arrested, tried, found guilty and sentences to a term of imprisonment and a fine. After he has served his time and paid the fine, as far as the law is concerned, the matter is over. But it is very different in relation to the mother whose child he killed. He can never put things right with her by serving time and paying a fine. The only thing that can restore his relationship to her is an act of free forgiveness on her part. That is the way we are with God. It’s not that we have sinned against God’s laws. We have sinned against His heart and therefore only an act of free forgiveness by the grace of God can put us back in relationship with Him. (Barclay, Ephesians, page 105)

How are we saved? We are saved by believing and fully committing ourselves to God through His Son Jesus. Why are we saved? Only by God’s grace and through faith. It has nothing to do with who we are or what we have done or how good we are or how much more good stuff we have done compared to the bad stuff. We are saved just like they were in the Old Testament, by grace and through faith.

If you have never truly believed in Jesus then do that today. Commit yourself completely to Him and to His Word. Ask Him to forgive you of your sin and He will. Then turn away from that sin and that lifestyle and become a follower of Jesus.

Invitation / Prayer Time

Well, congratulations! You have graduated from the very first Christ Fellowship Boot Camp. You now know why we fight, who we fight, how we fight and Who fights for us. You have a firm grasp on the basics of prayer, scripture, church and salvation. This is by no means the end. It is literally just the beginning. We go next into Combat Training starting next week.

But I want you to know that our enemy Satan is highly ticked off and will attack immediately. He may attack by even trying to convince you that you don’t know what you are doing and that you were never saved and have no business quoting scripture or even coming to this church.

But never forget that you are a warrior and can do all things through Christ Who strengthens you. Through Him you can overcome temptation and make God look good even in the worst times Satan puts you through. I want to give you all your dog tags. Camo on one side and the other simply says, “Make God Look Good”. You can take off the camo wristband if you want or leave it on as a reminder that you are in a battle. For me, I’m leaving mine on but I’m throwing away my razor. I want my facial hair back.

Today we give God glory. Tonight we are having a party. Tomorrow we are back in the battle. But right now it’s selfie time. Gimme your war face!