Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Onward Christian Soldiers

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Judges 7:2-8 (NIV)
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’  Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.”  Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.”  So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
New Testament Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Message: “Onward Christian Soldiers”
“You have too many men.” No commanding officer would ever tell their subordinate such a thing when they were sending them into battle, “You have too many men.” And yet that is what God told Gideon. And then after sending 2/3 of the army home, God said, “There are still too many men.” God then gives them a test and those 300 that passed (or perhaps those that failed) were left to go into battle against the scourge of the Middle East.

The Midianites ranged from one end of the area to the other, destroying everything in their path. And then they would turn around and go back just as people were beginning to rebuild, looting, pillaging and destroying it all over again. The Midianites were not just constantly at war, they were a living, breathing war machine. And God in his wisdom, weans Gideon’s army of 32,000 down to 300 and sends them into battle. And guess what! This mighty, terrifying swarm of living weapons runs away. God didn’t need an army. He just needed a few men who believed that God would give the victory.

Onward Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe. Forward into battle. See His banners go!

Yes, the Prince of Peace is leading the charge into battle. And we (you and I) are to follow into the fight. This is not a battle over land or resources or ideologies as human wars are fought. This is a test of the ultimate good over the ultimate evil with our (yours and my) eternal lives at stake.

For many years I thought that being a Christian meant fighting a defensive battle. I thought we were to defend ourselves against the onslaught of Satan and his followers. Then one day as I was reading the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, where Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah. It is such a familiar story and yet I saw something that I had never seen before. It stood out almost like a flashing light and I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before. Look here where Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Wait! What? The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church! The gates of hell are not attacking the church (you and I). You and I are attacking the gates of hell! The is not a defensive battle. We are on the offence. We are to take the battle to the very gates of hell.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does hell have gates?” Well, it is certainly not to keep us out of hell! Satan is trying his damnedest to get us in there! Literally! The gates are to keep the lost from getting away.

Now here is some sad news. Satan didn’t build the gates of hell. We built the gates of hell and of our sins are they constructed. Our sin was keeping us from coming into the full presence of God. And Satan wants us securely locked behind those gates of sin.

You see the-great-liar has people convinced that once they have sinned that they are forever lost! That they are not good enough for God to love them. That they will have to work really hard to earn God’s love. That God can never forgive or forget what they have done. And Satan is always there to keep reminding us of how unworthy we are.

And, as all strong lies are, it is partially true. We are unworthy. We can never earn God’s forgiveness. We can never do enough good to make up for the bad that we have done. We can not balance the scales of justice. We are guilty!

The devil really does not want anyone hearing the good news; that by simply accepting the free gift of salvation, by accepting the Jesus is our Lord, we can break down our own personal hell’s gate. For you see, Jesus died to set us (all of human kind) free from the judgment of eternal damnation. That’s right. Simply by praying the sinner’s prayer, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.” From that point on, we are free, no matter how often the liar whispers in our ear. For Christ died once, for all. His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of all sin … of everyone’s sin.

By believing in our heart and confessing with our tongue that Jesus is Lord, we have broken down our own personal gate of hell. But we are called upon to do more. We are to attack the gates of sin that others have built for themselves. We are to share the good news that Jesus’ blood has cleansed away our sins. We are no longer separated from the fullness of God’s love.

Years ago I heard a story about fleas. No, wait, I haven’t gotten off the topic, I promise. Did you know that a flea can jump vertically up to seven inches? That is 200 times its body length. I’m six foot tall. If I was able to jump 200 times my height, that would be 1200 feet straight up! I’d have a big S on my chest and a cape on my back … but I’d skip the spandex tights! Not a sight anyone would want to see.

Okay, now I’ve gotten a little off topic. However, I needed you to understand what remarkable jumping abilities fleas have. If you were to put a flea in a quart jar, it could easily jump out! No big deal for a little flea. However, the story goes that if you put a flea in a jar and put the lid on the jar, the flea will jump and hit the lid and not be able to get out. It will try again and again and again. Each time it will hit the lid. Eventually, the flea will jump just high enough that it no longer hits the lid. After that, even if you remove the lid, the flea will not jump out. It is trapped under a lid that is no longer present.

Many people are trapped behind their own personal gate of hell even though the gate is gone. Jesus has already set everyone (you, me, the guy across the street, and the guy on the other side of the world … everyone) free! We have the obligation, the command, to let people know that they are free. We don’t have to save them … they are already saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. We just have to let them know that the gates of hell are gone. And by simply believing in their heart and confessing the Jesus is Lord, they can step into the presence of Almighty God without fear of damnation but with the confidence of a child of God.

Here is the “warning label” that is attached to every Christian: So gear up with the armor of God: “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.” If you become (or became) a Christian thinking that suddenly your life was going to be all sunshine and roses or milk and honey, you have another thought coming. By giving your life over to God, your eternal life is secure. However, you still have to live in this broken world with all of its daily troubles. Remember Jesus told his followers in Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I doubt that the devil spends much time tormenting those he already holds captive. Their choices will carry enough consequences so that he can turn his attention to his main activity. His target is the man or woman of God. He will use every trick he can to make you turn away from God. Remember his response in the book of Job when “the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” And 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
· The belt of truth: The devil is a crafty liar. And quite often he tells the truth in a way meant to deceive. Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe how the devil even quoted the scriptures to Jesus in order to tempt him. Keep the belt of truth securely around you that you many neither be deceived nor deceive others.
· The breastplate of righteousness: Righteousness does not simply mean “being right” it means “being right with God”. To be righteous we must act within the will of God.
· The shield of faith: Faith is one of the most misunderstood concepts of Christianity. I have faith that if I hold this book at arms length and let go, it will fall. That is a secular type of faith. We have faith in gravity because we have seen its effects before. Religious faith is to believe in the unseen and often unverifiable word of God. To the nonbeliever, this kind of faith is foolishness. Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
· The helmet of salvation: The helmet of salvation covers our head and protects our mind, the seat of our knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the devil will work to deceive us by attacking that which we believe. Trust in your salvation. It is enough protection because Satin can not take it away from you. Romans 8:39 “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
· The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: The sword is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. So is the word of God, the Bible. Read it. Study it. Live it. The best way to keep from being deceived is to know the truth. The only way to know the truth is by the word of God. And if we are to fulfill the commandment to go into the entire world a share the gospel, we need to have the sword of the spirit to cut trough the enemy’s defenses and free the captive.
· And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace: the gospel of peace is the good news that we are no longer at war with God as we were in our sinful nature. The gospel of peace means that we are in a battle to save not destroy, to release not to take captive, and not to destroy the enemy but to befriend him. (I’m speaking here of the souls held in bondage). Jesus declared that we are to love our enemies. What fantastic wisdom that is. If we love them, they are no longer an enemy we have “killed them with kindness.”

And rejoice in each victory while remembering the lesson that God gave to Gideon: God intentionally sent a weakened army against one of the mightiest armies of the ancient world so that men could not boast about the victory. The victory is God’s. We are just the vessels. No man or army of men could stand against a battle with the devil. But one man plus God is more than a match for anything that the evil one can muster. By wrapping ourselves in God’s armor, we are ready to both defend and attack. So go, not in your own might, but in the name of God in the armor of God and the gates of hell will fall away.

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