In His Presence

Sir Robert Stopford commanded a ship in the Royal British Navy at the end of the 18th century. He himself was under the command of Vice Admiral Lord Horation Nelson. Nelson’s fleet was in pretty bad shape; their ships were battered and low on munitions, the food was nearly gone, and the fleet they were pursuing was almost twice the size of their own. Despite these difficulties, morale was unusually high.

When asked about this phenomenon, Stopford replied, “We are half-starved and otherwise inconvenienced by being so long out of port, but our reward is that we are with Nelson.”

The men fighting under Nelson knew the danger they were heading into. They knew that no amount of money could tempt them forward nor recompense what they were about to face. There was only one thing that made it all worth while: They were with Nelson.

Friends and fellow warriors, we know that constant difficulties and hardships will beset us as God’s children. The world does not want to hear the message of Christ crucified for our sins. In some places, Christ’s disciples are mocked and ridiculed. In other parts of the world, they are treated with no less hostility that He himself was when He walked on earth. The path of discipleship is not an easy road to walk. Tragedies and heartache abound in this life; our struggle often leaves us feeling weary, battered, and on the verge of despair.

We can certainly find comfort in the words, “Great is your reward in heaven.” And yet, we have comfort even in the trials of today as we go forward into the uncertain future with the resolve to stand by our Commander and Chief, bearing the full armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit.

We are with Him.

Whatever difficulties we will face are nothing compared to the reward of being in Christ’s presence throughout our fight. He comes to us in His Word, as we hear it preached by faithful servants and as we read it in our homes. He comes to us in Sacrament, as we receive His very body and blood in His supper and as we remember the marks put upon us in our baptism. He comes to us through those who fight alongside us in this spiritual battle, promising that even in those who seem to be least in the body of all believers, indeed, there He is.

Of all the hardships we face, morale should never have to be among them. We have our reward, and it is not a distant, far-off future promise. We hold it in our hand and clutch it to our breast as we recall his words, “Behold, I am with you always.”

Our reward is that we are with Him, and that He is with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the peace that comes through knowing that Your Son has defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  Be with us in our struggle against the world and our own sinful nature.  Let our joy be ever in You, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Showers of Blessings

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.”  ~Isaiah 45:8

 

“April showers bring May flowers.”

I think these words give us hope as we stare out the windows at the early springtime weather. It’s wet, gray, sloppy, and at times simply depressing out there. So we have to remind ourselves that the current dreariness will soon produce the beautiful and abundant fruits of the earth. God’s blessings for tomorrow often come in the form of cold and bitter rainstorms.

In our personal lives, it is often the same. I know there have been times in my life where I was very angry with God over some temporary pain, loss, or disappointment – only to feel the sting of shame later when I realized how God was bringing about incredible blessings in my life through that same event. Scripture tells us that affliction leads to perseverance and eventually hope. Strangely enough, none of us jump up and down and get excited when affliction comes our way.

Heavy rain certainly reduces visibility. We tend to be so self-centered and short-sighted that we immediately become blind to the many, many other present blessings that God continues to shower down on us, even as we shake our fists at Him for our current discomfort. Our heads are hunkered down against the stinging cold of adversity, forgetting that it is the same rain that will bring forth fruitfulness, life, and abundance in the near future – but also pushing away all thoughts of other comforts and joys that are ours through God’s grace.

Perhaps this is our present state as we feel a certain amount of disgust toward our culture and society. We get frustrated and depressed over the Godlessness and immorality in our country, and forget the fact that God has graciously preserved our ability not only to worship Him openly, but to speak freely and challenge the empty philosophies of secularism. As we despise the humanistic notions that are running rampant around us, we lose sight of the many joys, comforts, conveniences, and luxuries that we so richly enjoy in our country. And who knows, but that this current shift in culture is not the rain that will moisten the earth and provide the perfect setting for the seed of the Gospel to sprout and flourish in the hearts of millions?

Occasionally, there will be rain showers; financial difficulties, health problems, frustrations and dilemmas in future planning. But we know that in all these things, God is faithful to the work which He has begun. We stay mindful of the hope we have of the growth occurring just below the surface, which will soon spring forth in splendor as God’s Word blossoms in our community and country. And we do not lose sight of the many, many blessings that He continually bestows upon us; the faithful members of our congregations and families, the devoted friends and neighbors, the beautiful children of God who have been entrusted to our care – and most of all, the life and forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ our Savior.

What a blessing it is to be allowed to tend this patch of earth!

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  ~Isaiah 55:10-11

Prayer: Heavenly Father, bless Your Word as it goes forth in our communities, our nation, and throughout our world.  Grant that the seed which is sown will fall upon fertile soil, that the harvest be one of hope in the righteousness won for us by Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In His name we pray.  Amen.

IN UMBRA, IGITUR, PUGNABIMUS

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

The title of this devotion is a Latin phrase which my family recently came across in their studies and shared with me.  Literally translated, it means, “So much the better, we will fight in the shade.”  Allow me to share with you the story behind these words:

The Roman orator Cicero (hence the Latin) retold Herodotus’ account of the battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan king, Leonidas, led a mere 7,000 men against over 100,000 Persian invaders.  When asked to report, a scout betrayed his sense of despair at seeing such a tremendous force with these words to Dienekes, a Spartan soldier: “Their arrows will blot out the sun!”

To which Dienekes replied, “IN UMBRA, IGITUR, PUGNABIMUS!”

“So much the better, we will fight in the shade!”

Friends and fellow warriors, the darkness is gathering more thickly each day in our world.  Many of our former comrades have fled or turned against us, succumbing to the approaching terror and abandoning the truth of the Gospel for the sake of preserving their own temporal well-being.  As we stand near the battle-lines and survey the vast host of the armies of darkness that have been arrayed against us, paralyzing fear grips our hearts.  What is our response to this seemingly insurmountable threat?

Very well, then.  We will fight in the shade.

And indeed we will.  I do not mean to say that Satan’s hordes could ever blot out the light of God’s truth with their onslaught of fiery darts; truly, it shines all the more clearly in the face of darkness and adversity.  However, we will be shaded by the wings of our mighty and caring Heavenly Father.  His love, His mercy, and His strength will form a shield around us to protect and preserve our faith even in the face of every evil that comes swarming against us, no matter how dark the days may become.

“And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife,

though these all be gone, our victory has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth.” ~Martin Luther (A Mighty Fortress is Our God)

Yes, my friends; the battle belongs to the Lord.  Our faith rests securely in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sealed and delivered to us in faith solely through His grace.  What have we to fear?  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice as the mediator between God and mankind, God is and ever will be for us and with us, sheltering us beneath the wings of His love.  Though all the adversity of this world rails against us, it cannot prevail against the ultimate victory that we have through the cross.  Christ Himself tells us, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

King Leonidas himself was approached by the Persian ambassadors before the battle at Thermopylae began.  Knowing the odds against this king and his lowly army, and expecting him to immediately comply, they commanded him to lay down his arms.  To which he replied:

“Come get them.”

Do not despair, my friends.  Our eternal equipment will see us through whatever battles may rage in the days to come.  The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is strong to save.  Let Satan come and once more taste the Blade which brought about his destruction.  Though the hands that wield this supreme Weapon are frail and weak, the foe will never pry it from our grasp, for the Sword itself is invincible, and One who forged it and delivered it to us is ever by our side.

Does Satan come roaring against us?  Fine.  Come and get it.  Do the evils of the world gather more thickly with each passing day?  Very well.  Then we will fight in the shade.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world and all its troubles.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Give your Church the everlasting rest she longs for.

Until that time, we will fight.

“Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.  I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.  In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”  (Psalm 44:5-8)

See also 2 Chron. 20:12-19

Prayer: Heavenly Father, arm us with Your Word, that we may go boldly forth and proclaim the Good News of salvation to all who are in the clutches of sin and darkness.  Keep us steadfast in faith against the attacks of Satan, this world, and our own flesh.  Preserve and sanctify us by Your Holy Spirit, holding us ever in Your strong hand, that we may come at last to everlasting life and rest; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Commander, King, and Friend.  Amen.

 

From the pages of Building Christian Character through The Hobbit – Now available!  Click the “Books Available” tab at the top of this page to preview chapters 1-4 or to order a copy.

 

Chapter XIV – “Fire and Water”

 

“The dragon is inevitable – and let it come!  I repeat it, sir, let it come.”

Like the colonists living in Patrick Henry’s day, the people of Esgaroth have been living in the shadow of terror for too long.  Until they face the dragon that looms over them, they can never truly be free.  The dwarves and Bilbo have awakened the dragon’s wrath and stirred up his malice toward the men of Lake-town, but that is just as well – especially knowing that Smaug is destined to die in this battle.

Mr. Henry goes on in his speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775: “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace…What is it that gentlemen wish?  What would they have?  Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!”

The people of Esgaroth are so focused on their present suffering and the destruction of their town that they fail to see the wonderful, miraculous fact that seems so plain to us: Smaug is dead!  The monster of the north has been slain and the people of this region are now free from his centuries-long reign of terror.  While they may curse Thorin and Company for causing their present hardship, they ought to also recognize that the dwarves set into motion the chain of events that would lead to this great victory.

People have a way of delaying the inevitable.  As Christians, we often put off unpleasant battles in the hopes that the threat will just go away on its own, or remain sleeping beneath the mountain.  But the truth is, the monster is growing in size and strength with each passing day and year that we avoid confronting it – and the best we can hope for is that it will be our children or grandchildren who will have to combat the beast someday.  What terrible cowardice!

There are many difficult issues in our society that Christians are often reluctant to grapple with.  At best, we engage in minor skirmishes, hoping that it will be enough to stave off the threat without risking open war.  We make concessions to our faith and values, hoping that these compromises will reconcile us to the world.  They won’t.

So let it come.  Let us be the ones to wage spiritual warfare in our nation and world over issues of life, social values, and religious freedoms.  Let us boldly confront the evils in our society, even though it may mean a breach between Christianity and secular complacency.  Old alliances with those who undermine all that we believe and stand for may need to be cast down as we fend off the Dragon’s assault.  But it’s better that we take our stand now – while yet free to speak up and armed with the Gospel – than to relegate the task to our offspring who may be shackled and fettered with oppressive laws and a government that silences truth and wisdom.

We need to sound the alarm and take up arms against the Dragon right now, because he comes swiftly toward us breathing out deadly lies and fiery deceptions.  Christians at this time must especially take a stand on who God is and what He came to do.  There are many today calling themselves Christians who preach that Jesus came only to teach morality and self-enlightenment; that He was merely a wise teacher who set an example for how to live.  The battle-lines must be drawn here and now.  We must preach Christ crucified; that Jesus Christ is the true Son of God who died and rose again to atone for the sins of the world.  On this, there must be no compromise, because this is the truth and the difference between eternal life and everlasting death.

This will be a fierce battle.  We may risk much of what we have built up in times of prosperity to face the Dragon on this issue right now.  It will cause division and discord within our communities and country, because the world does not want to hear that Jesus is the only Way to the Father.  We will be condemned as intolerant – the worst possible sin of in postmodern society.  But the longer we postpone this battle, the stronger the Dragon will be when we finally face him and the more divided the Church will become, leaving the conflict to our descendants to fight with less hope and less strength than we currently possess.

We cannot afford to let sleeping dragons lie.  We must proclaim God’s Word – Law and Gospel – in truth and purity; even if it awakens all the fire-breathing menaces of every pagan religion, every secular humanist philosophy, and every false prophet that preaches any other Jesus than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We mustn’t allow our cowardice to hand down this great task to our children for the sake of a false sense of peace and unity in Church and world.  We must fight.

 

The Dragonslayer’s sacrifice…

He spoke harsh words that were difficult to hear and were rejected by many.  He warned the people of the approaching doom, and fought on their behalf so that they could have life and freedom.  He was a descendant of kings, and the only one who could know the secret to defeating the evil monster.  He stood alone at last, enduring the flames of the dragon’s wrath, scorned by many and abandoned by his companions, because he alone could defeat the menacing beast and save them all.  He gave up his life to defeat the dragon, quelling its fierce might forever, but falling under the death-throes of his terrible enemy.  And when all hope had faded, he rose again victoriously and was exalted as king.

Sound familiar?  The triumph of Bard over Smaug is a striking parallel to the victory of Jesus Christ over the Devil.  While Bard may not be a perfect Christ-figure throughout the rest of the book, this particular instance provides an awesome image of the Son of God come to save those who had rejected Him.  And all in all, Bard serves as a great example of Christian virtue contrasted with the greed and hypocrisy around him.

Bard was condemned by his contemporaries for prophesying “gloomy” things; not that anyone disputed the truth and veracity of his claims, but it just wasn’t very pleasant to listen to.  Similarly, Jesus lost many followers and was rejected by a number of would-be disciples because of his hard teachings; things like being willing to give up earthly possessions and duties to follow Him, being “born again,” forgiveness based on faith by God’s grace, eating and drinking His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, and even His own death at the hands of His enemies.  Like Bard, Jesus would eventually be vindicated in all of His claims.  Those who rejected His words didn’t do so based on evidence to the contrary, but rather simply because it was easier for them to believe something else.

Just as Bard is the last descendant in the line of Girion, Lord of Dale, so Jesus was the Promised One in fulfillment of the Messianic line, reaching back to King David, Abraham, and all the way to Adam – the first recipient of the Gospel promise.  Being of the race of Dale, Bard was the only one who could understand the thrush and unlock the secret to defeating Smaug.  His black arrow that had been passed down from his father and “came from the forges of the true king” would prove to be the key to Smaug’s downfall.  Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God, was the only One whose blood was free from the curse of sin and who knew the way to defeat Satan, the great Dragon.  He was “from the True King,” and the black arrow of His divinity would be the shaft that would pierce the Dragon’s heart and bring him crashing down in ruin.

In the end Bard stood alone, abandoned by his companions, and faced the dragon while surrounded by the flames of his wrath.  Jesus’ companions all fled to save themselves, though they had sworn to stay by His side – even if it meant death.  He faced down the dragon, enduring the agony of the very flames of Hell as the Devil’s malice was poured out upon Him.  He fought our battle upon the cross so that we could enter the lifeboat of His Church and freely obtain life and salvation through the waters of baptism, just as the people of Esgaroth fled to safety through the waters of the Long Lake while Bard battled Smaug.

Jesus certainly did not escape the battle unscathed.  Just as Smaug came crashing down upon Bard in his last throes, so too did Satan strike the heel of Jesus with physical death and the torments of Hell even as he fell in utter defeat.  But like Bard, Jesus emerged victoriously amidst cries of mourning to claim His rightful title of King and Lord, claiming the honor of defeating the Dragon and freeing the people from his reign of terror – and of securing all the treasures of heaven on our behalf!

Drunkenness, Orgies, and the Like – Indulging Sinful Sensuality

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

Our sinful nature constantly wages war upon us.  Our selfish will defies God’s good decrees and vainly seeks temporal pleasures instead.  The corrupt flesh holds such power over us that we willingly forfeit true peace and lasting happiness for fleeting physical gratification.

One the one hand, as redeemed children of God, we deeply and sincerely desire to serve and glorify Him for the great gift of salvation He has given us through His only Son, Jesus Christ.  But on the other hand, our wicked impulses drive us to flout the commands of our great God and Father, bringing shame and trouble upon ourselves and rendering our ministry flimsy and hypocritical at best.

We know that our own good works have no power to save us – that victory is complete and final, by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and triumphant resurrection.  And yet, as God’s chosen warriors in a world filled with darkness and despair, we earnestly yearn to please Him through thankful service that extends the fruits of His love to those around us.  Paul tells Timothy that “cleansing” is necessary if the Christian soldier is to be set to serve: “If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul doesn’t say, “Do this in order to be saved” – he says, “Do this in order to serve.”  What child in a loving family doesn’t wish to please his or her parents?  What student wouldn’t want to please and honor his wise, kindly teacher?  What noble soldier wouldn’t willingly go above and beyond the call of duty for a faithful and caring commander who has saved the lives of his men time and again?

Perhaps you, like many others, long to do what is pleasing in the eyes of God, but find that your sinful flesh often gets the best of you.  Some may even be at a point where they find very little desire to do what God wills, and are wondering what that means for their spiritual state.  In either case, the answer can be found in the same place: the Word of God.  The Law convicts us of wrongdoing, guiding and directing us in the way we should go.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that God has taken our sins and placed them upon the cross of our Redeemer, making us free from the terrible eternal consequences of our sin and releasing us from the power it holds over us here and now.

If you desire to be prepared to serve God as a loving child, a faithful student and a noble soldier, turn to God’s Word for the weapons of faith.  In an amazing, miraculous way, the Holy Spirit equips us with all of the spiritual armaments we need to fight evil wherever it may lie; in our world, in our nation, in our community, in our household, and in our own hearts.  Through weapons like the love, peace, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control which the Spirit imparts through the Word, God adds to the joy of our salvation by showing us true meaning for our lives in service to Him.  And when faced with the most deadly attack that can be directed at our souls – the ugly accusations of Satan himself over our failures – our defense is in much more capable hands; it rests securely upon the breastplate of Christ’s own righteousness and the helmet of His salvation.

“The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Prayer: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me – help me to know the fullness of Your love and mercy, that I may ever serve You joyfully; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Dissentions and Factions – By Schisms Rent Asunder

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The army of saints is most effective in spiritual warfare when we move as a single unit under one Lord and General.  Part of our training process is learning to fight side by side with other Christians in humble submission to God’s Word, rather than each faction, congregation, or individual insisting on “having things my way.”

But aren’t doctrinal issues serious enough to warrant thorough study of the Scriptures and – if need be – diligent discussion and debate among God’s people?  Of course.  Can Christian brothers and sisters pursue the teaching of God’s Word in truth and purity without becoming weakened and divided?  Absolutely.

Even the apostles disagreed upon certain issues.  The disciples didn’t always “get it” when Jesus would reveal to them a certain facet of heavenly truth.  Does this mean that they weren’t united?  For all of the frustration that Jesus must have had to deal with in teaching His twelve students, He yet confessed that He was united with them – even at the end of His earthly ministry, while they still did not understand the basic mission that He had come to accomplish: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me…I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:8,14).

Faced with His hour of suffering and ultimate victory, Jesus knew that the unity of the Church today would be a vital part of carrying the message of that victory into the world.  He even spent his last precious moments before being arrested and taken to die praying for us – the Christians of today – that we would be united in Him:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Even as we engage in debate and discussion concerning the Scriptures, Christians of all synods and denominations can find unity in the love of God through Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit further equips us against the dangers of factions and dissensions by giving us powerful weapons; the joy of salvation through Christ alone; patience, kindness, and gentleness as we lovingly respond to our Christian brothers and sisters; the inexpressible comfort and peace that comes from knowing that God has loved all of us enough to send His Son to suffer and die for our sins.

Onward, Christian soldiers.  Be one in spirit and purpose, united in our assault against the prince of this dark world.  Let our love of God show in the love that we direct to those around us, humbly walking hand in hand – even when we don’t see eye to eye.

“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)

“Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:11,14)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Spirit in power and unity upon Your Church.  Bless us through diligent study of Your Word, that we may come to know You ever more deeply.  Grant that all of Your children may work steadfastly for Your kingdom, united by Your love and the peace that we have in the forgiveness of sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Fits of Rage – Dangerously out of Control

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Warriors must be disciplined.  In the midst of battle and turmoil, a warrior must have the strength and clarity of mind to put personal fear and self-preservation instincts aside and boldly push forward with their mission.  If they become overwhelmed by the stress, the danger, and the confusion all around them, they are likely to abandon their orders and fail in their duty – to the ruin of all that they have worked for.

In our spiritual warfare, conditions can sometimes be fierce enough to drive a warrior nearly out of his mind.  The darkness, unbelief, and antagonism toward the Word of Life that we share can take its toll on even the hardiest soldiers.  Fears and doubts over the problems of this world can shake even a veteran’s faithful discipline and strict obedience.  In the midst of all the spiritual carnage with which we are daily confronted, it can be easy to lose control.

It doesn’t matter who is the target of our “fits of rage” – such displays never promote God’s kingdom or His righteousness.  If it is directed at an unbeliever, chances are that we are driving a wedge even further between this lost soul and the God who would redeem them.  If it is directed at a brother or sister in the faith, we disrupt the unity and fellowship that serves as a vital part of our witness and ministry to the world.  And if it is directed at God…well, it’s easy to see how the tide of battle is quickly turning against us in our own faith walk.

Any fit of rage is a rebellion against God.  Our fear, anger, doubt, or despair drive us to desperation.  We know what God’s orders are, but we abandon our duty in the belief that our odds are better if we follow our own instincts.  The problem is, our instincts are sinful and corrupt from the start.  I give in to my rage because it feels good, because I want to gratify my desire for vengeance, power, or control.  Ironically, it is at these moments when we are least in control – as we demonstrate that we cannot even control ourselves.

God’s weapon of self-control through the Holy Spirit can help us in our struggle against ourselves.  By the peace and joy that comes through His love in Jesus Christ, God fortifies us against our own sinful instincts.  The patience and faithfulness that He grows in our hearts through the Word give us the discipline we need to put God and neighbors before self.  By exercising daily through prayer, praise, and meditation upon the Word, we allow God to shape us into warriors who are stout of heart, boldly and humbly advancing into battle and steadfastly following God’s orders.  He is our loving Commander, and though we are often plagued by fear and doubt, we can come to know that His orders are the way of Life and peace for us, now and forever.

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the grace to control myself in the midst of fear, doubt, and anger.  Help me to always put service to You and witness to others first, that I may be blessed to grow in Godly discipline and prove fruitful to Your kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Gentleness – The Right Way to Fight

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

The Sword of the Spirit is the perfect weapon with which we can fight the evil in our world.  But even armed with such a magnificent sword, careless, clumsy warriors can sometimes hurt themselves or hinder and damage the cause for which they fight.

Paul’s reminder in Philippians that “The Lord is near” ought to inspire us to fight with both great care and a sense of urgency.  In one sense, the Lord is near to us physically and spiritually at all times.  While this is a great comfort in our distress and in the thick of battle, it is also exactly the reminder that we sometimes need when thwarted and frustrated in our attempts to spread the Gospel and combat the wickedness in our world.  When we lose our patience, when our sense of peace is diminished, when the joy has gone out of our ministry…at these times we may not realize that fact that we are under heavy fire from Satan, who is trying to undermine our witness and draw us into sin.  Remembering that God is close at hand both gives us the courage to stand boldly and gently, while also holding us accountable to our Heavenly Father for the words and actions we employ in His service.

The Lord is also near in the sense that He is coming soon, and the fervor of our spiritual battle ought to reflect that fact.  He could return at any moment, and the threat of death constantly surrounds all who dwell in this fallen world.  This is a reminder of how important it is for us to fight urgently and pray fervently for those who do not know Jesus or the saving power of His grace.  Because our emotions can sometimes lead us into despair and sin – even as we fight to spread the Gospel promise – God reminds us to do everything in the spirit of His own peace and gentleness.  We can learn to do this from Jesus and His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

God makes gentleness a vital part of our training for spiritual warfare, both in our witness of the Gospel and in our service to one another.  His instructions are clear; we must employ gentleness when wielding the other weapons of faith if we are to be effective and minimize our “collateral damage”:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)

Arming a warrior for combat is about more than just putting a weapon in his hands.  Training is a necessary part of the equipping process, both for the protection of the warrior and to ensure his combat effectiveness.  God our Commander has given us excellent weapons of spiritual perfection, and in His grace He thoroughly prepares us for the dangers that lie on the battlefield by teaching us how to use these weapons in the way that will best serve and honor Him.  The gentleness that comes from peace in Christ will guard and protect our hearts and minds from temptation as we move forward into battle with the Gospel of salvation.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me true gentleness through Your peace as I proclaim the Gospel and minister to my neighbors.  Guard and defend my heart against all anger, wrath, impatience, cruelty, and malice; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Love – The Strength to Fight

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

1 Corinthians 13 begins a beautiful exposition of one of the most powerful weapons at our disposal in our Christian witness and an essential ingredient in our relationship with our Lord.  Indeed, trying to wield the Word of God without love is like trying to swing a sword without any hands.  Love is the motivating power behind our witness and testimony; it is the crux of our relationship with God; it must be the source of every good and pleasing deed that serves our neighbors and glorifies our God in heaven.

How and why this can be ought to be no great mystery.  Scripture reveals it to us plainly: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Everything that we are to be and everything that God asks us to do is rooted in love: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

So we see that the whole of God’s will is grounded in the force of love, and we cannot possibly please Him if we do not have love for Him and for others.  1 John goes on to explain how God’s love is the source and origin of every good and pleasing thing that comes from us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:9-11).

The weapon of love is so powerful that we could not possibly wield it through our own power.  It is a force beyond anything we are capable of.  Any real love that we can muster for God or for our neighbors is merely a reflection of God’s love for us, and even this “ricochet” love is powerful enough to defeat the darkness of the world in which we live.

Like the Word of God, love is versatile and reliable – a trustworthy primary weapon that ought to be standard issue for any soldier of Christ.  We can use it defensively to protect ourselves from the fear and doubt with which Satan daily assails us: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  We can use it to penetrate the armor of hard hearts and impenitence: “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).  Finally, love has the power to scatter the darkness of sin as God’s love gives us the power to forgive our neighbors and live at peace with them: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Like the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – Jesus’ love is a weapon without which we dare not set foot upon the battlefield.  It is only through His love that we find the strength to reach out to our enemies with the Gospel of healing and salvation.  It is only by the power of God’s love that we are enabled to serve God and minister to the needs of others.  And we mustn’t doubt the effectiveness of this incredible weapon, as Scripture assures us: “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for Your great love which You have shown to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By Your Spirit, enable me to share this great love with those around me through service and witness to them, that You may be glorified in everything I do.  Amen.

Weapons of Faith – Arm Yourself

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Warriors need weapons.

Rarely do you find a warrior who relies solely on a single type of weapon.  That so many different kinds of armaments exist reflects the fact that combat is influenced by a wide range of dynamics.  A warrior must reflect upon many questions: Will I be engaging in hand-to-hand combat or delivering and defending against ranged attacks?  What kind of armor is my opponent equipped with, and how can I best penetrate their defenses?  Will a certain weapon help me to defend myself against the attacks of the enemy?  What will I carry as a back-up weapon or side-arm?

Every weapon has a unique purpose.  While some, like swords, are meant to be versatile and universal in their function, the arsenal of a professional warrior will be supplemented by all kinds of tools of the trade.  Spears and lances are specially designed to be used from the back of mount, harnessing the strength of the charging beast to deliver a devastatingly powerful blow.  Arrows and darts can be used to neutralize threats from a safe distance or to reach foes that attack from hard-to-reach locations.  Daggers, knives, and short swords are quick, quiet, and easy to access in an emergency.  Hammers and clubs provide bludgeoning force when a piercing or slashing attack might fail to penetrate an opponent’s defenses.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  Christians are constantly engaged in many kinds of struggles, from defending their faith before hostile and unbelieving people, to resisting the temptations of the Devil as he tries to undermine their witness, to quelling fears and doubts about God’s love for us and the sufficiency of His grace.

We’ve already discussed the “Sword of the Spirit” – the Word of God – at length; and it is truly a mighty weapon.  Indeed, it is the primary weapon of every soldier of Christ as we combat the lies of Satan in a dark and empty world, and it never fails or proves ineffective.  Yet God our Commander, in His love for us, has also given us many other weapons that can be used for our spiritual defense or as supplemental armaments.  Equipped with these tools, we can batter the enemy, pummeling the Dragon’s defenses and wearing down the effectiveness of his attacks on ourselves and those around us – then unsheathing the Sword of the Spirit to finish him off.

Make no mistake; Scripture is the only weapon that can be truly effective against the Satanic forces we are facing, and we must never under any circumstances go into combat without the Sword of the Spirit strapped securely to our sides.  But God has given us other weapons for a reason, and when used properly in conjunction with the Word of the God, they can help us to launch a devastating attack on the forces of darkness.

For the next two weeks we will focus on nine weapons in particular, examining how God has intended for us to them in certain situations for the benefit of those around us and in glory to Him.  As we learn to wield each of these side-arms with greater skill and dexterity, we find that God continues to train and equip us for even greater service using the magnificent Sword He has given us.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me in Your Word that I may be equipped in every way for the works you have prepared for me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.