Posted in Different Scriptures

missing from the “full armor”

As I spent time this morning reflecting on the days’ lectionary passage, I was struck by something for the first time. This passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) I’d grown familiar with, since I was a boy, suddenly contained truth I hadn’t noticed before. More specifically I should say – as I asked God what He wanted me to notice, I became more and more aware of this particular Truth.

I remember learning about Ephesians 6 as a kid. We’d have physical belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets, and even a sword. Putting on these fake pieces of “armor”, and stomping around the Sunday school room like an obnoxious child-soldier, I had opportunity to be the class clown AND teachers’ pet simultaneously. Those moments were always enjoyable for me, as an extrovert who wasn’t always particularly good at answering the teachers’ questions. Thankfully, I’ve matured in some ways since then. (mostly)

As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand the importance of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. Whatever battle scenes I may have imagined Paul painting as a child have faded, and I hear the heart of Jesus in his words. He invites the church to cling to these solid foundations as vital to sustaining our faith in a world that doesn’t yet recognize/know Jesus as Lord fully.

It’s important to know and cling to the Truth of the gospel, no matter what our current experience happens to be, and live in that direction. It’s vital to remember the righteousness (the ways of justice, and right-ness) God desires, that becomes our life as we are found in Christ. We’re called to be people always ready to seek/promote the peace of reconciliation, taking it where Jesus leads us. We’re urged to hold fast to our faith, as a shield capable of deflecting the flaming arrows of the enemy (who is not a person/group, but a spiritual power or force/system). We put on our helmet of salvation, offered by the “head” of the body in Christ. We take up the sword, which is the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit (not words from a page, but the teaching of the gospel message).

But even in being fitted with all of this armor, there is usually something incredibly important missing. A crucial piece of being ready, and being able to “stand firm” that we don’t often include when we dress up that student in front of the class. Ready for it?

Paul is speaking with plural Greek words. Not to “you”, but to “ya’ll”.

This is not a battle we are preparing to fight alone. This is not something I can “do on my own”. This was not meant even for my family to seek to do on our own. There is something vitally important about the assumption Paul made to his audience in Ephesus – that all of this was something they were doing collectively. This comes through over and over again in his writing, especially as these words come only a couple chapters after he talks about the uniquely gifted parts of the body in Ephesians 4.

John Wesley even called this aspect of “Christian conference” one of the “Means of Grace”. We don’t discover “what is true for ourselves”, but rather wrestle together about what the Truth means for us all (and in each new season). We are shaped in His “Righteousness” as we come alongside one another, confessing our sins and being shaped vulnerably in His Light together. We promote peace graciously in the context of forgiving community, becoming a living refuge in a world where anxious communities form/bond in response to threats/fears. We lock shields of faith with those surrounding us, believing and testifying to the Love of God that has transformed us (and those before us), even when we feel attacked. We are bound together by our trust in the salvation offered in Jesus Christ, the “head” of which we are made one body. Finally, we wield the sword of God’s Word – not as something I grasp fully and completely on my own. Empowered by the Holy Spirit for understanding, we humbly approach the message of the gospel we have received and joined, with the global Church across all times and places.

May we never forget this incredibly important piece of “putting on the full armor of God”, so that we may “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”…

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Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

powerfully weak.

In prayer with my friend and pastor this morning, we were challenged by these words of A.W. Tozer: “Part of the successful operation of that (unhealthy) church depends upon (those) with business talents and part of it depends upon (those) with natural gifts as salesman and politicians. I say that a Christian congregation can survive and often appear to prosper in the community by the exercise of human talent and without any touch from the Holy Spirit! All that religious activity and the dear people will not know anything better until the great and terrible day when our self-employed talents are burned with fire and only that which was wrought by the Holy Ghost will stand forever! Through His Spirit, God is waiting and willing to do for us or for any church what He waits to do for the entire Body of Christ!

It is a generous mystery, this dichotomy we’re invited to enter into.

On one hand, God has given us each gifts for ministry to be used for His Kingdom. If you’ve never discovered what yours could be, check out this easy test that highlights the 5 primary ways Jesus has gifted people to serve the Church. It’s good for us to discover where all our strengths are, and to be faithful stewards of the gifts God has given us. Part of the important work we do as a church is helping each person to discover how they’re gifted, and how they can join the Kingdom of God being revealed, proclaimed, and experienced. I also believe each of our homes, and each of our local congregations are gifted and shaped in particular ways to reflect and offer the healing presence of Jesus to our neighbors and our communities/world.

On the other hand, we have examples in both scripture and real life where people proclaim/experience God using their weakest areas in order to bring Him glory and do transformational work for the Kingdom. Where we are weak, we are forced to depend completely on the Holy Spirit for empowerment, instead of getting by on our own natural talents/abilities. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

So what should we do? Perhaps we could have a season of investigating our weaknesses, and invite everyone to serve only in those areas to ensure we’re always depending on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to arrive? Obviously not.

But we can purposefully seek practices of humility that invite us to both confess our desperate need for God, while offering our brokenness to God in ways that invite His perspective and redemptive use for the Kingdom. We should regularly be seeking ways to empower others and listening for God through them, instead of assuming God only wants to do what He has done through those He has already used. We should be willing to invite new people into service in ways that offer grace to experimenting with new skills – as a way of affirming our dependence on the One who must be our foundation and guide.

One thing the pandemic offered us, was a chance to strip back all the “extras”, and examine why we do what we do. Many have already lamented that the church, anxious to return to what was, may have missed an invitation and opportunity to be revived in ways we cannot on our own strength. What are the foundations of who we are, and what we’re seeking to accomplish as we gather, and as we are being sent out each week? Perhaps it’s good for us to completely “unplug” or “re-arrange” what seem to be our natural talents/resources on a regular basis – to light a candle, pause in silence, and orient ourselves in the presence of a God who promises He will always be found by those who seek.

What might that look like in your life today?

What might it look like if we sought such empowerment together, confessing by prayer and fasting that our own appetites and abilities to feed them will never reach that which God pours out freely?

Posted in Different Scriptures

1 John 4:1-6

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (NRSV)

Here is how we know a false prophet
Or if in the mirror, one be
If they would speak not of Jesus
Or aim not His Kingdom to see

If they come saying “look toward this worry”
Or even “look here at this peace”
If such things have nothing of Jesus
Let all that is said, be released

If someone has a spirit denying
Jesus or the Kingdom He brings
Such a spirit, you’ve already conquered
Worry not, of such earthly things

For the One who is in you is greater
For in Christ, what you say comes from God
The world will to the world listen
The deceived will find the Truth odd

Yet before we start pointing fingers
May we listen to what words we live
Is our life being shaped by this Jesus
Or is it lip service we give?

Easily we could become a false prophet
The spirit of error so followed
Lord help us today, to live by the Love
Of Your body and blood we have swallowed