Page 316 was a Sunday and I had the privilege of preaching at the North Wayne Mennonite Church in Dowagiac, Michigan. When I woke up, I spent some time with God going through my sermon outline as I sought His refining guidance. There was a light rain falling for most of our drive to the church building, but the temperature as just above freezing so the travel was much nicer than it would have been if the temperature was a few degrees colder. About half way along our route, the road was closed and we had to take a detour. About midway through our detour there were signs that a bridge was out ahead, but fortunately I turned off to resume our normal route before we reached the bridge. Life tends to be a lot like that at times. We get comfortable in our usual routes and routines and then we inevitably hit an unexpected detour. And sometimes we even have a secondary detour in the midst of the main detour. When we came to the first road closed sign, I jokingly asked my wife if she thought we could go fast enough to jump the missing section of road. We both knew I wasn’t about to try it, but how often do we take that exact approach when we hit a roadblock in life? We don’t like the idea of a detour in life and we don’t like our plans and routines to be interrupted, so we barrel full-speed ahead thinking we can just plow through the reasons for the detour. The result is usually not pretty and then we blame God or others or anything we can think of rather than admit we alone were at fault for not heeding the warning.
We did make it to church on time and enjoyed a wonderful time of worship that included a hymn or two that I hadn’t sung for a lot of years. They brought back good memories and may even show up as one of my morning soundtracks some day soon. The sermon that I had spent a good amount of time on over the past couple of weeks, thinking it would be what I would share this morning, was based on the opening session of the Growing Strong teaching that I have developed for retreat and conference use. Late in the week God shifted the direction of the sermon to back up a step to the “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” passage from which the Growing Strong concept developed. Today’s sermon, however, focused on “Being STRONG” in the Lord with the growing part likely to be shared at a later date. Anyhow, with the text from Ephesians 6:10-20 setting the background, here are the main points I shared about “Being STRONG” in the Lord.
- Be Secure: As we put on the armor of God, God tells us to stand firm with the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. We are able to be secure in the Lord when we base that security on God’s truth and His righteousness. Being strong in the Lord doesn’t come by our being able to stand on our own two feet and face down the enemy, no it comes because we can stand secure because of the truth of God’s Word. It is God’s truth that keeps us from being tossed about by every wind of false doctrine that the enemy tries to get us to believe. As we stand secure, God never asks us to compromise on the truth of His Word nor on its righteousness — in fact it is often the very act of compromise in those two areas that causes many to lose their footing and fall.
- Be Teachable: Another part of being strong in the Lord is the need to be teachable. As Paul outlines the various components of the armor of God, he says our feet should be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” As I read that I automatically think of the many walks I have taken over the years without the proper footwear. I can be strong in every aspect of my being but if I’ve not put on the proper shoes, I just my find that my walk doesn’t reach its destination. God says that the proper footwear for being strong in the Lord comes from the gospel of peace. To me, at the heart of the gospel of peace is the need to be teachable. No, this isn’t about compromising truth or righteousness, it is about learning to see things from God’s perspective. Much of the conflict that exists in the world, and in churches in particular, comes because we are unteachable and hold fast to our opinions rather than submit those opinions to the gospel of peace. We become teachable when we learn to listen and filter everything we hear through God’s Word rather than through our own opinions.
- Be Ready: As we seek to be strong in the Lord, it is also important that we be ready at all times. God instructs us to take up the shield of faith so that we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Unless you are a whole lot better at seeing those arrows coming than I am, it is important that you have that shield around you at all times so that you are ready for the relentless attacks of the evil one. After Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, and overcame those temptations, scripture tells us that satan left him for “a more opportune time.” Just because you have survived skirmishes and battles, don’t think that the devil has given up on his desire to destroy you. It is our faith in God and the work Jesus has done on the cross that makes us ready to extinguish any dart of accusation or doubt that the enemy hurls at us. We can be strong when we are ready to use faith to shield us from whatever the enemy tries to destroy us with.
- Be Observant: We can also be strong in the Lord when we seek to be observant to all that He would have us to see. As Paul calls for his readers to pray, he calls for us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Sometimes it is far too easy to just pray generically, if we pray at all. God wants to be alert, or be observant, to the things we can see around us as well as to the things we can’t see with our eyes. We are strengthened when our prayer life is transformed by observing people and situations through the eyes of Jesus. Being alert isn’t just an add-on once Paul has finished describing the armor of God — it is a necessary part of living on a battlefield. Because of the need for each of us to “put on the full armor of God”, it is imperative that we remain observant as we “keep on praying for all the saints” — “saints” being the term Paul often uses for all those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus. We make great progress in being strong in the Lord when we learn to be observant — both to the work God is doing around us and to the dangers that would seek to destroy us.
- Be New: As we set out to be strong in the Lord, we should soon discover that we must be new, and have a new way of thinking, in order for that to take place. The reason for the armor of God rather than traditional military armor is because the battles we face that are most important are not battles against flesh and blood. When God says, “if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation”, He sets forth the means by which we can be new as we face a battle that requires a new approach. Because this battle is taking place on a spiritual level in heavenly realms, the localized skirmishes tend to take place in our mind. I don’t think any of us would be too thrilled to have every detail of our entire life put on display for all to see. Yet many times it is those hidden secret things, that should often remain that way, that satan uses in his accusations and attacks against us. When we live as one who has been made new in Christ, we can be strong in the knowledge that the old is gone and no longer has power over us.
- Be Guarded: Being strong in the Lord, and the purpose of the entire armor of God, means that we can be guarded against the attacks of the enemy. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians and gave them many instructions about their life in Christ and how it should influence how they interact with fellow believers as well as those who don’t believe, he wraps up his letter with the instructions to be strong and put on the full armor of God. So often, we begin to think that becoming strong means that I can now do things on my own. If I’m strong, I no longer need the protection of someone else. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Being strong in the Lord means that we recognize our weaknesses and trust in God for His protection and help. We are strongest when we seek out, and put to use, the protections God has promised to those who are His — when we realize we don’t have to go it alone, we can be guarded by the promises and presence of God through His Spirit.
It was an interesting message for God to put together in my mind because the message I had been working on earlier also used the word “STRONG” as the outline word but none of the points spelling out the word strong were the same. I don’t think I have ever had two sermons in my mind at the same time which used the same word for the outline.
After church, we ate lunch then headed home for a relaxing afternoon. The light rain from the morning drive has gone back and forth a few times between light rain and snow so it will be interesting to see what happens overnight now that the sun has set and the air temperature is likely to drop. Since the weather wasn’t all that inviting for outdoor photo opportunities, today’s photo is one from yesterday’s trip to Lake Michigan. With the leaves all fallen, I couldn’t tell if the tree in the photo is alive or dead, but it was interesting to see it jutting out of the side of the sand dune, not willing to give up completely. Sometimes being strong in the Lord is just a matter of holding on and letting Him be victorious on our behalf.
As I reflect on the day and think about the lessons it contained, I think most of them are covered in the sermon points above so instead of adding to the length of today’s page, I will let those stand as is.