September 13, 2009: Are You Prepared to Win or to Lose?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as our children begin a new year of growing in Your grace and truth and the rest of us go forward, delving more deeply into Your Word, apply our hearts unto Your wisdom. Focus our attention on truths which sustain us no matter what worldly events cause upheaval in our nation. Focus our hearts on Your ways to avoid heartache and evil. And focus our souls upon the fact of heavenly forgiveness which always brings comfort and strength. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE DEFENDER OF HIS FLOCK

TEXT: Ephesians 6: 10-20

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

One of our former members, a hard-charging Harvard MBA man, is blessed with three beautiful daughters. When they left New England and moved to Seattle, he took his kids aside and bluntly told them: “See those Japanese and Chinese kids in your class? They are your competition. There are thousands just like them around the world and all of them are competing at excelling in school. If you want a decent job, a house, and future vacations in your life, you have to be just as good, if not better than they are, in math, science, and every other class!”

So, parents, how’s that sound to you? Obviously, it’s a hard conversation to have with little kids, but it is brutally honest. Globalization has made it so. The hard fact is: you can be a winner, or a loser in life. And education, education taken seriously, is the determining factor.

Today our focus is on Christian education with the advent of Sunday School, formal Bible Class, and continuing instruction via the worship service. In our lesson, St. Paul is winding down his letter to the church in Ephesus that he founded. Here he gives them final instructions, as it were. Instructions through which to prepare them for the hard road of life that awaited. And since Paul doesn’t mince words, neither will I as I dissect this text. So, let’s focus in on it by pondering this question:

ARE YOU PREPARED TO WIN OR TO LOSE?

I

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” What does that mean? It means that for you to be a winner, you need to ally yourself with the biggest winner of all: God Almighty, and actively employ the power He provides through faith. So, how do we do that? Paul goes on to tell us: “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.”

Our competition for living happy lives, blest lives, doesn’t come from other human beings. No, our competition is unseen. It is Satan himself, along with all his evil minions. All the words Paul uses in that section are synonyms for demonic powers. Satan and his followers are the prince and the nobility of the ultimate losers. And they are continually seeking to drag all of you down to their “Loserville”—which we call: hell.

But, by being here today you’re saying: “I don’t want to be a loser! I don’t want a life of emptiness, guilt, and shame.” Good! I’m glad you want something better! So, listen up and find out how to avoid Loserville.

“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 (remain standing). 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.”

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor succeeded because America was complacent. Considering how many people avoid Sunday Worship today, are they not just as complacent? Likewise, too many people think: “I was baptized, I attended Sunday School as a kid, and later I was confirmed.—I’ve heard all that stuff before. So, I don’t need to go every Sunday.” The fallacy of that approach amazes me. First off, in the job world, if you don’t engage in continuing education you will quickly turn into a job loser. Everyone knows that. Complacency leads to no growth, which leads to unemployment death. In this vein, I cannot help but recall our youth group trip to the Higgins armory in Worcester. There we viewed countless suits of armor behind which the knight of the day was invincible. Those suits were very costly in their time. They passed them down from generation to generation. And each wearer felt as secure as this predecessor. And then I spied one suit which had two bullet holes right through the breastplate. Complacency didn’t keep up with technology and the wearer died. Spiritual complacency underestimates Satan’s innovative techniques to get you to fall. Forget that fact and you’re a dead loser of life.

II

God provides us with both defensive and offensive weapons of spiritual warfare. All of them come from Christ, the Eternal Champion, the Eternal Winner. Full armor, not partial armor is what He provides along with timeless truth, the power of His holiness given to you, and feet shod like Mercury, or the ability to run away when you recognize temptation. All those are defensive weapons which blunt the devil’s attacks. But how about the offensive weapons? “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.”

When we toured the Higgins Armory, we viewed two men fighting a mock battle and then acting out moves and countermoves. It was ancient choreographed dance carried out on a deadly level. And we learned that shields don’t just blunt swords, they can also serve as a powerful weapon to push someone down. Helmets of iron can be used to head-butt another. And swords, in this case a flaming sword, they are the most feared of all. So, use them to protect yourself! All these weapons of spiritual warfare are found in the Bible and handed out each week at church. And since God is wiser and smarter than Satan will ever be; these weapons will never become obsolete or outmoded. After all, Godly love, total forgiveness for all sins, and the reality of God’s free gift to you of these treasures—what’s obsolete about that? Likewise, honor, respect, eternal wisdom, knowing right from wrong, obedience to our Creator, and transforming dirty hearts into cleansed souls—how can that ever be outmoded? Remember: God is the cutting edge!

When I was a little boy, I sat in church, listened to the sermon, and more often than not, I was bored. I had already memorized most of the stuff said, and didn’t think it worth my time. But then, I slowly began to listen with new ears. I began to realize that every sentence of the Bible had things to say about handling trouble, staying out of it, and being happier than most of my schoolmates. I could be a winner, even if no one else realized it. This is because true winning at life is about having a clean conscience and being at peace with yourself and with God. Christ won that gift for me on the cross. And every Sunday He was working at putting more layers of His armor upon me to prevent me from throwing it all away. Are You Prepared To Win or To Lose? By being here, you’re saying: “I want to win!” So, don’t argue with God or second-guess Him as He suits you up to do battle against evil this week. Don’t be impetuous and think you know it all and the Champion has nothing to teach you. Learn your lessons well, and He guarantees you’ll live to stand another day, a heavenly one, in His very presence. Amen