Spiritual Warfare: The Gospel of Peace Footwear

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we will gather again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

We are currently treating the chapters that explain the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we looked at the third part of the armor – ” [having] your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v.15). In the book this is explained in chapter 7 – “The Gospel of Peace Footwear.”

The authors take the position that this “preparation” is to be understood both offensively and defensively. That is, this preparation is first of all a “readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace” to sinners taken captive by Satan. This is, in part, how they explain this idea:

…God’s people today must… [go] forth into enemy quarters shod with the combat boots of the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord.Wherever we go and at every opportunity God grants, we must seek to assault Satan’s kingdom, telling men and women who are under his power (Eph.2:2) that spiritual freedom is found in Jesus [p.61].

I believe that is an important element of this weapon, one perhaps we do not emphasize sufficiently.

But secondly, according to the authors this preparation is also a defensive weapon in our spiritual battles. This is how they explain this aspect:

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev.12:10) and is relentless in his attacks on us. He lives to make our lives miserable. How do we stand against such a fearsome foe? The answer is the gospel of peace. Just as the gospel is a powerful means for advancing God’s truth and delivering many from Satan’s clutches, it is also a powerful means for stabilizing us as believers, helping us to stand against his attacks. The gospel of peace, like the shoes of the Roman soldier, gives us firm footing in life and the ability to stand in the spiritual war [pp.61-62].

And they add this paragraph to show how this is so from a practical point of view:

It works practically like this: When the devil seeks to plague our consciences with guilt after we have confessed sin, we remember what the gospel of peace tells us: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ ( 1 John 1:9). When the devil condemns us, we are to bring to mind and soak our hearts deep in the comprehensive truths of the gospel and remember that God has no dispute with us because of Christ (Rom.8:33). When the devil attacks our assurance, we must remember that we are in an unbreakable union with the living God through Jesus and that nothing will be able to ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). When the devil tempts us to sin, we must push back and resist his enticements, recalling our deliverance from such things and our newness in Jesus (2 Cor.5:17.) [p.62].

Which leads them to end with these thoughts about how important this gospel of peace is for us:

As Christians, we must live day-by-day in the gospel. That is, we must let its truths regularly pervade and control the citadel of our souls. God’s great grace and love for us in Jesus must be our firm foundation throughout our entire lives [p.62].

So then, how well are putting on and using this gospel of peace footwear? Today gives us another opportunity to receive that gospel of peace and be equipped for the battles. May God give us grace so to do.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

Joy in Our Work (Especially for Wives and Mothers) – Trillia Newbell

tt-feb-2017As we noted last week, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to the theme of “joy.” The second featured article on this subject, “Joy in Our Work,” is written by Trillia Newbell and has especially wives and mothers in view.

She opens her article with the reality that Mondays can easily be viewed as “the most dreaded day of the week,” because, as she points out, most people “seem to dread their work.” But is there another way to face our work-week? Can we truly find joy in our earthly, mundane labors?

Yes, we can she says, also as wives and mothers. The key is to see our work in two ways: as work for the Lord and as work to be done in contentment. Here are Newbell’s thoughts on that first perspective. It is good for our wives and mothers, but also for us men to hear.

Work Is for the Lord

One of the first ways to fight our temptation to dread our work is to remember that work is ultimately for and about our creator God. We are told by the world that we must pursue work that is fulfilling and satisfying. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with loving your job or pursuing something that you are passionate about. But if that is all we are focused on, we can easily become disillusioned because work is difficult and affected by the fall. Instead, if we know that every dish washed and every load of laundry done and every diaper changed is for the Lord, isn’t that a much greater, more significant focus?

If we have children and a home, God has called us to shepherd our kids and care for our homes. When I’m focused on this work, it’s easy to think that I’m mostly serving my children and my husband, but as Paul has reminded us in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23–24). This work of caring for children and home isn’t set apart from other work. Whatever we do, we are to do heartily, not primarily for our children, not primarily for our spouses, but for the Lord. And God graciously rewards us for our labors. We may not get paid in dollars and cents, but I imagine we won’t be concerned about that as we worship our Savior for eternity. What joy there will be on that day! Let this truth motivate you to find joy in your everyday work, knowing that God sees it and is pleased as you work for His glory. It is not worthless—there is great value and joy to be found in it.

To read her full article, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Joy in Our Work by Trillia Newbell

Redeeming the Time – Rev. J. Mahtani

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (Jan.15, 2017) is once again filled with a variety of interesting and instructive articles (cf. cover below).

sb-jan15-2017-cover

One of these is found under the rubric “Strength of Youth”. Rev. Jon Mahtani, pastor of Cornerstone PRC in Dyer, IN and a new writer for this rubric, has a timely article for the new year titled “Redeeming the Time.” In it he explains and applies – especially for the benefit of Christian young people, but applicable for all ages – the Word of God in Eph.5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Here is part of what he has to say:

In Ephesians 5:16, God does not call us to buy cars, clothing, jewelry, appliances, or homes, but time. The word for “time” here however, does not refer primarily to the duration of time—the seconds, minutes, and hours going by on our clocks. Rather, “time” refers to “opportunities” in our life.

…But wait! Stop! Before you go off to buy every opportunity that comes your way, remember what a good buyer does. First, he senses or discerns the more valuable from the less valuable. Just as not every product on the market is of equal worth, so not every opportunity is equally worthwhile. Just as you cannot purchase everything online, so you cannot buy every opportunity that presents itself!

How do you determine which opportunities are most valuable? As a child of God, with the wisdom of His Holy Spirit and His word, you should know that the most valuable opportunities are measured by spiritual profit! No, we do not discern valuable opportunities by asking, “What is most fun? What is most entertaining? What feels the best? What is good for my reputation, my career, my bank account?” Instead, the golden opportunities are determined by prayerfully asking, “What is best for my soul?”

Prioritize your life. What is more valuable? Devotion time or sleep time? Bible society time or sporting event time? Church fellowship or what I already put on my schedule? Overtime at work or quality time with the family? Homework time or your primetime T.V. show? Time to pray or time to play? We may be able to see some value in all of these opportunities, but a good buyer of time first senses and chooses which is most valuable.

Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time – D. Whitney

BiblestudypicIt’s a new year! Time to establish goals, resolve to get them accomplished, and dig in with renewed zeal. Including getting your (our) spiritual disciplines in order, such as devotions. Yes, family or couple devotions, but personal devotions too.

Then, again, you probably don’t need to bother with that. Why put all that stress on yourself to spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer? You are busy and I am busy; we can’t be in two places at one time; the Lord understands that. And besides, we are already quite mature in our faith. We know the Bible pretty well and we already pray regularly with family and church. We hear some fairly meaty sermons on Sunday each week; that’s food for the week. And isn’t it legalistic to think that if I don’t have my quiet time with the Lord I should feel guilty? This year I’m going to just relax when it comes to my spiritual life. But, man, am I going to hit the gym and get this body in shape!

That’s the tongue-in-cheek approach Donald Whitney takes in his article for the rubric “Heart Aflame” in the January 2017 Tabletalk. Which is why it has the title it does: “Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time.” But to each of these poor reasons to pass on a regular devotional time, Whitney gives a solid biblical answer. And that is why you ought to read his article. So that you can determine to have a quiet time on a regular basis in 2017.

I needed this article, and I trust you do too. Read it and be motivated to start the new year with the godly resolve to be in the Word and in prayer daily.

Here is how he ends his article:

Third, even until death, the Apostle Paul wanted to saturate his soul in Scripture. In the last inspired letter he wrote, Paul pleaded with Timothy, “When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). These writings almost certainly included a copy of the Old Testament. If a Christian as spiritually mature as the Apostle Paul required the regular intake of Scripture until death, dare we ever think we’ve “outgrown” the need for it?

Fourth, we are called to imitate spiritual heroes. In Hebrews 13:7, God commands us to remember, consider, and imitate Christian leaders of the past. We’re told, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” The consensus of the spiritual giants of Christian history that testifies to the indispensability of a believer’s devotional life should not be forgotten nor their example forsaken.

Fifth, rightly motivated devotional habits are never legalistic. Neither the strictest obedience to the Word of God nor the most zealous pursuit of holiness is ever legalistic if one’s motives are right. The measurement of legalism is not the consistency of one’s devotional practices but the heart’s reason for doing them.

Finally, you’ll likely never be less busy. If you can’t make time to meet God through the Bible and prayer now, it’s very unlikely you will when—if—life does slow down.

Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?

 

Source: Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time by Donald Whitney

Spiritual Warfare: the Belt of Truth

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we are hosting discussion groups in our home and we will be continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

As we resume our study this year, we are up to the chapters treating the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we look at the first part of the armor – the girdle or belt of truth (v.14a). In the book this is explained in chapter 5 – “The Belt of Truth.” For your benefit as well, I post a few of the authors’ comments on this piece of our armor.

Clearly, the apostle uses this imagery to call Christians to stand ready for the fight. His words signify a transition from a relaxed to an action mode.In other words, the apostle is calling us to spiritual arms. War is upon us. The alarm has sounded. The battle lines have been drawn; therefore, we must responsibly gird ourselves for holy, active combat. Paul hands us our first piece of equipment, and we must put it on to be ready.

They continue with more detail:

The truth is our first line of spiritual defense against the devil. Truth is an indispensable piece of armor; it functions spiritually as the believer’s belt. We can imagine Paul the prisoner glancing over at his guard as he wrote this letter. Undoubtedly, he noticed the thick leather belt around the soldier’s waist, the central piece of equipment he wore. So the apostle begins his list of spiritual armor by writing metaphorically about the belt that we are to wear: As the soldier’s belt was placed at the center of his body, so truth must be central in our lives, encompassing all that we do if we are to be prepared for the fight with Satan, our crafty foe.

Which leads them to add:

By truth we bind up everything in our lives that is loose that might cause us to stumble in spiritual battle. Without truth girded about us, we will stumble and be overtaken. …It [the belt of truth] is strategic in the spiritual sense because without it, nothing else will stay in place. Without the belt of truth, we are exposed and utterly vulnerable to the devil’s schemes and are unable to stand against him (pp.43-44).

New Year’s Thoughts – Grace Gems

This meditation was posted yesterday (Jan.1, 2017) on the Grace Gems devotional website. It is drawn from “Morning Thoughts” by Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), and, as you will see, is fitting for the outset of a new year.

May God grant us a blessed 2017 of spiritual advance as we continue our journey to our everlasting home!

This year I may be in Heaven!

(Octavius Winslow, “Morning Thoughts”)

“You have not traveled this way before!” Joshua 3:4

How solemn is the reflection that each traveler to Zion is commencing a new and untrodden path!

New events in his history will transpire;
new scenes in the panorama of life will unfold;
new phases of character will develop;
new temptations will assail;
new duties will devolve;
new trials will be experienced;
new sorrows will be felt;
new friendships will be formed
new mercies will be bestowed.

How truly may it be said of the pilgrim journeying through the wilderness to his eternal home, as he stands upon the threshold of this untried period of his existence, pondering the unknown and uncertain future: “You have not traveled this way before!”

Reader! if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you will enter upon a new stage of your journey by a renewed surrender of yourself to the Lord. You will make the cross the starting-point of a fresh setting out in the Heavenly race.

Oh, to begin the year with a broken heart for sin, beneath the cross of Immanuel–looking through that cross to the heart of a loving, forgiving Father!

Do not be anxious about the future–all that future God has provided for:
“All my times are in Your hands.”
“Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”
“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.”

Let it be a year of more spiritual advance: “Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.”
Forward in the path of duty;
forward in the path of suffering;
forward in the path of conflict;
forward in the path of labor; and
forward in the path to eternal rest and glory!

Soon will that rest be reached, and that glory appear! This new year may be the jubilee year of your soul–the year of your release. Oh spirit-stirring, ecstatic thought–this year I may be in Heaven!

How Should We Remember God? – David Mathis

tt-dec-2016You may recall that the December issue of Tabletalk carries the theme of “Remembering God.” That theme is worked out in several featured articles, one of which is “How Should We Remember?” by David Mathis.

Mathis concerns himself with the means of remembering God, the practical ways in which we learn repeatedly not to forget our God but faithfully to recall His wonderful works and ways toward us. In the author’s words by way of summary, “His primary avenues for sacred remembrance are these: hearing His voice, having His ear, and belonging to His body.”

It is that last one we wish to focus on with you today. It is so easy to forget God by forgetting the important place He has given us in the body of His Son, the church of Jesus Christ. Mathis reminds us of this indispensable means for remembering God in his last two sections.

Read them; remember and use this means. And by living faithfully in the church may we chiefly remember our God and His amazing grace to us.

Fellowship: Belong to His Body

Third, and perhaps most overlooked in our day as a vital avenue of remembering God, is the community of fellow Christians in the local church. Let it be said loud and clear that other believers are an essential, irreplaceable means of edification in our lives. Most of our lives are not spent bent over our Bibles and on our knees in private prayer, but most of us do rightly spend a massive portion of our daily lives with other people. And, it is hoped, some of those people, whether family or coworkers or in whatever avenue of life, are fellow believers who can be not only acquaintances but God’s willing instruments in the ongoing delivery of His grace into our lives.

Whether it’s a word of spiritual encouragement, a memorized or paraphrased verse, a probing question, a kind corrective word, or the simple invitation to pray together, we need real-life relationships with fellow believers who know us well enough to direct both encouragement and challenge into the specifics of our lives. The Christian life is a community project.

The Most Important Habit

Chief among the many good habits we can cultivate under the banner of fellowship is corporate worship. The reading and preaching of God’s Word come together with corporate prayer and receiving His grace in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper within the context of worshiping Jesus together.

You might say that the coming together of Word, prayer, and fellowship in corporate worship makes it the single most important habit of the Christian life. It is the vital spark plug of faithfulness. Your Christian life will soon become famished and anemic without corporate worship and its unique banquet of spiritual blessings to be received in active faith.

Source: How Should We Remember? by David Mathis

Can Christians Benefit from Books by Nonbelievers? | Desiring God

CsLewis-readRecently, on a Desiring God’s “Ask Pastor John” (Piper) program, a Christian from Kalamazoo, MI asked a question about reading secular literature. Piper gave him an answer that I think is helpful.

Since this is a question that often comes up, especially for new Christians who feel they ought only to read Christian literature (and, certainly, that ought to be the priority throughout our lives), but also for mature believers, we post part of Piper’s answer here. You may either read or listen to the entire program at the link provided below.

If you have thoughts on this subject, feel free to leave a comment for the benefit of others.

Of course, the Bible gives crucial insight into these things that come from nowhere else, but the raw material of knowledge is gained, in large measure, from life experience, and then the Bible takes that common fund of human experience, of reality that we bring to the Bible, and shows how God relates to it and transforms it.

The New Testament assumes that we have not forgotten the lesson of the book of Proverbs that we should go to the ant — a little bug, the ant — consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:6). In other words, look at the world. Learn reality from the world. Learn something about hard work from the world, learn something about perseverance from the world. Grow your fund of reality experience of a thousand things that are in the world because, when the New Testament mentions those things, it assumes we have some experiential knowledge of them.

But here is the catch. Most of us live lives that are so small, narrow, constricted, and limited — we know so little about so many things — one of the ways, only one, but one of the ways that God has ordained for us to grow in our knowledge of many things, many experiences that we have no immediate experience of is through reading. This means that if we have a wide and deep knowledge of things through reading, as well as through life experience, then when the Bible speaks, for example, of the sorrow of losing ten children, we may have a greater understanding of what it is referring to — I am thinking of Job — if we walked through it ourselves, which most of us won’t. Hardly anybody loses ten children all at once. But we might read about it. We might read the various kinds of horrible things that people have walked through like that and deepen our grasp of the human spirit and the experience of what it is like to do that.

So, let me give you just a little glimpse of how this worked for the original Jonathan Edwards. He delivered a sermon about slavery to sin and what it is like to have Satan as a slave master. Now, he knows that Satan is the most wicked, crude, most fiendish master that ever was. And yet most people gladly walk in his service.

Now, how could Edwards feel this as he ought to? How could he know the reality of what it means to be ruled by Satan as he ought? How could he say it in a way that would help others know the reality? Well, Edwards had evidently done some reading about human sacrifice in the country of Guinea. And here is what it did for him. Here is what he says:

[Satan and his cohorts] do by you as I have heard they do in Guinea, where at their great feasts they eat men’s flesh. They set the poor ignorant child who knows nothing of the matter, to make a fire, and while it stoops down to blow the fire, one comes behind and strikes off his head, and then he is roasted by that same fire that he kindled, and made a feast of, and the skull is made use of as a cup, out of which they make merry with their liquor. Just so Satan, who has a mind to make merry with you.

That is pretty horrible, pretty powerful, pretty unforgettable. Edwards got that knowledge of evil from outside the Bible, and it informed biblical teaching about Satan’s horrible, fiendish, devastating, murderous rule over his people — all the while making them think they are having fun.

Source: Can Christians Benefit from Books by Nonbelievers? | Desiring God

You Must Read (John Bunyan) -F. Cook

YouMustReadCoverWith Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658 and Charles II established on the throne in 1660, such preaching quickly aroused the antagonism of local magistrates and clerics alike. In November 1660 [John] Bunyan was arrested, brought to trial and imprisoned for lay preaching and for refusing to worship at a local parish church. From the age of thirty-two until he was forty-four, he languished in Bedford Jail, rat-infested, crowded, stinking, and cold, having to leave his wife and his four small children without support.

…Yet these very circumstances have given us today the priceless heritage of Bunyan’s writings, enriching and encouraging generations of the Lord’s people. Yet it was not easy….

But in spite of his suffering John Bunyan gives us a key to his endurance – a most vital key for our day:

I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them.

On its own this would seem a somewhat negative concept, but Bunyan hastily adds his secret of endurance, for instead of these human comforts he was learning ‘to live upon God that is invisible.’ And the reward was great, for as Bunyan discovered through his twelve long years of imprisonment,

He [God] can make those things that in themselves are most fearful and terrible to behold, the most pleasant, delightful and desirable things. He can make a gaol more beautiful than a palace… He can so sweeten our sufferings with the honey of his word… and [make it] so easy by the spreading of his feathers over us that we will not be able to say that in all the world a more comfortable position can be found.

Taken from You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives (Banner of Truth, 2015), Chapter 2, “The Works of John Bunyan” by Faith Cook, pp.11-12.