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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Be Strong In The Lord

Be Strong In the Lord

 Ephesians 6:10-20


It's interesting that the writer of this letter to the Ephesian church uses the image of warfare to exhort the church to be strong in the Lord.  In the modern church we do not often think of being at war in our faith.  We don’t like to think of fighting against the evil powers of this world.  But the fact that evil exists around us is evident.  All we have to do is turn on the news, and often evil pops right out at us.  Even though Christ has defeated evil when he overcame evil on the cross, that doesn’t mean evil has disappeared.  It means that we have the power to overcome evil through our strength in Christ. So the letter tells us to put on the armor of God to be able to withstand evil's attempt to erode our faith.


About a million years ago, well maybe 52 years, my youth group was in charge of planning the sunrise service one Easter.  For reasons that remain unclear to me I was designated as the speaker that morning.  I knew I couldn't do that, but no one would listen to me.  I was too terrified to get up in front of a group of people and speak.  I struggled and pleaded, thought of running away, thought of being sick that day, thought of reading something from a book, but I knew that wouldn't work, because my voice would be too shaky, I might pass out.  I tried my hardest for a couple of weeks to find something to say.  The night before Easter I still hadn't come up with something to say and I was terrified.  So I wrote down some words I thought might sound OK, found a religious poem, and prayed for a tornado, a blackout, the church burning, anything to get out of that service in the morning.  Morning came, no disaster happened and the time came to read my little paper with words and my poem.  Sure enough I got up to the lectern, where the preacher stood every Sunday, the preacher who delivered a very fine sermon, and opened my mouth to speak.  To my horror nothing came out!  I could not decipher the words on the page.  Tears of embarrassment filled my eyes.  At that point I had two choices, either I die on the spot or run away.  Since my feet were rooted to the spot, my only choice was to die.  And then it happened that a third option entered my terrified brain.  Something inside me prompted me to simply tell the story.  Well I knew the Easter story inside and out.  I loved that story!  So I began to tell the story.  The words that came out of my mouth were clear, and with that unshaking clarity I told the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When I was done, I marched down the aisle and ran out the door and headed for home. 


In looking back on that incident I see several things that I think happened.  First I realize that the evil one almost won that day.  I could have left that church, abandoned my faith in embarrassment, and never stepped foot in a church again, and never become a pastor.  Second, I firmly believe that God put that armor on me and led me through the ordeal and won the victory that day.  Evil was overcome with the only story that mattered.  Armored with what God had given me, I did go back to church the next Sunday, got some good feedback and my faith continued to grow.  But at that point I vowed to never allow myself to be put in that situation again.  So much for vows!


When we are faith filled people, we are given the strength to overcome the toughest obstacles.  We are equipped with resources that help us to proclaim and defend our faith.  But in order to be successful in faith we must claim and use the equipment God gives us.  We must not only put on the armor of God that Paul talks about, but we must continue to strengthen and temper the armor.  In expanding the use of the image of warfare, a good soldier must maintain and keep their equipment in good working order.  We as Christians must maintain our armor of faith through regular, faithful prayer, reading of scripture, sharing our faith, and engaging in acts of love, kindness, and forgiveness.  Paul says, "Be strong in God!"  That means think God in all aspects of our lives.  Love God with heart, mind and soul and trust that God will be there with us in all things.  Stand firm in faith, do the right thing, live justly, forgive even when it seems impossible.  Love one another with the love that Christ loved us when he marched to the cross and gave himself up for us.  Is that a tall order, maybe.  But we have the ability to live in that manner.  When we accepted Jesus, and understood what it was that he did, we were given the clothes, the armor, the equipment to overcome evil.  Doesn't mean we will be perfect at it all the time, but it does mean we will keep trying, trusting that we are growing closer to who God intended us to be and how God wants us to live.


Learning to trust God is a huge thing.  We want to blame God for when things go wrong, when we don’t get what we prayed for, when we despair about the condition of the world.  Faith is just that, trusting where we can’t see, trusting that God has overcome the evil one, trusting that God will prevail, trusting that we are not alone in life, trusting that we are forgiven even when we do the wrong thing, trusting that we will continue to learn and thrive and grow in faith, even when it seems our faith has been put on hold. 


Every Sunday morning is an act of faith for us.  We come expecting that God will be here, expecting that God will reveal Himself in some way, expecting that worship will do what it is designed to do, expecting to leave here having encountered the living God and in that encounter have found strength and courage to live our faith through the coming week.  Over time I have learned that God does not fail to appear for worship, does not fail to supply words and holy moments.  We have learned that this is a time of low anxiety, a time to set our worries aside, a time to abide for a little while with God, giving thanks and praise.  This is a time to polish our armor, tarnished by the week’s giving in to minor or major temptations; to repair any damage it has taken by seeking forgiveness and reminding ourselves of God’s great love and mercy; and to put it back on by receiving and knowing we still are able to stand before God as beloved sons and daughters. 


What condition are we in for the battle of our lives, for the onslaught of evil which seems so prevalent in the world?  How strong is our faith?  How trusting are we that God is in control and will move us through the worst that could happen in our lives?  What is it that we need to do to be strong in the Lord?  How many of us can step out in faith and strength and proclaim the word of God in the ways we do life?  How many of us can stand firm in what is right?  If we can’t what are we going to do about it?  If we can’t are we willing to get down on our knees and seek the One who offers us mercy enough to find how we can stand firm in righteousness? 


Faith is a narrow, straight path and most of us travel it just like we color, going outside the lines once in awhile.  Or maybe it’s like learning how to ride a bike.  At first we are wobbly, veering this way and that.  But eventually we learn to ride in a relatively straight line, not falling off as much, and when we get good we ride like the wind straight and true.  But sometimes there are rocks in the road, something runs in front of us, we veer to avoid something and we find ourselves falling, having an accident, finding ourselves skinned and bruised.  But we find healing and in the case of fallen faith our healing comes from the Divine healer.  We are picked up, wounds cleansed and set back on our way riding like the wind once again.  In faith God is our armor and our healer, the One who offers forgiveness, mercy and strength to get back on the path and live our lives in faith. 




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