… with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is he daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches… (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

And we thought we were really struggling for Jesus…

How?

These tend to be the first questions that roll around in my mind when I contemplate the things that this Christian went through.

How in the world, Paul, did you endure these hardships and agony?

Paul knew when he made a decision to pursue the kingdom of God that he would come under attack from the enemy. His mission was to advance the gospel of Jesus as far as he could, and help others understand why that was important for their lives. He was met with so much opposition, not only from people in which he could not identify, but also with his own brothers in sisters in the Jewish community. Unfortunately, it appears that the vast majority of his hardships came at the hands of the very people in which he was formally aligned.

He gave us the answer for how he was successful. In his letter the church of Ephesus, he began to illustrate to them exactly how the follow of Christ would be successful in the battles that would rage against them from the enemy of their soul.  Paul reported that even though he was being attacked and in danger, it was not flesh and blood that he was battling. He was battling “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places… (Eph. 6:12)”

Then Paul instructed the church to suit up. He utilized the illustration of the Roman soldiers that were occupying the entire region in which he was preaching, knowing that using their armor as a word picture for what the church needed for protection would catch hold. All of their armor was important, but one piece was necessary at all times.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (Ephesians 6:16)

There is no need for special interpretation of this scripture. Faith was paramount, and to be completely protected it needed to be with the Christian at all times.

Our faith cannot be matched. We serve the Creator of the entire Universe… A creator that simply spoke the majesty of the things around us into being. The trust that we place in our God is not misplaced. There are times that we feel out of sorts, and uncomfortable on our journey. This should not shake our understanding that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has already given us the opportunity to be victorious. He went to Calvary, and died for all of us. His sacrifice has enabled all of us to be purchased from our enslavement to sin, and be reunited with our Lord. This knowledge gave Paul assurances of the journey he was traveling.

For we walk by faith, and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Paul said that hardships are probably going to come, but he indicated that in those moments of our greatest weaknesses Jesus Christ would show up and rescue us each time. Our shepherd has promised he would not stop searching for us even if we were the only one left out of ninety-nine. Paul knew this to be true. He had read the Psalms of David, and knew that even though he went through the valley of the shadow of death, he had nothing to fear.

His faith remained.

His faith never wavered. His faith was strong. In the moments when he felt like he may be taking his last breath, his faith in Jesus Christ was stronger than ever. When his own brothers were inflicting unimaginable pain to his body, his faith in Jesus stayed consistent.

Faith = Trust

As Paul’s life drew near his end, he was able to know that he done everything he possibly could to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He wrote to Timothy these words…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

He kept his faith.

Edward Mote said it this way…

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace; In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found; in Him, my righteousness, alone, faultless to stand before the throne. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

 

 

 

 

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For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.- CS Lewis

Friendly fire is a devastating term. In warfare,  it is the term indicating that someone has sustained a wound from a source that is unlikely, their compatriot, comrade, fellow-soldier, and friend.

Can you imagine receiving a mortal wound from someone fighting for the same cause as yourself? Could you imagine being the one that inflicted this wound?

I am currently reading a book about US Grant, and it describes the devastating blow that the Confederate States of America sustained  when Stonewall Jackson was cut down by friendly fire in the heat of the battle. For many, they felt that this one man’s death was a catalyst for the Union armies to ultimately win the Civil War.

Friendly fire is almost certainly accidental. The term for non-accidental friendly fire is called murder…

Peter may have experienced a glancing blow during his walk with God, or sustained a devastating blow himself a time or two. In his second letter he wrote that if someone was going to make their calling and election certain there had to be somethings that were added to the Christians life. Faith was essential, and was the starting point. Obviously this makes sense, because Paul reported that our first line of defense as we are armored in the Lord’s army was the shield of faith.

Without faith we know that “it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6).

Peter does not stop there to ensure our calling. He said on top of faith, add good character or virtue. Have integrity. Do things the right way all the time regardless the circumstances. Then he admonishes to utilize your knowledge to supplement your good character.

Knowledge of what? What side are you on? We are not wrestling against mankind. Paul in Ephesians said we are wrestling against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. We know that the enemy of our soul is after us. We know that he is trying to destroy us.

So now our faith has been supplemented with virtue and knowledge, but we still are not done. We are still going through the credentialing process of our calling. Peter said that self-control should be betrayed in our actions/lifestyle. Then we have to be consistent and try to mirror the image that God has given us in his word.

People should be able to see Jesus in our lives, and Peter said that the only way people are going to be able to see Jesus present in our world is by supplementing the faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and godliness with brotherly kindness.

Paul said it this way…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

Only after we begin to love our brothers and sisters, and take every opportunity not to cause harm, can we affirm that we have charity that can be added to our faith. In this case we are able to affirm to Jesus Christ that we have taken necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is certain.

The will of God is going to be accomplished with or without us. Are we going to inflict “friendly fire” like Judas? Are we taking the necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is above reproach?

Jesus still went through with obtaining our salvation on the cross, but Judas did not have to be the catalyst to ensure his “friend” was murdered.

Take careful aim today. Who do you find in the cross hairs?

 

Readiness is defined as the state of being fully prepared for something, or a willingness to do something.

One of the most tedious things to accomplish every single morning is attempting to get Griffin to school on time. Griffin loves school, and he does not give me a hard time in the morning… It just takes forever.

I am thankful to Jesus Christ that his school wears uniforms, because we would have to argue for approximately 20 hours about what he would wear. The only thing that Griffin truly has to decide on each morning is what shoes to wear. This should not be difficult. Some days, when it should be a sprint to the truck, it seems like a marathon.

Being ready is something that we will all have to struggle with at some point in our life time. We face decisions all the time, and the easiest response in the world is the following statement… I am not ready for ______.

Paul when he was writing to the Ephesian church realized that the church needed to be equipped. They needed to be able to stand up against the attack of the enemy, and he enlisted articles of armor that the Roman Soldier would have worn to facilitate their understanding of exactly what they were up against. The Ephesians needed to understand that this was not just a social club that they were apart of with the church. It was not just a Sunday mingle session before brunch, but it was a lifestyle of war.

Being a Christian is the greatest opportunity that we have. Jesus Christ literally sacrificed everything he could so that we had the opportunity to live in freedom from sin.

and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace… (Ephesians 6:15)

Obviously, the Roman commanders did not want their soldiers running all over Europe and the Middle East without shoes on their feet. Their feet were important. The vast majorities of the armies did not ride in chariots or on horseback, they used the feet they were created with to transport them from one battle/post to another.

I am not a fan of shoe shopping. Candace typically becomes a little gloomy when it comes time for me to get new shoes for work, because she knows that I am not going to usually purchase something that looks appealing. If I thought I could get away with it, I would buy Velcro strap shoes. I want comfort. It is truly all I care about (Although, I have done better the last two times around). I want something that is going to sustain me for a decent amount of time as I walk through the hospitals. Shoes are important, and everyone that has ever worn a bad pair of shoes knows there is nothing worse than standing/walking on sore feet.

Our destination will never be reached unless we set out for it, and if we are going on a journey, we need to be equipped.

Paul advised the Ephesians to be armed with readiness. I have been in church and Sunday school all my life, and I thought that the armor of God included the shoes of the gospel, but when I was studying recently the shoes are the readiness, or preparation, given to us by the gospel of peace.

The good news of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is the catalyst for being prepared to face our world and be equipped to face the enemy. When we have responded to the gospel, and have been filled with the Holy Ghost, we are now are ready for our journey.

Without Jesus, we would or could never be ready…

When we are filled by his spirit, we are prepared to run the race that the author of Hebrews states has been laid out before us.

As Christians, we should always be ready. Peter warned us in his first epistle that we should be ready, because “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Not only should be ready for our enemy, but we should always be ready for our primary assignment…

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15)

Good and proper soldiers have a responsibility to protect the innocents and wounded. Soldiers not only attack or defend against the enemy, but they also become first responders pulling people out of danger’s path.

The good news that we have been given is a gospel of peace. We do not war against our brothers and sisters. We are protectors, and it is our job to take the gospel that has prepared us for our journey with Jesus Christ, and share that with gentleness and respect.

It is simply our duty to share the good news, and allow those around us to prepare themselves for their journey with Jesus.

Some mornings it seems like it would be easier to allow Griff to go to school barefoot instead of choosing between his batman shoes, red shoes, blue shoes, or old red shoes…

I would be a poor father to allow him to be unprepared.

Jesus Christ is not a poor father. He has given us the ability to be completely prepared for our walk with him.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life. -Solomon

Vests, in my opinion, are not an article of clothing that I have ever been fond of wearing. Early in my relationship with Candace, a few were worn, because she thought they would look cute. There are pictures to validate this happened, and there is even a smile on my face.

I still did not enjoy wearing them… She was happy, and so I persevered.

I can remember going through my closet for various garage sales that we have had and pulling out clothes that she had purchased for me (including all the vests), and she would remark… I am never going to buy you anything anymore because you never wear them.

She has a point. Vests are not in style, and I am not sure they have or should have ever been in style.

Paul wrote about a particular vest that is not and has never been popular. He called it righteousness.

… and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. -Ephesians 6:14

Paul was addressing the church of Ephesus, and was relaying some information to them on how to be prepared to take this journey following Christ. He likened the journey to a perpetual battle that would be warred against the enemy of our soul. Paul went as far as to instruct the believers on how to dress for success against the enemy.

A soldier in that day was always working. They not only were invaders and defenders of other countries, but they also had the task of policing the areas they governed. Soldiers were not always walking around with their swords drawn, and shields in place for protection. Sometimes they simply walked a beat in the city as a presence to remind the people they were in place to provide protection and keep the peace.

The soldier needed protection at any given moment. I can imagine there were days where the soldier felt like the breastplate of armor he wore was overkill. I am sure that there were Mediterranean days that were much like Texas in the summer. Having a metal plate on ones chest could not be comfortable.

Picture your typical police officer. They should always have on their bullet-proof vest.

Why are these vests so important? They protect something that is essential. The heart. The damage done by any weapon, piercing the heart, is essentially irreversible. There are plenty of police officers that may go their entire career without having an idiot fire a weapon towards them, but that officer should never take the risk that today will be like every other day of my career. There have been plenty of stories that are tragic in nature, because an officer forgot or refused to wear their vest because it was too restrictive, hot, or any other excuse you can imagine.

Paul described this article of protection… righteousness. Paul reported that the solution to Solomon’s urging was being clothed in righteousness. It was essential, because as Solomon reported, all of life originates from this vital area.

Solomon reported these words concerning righteousness, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find LIFE, righteousness, and honor.” (Prov. 21:21)

Jesus advised this concerning righteousness, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

There will be plenty of days in our walk with God that we may never encounter an attack from the enemy. We may go throughout the day without even facing temptation. Those are great days. They will not all be this way. We have been warned that our enemy is looking to attack us. He is trying to find our weakest links and the soft spots in our armor. We should always be prepared. Solomon said to have vigilance. There are some situations as a child of God that we should never knowingly enter without being protected by a life style of righteous living.

A common brand and saying that we heard several years ago was from a book published in 1896 by Charles Sheldon entitled In His Steps. The phrase that this group of people began to ask, and in the 90’s was a popular bracelet was “W.W.J.D” or “What would Jesus do?”. This story is convicting.

How better could we protect ourselves with righteousness?! The questions that we face every day could be answered a little easier if we would simply ask ourselves what Jesus would do in our current situation. Would he go there? Would he say this? How would he interact with this individual? Would Jesus wear something like this? Would he want to be seen with me like this?

Seeking first his righteousness… That is our job. If we want to avoid the terminality of James 1:15- “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”, we must guard our heart with the armor of righteousness.

I hate vests, but I like living a lot better than dying.

Are belts important? Depends on how much trust you have in your pants…

There have been plenty of times that I have worn a belt, and there was no purpose at all. Other times… catastrophe and embarrassment were avoided due to the piece of leather I cinched around my waist.

Last week I was studying the armor of God found in Ephesians 6, and quickly realized the belt was much more important than I was giving it credit. Usually if we were to poll the audience, the thought is that the belt falls low on the totem pole. Breastplates cover your lungs and heart. Helmets cover your brain. Shields block a bunch of stuff. Swords allow you to attack. The belt just does not seem to hold that much importance.

Until you start looking a little closer at its function.

For a Roman soldier the belt held enormous importance. The belt looked more like a back brace that you would see on your local stocker at a grocery store. It was made of durable material that protected your core, and protected several vital organs. It also stabilized the weight of the breastplate on the hips so that the weight was not carried in the shoulders, enabling the soldier more freedom to utilize his shield and sword.

It is interesting that Paul in Ephesians referred to this belt as Truth.

We live in a society where truth is relative. So many believe that anything can be a truth as long as they believe in it. The ideals that people hold on to with such ferocity is scary. They truly believe that everything and anything can be the truth.

By definition this cannot be true. Something has to be false. Truth is defined as 1) the quality or state of being true, or 2) that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.

The fundamental truth of the Old Testament states, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:4-5).” God Almighty in his mercy knew that we would mess things up. He realized that we could easily be confused with who or what could be god. So God let Moses know right away; there is only one Me.

Jesus Christ did not want to confuse anyone any further. He let people know in John 14:6 that he was “the way, and the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Jesus solidified Deuteronomy 6:4 by letting people know that he was that one God.

Paul, with this knowledge of Jesus Christ being truth, reported this in Colissians 1:17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” When I read this scripture in relation to my study of the belt of truth, I became so excited. Truth is what holds everything together. Truth is what allows us to be stable. Truth is Jesus Christ.

The belt protects the core. It keeps you stable. It protected attack from your flank, and protected your kidneys and liver. It keeps your metabolism controlled. Fatigue can be kept at bay, waste that are in the blood can safely be filtered out of the blood in the kidneys. The belt also protected the reproductive organs of the soldier. Protecting their future.

Without truth we have no stability. We become spiritually fatigued. We run the risk of becoming lethargic, and the junk in our system will just began to accumulate. Without truth, we also place future generations at risk.

Jesus Christ provides all the stability and protection we will ever need. When we have the understanding of Truth, the rest of the armor makes sense. Without Jesus Christ the shield of faith is pointless. We would have nothing in which to believe. Without Jesus Christ the gospel shoes are pointless. What gospel?

The truth is important. This is why the smartest man in the history of mankind reported that we should… “Buy the truth, and do not sell it.”

Belts are important.

 

My wife is extremely creative. If that was not enough, she follows things on Pinterest and Facebook that give her all sorts of other ideas that would just be awesome. Unfortunately, much of these things are projects that are not a 5 second assembly and ready (to her specifications) for use. I have multiple scars on my body from a process that I went through prior to each of my children being born. Furniture restoration.

I hate sanding things… You read that right… HATE. I am also not too keen on painting things either, but I did.

I can remember attempting to strip some things off a particular piece of my son’s furniture, and the next moment there was an exacto blade stuck into my bicep. Fortunately for me, my biceps are huge (pronounced “Uuuuge”). The scar is still there today as a reminder.

Restoration is necessary for utilization of things. My cousin, this past week, needed restoration of her car battery. It was the most annoying process of changing a car part/battery that I have ever experienced. I had the battery in place multiple times only to drop a key piece in the battery holding area (which was under the floor in her middle seat area of the car!!!), and had to start the restoration process over three different times. This all occurred in elements that were not prime for comfort.

Restoration usually is not something that is easy. It requires an element of work that is usually not enjoyable. The finished project, if done the right way, is always beneficial. However, the work can never be skipped. The sandpaper that we utilize to smooth areas that need to be resurfaced actually damage the surface we are trying to lay bare. Nails and calking may be required, or loosening and tightening of screws take place. The restoration process exposes so many aspects areas that need to be corrected. There is no use leaving parts that will not work. If you are truly going to be restored, all of the corrosion should be removed. Nothing should stay the same to get back to an original sense of glory.

David had a desire for restoration…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)

This verse sounds fine and good until you read what else he had to go through before he was able to be talking about restoration. David had made massive mistakes. These mistakes had transformed him from looking like the “man after God’s own heart” to a man that was a murderer, liar, and adulterer. The resemblance of the man that was anointed king looked completely different. David, after his encounter with Nathan, realized that a restoration project was absolutely required, and he understand the process could and would be painful. He utilized phrases like the following statements: wash me thoroughly, purge me, bones you have broken, and blot out. All of these statements were used before David could even get to a point that he felt like he could ask God to create something new in him.

I have been so dirty before as a child, and even as an adult that I had to wash thoroughly. It is not comfortable. You feel, and you probably are removing a layer of skin in the process. Purging does not sounds any better… one definition is an abrupt or violent removal. Anything broken takes time to mend, and blotting out can take some time as well.

All of this took time prior to David being able to be restored by God.

This can be a little disconcerting. Usually though, the process of restoration takes exponentially less time that the time the restored product can be utilized. The furniture that I restored for my children will probably be able to last until their kids need some furniture (that may be 30-40 years from now. Caroline isn’t allowed to leave our house, and Griff can start dating after he has his post-graduate degree). My cousins battery has a guarantee of 10 year life. This is much longer than the 45 minutes I spent in frustration with her laughing at me.

The restoration that David went through is well chronicled. He had some heartache, but because of the brief time of restoration. Jesus Christ is one of his direct descendants, and this means that salvation for the entire known world came through a man that went through a process that was difficult so he could have restoration.

If we find ourselves in need of restoration. We cannot not keep waiting. The longer we wait, the more work we will have to put into the restoration process. If you have already been restored… watch out for rust or things not working well, and run preventative maintenance checks.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He RESTORES my soul… (Psalm 23:1-3)

 

I am sure I am not the only person that floats through this world that becomes annoyed when Walmart or Target begin to set out holiday decorations way too early. Hobby Lobby is probably the worst offender out of everyone. Their Christmas decorations will be on display as soon as there is a hint that fall is around the corner… There are plenty of seemingly normal individuals that get some sense of joy out of these notifications that the holidays are approaching. How this is possible? I have no clue…

The day after Valentine’s Day, I saw a sign that said “66 Days Until Easter” at my local Neighborhood Walmart… So now I have no excuse, I have been notified. Today the same sign has been updated to report that we have 54 days left until Easter.

I had this sense of foreboding in my mind, and my mind began to wonder.

I wonder what Jesus Christ was thinking about 54 days prior to Easter… I cannot imagine going through life, completing the miracles, and teaching thousands knowing that he was not many days away from torture, humiliation, and ultimately his death.

I wonder how many times prior to the Garden of Gethsemane that the our Savior wrestled with that date that was quickly approaching on his calendar. I cannot imagine the turmoil that went through his mind. Jesus had great knowledge of the prophet Isaiah’s writings. I wonder how many times when he was reading did he want to skip over Isaiah 53…

How painful was this understanding?

How could he continue to go through with his ministry and purpose?

Why would he?

All of these thoughts and questions I have today are rooted in one main question… Why does Jesus Christ love us that much?

Isaiah reported that we would not desire him. That he was despised and rejected. That he was well acquainted with sorry and grief. Our Savior would bear our griefs and sorrows and we would look on him with contempt. He was pierced and crushed for our sins. The beatings that he took was for our ability to gain peace, and because of the wounds he obtained we have opportunity for healing.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their inequities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

He interceded for us.

What a Savior! He knew all of this was coming to him. He had a complete and full understanding of what it was going to take to redeem our lives, and he silently accepted his fate.

You and I were destined to live eternally apart from Him. Jesus Christ could not accept this understanding, and made the decision to give us every opportunity to make Heaven our home.

I am thinking of Easter today. I am not thinking about bunnies, eggs, candy, or any other trinkets. My thoughts center on the eternal gift that Jesus provided. I cannot adequately put into words how thankful I am that Jesus Christ loves me and took a premeditated trip to Calvary for me!