Onward Christian Soldiers

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Judges 7:2-8 (NIV)
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
New Testament Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 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. 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. 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. 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.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Message: “Onward Christian Soldiers”
“You have too many men.” No commanding officer would ever tell their subordinate such a thing when they were sending them into battle, “You have too many men.” And yet that is what God told Gideon. And then after sending 2/3 of the army home, God said, “There are still too many men.” God then gives them a test and those 300 that passed (or perhaps those that failed) were left to go into battle against the scourge of the Middle East.
The Midianites ranged from one end of the area to the other, destroying everything in their path. And then they would turn around and go back just as people were beginning to rebuild, looting, pillaging and destroying it all over again. The Midianites were not just constantly at war, they were a living, breathing war machine. And God in his wisdom, weans Gideon’s army of 32,000 down to 300 and sends them into battle. And guess what! This mighty, terrifying swarm of living weapons runs away. God didn’t need an army. He just needed a few men who believed that God would give the victory.
Onward Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe. Forward into battle. See His banners go!
Yes, the Prince of Peace is leading the charge into battle. And we (you and I) are to follow into the fight. This is not a battle over land or resources or ideologies as human wars are fought. This is a test of the ultimate good over the ultimate evil with our (yours and my) eternal lives at stake.
For many years I thought that being a Christian meant fighting a defensive battle. I thought we were to defend ourselves against the onslaught of Satan and his followers. Then one day as I was reading the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, where Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah. It is such a familiar story and yet I saw something that I had never seen before. It stood out almost like a flashing light and I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before. Look here where Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Wait! What? The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church! The gates of hell are not attacking the church (you and I). You and I are attacking the gates of hell! This is not a defensive battle. We are on the offence. We are to take the battle to the very gates of hell.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does hell have gates?” Well, it is certainly not to keep us out of hell! Satan is trying his damnedest to get us in there! Literally! The gates are to keep the lost from getting away.
Now here is some sad news. Satan didn’t build the gates of hell. We built the gates of hell and of our sins are they constructed. Our sin was keeping us from coming into the full presence of God. And Satan wants us securely locked behind those gates of sin.
You see the-great-liar has people convinced that once they have sinned that they are forever lost! That they are not good enough for God to love them. That they will have to work really hard to earn God’s love. That God can never forgive or forget what they have done. And Satan is always there to keep reminding us of how unworthy we are.
And, as all strong lies are, it is partially true. We are unworthy. We can never earn God’s forgiveness. We can never do enough good to make up for the bad that we have done. We can not balance the scales of justice. We are guilty!
The devil really does not want anyone hearing the good news; that by simply accepting the free gift of salvation, by accepting the Jesus is our Lord, we can break down our own personal hell’s gate. For you see, Jesus died to set us (all of human kind) free from the judgment of eternal damnation. That’s right. Simply by praying the sinner’s prayer, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.” From that point on, we are free, no matter how often the liar whispers in our ear. For Christ died once, for all. His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of all sin … of everyone’s sin.
By believing in our heart and confessing with our tongue that Jesus is Lord, we have broken down our own personal gate of hell. But we are called upon to do more. We are to attack the gates of sin that others have built for themselves. We are to share the good news that Jesus’ blood has cleansed away our sins. We are no longer separated from the fullness of God’s love.
Years ago I heard a story about fleas. No, wait, I haven’t gotten off the topic, I promise. Did you know that a flea can jump vertically up to seven inches? That is 200 times its body length. I’m six foot tall. If I was able to jump 200 times my height, that would be 1200 feet straight up! I’d have a big S on my chest and a cape on my back … but I’d skip the spandex tights! Not a sight anyone would want to see.
Okay, now I’ve gotten a little off topic. However, I needed you to understand what remarkable jumping abilities fleas have. If you were to put a flea in a quart jar, it could easily jump out! No big deal for a little flea. However, the story goes that if you put a flea in a jar and put the lid on the jar, the flea will jump and hit the lid and not be able to get out. It will try again and again and again. Each time it will hit the lid. Eventually, the flea will jump just high enough that it no longer hits the lid. After that, even if you remove the lid, the flea will not jump out. It is trapped under a lid that is no longer present.
Many people are trapped behind their own personal gate of hell even though the gate is gone. Jesus has already set everyone (you, me, the guy across the street, and the guy on the other side of the world … everyone) free! We have the obligation, the command, to let people know that they are free. We don’t have to save them … they are already saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. We just have to let them know that the gates of hell are gone. And by simply believing in their heart and confessing the Jesus is Lord, they can step into the presence of Almighty God without fear of damnation but with the confidence of a child of God.
Here is the “warning label” that is attached to every Christian: So gear up with the armor of God: “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.” If you become (or became) a Christian thinking that suddenly your life was going to be all sunshine and roses or milk and honey, you have another thought coming. By giving your life over to God, your eternal life is secure. However, you still have to live in this broken world with all of its daily troubles. Remember Jesus told his followers in Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I doubt that the devil spends much time tormenting those he already holds captive. Their choices will carry enough consequences so that he can turn his attention to his main activity. His target is the man or woman of God. He will use every trick he can to make you turn away from God. Remember his response in the book of Job when “the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” And 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
· The belt of truth: The devil is a crafty liar. And quite often he tells the truth in a way meant to deceive. Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe how the devil even quoted the scriptures to Jesus in order to tempt him. Keep the belt of truth securely around you that you many neither be deceived nor deceive others.
· The breastplate of righteousness: Righteousness does not simply mean “being right” it means “being right with God”. To be righteous we must act within the will of God.
· The shield of faith: Faith is one of the most misunderstood concepts of Christianity. I have faith that if I hold this book at arms length and let go, it will fall. That is a secular type of faith. We have faith in gravity because we have seen its effects before. Religious faith is to believe in the unseen and often unverifiable word of God. To the nonbeliever, this kind of faith is foolishness. Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
· The helmet of salvation: The helmet of salvation covers our head and protects our mind, the seat of our knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the devil will work to deceive us by attacking that which we believe. Trust in your salvation. It is enough protection because Satin can not take it away from you. Romans 8:39 “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
· The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: The sword is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. So is the word of God, the Bible. Read it. Study it. Live it. The best way to keep from being deceived is to know the truth. The only way to know the truth is by the word of God. And if we are to fulfill the commandment to go into the entire world a share the gospel, we need to have the sword of the spirit to cut trough the enemy’s defenses and free the captive.
· And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace: the gospel of peace is the good news that we are no longer at war with God as we were in our sinful nature. The gospel of peace means that we are in a battle to save not destroy, to release not to take captive, and not to destroy the enemy but to befriend him. (I’m speaking here of the souls held in bondage). Jesus declared that we are to love our enemies. What fantastic wisdom that is. If we love them, they are no longer an enemy we have “killed them with kindness.”
And rejoice in each victory while remembering the lesson that God gave to Gideon: God intentionally sent a weakened army against one of the mightiest armies of the ancient world so that men could not boast about the victory. The victory is God’s. We are just the vessels. No man or army of men could stand against a battle with the devil. But one man plus God is more than a match for anything that the evil one can muster. By wrapping ourselves in God’s armor, we are ready to both defend and attack. So go, not in your own might, but in the name of God in the armor of God and the gates of hell will fall away. Thanks bye to God. Amen.

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Foolishness of God

New Testament: : Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel: John 16:12-15

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Message: “Foolishness of God” Tom Williams

Our message title “Foolishness of God” comes from 1 Corinthians 1:25 where Paul writes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man.”

We are going to look at our scripture reading a little bit at a time and try to gain a deeper understanding of what Paul is saying to us.

It begins with, 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified

Justified is a legal term which means that, under the law, we have been declared innocent or guiltless. We have been legally absolved of our actions. We have been acquitted of all charges brought against us under the law.

Wait a minute! This is the same Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And now he is saying that we are justified. Maybe we need to understand just what justification is and what it is not.

Justified does NOT mean that the person was innocent it means only that they could not be PROVEN guilty.

Now, we can all think of court cases where the guilty have been set free because of a technicality of the law. Every lawyer is looking for that loophole in the law that will get his client absolved of the charges.

So the truth is that we are guilty!

We might be innocent of nine of the Ten Commandments but every one of us is guilty of at least one. However, according to Jewish scholars, there are actually 633 commandments of God … not just the 10 that Moses brought down the mountain. Those were just the big broad strokes of the law. The other 623 were detailed explanation of the basic ten and detailed in Leviticus. We have a tendency to think in terms of BIG sins and small sins. That is not the way God sees things.

Here is an example: Lev 5:2 “If you touch anything unclean – the unclean dead body of a wild or tame animal or the body of an unclean, swarming creature … and then ignore what you did, you are unclean and will be guilty.”

Have you ever touched the dead body of a swarming creature (think fly or mosquito) and then not confessed it before God and made a guilt offering to the Lord?

Is it any wonder than that Paul, who was well trained in the Law, could say, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?”

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to keep the law and remain right before God. And since God is holy, and his very presence is fatal to sin, we as sinful people are under a death sentence for our sin.

I’m not going to ask you to name your guilt … just recognize it. Just understand that we were under a death sentence and have now been absolved by our faith. As it says in our reading, Therefore, since we are justified by faith,

Here is another term that we use but do we truly understand what it means? What is faith?

Voltaire, the French philosopher, said, “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”

Saint Augustine in the fifth century said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Martin Luther King Junior said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Saint Paul said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1 )

Now we have faith … not just any faith… not faith in ourselves … not faith in our government … not faith in our church. We have faith in that through Jesus, God has eliminated our sins.

This is where that “Foolishness of God” comes into this message.

I will admit that this concept of faith was what held me back from becoming a Christian. This whole book is full of things that are just plain foolish to those without faith. Through faith the truth is revealed. So take the first step, even if you can’t see the second step. Seldom does God reveal the entire path. Often it is only after the first step that the second step is revealed. And after the second step the third step is revealed. And so on. The first step is to believe in God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth. The second step is to believe in Jesus Christ His only son. The third step, believe in the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus said, will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. These steps you have started … but where your path will lead … only God knows. What I do know is that through these steps of faith we will be at peace with God.

We have peace with God

Peace with God. Once we were at war with God. In our selfishness we put our own desires and our own agendas before the will of God. By being self-centered instead of God-centered we were stopping the flow of blessings that God had for us. By following our own path we were lost and unable to save ourselves. God, who was never far from us, made a way through Jesus Christ.

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

By acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus over our lives we have received the grace of God. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Every knee shall bow to him. And the sooner we realize His Lordship, the sooner we bow our knee to him, the sooner the Grace of God can be ours.

Grace, the unearned gift of redemption can only come when we truly say to God, “Not my will but thine.” We can only be filled with God when we are empty of self.

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

Now, do you remember what I said a minute ago about this book being full of foolishness? Here is one of those “foolish” concepts. Boasting in our sufferings or as the English Standard version says, “we rejoice in our sufferings.”

Now that is foolish outside of a personal relationship with God.

When you read the Old Testament and you’ll find very clearly that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. The concept was that bad things were punishment from God for some sin in the person’s life. And the reverse was also believed to be true. If you were a Godly person and right with Him then everything would go your way.

It is amazing how that concept believed and promoted by the religious leaders even though a cursory glance at the lives of the prophets, judges and other Great Men of God. Let’s look at Moses the most revered of those great men.

As a baby he was cast adrift in the Nile River (think man-eating crocodiles … no wonder he had a stutter as an adult), raised by the oppressor of his people, and went from a position of power and wealth (as a member of Pharaoh’s household) to a wanted fugitive living in the wilderness raising sheep. Ordered by God to go do battle with Pharaoh and gain release of the captives. After winning their release, he had to lead this undisciplined, argumentative, disobedient multitude of people to the Promised Land, where they refused to go in. He then had to lead them in wandering the dessert for forty years before bringing them back to the Promised Land. And for his faithfulness … he died alone on a mountain overlooking the Promised Land that he wasn’t allowed to enter.

As strange as this concept of Troubles as a Sign of Sin was. It still persists today. How often I have prayed, “Why me, God? Why me? I’ve been faithful. Why?”

Here is what Jesus told his disciple and also the religious leaders of the day when they asked the same question.

9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

That the works of God should be revealed.

I hope that, like me, you can look back on your life and see where those times of hardship and loss have moved you to a place where God could bless you. It is usually easy to see in hind-sight. I’m trying to see it in fore-sight.

I found this posted on Facebook and I think it explains this better than I can.

I am quoting now.

“For some time now, I have been trying to put together a presentation to raise awareness for ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Finally after much help I have come up with something. I could have given lots of numbers, statistics and other generalities, but it was suggested I tell my story.

First a little background about me. I was born January 20, 1958, the oldest of 3 boys in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most of my childhood was spent in Taneytown, Maryland before moving to Iowa in 1976. Like most boys I played sports. Lots of sports. As I said to the youth group a year ago, sports was my “god”. My parents split up when I was 11, so God was not a focal point in my life. Which now seems strange as my mom was raised in the church, choir member etc., and my dad’s dad was a preacher. I accepted Jesus as my savior at 19, but took a long time to live a Christian type life .Little did I know that God in His infinite wisdom was preparing me for this difficult, yet absolutely wonderful journey.

Like many others it has not been a smooth road. It did help determine, build and grow the faith I have today, though. The last 4-5 years have been particularly difficult. A divorce, raising 5 boys alone, and the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Thus I adopted the verse from Job13:15, “Tough He slay me I will hope in Him.”, as my own. Which is ironic in itself, because I once told Pastor Kent , I had very little hope. Mostly because it was placing hope in man rather then God I learned. Now I come to consider my disease a blessing rather than a curse. Yes, a blessing! Roman 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amazing!! In this I know He isn’t done with me yet. He still has great plans, purpose and use of this dreadful sinner. What lies ahead, I am not sure of it all, but I do know He strengthens me in ways I was unable to do on my own. For that I am grateful will humbly go where I am led.”

End quote

Do you see how this man came to realize that his disability was a blessing? I’m not talking about “when life gives you lemonade”. I’m saying that when life gives you lemons, praise God and thank Him for the lemons and ask Him what to do with them.

Sometimes WE have to fail … to have our world crash around us, for God to be revealed. I was taught and raised to be self-reliant. That means that I’m one of those guys who struggles and bulls my way through something without asking for help. And when one of my friends says, “Why didn’t you call me?”, I have to admit that it never occurred to me to ask for help. I do the same thing with God … sometimes. We’re working on that. Sometimes my self-reliance, my self-will, has to fail … for me to accept what God has in mind for me.

There is a famous prayer by John Wessley which I believe speaks to his own struggle with self-will. It reads,

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

I like this prayer because it is so much more eloquent than a prayer that I had started to pray but still says the same thing. My prayer goes, “God, lead me, push me, pull me, place me where I am to be and doing what I’m to do. I give you permission to override my will with yours. Amen.”

And what is the result of our suffering? Our scripture says,

Suffering produces endurance

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

So, since we know that God will use ALL of our circumstances for our ultimate good – we rejoice in our suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to rejoice FOR our suffering. We just have to apply that Foolishness of God principle and have faith that God has a blessing for us that we can only receive by passing through the time of trial. God will then be able to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God! Amen.

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