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Be Strong In The Lord

The sermon from August 23, 2015, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is included in this blog post (both the video and the manuscript).   The sermon is titled:  “Be Strong In The Lord”

The sound is a little off.  I plugged the sound cord in the wrong spot.  But you can still hear the sermon pretty well.  Or you can jump down to the manuscript and read it if you’d like,

There are several links on this page to make such SHARING much easier. If the blog publisher provides ways to subscribe to RSS feed, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media site…please join/follow/like – whatever the right term is for that media.

You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

Be Strong in the Lord

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.

“BE STRONG!”

We’ve heard it said many times and in many ways.

Hang tough.  Hang in there! Don’t give up! Never quit!

Keep your head up and keep your heart strong!

Keep calm and carry on!

We try to live by these sentiments.  We even bring these ideals into our faith.  We tie these words and phrases into what we call “the victorious Christian life.” When we gather in places like this, we are told (and we tell others) to hang on, to hang tough, and “be strong.”

Along with these inspirational slogan we develop a “to-do” lists of activities which we associate with the admonition to “be strong.’

If I’d just read my Bible more often…

If I’d just attend church more regularly…

If I’d just pray a little more every day…

If I’d just tithe regularly…

If I’d just do more good deeds…

If I’d just be a better witness to those who are not yet believers…

If I’d just (you fill in the blank), that would prove to God that I am “being strong” and I would experience a victorious Christian life.

But let’s be honest.  All this is bunch on bunk.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I am not saying that praying, reading your Bible, or attending worship, are not GOOD thing to do.  What I am saying is that doing these things does not put us on a pathway toward victory.  They do not  achieve, obtain, or create victory in the Christian life.

I know that flies in the face of the prevailing myth of religious life.  We live by the notion that it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy and to make ourselves acceptable to God.  We must “be strong.”

So, we spend a great deal of our lives on a religious treadmill trying to walk faster and last longer.  We keep rededicating our lives and redoubling our efforts.  Yet no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

We have prayed and prayer, but still there is that emptiness.

We have read your Bible…

…gone to church

…given your tithes

…engaged in good deeds

…witnessed to anything that moved

…and yet victory still seems to elude us.

Our lives seem to be a mess.  Or, maybe everything is going our way and it all looks good on paper, but something still seems missing.

I have heard it expressed many times and in many ways:

“Pastor, I don’t know what I am doing wrong.  I’m saying my prayers.  I’d reading my Bible.  I go to church, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough.”

You have hung in there.  You’ve remained tough.  You’ve given it your best shot.  You have tried to be STRONG, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

Maybe you feel a little bit like that boxer in the ring.  He was giving it his best effort, but no matter how fast he moved or how hard he punch, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  The other guy was beating him up badly.

Each time the bell rang, he’d go out to the center of the ring and fight with all his might.  Whenever a round ended, he’d stumble back to his corner, bruised, battered, and exhausted – not sure if he could keep going.

Between each round, his trainer would give him the same pep talk:
“Man, you are doing great out there.  You’re moving good.  You’re hitting hard.  That other guy hasn’t even laid a glove on you.”

After about three round of this same pep talk, the boxer replied, “Well you’d better keep an eye on that referee, cause somebody out there is beating the crud out of me.”

We understand that feeling.  We try to BE STRONG, yet no matter how much effort we bring to the table, it just doesn’t seem to be enough.  It feels like somebody is beating the crud out of us.

Today, I want to say something that is counterintuitive to all we’ve been taught about being strong.  I want us to know that that Bible’s teaching contradicts the “try harder and live stronger” philosophy of life.  I want to tell you that the true path to victory in the Christian life is different than most of us have been led to believe.

We’ve spent the last five weeks in the Epistle to the Ephesians.  We have heard Paul speak about the richness of God’s goodness.  He has led us in a doxology of praise for the bountiful grace which God has lavished upon us in Christ Jesus.  He has told us about the all encompassing nature of God’s love.  He has told us that Jesus is the supreme revelation of who God in and what God is like.

Paul has laid out the theological foundation for the entirety of the Christian life.  He is saying that everything flows from God.  He tells us that we do not live for God so that God will bless us, but from God, because we have already been blessed.

Today we come to Paul’s concluding words to the Ephesians and he repeats this lesson.  We are not advise to hang tough, try harder, or to “be strong!”  The text is  deeper and wider than mere simple words of motivation and inspiration.  Paul writes:

…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power

I think I’ve told you about the time Jeana was invited to sing at a revival on the Eastern Shore.  She sang an old familiar hymn.

“My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed.  I trust the ever Living Word, his wounds for me shall bleed.  I need no other argument, I need no other plea.  It is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

When she finished singing, the revival speaker got up and preceded to berate the congregation for their lack of faith.  He spoke of there need to work more diligently, try harder, and be stronger.  Basically, he was saying that grace of the scriptures, which Jeana had just sang about in that old hymn, was not enough.

After about 30 minutes of laying this guilt trip on the congregation, he took out a handkerchief, wiped it across his brow, and said:  “I don’t know about you people, but I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

At that point, I could not contain myself.  I leaned over toward Jeana and said:  “Either way, he’s out!”

The counsel of scripture is not that we BE STRONG.  Such advice throws us back onto ourselves.  It makes victory dependent on our effort, rather than on the Spirit of God.  This is why Paul is so passionate about the richness of God’s grace.  God grace is not simply about our redemption.  It is also God’s resource given to us in Christ, that we might live.

…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power

My friend Steve McVey writes, “There is no victory in OUR DOING, but in His dying.”

Not just HIS dying…but OUR dying as well.

In the book of Galatians we learn “we are crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live.  Yet it is not us, but Christ living in us.”

In Romans six, Paul references our baptism as symbolic of our being “buried with him in baptism unto death, and raise to walk in the newness of life with him.”

The call of discipleship is not to try harder, but to give up our effort.  The call is to rely, trust, depend, and live from the resources of God’s grace lavishly pour out into our lives.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”

We have been led to believe that the pathway to all success (even in matter of faith) comes in hard work, stubborn determination, and rugged individualism.  We are told we need to BE STRONG.  I am rising today to tell you that just the opposite is true.  The victorious Christian life begins when we admit our weakness and express our trust totally and without reservation into God’s grace embrace.

It’s like that first song most of us learned in church if we attended as children.

“Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tell me so, little one to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong

Victory comes when we admit that we are weak, but he is strong.

I love that phrase from the text: “the POWER of HIS MIGHT.”

The Greek word translated “MIGHT” is dunamis.  It means power, force, might, ability, efficacy, and energy – things expressed in God’s powerful deeds and marvelous works.”

Dunamis is at the root from which we get our modern word “dynamite.”  So, if we wanted to give this verse a modern spin, it might read:  “Be strong in the LORD and in the dynamite of his life.”

Think about this.  The power that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead is the same power that resides in you.   We live by the power and strength of the indwelling Christ.

Now we need to understand something here.  We need to know that faith is not a “sit back and hope for the best” style of living.  God’s grace equips us, strengthens us, and gives us power.  But what good if God’s power within us if we don’t actually live out of that power.

Paul is not teaching that we stand back and do nothing.  Paul’s tells us that we are in a struggle.  Paul tells us gear up and get engaged.

He speaks about putting on the full armor of God.

He says that God gives us…

…a belt of truth

…a breastplate of righteousness

…a pair shoes fitted with the gospel of peace

…a shield of faith to protect us from evil

…a helmet of salvation

…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

 

And he speaks about the importance of prayer as a means of remaining intimately aware of God’s love, grace, and provisions.

All these are resources, gifts, provision of grace, given by God so that we can live a bold and courageous life.

I saw a news report recent about a young man at MCV who was paralyzed by due to some injury. He had very little use in either are and was told he would never walk again.

But he is walking.  He was fitted with a robotic “suit.” The suit is connected to his brain and nervous system.  It really cool.  When he thinks about walking…the suit allow him to walk. When he thinks about throwing a ball, the suit allows him to pick up a ball and throw a ball.  He said he felt like Ironman.

The boy was fitted with a power suit that allowed him to live a more productive, meaningful life.

That’s what the armor of God is like.  God has fitted us with a grace powered suit.  That suit allows the gospel to be expressed in our lives.   That suit makes us strong.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!”

“Put on the whole armor of God.”

Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You
by: Steve McVey
publisher: Harvest House Publishers, published: 2014-08-01
ASIN: 0736959823
EAN: 9780736959827
sales rank: 92403
price: $5.01 (new), $4.78 (used)

How would your life change if you really believed and could even feel that God is absolutely crazy about you?

Steve McVey’s penetrating new look at the transforming power of God’s grace leads you to that change. Steve unpacks the biblical revelation of the Trinity as a loving relationship, and he highlights the goal of history: God intends to include us in that circle of love! Steve answers troubling questions that can keep you from fully sensing God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, such as…

  • Why does God look like a bad cop in the Old Testament and a good cop in the New Testament?
  • At Calvary, was the Father angry at the Son? Is He ever angry with me?
  • Why do I sometimes feel separated from God, abandoned, guilty, and ashamed?

Theologians have described the Trinity as perichoresis?a dance. Are you ready to be swept into the Father’s embrace?

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