Monday, April 28, 2014

The More You Sweat In Training...

"The more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in battle." - Sign outside the US Navy Seals training camp.

My wife and I were discussing spiritual warfare recently, as our home, our health, our family, and the church we are currently attending seem to be the focal point of a spiritual attack. We have determined that, instead of asking God "Why us?" or "Deliver us" we have started praying - as the church in the book of Acts, chapter 4 prayed - for boldness, and for spiritual authority.

It so happened that yesterday evening, on the heels of our discussion about spiritual warfare, I heard the above quote: "The more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in battle." (A Google search gives all sorts of origins of the quotation, so I'm not sure where it actually originated.) When I heard that statement, I immediately related it to spiritual warfare, and the devastation that is being reeked among Christian churches today.

Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot wait until you're in the middle of combat to suddenly decide you need to attend Basic Training. You can't wait until you're going head-to-head with the enemy and discover your sword has grown dull, or that your shield is brittle and cracked, or (using more modern technology) that your M16 needs cleaning and, oh, by the way, all your magazines are empty, so good luck out there.

I didn't learn to play golf on a driving range, because I'm impatient, and just hitting a ball with seemingly no goal in mind was boring; I went straight to a course and started hitting the ball. (Granted, I had a lot of questions along the way, but my golfing buddy was very patient with me, and allowed me to "learn" as I went.) No such thing with combat. When I joined the Army, I spent the first 8 weeks in "Basic Training", learning to fire a weapon, learning hand-to-hand combat, learning how to wield a knife, how to disable an enemy, how to maneuver through combat situations in varying terrain, how to read a map. We even took a few trips through the gas chamber (literally), being instructed to remove our masks while inside the chamber so we could acquaint ourselves with the effects of the gas, and better learn to re-acquire our senses while still feeling the effects. (Fun times, believe me!)

My point is simply this: Far too many people of God are finding themselves locked into an attack by the powers of Hell, and find themselves woefully unprepared, untrained, and unfit for battle. The state of the church seems to be one of sickly, anemic, lethargic Christians who have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that everything was under control, that the church was doing great, that we're all happy and heaven-bound and the preacher's watching out for us. You can almost sense the bewilderment on some folks as to why folks are disappearing from church as fast (or faster!) than new ones are coming in; yet the answer is simple, ladies and gentlemen: the Church - as always - is under attack, and we are engaged in spiritual conflict.

Keep in mind that, in his letter to the Ephesians (ch. 6, vs. 12) the apostle Paul said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but..."  We DO wrestle! In another place, he stated, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God..." (2 Cor. 10:4)  As I mentioned to my wife, "If you have weapons of warfare, that's because you're going to war." 

Jesus Himself taught the disciples "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matt. 11:12) Salvation is free, friends and neighbors, but getting to Heaven will cost you. The "New Birth" experience is exactly that: a birth. It's the starting point, not the finish line. From the moment you make that decision to give your life to God, Hell determines to do everything it can to prevent you. And the Devil will use whatever means necessary to stop you.

Don't wait until you're in the middle of a spiritual assault to suddenly decide you need to pray more, read your Bible more, fast a meal now and then, go to church faithfully, etc etc. The more you pray now, the more you strengthen yourself with the Word of God, the more you set aside your own desires, and start looking to the things of the Spirit, the better equipped you'll be when Hell throws down the gauntlet. And it will throw down the gauntlet, sooner or later.

The more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in battle.

Sharpen your sword while you can.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Your Special Sauce Isn't Necessary

Some time back, an elder minister friend whom I held in very high esteem was teaching a large group of young people; I was in the classroom when this happened (although I certainly wasn't one of the 'young people'!) so this is not a "I heard it through the grapevine" story.

During the course of his lesson, my friend started telling the openly-debunked story of kidney harvesters. (Remember the old internet stories about waking up in a bathtub full of ice, with IVs attached?). I hesitated to interrupt him (he was an elder, after all, and was in the middle of teaching a class full of young, impressionable kids), but didn't want him to tell a story that most of those kids either knew - or would find out - was simply not true, so I finally interrupted him and said, "That story is actually known to be an urban legend and never really happened." His reply, as he held up a "Don't stop me now" hand, was "Bro. Shubert, you may be right, but it's still a great story, and I want to tell it for the impact..."

He lost "Hero" status in my eyes that day, giving in—I hope only momentarily—to the old "Never let truth stand in the way of a good story" adage.

As preachers, we all have a tendency to embellish, for whatever reasons. Maybe we like the shock effect; maybe we're trying to use a "Soup For The Soul" story to encourage someone; perhaps we're trying desperately to reach that one life that's hanging by a thread...

But can we really justify altering - or embellishing - the Word of God just for the sake of doing what, in reality, only God can do? We are not called to save souls; only God can do that. No amount of pleading, begging, cajoling, or mesmerizing preaching on my part will ever save a life or change a heart.

We are called to be His messengers; that means running with the message that He - the King of Glory - has given us. We are not given the liberty or justification to change, alter, embellish, or diminish the message: just deliver it.

The Word of God, ladies and gentlemen, will stand on its own. There is no need for me to add my own "special sauce" for it to do what only it can do. It saves, delivers, heals, changes, and liberates lives on its own merit. Let us always be mindful of the awesome power of God's Word, and let us preach with fear, reverence, and honor the undiluted Word of God.