Strengthening the Shield

The pastor of my church has been preaching a sermon series on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6), and he recently focused on the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. The shield shown in the picture is a replica that might be used for ceremonial purposes, while an authentic, period correct knight’s shield like this would likely be found in a museum. Notice how nice and shiny and pristine this shield is.

A real shield that’s seen combat looks nothing like the one in the picture. A shield that was used in warfare by an ancient foot soldier is going to have creases, dents, dings, scratches, gouges. I say this because if my own shield of faith was an actual metal shield right now, it would probably more closely resemble the hood of a car after a north Texas hail storm.

Jesus taught in John 15,“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” And He finished that teaching with a reference to Psalms 35 and 69 that speak of one who is hated for no reason. I’ve experienced some of that recently along with some other things I just don’t understand. I’ve experience hatred from people I hardly know. I’ve been blamed for things I had no hand in. And we’ve had to deal with some pain within our family. My shield of faith and helmet of salvation have taken a beating the past few months, and I ask you to pray and ask God to hammer out some of the dents.

As I’ve come to learn, the very things that attack our spiritual shield of faith are the things that make our faith stronger. How so? With an actual metal shield, dents and creases do not weaken the metal. They make it stronger (though aesthetically, it may not be much to look at after a couple of battles). The dents and dings and creases caused by repeated blows from swords and hammers and axes and clubs would actually increase the strength of the metal through a process called work hardening. It’s a process that’s still used today, though with much more modern  tooling. The more a piece of metal is bent and creased and hammered on, the harder and stronger it becomes. Over time, ancient metal smiths learned how to work harden metal using hammers and dollies and anvils as a means of adding strength to objects like…….shields, and helmets, and swords.

The same principle apples to our spiritual shield of faith. As we go through the battles of trials and adversity, our faith in God is made stronger. Bad news from your doctor, a betrayal by a friend, the loss of a job, an adult child who no longer speaks to you; all of these can feel like hammer blows to your shield of faith and let there be no doubt, Satan tries to use these kinds of trials to get you to drop your shield, to throw away your faith. Remember, the stresses that bend and stretch and compress a piece of metal make it stronger and in the same way – so long as we hold onto the shield of faith – God can use the stresses in our lives life to draw us closer to Him and to strengthen our relationship with Him. The trials of life increase our dependence on His mercies and grace, and they teach us to rely on His strength instead of our own.

James wrote that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or patience as other translations state. A knight’s shield in a museum on static display is representative of a faith that has never been put to the test. It looks good but it’s never been battle tested. Likewise, a shield used for ceremonial purposes is like faith that is for appearance’s sake only. It’s all for show and like a museum piece, it really has no function. God allows trials and adversity to come into our lives NOT because he wants to hurt us or punish us. He allows them in order to test us. And ultimately, He allows them in order to strengthen us. Men and women of strong faith, in the power of God, use that bad news from the doctor to minister to others. People of strong faith pray for the friend who betrayed them. People of strong faith turn to God for provision when their jobs end suddenly. People of strong faith give grace to an adult child who has cut off all contact.

James went on to write, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The hammer blows against the shield of faith come by way of trials and adversity and hardships. Sometimes we may wish there weren’t so many or that they could come a little less often. But when they do come, we can be assured it’s not because God has left our side, or because He has abandoned us. The scripture is very clear on that. God will never leave us or abandon us. No. For the faithful, committed Christian, when the hammer blows come against the shield of faith, it’s a sure sign that God is by our side!


Living Without Hope

In 1916, a college football game between tiny Cumberland College (located in Lebanon, Tennessee) and Georgia Tech resulted in the most lopsided score in college football history. Georgia Tech won the game 222 – 0. That is not a typo. Two-hundred and twenty-two to nothing. There’s more to the story though.

You see, just prior to the beginning of the 1916 season, Cumberland College discontinued its football program. However, just as colleges and universities still do today, Cumberland had signed an agreement to play Georgia Tech a few years prior to the 1916 season. But Georgia Tech’s athletic director and head coach John Heisman (yes, THAT John Heisman as in….Heisman Trophy), would not allow Cumberland to cancel its game, threatening a lawsuit if they did, even though the football team had been disbanded and the coaching staff had dispersed.

Heisman not only coached Georgia Tech’s football team, he was also the baseball coach and it’s generally believed that Heisman wanted to pay Cumberland back for a 22 – 0 defeat that Georgia Tech’s baseball team had suffered at the hands of the Cumberland College baseball team the year before. Heisman, along with several sports writers, accused Cumberland of using professional baseball players as ringers and he was eager to settle the score. He even offered to pay all the expenses of the Cumberland players out of his own pocket. In that day and time, even large colleges operated on a shoe string budget and could ill afford the expenses associated with a lawsuit. A lawsuit would have certainly forced a small school like Cumberland to close its doors. So rather than face off against Georgia Tech in a court of law, one of the students was persuaded by Cumberland administrators to put together a team and head off to Atlanta and face Georgia Tech on the football field.

And so this student, a young man by the name of George E. Allen (no relation to the NFL coach George Allen of later years), put together a team of scrubs who had absolutely no experience playing, or knowledge of, the game of football whatsoever. All told, Allen, who was both player and coach, was only able to round up 14 men, most of whom were members of his fraternity. That same Georgia Tech team would go on to win the national championship the following year, so it’s not difficult to imagine how one sided the game was.

What the Cumberland students did might seem insane to us; they committed themselves to something that was completely hopeless. They didn’t stand a chance and they knew it going in. It might seem insane and we might think we’d never make a commitment to a hopeless cause. But here’s the reality: People do it every day.

In Isaiah chapter 55, God poses this question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?” This doesn’t mean that God is saying that we should only spend money on the most basic necessities. Within the context of Isaiah 55, it’s a question that asks why we pursue things that offer no hope, no hope for an empty soul, no hope for redemption, no hope for reconciliation with God. There are things that matter in this world, and things that don’t. Why waste time and energy on the things that don’t matter? That’s what God is really asking.

Centuries before Isaiah lived, Solomon came to realize that the pursuit of anything not done for the glory of God is meaningless and he summed it all up in Ecclesiastes: If we are living apart from God, nothing we do on this earth matters, regardless of what we do or how much we have. Apart from God, all earthly pursuits are but hopeless causes.

Think about it like this: If you were stuck in a dead end job with no hope for a raise or promotion, if there was never a chance for any sort of advancement, you’d look for another job. No one would deliberately remain in a hopeless situation if they had to the power to do something about it. But here’s something else to think about. How many people in the world today don’t realize they are in a hopeless situation? We might be tempted to think that all of this only applies to those who are neck deep in sinful living. And that is true. If they do not turn away from their sin, they are without hope. They will be separated from God for all eternity. But just as hopeless are all the good and decent people who live good lives, who go to work and pay their taxes, who teach their kids right from wrong, who treat their mates with love and respect, but yet they’ve failed to do the one thing that matters most; they have not accepted Jesus Christ. No matter how good and moral and decent they are, if they willfully turn away from Christ, they are as hopelessly lost as the worst sinners we can imagine. As Solomon pointed out, all that they do is meaningless.

That’s not what the world wants to hear, but it is what the world needs to hear. People need to hear that a life without God is a life without hope. They may not like it, but they need to hear the truth. And they need to hear the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

In John 5 verse 24, Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. To turn from death to life, from condemnation to salvation, that is the message of hope. Only Jesus can offer that. He takes away hopelessness, and replaces it with hope!

In the battle between the flesh and the spirit, we ask Jesus to step into the gap between the flesh and the spirit so the spirit of God within us may prevail.

The Consistency of Scripture

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 

Those two paragraphs are a compilation of scripture verses from the New Testament. But notice how it all flows together in to a central theme, faith, even though the passages were lifted from six different New Testament books. Granted, four of the passages are from letters written by the Apostle Paul (and perhaps five since it’s possible that Paul may have also written Hebrews), and there is a consistent content in all his letters, but still, you cannot do this with any other body of literature that I’m aware of. You cannot lift a paragraph from a chapter of a book written by Hemingway or Shakespeare and stitch it into another chapter of the same book and have it make any sense. It would be noticeable that something is out of place.

In his Forward to the most recent reprint of W.A. Criswell’s book, The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible, The Gospel Project’s managing editor Trevin Wax wrote, “The Bible is not simply a collection of interesting stories about morality but one overarching story about salvation found only in Jesus Christ.” This is not to say you can do this with every single passage or verse in the Bible. But because the Bible is the revelation of God to humanity from Genesis to Revelation, it is possible to select certain passages and group them with other passages and verses in a way that still flows together in a meaningful way as if what you’re reading was originally written that way to begin with.

These are the passages that were compiled to create the opening paragraphs:

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-23)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

 The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:6-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Here’s another example, picking up where that last verse from Romans 5 leaves off:

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. And now these three remain, faith, hope, love. But the greatest of these is love. Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

That was a blend of Psalms and New Testament passages.

To be clear,  I’m not attempting to reorder the word of God. In the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we’re warned about taking away from or adding to God’s word. The scarlet thread that Criswell used to illustrate the consistency of the message of salvation in scripture is a thread that is unbroken. A piece of thread can be balled up in the hand, coiled, or tied in a knot, but it is still an unbroken thread. And so it is with scripture. You can take certain select passages of scripture and arrange them with other verses and passages and the message being conveyed remains unbroken. No, I’m not trying to rearrange the word of God or take anything out of context. I’m simply pointing out the beauty that is God’s word. I’m highlighting the consistency of the message of salvation. Even when you take parts of passages and group them with others parts of scripture, the message is still unmistakable and undeniable.

Only God could write have written a book like that!

 
http://storage.cloversites.com/firstchurchofchrist1/documents/The%20Scarlet%20Thread.pdf