Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dress for Sucess Part 1

Dress for Success

Can you remember a book that you read the year you turned 16?  Did you read any books the year you turned 16?  As most of you know, I am a reader.  My parents read to me as a child, then I graduated into comic books, anything from Casper the Friendly Ghost and the crew from Archie to any number of war comics, super hero comics and spooky comics.   And then I started reading western novels and spy novels.  I’ve slowed down in my reading, it wasn’t that long ago that I tried to read three novels a week, and then it was two novels a week and now I no longer count the books but my goal is 500 pages of fiction a week.  Not bragging, it’s just a reality in my life. I love to read.  And because I read so much it’s not so easy to remember what I read and when I read it.  The upside of that is that it’s no problem for me to read a novel and enjoy a novel that I’ve already read. 

There are a few that I do remember.  In 1968 Action Comics had a five part series where Lex Luther infected Superman with Virus X and we thought he was going to die. I remember reading that, I was eight.  I remember staying up all one night in 1988 and reading “The Silence of the Lambs” in one sitting.  In the fall of 1990 I read an excerpt from a book in Readers Digest and ordered the book, which was really tough and expensive in Australia, but it became a favorite of mine it was written by Robert Kriegel and is “If it Ain’t Broke Break it”  I remember reading “User Friendly Churches” by George Barna in 1991 and “Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary” in 1993, they were two of the books that redefined my ministry and how I viewed church.

But the book I remember reading in 1976, the year I turned 16 was “Dress for Success”, it was written by John T. Molloy about the effect of clothing on a person's success in business and personal life.  “Why” you might ask “was 16 year old Denn Guptill reading Dress for Success”?   That year I started working part time for Tip Top Tailors and I wanted to be the best that I could be, I wanted to know what I was talking about and do the best possible job for my clients.  I didn’t consider myself a retail clerk or a men’s clothing salesman, my business cards said that I was a fashion consultant.  And I figured unless I wanted to go back to pumping gas in the cold that I better be good at what I was doing at Tip Top.

Three years late I became a Christ follower and as I started reading through the bible I discovered a section in the New Testament called “Dress for Success”, well not really.  It was the portion of scripture that was read for us earlier, it is often referred to as The Armour of God.  But Paul is really telling the early Christ followers how to dress for success.  

Last week my message focused on the battle that was being fought daily in the lives of Christians.   And so last week I walked you through this passage and noted a few things.  We Need to understand There is a Battle, We Need to Know Who The Enemy Isn’t, We Need to Know Who The Enemy Is, We Need to Dress for Battle and finally We Need to Remember Our Secret Weapon.  And while we were on the fourth point I said that we would come back and revisit it, and here we are. 

Now understand Paul wasn’t teaching a lesson on Roman armour, it was just a convenient illustrative device.  2000 years ago everyone knew what Roman armour looked like, and as a testimony to the strength of Paul’s illustration 2000 years later people still know what Roman armour looks like.  When Sajonna found this gentleman in Rome three years ago she didn’t think he was a bus driver or a waiter, she knew that he was a Roman soldier.

But it wasn’t Paul’s intent to teach about Roman armour, instead it was his intent to use Roman armour to teach about Christian character.  But instead of taking Paul’s advice about the armour we are supposed to wear too many Christians agree with Francis Bacon who wrote “The best armour is to keep out of gunshot.”  In that same vein, John Sedwick was a Union Army General during the US Civil War, his unit had come under fire from Confederate sharpshooters and were ducking for cover, in an attempt to rally his troops Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?" When his men continued to hide from the shooting the General said, "Why are you dodging like this? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."  Just minutes later Sedwick was fatally shot. 

Sometime I think that Christians feel that they are immune to the battle that Paul says is raging around us. Like Sedwick we feel that we are far enough away that we are safe, and then we aren’t.  Through the years I’ve talked to Christians who have failed in their faith, sometimes in spectacular ways who have said “I never saw it coming, I thought I had it all under control.”

But Paul was under no such illusion, he said very plainly, Ephesians 6:10-13  A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

In those three verses Paul warns Put on all of God’s armour, why?,  so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  And he adds For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  And in case they missed it he adds Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  You might remember that cardinal rule of bible study:  Whenever you see the word therefore you go back to see what it’s there for.  So, why are we supposed to put on every piece of God’s armour?  So we can stand firm against the strategies of the devil, because we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

And as a result, if you put on every piece of God’s Armour Paul promises that after the battle you will still be standing firm.

So what do we need to know about this armour of which Paul speaks?

Ephesians 6:11  Put on all of God’s armour . . .  It’s Not Some it’s All   Paul doesn’t suggest that we put on some of God’s armour, or most of God’s armour, or the parts we like.  Instead he tells us to put it all on.  And there’s a reason for that, it works best when it’s used together.   

I love food and I enjoy cooking, and sometimes I want to try something different and I end up at a recipe site on the interweb thingy.  And I love reading the comments when people complain about how the recipe turned out because they usually mention how they changed the recipe.  Instead of ½ a cup of this they only used a ¼ cup, and they didn’t have maple syrup so they used honey and they didn’t have reindeer so they used zebra.

And sometimes in our Christian walk it seems inconvenient to be dragging around all that armour and we are tempted to leave some of it behind.  And I would suspect that those in our church family who are in law enforcement would agree that some days body armour seems hot and bulky and uncomfortable, but they know that if they need it that it won’t do them any good hanging in their locker. 

And then Paul tells his readers,  Ephesians 6:14  Stand your ground,  . . .

Stand Your Ground  In every situation that we encounter we will choose how we will respond.  In some cases the very best option is to retreat or stand down.  There are times that Christians get sucked into discussions and conflicts that do nothing but harm the kingdom.  They aren’t about anything more than personal preference and traditions. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have preferences, but fighting over them is just dumb.  Sure we should talk about them and discuss them, but they shouldn’t be fought over.  At the end of the day we need to embrace the philosophy of John Wesley. Through his ministry he was sometimes in disagreement with George Whitfield, another prominent preacher of the day.  When Whitefield died Wesley wrote a memorial sermon that said “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature… In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…”   Paul was writing to Timothy, a young preacher that he mentored, and basically said the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:23  Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  Or as I was wisely counselled when I accepted my first positon as a full time solo pastor “Choose carefully the hill you want to be crucified on.”

But there are things that we need to stand our ground on:  Paul isn’t talking about the issues that affect society and the world, he is talking about us personally.   Sometimes we talk about spiritual warfare we link to the ills of society, especially south of the border.  Prayer being taken out of schools, the Ten Commandments being taken out of the court rooms, same sex marriage and people voting for the wrong party.  But that wasn’t what Paul was talking about.  He wasn’t speaking about what was happening in society as a whole but what was happening in the life of the individual believer.  Let’s go back to his analogy of the solider. 

Historians tell us that when the Roman army advanced in battle each soldier was responsible to defend their position.  They weren’t responsible for the entire battlefield, just their little square but they were expected to fight and die before they gave that up.  And that was the strength of their army, each soldier defending what they had been entrusted with.

If every believe was victorious in their spiritual battles the local church would be stronger and if the local church was strong than the church as a whole would be stronger and if that was the case than society would be affected.

And so the battle for us is the attacks that endanger our souls and our relationship with God.  And that will be moral issues, whether or not we are obedient to what God requires of us and theological issues, how we see and view God.  And these are where we will be attacked, at the point of our personal integrity and beliefs.  Because if the devil can convince us that it doesn’t matter how we live or what we believe then he already has won the initial battle.  So don’t give in, even on the little things.  You don’t reserve a patch of your garden for weeds and you don’t reserve a part of your life for sin.  Or as the Arab proverb says, "If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

The question then is how do we keep the camel out of the tent, how do we “Stand our Ground”?

Glad you asked, Paul continues  Ephesians 6:14  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth . . .     Put on the Belt of Truth  While I was working on this point I asked myself “what is the main purpose of a belt?”  And my immediate response was: It keeps my pants up.  Now I know that some people never wear a belt or if they do it’s simply a fashion accessory. 

But as a person with no butt let me tell you that the main purpose of a belt is to keep you pants up.  And that is important because it keeps me from being distracted with the thought “I wonder if my pants are going to fall down.”  Our modern translations tend to use the analogy of a belt, in the NIV it says Ephesians 6:14 NIV Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth . . .

And while that seems to make sense for us today that isn’t the picture that Paul was drawing we he wrote this.  The problem is that culturally what Paul had told those early believers make little sense to us 2000 years later.  The King James Version is pretty close to what was written in the original Greek in this passage, it’s just doesn’t make sense to us in 2015, because in the KJV Paul tells us  Ephesians 6:14 KJV Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,

Having your loins girt about with truth.  Has a nice ring to it, but what does it actually mean?  Well 2000 years ago folks didn’t need a belt to hold up their pants because they didn’t wear pants.  They all wore long robes, which were probably really comfortable but really awkward when you were involved in things that required mobility, like battle.   I went to the website: The Art of Manliness and found instructions.  I told Angela that I was going to find a robe to wear this morning so I could show people how to gird their loins and she looked absolutely horrified.  In our 33 years of marriage I’ve learned that in situations like this it’s best to trust Angela on things like these.  So instead of a robe I got pictures.    So here is an illustrated guide.

So what does that have to do with anything?  Well Paul is telling us that we need to have a firm grasp of the truth.  When I was in high school we learned about situational ethics that is the concept that what is true depends on your circumstances.  And that makes life difficult.  In 2015 in Canada there are very few absolutes, what society knew was wrong fifteen years ago, well not so much today. 

Someone said that we have narrowed the Ten Commandments down to “Thou shalt not kill” but even that is open to interpretation according to the pro-choice abortion proponents and those who promote assisted suicide. 

Listen to what Jesus told those who rejected him in  John 8:44  For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.

In contrast Jesus told his followers John 14:6  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  And when he stood before Pilate on the day he would be crucified we read this account,  John 18:37-38  Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”  “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.

Are you settled on Jesus as the truth?  If not than the battle becomes much more difficult, you will be hindered by other thoughts and claims, and worried that your pants will fall down.  And if you aren’t convinced that Jesus is the way the truth and the life than you aren’t ready for the spiritual battles that lie ahead of you, because you will be lacking the authority that you need.

So once we have established the truth we are told  Ephesians 6:14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armour of God’s righteousness and that's where we will pick up next week.

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