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Holding on to the Faith

"Sometimes [attacks] will take the frontal form of actual authorities in towns and cities who try to prevent Christians from spreading the message. Sometimes it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side-issues, or to become fascinated by distorted teaching. Sometimes it will be simply the age-old temptations of money, sex and power. But in each case what individuals and the whole church must do is, first, to recognize that attacks are coming; second, to learn how to put on the complete armour which God offers; and, third, to stand firm and undismayed." - N. T. Wright commenting on Ephesians 6:10-17 (the full armour of God)

This week we enter the final part of Paul's letter to the Ephesians - which is primarily about the difficulties the world throws at us. In this concluding word (Chapter 6:10-24), Paul makes clear that the life of faith is a struggle and that there are oppositional forces aligned against God's hopes for our lives. Paul's language can seem fanatical or over-the-top to some, but Paul is only addressing the reality of life: it is hard. Life calls for perserverance and struggle. Or, as Wesley said in The Princess Bride: "Life is suffering. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is just trying to sell you something."

Unfortunately, many of you and many of my family and friends seem to be deep into the struggle right now. Over the last two weeks everyone I know has been battling something: health problems, relational difficulties, problems with their staff, bad colds, disconcerting "ticks" with their trucks, and last minute budget meetings. Here again, then, Paul as a pastor is a wonderful counselor. Staring at the reality of life (it is difficult), he neither paints the abyss of despair nor a rosy garden of idealism. Instead, he reminds his audience what weapons God has given them through Jesus Christ: the belt of truth, the breastplate of justice, sturdy shoes to speak the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit.

Out of these six "weapons", only one of them is truly for offensive purposes. Which makes me realize ... the life of faith is not one of conquering the world. Our call is to hold onto the faith, to persevere and to hold onto hope in the face of a bad economy, faith in the face of cancer, and love in the face of petty schisms, health care debates and gossip.

So, to all of my friends and family who are in Christ Jesus, let me encourage you again: Hold onto the faith. In the midst of the storms of your life, grasp the sturdy rope of truth (God loves you; God will provide for you; God will do what is necessary to grant you eternal health and life). Tie that rope around your waist. Don't be caught without that belt.

If others are not treating you fairly, don't let them pick a fight with you. Keep the breastplate of justice on. Take the high road (the one with less mud to throw).

When people tell you the world is going crazy, that they don't think you are acting wisely, that it is time to act and get a new president ... stand in the shoes of peace. Don't join the angry mob. Even when they try to knock you over with belligerence and fear, stand firm in peace.

Whatever controversy is going on in your work; whatever employee is dissatisfied; whatever arrow of discord or blame is being drawn against you: take up the shield of faith. Lift up Jesus as your shield, your protector.

And whenever you begin to despair that the assault is too strong, the battle too cumbersome: remember you wear the helmet of salvation. The helmet of salvation covers you and protects you. No matter what plays out in this world, God has already given you the victory through Jesus and the peace of Christ as well.

Finally: the word of God, the sword of the spirit. Do not try to defend yourself. Don't build a case in your own mind and heart about how you will overcome this. Rest upon God's word. Let the words of your mouth be the words God has spoken.



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