"Use What You've Been Given"#88-52
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 29, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Listen (5-10mb) Download (35-70mb) Reflections
Text: Ephesians 6:10-17
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
And Jesus said, "When you pray, pray, 'Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you in the power of faith in the Christ of Christmas, the power to live life in the face of all challenges. Amen.
The holy days of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, are not merely days of preparation and celebration for those who believe in Jesus Christ. They are times of proclamation of a new way of life by the grace of God, a life of God's forgiveness, life, salvation, power, and peace; a life that is lived prayerfully by grace with God through faith, with fervent Christ-like love towards one's neighbor.
The last several weeks we've been studying the power of the Lord's Prayer in our lives, and today, on this Sunday before Christmas Day, we have the wonderful opportunity to speak about the spiritual protection and power of the very Babe of Bethlehem, made possible for us all; God's strength to deal with our temptations, God's protection from evil and the evil one.
The Jesus who is teaching us to pray is the One who entered the world to suffer, to die, and to rise again so that evil would be vanquished, temptation would be set at bay, and life and salvation would again become a real possibility in a world full of sin and death. That's why the Christmas Babe and the resurrected Lord of Easter instructs in this petition of the Lord's Prayer, to say, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!"
Evil, temptation—it's all around us, isn't it? Destructive seductions seem to be so inviting, don't they? As sinful people, we seem to go down those paths even when we know that they are deadly—morally, ethically, and spiritually. We can't seem to lick the easy challenges in our lives, let alone the spiritually destructive ones.
In this broken world, amazingly, it seems that even good things can become a problem sometimes. For example, have you heard that sitting may be the new smoking? Let me say that again: sitting may be the new smoking. That's right, the time we spend sitting these days may be as harmful to our health as smoking has been.
But that's what Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student, says. And who is Travis Saunders? Well, he's a certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living Group at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. He says, according to research, "Sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It's a bit like smoking," he says. "Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much."
How did this happen? Easy, it seems that we are a people who don't like doing the things that are good for us. We live in a world of great new discoveries that tend to get us off our feet, demanding our time and attention while slowly stealing our health and vitality. We live in a culture that sits too much! We sit to drive. We sit to work at the computer. We sit to talk on the phone. We sit to watch TV. We sit to play video games. We sit to read the paper. There's a whole lot of sitting going on!
And all that sitting isn't good for us. Instead of being a time of relaxation and refreshment, sitting has become destructive. A battle is going on, and we don't even realize it. We think we're taking it easy, and in reality it's silently killing us.
"Deliver us from evil; lead us not into temptation." That's so hard when we can't even overcome the little challenges in life, right? It seems so impossible when merely our misuse of even good things is killing us. How are we going to deal with the big issues of life when we can't even handle the sitting issues of life?
And that's the point. Temptation happens when anything in this world commands our attention more than God and the things of God in our lives. Temptation may feel more like a time of testing, where we fill our lives with everything else but the things of God. It may be a time of trial when we're challenged to sacrifice things we'd rather hold on to for that which is truly precious. Or it may come as a time of seduction to evil, when God's Word and our desires are at odds, and we are challenged to affirm again the One in whom we trust. Temptation can overwhelm, and evil can seem so insurmountable.
Temptation, trial, evil, in all these things, the ultimate challenge is to our first love, Jesus Christ. It does seem like there is a never-ending battle going on in our hearts and our minds, doesn't it? And when we give in or are overwhelmed by it all, our hearts and souls feel like they are being ground into the dust, don't they?
But hear, even now, more importantly, the Bible's proclamation. Hear why the Christmas, Easter message is so powerful. Jesus entered the world because there is a battle going on, a battle for our eternal lives, right now! Jesus tells us that "In this world we will have trouble, but fear not, He has overcome the world." In the midst of our struggles and temptations, we don't merely turn to fight; we turn to the Lord who has fought for us. We actually focus on Him and not our temptations. We focus on Him and we pray that He would protect us and guide us.
Now don't take temptation or the power of evil too lightly. Do you want to know how brutal temptation and evil can get? Look at the whole Christmas story; see the evil of Herod murdering two-year old children to protect his throne, in the midst of the real joy to the world! Or jump ahead and look at the Babe of Bethlehem hanging on the cross for you. There He is tempted to come down, to save Himself and to leave our lives broken and separated from God.
There, the sinless One faces one last struggle, one last temptation, to avoid our judgment. Yet, there He is; one time for all time, our Savior overcoming temptation to bring life and salvation to you, to me, to all!
Because of Him, if we fall, in repentance we can still turn to God and confess. Because of Him, if we fall, we can stand up again in His forgiveness. Because of Him, if we succeed, overcoming temptation and struggle, we proclaim the grace, strength, and the care of the One who would not let us go.
Because of Him, those who trust in Christ can: "Finally, be strong in the Lord," as Paul says, "and in the strength of his might. We can take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm."
In fact, because of Him, we can battle our temptations and serve others even in the face of evil. In Him, this is the way to face life head on. You might say that The Lord's Prayer is the gym for the soul, Christ's church is the workout room for your eternal Monday-through-Saturday life.
In prayer and service, we begin to exercise our faith in Christ for others. Christ has fought the battle for our lives, and in the exercise of prayer and service we get to put the gracious blessings of Jesus to work. Overcoming temptation, serving while being protected from evil, that's stepping into the ring of the greatest match of your life!
In fact, I believe in this petition, the Lord is asking us to turn our prayer attention away from ourselves and focus on our preparation for being His people in this world. The Lord's Prayer is not merely a personal prayer to God. It is also a prayer that teaches us to open ourselves to God's mission and ministry to the world.
To pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" is to be fully aware that the world is daily in the midst of temptation; the world is caught in evil. People's lives are at stake. Our friends, our family, our neighbors, they have the same struggles and temptations that we do. So, prayerfully, we face the same pains, the same struggles, the same temptations, but with an answer of God's grace as sure as the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of all who believe in Him.
In full view of the battle raging, Jesus, the One who in Hebrews 2 is said to have been made "like us in every way, yet overcoming all temptation," He challenges us to prayerfully "take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm," to live a life of no fear, to live a life of prayerful faith. It's a call to use what you have been given.
It's an invitation to put on the armor of God, not the tattered garments of this world. Bottom line is this: as believers, we are not defenseless in a world that tears us down and tears us apart. We are not defenseless as we wrestle with our own sin and failures. God gives us a precious gift, flowing from the Babe of Bethlehem, the cross of Jesus Christ. Stronger than earthly armor, we have been given a real gift for the real rigors of the spiritual battle that rages. Put Christ's spiritual power and protection to use. In Christ, use what you have.
Paul says put on the belt of truth, not only the truth of the Bible, but Jesus, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For the new life in Jesus gives you clarity as you face the mixed and confusing messages of the cultures in which we live even your inner confusion as you wrestle with emotions and relationships.
Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Life seems so crazy and chaotic today. We need hearts that are protected from what is hurtful and destructive. When Christ's righteousness covers us, when His holiness is our shield, then even the crowds of hurried and grumpy people or the inner pain of feeling sad or incomplete is met with Jesus' protection for our hearts and minds.
Put to work feet fitted with the Gospel of peace, says Paul. Even though each day brings another challenge to blend in with the crowds morally, ethically, spiritually, follow Jesus alone. Let Him guide you on His pathway of life. His pathway is one of peace through all the broken promises of this world. His path is one that leads somewhere. It leads to eternal life with Him.
Put to work, Paul says, the shield of faith. Are you ready for the Christmas chaos? Crying children, an overcooked ham, an under-resourced checking account—all those things can lay us mighty low. Or maybe you've got the year-round type of pandemonium. Take heart. God gives you a shield to repel the fiery darts of the evil one that might lay you low and drain you of hope.
Finally, Paul says, wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. You see, my friend, God has a say in your life. His living Word breathes life into you as you face the rigors of life and the challenges of the spiritual battle. His Word is full of His Spirit, His comfort, His encouragement, and His power. Strike boldly the attacks of guilt, of shame, of arrogance, of pride, of temptations large and small. Strike boldly with the Word of God that is God's provision for your protection and power. Use this gift to quiet the confusing messages of the world, to empower you to live in God's peace and grace, and to strengthen you in your life that glorifies the Lord and serves others.
When you pray, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," you are asking Him to help you use those gifts more effectively, for yourself and for others.
As we continue to deal with our own temptations, as we rely more and more on God's gracious protection from evil, we're taking up the challenge of living in this world as God's agents of forgiveness: graced people that endure a world that will make us pay, tempt us away, or challenge our peace. We face those things so that others might know that there is another kingdom; there is another power that is still available to those caught in temptation and sin.
That's why Jesus calls us to prayerfully focus on Him: to put on His armor, and use His gifts to live life in this world.
I love the hymn, "Angels We Have Heard on High," don't you? Every verse ends with the angels singing, "Gloria!" But, in the second verse, we hear the response of the shepherds, shepherds whose lives were filled with difficult work, struggles, and dangers. Their voice was a humble testimony to the Savior, wasn't it? But the truth is, the shepherds met Jesus and they couldn't contain their joy to the world. They found deliverance from evil in this newborn King.
Do you remember the verse that we sing about them? It says: "Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be, Which inspire your heavenly song? Gloria!" Why it's the glory of Christmas. It's the glory of Easter for all of us today. It's the power of God to prayerfully struggle and face our temptations, to serve others even when faced with evil, to put on God's armor, or better, to put His protection and power to use in our lives. That's something that makes the shepherds glad, the angels sing, and it's the reason why in faith, you can boldly pray, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Amen!
Reflections for August 29, 2021
Title: Use What You've Been Given
Mike Zeigler: I'm visiting again with Mr. Eric Gates, who helps direct our global outreach with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Thanks for coming back, Eric.
Eric Gates: Thank you.
Mike Zeigler: So, what do you love about what you do with Lutheran Hour Ministries?
Eric Gates: I think probably what I love the most, especially in the Africa and Middle East region, is to see the real-life in-person transformation that happens in people when they feel empowered and that's through faith and the knowledge that God loves them. And also when I think they acquire skills that enable them to carry out some type of vocation with more dignity.
Mike Zeigler: We send out the message, as Dr. Hoffmann used to say, into the ether, out, and we're not quite sure what it's doing, but you get to see down in the furrows of the fields how the Word is springing up and bearing fruit.
Eric Gates: That's right. And the stories that our staff share from our ministry centers are incredible. People that we'd never would know that we've touched, they call and they say maybe a radio message helped restore their relationship with their husband or wife. Or maybe the radio program nurtured them when they were in the hospital or in a prison. And these are real stories with real people that I've met and it just always touches my heart.
Mike Zeigler: Last week we talked about our ministry site in Cameroon, which is in central west Africa, and that's just one of 37 different places around the world that Lutheran Hour Ministries does outreach. And I got the opportunity with you to talk to the person who directs the ministry there on the ground in Cameroon, a gentleman named Emmanuel. Tell us a little bit about him.
Eric Gates: Thank you. Yeah, I'm really glad that you were able to talk with Emmanuel. He's just a really wonderful, passionate young man. I first met Emmanuel probably 12 or 13 years ago. He was a volunteer for the ministry and then he started to work part time with some of our Bible Correspondence Course students. Over the next few years, he did leave the ministry to go back to college full-time, and he's completed his master's and now his Ph.D. in literature.
Mike Zeigler: I was so impressed by that. He said it was on how African women are portrayed in literature during times of warfare and domestic conflict, that they're not just victims but peacemakers and bridge builders.
Eric Gates: It's true. And I think that his studies and that knowledge and skill that he's gained has really helped him lead our ministries, especially programs as we'll talk later that reach out to young women.
Mike Zeigler: Last week, you mentioned the sewing school. We talked about Messina and how she has grown over the last decade. I've also heard a story about Adele who's come to the program a little more recently. Tell us about her.
Eric Gates: Sure, Adele is another young woman who started in our sewing school program about 18 months ago, or so. She had kind of faced some challenges in life and was at risk of unemployment and being unable to care for her young family. She did have a small child.
Mike Zeigler: And she was disconnected from her family.
Eric Gates: That's right. Disconnected from a family, and wasn't married to the father of her young baby. So the class appealed to her. It could really help her. She's kind of the demographic that we try to reach. So she came and she enrolled in the program and about two or three months after she had enrolled and started to study, she found that she had become pregnant again from a different man. So kind of filled with shame, she felt the only thing she could do was really resign from the class.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah. I remember Emmanuel saying that she'd said that she would be a bad example for the other women and wasn't worthy to be there.
Eric Gates: That's exactly right. You know, the 20 women or so that are in the group together really rely on and support each other. And she just felt that this was such a terrible example that she had no choice but to leave.
Mike Zeigler: Right. We think about the tattered rags that Dr. Seltz was talking about in the message how the world can turn us in on our own failures and shame and really tear us down. So how did they respond?
Eric Gates: She came and talked with Emmanuel and Shantelle, who is the manager of the program, and explained her worries. And Adele was shocked, but Emmanuel and Shantelle prayed with her, counseled with her and really just gave her reassurance. They reassured her that they understand she's committed sin; they've committed sin; we're all sinners. But that's exactly why they want her to stay in the program, that they want to assure her of God's unconditional love and his forgiveness.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah. And so they also told her that they wanted to talk to the father of her new baby, right? What happened then?
Eric Gates: That's right. They did. They said, please bring the father. Come again, let's all talk about this. And they did. And they counseled him. He was shocked. Nobody had ever really invited him; a Christian had not engaged him in really a truly loving way. They weren't judgmental to he or Adele. Over time, he began coming, not as a student of course, but just would come and support her in her studies. And we're just so happy that about six months ago she graduated from the women's sewing school. She earned her diploma and graduated. And then the week after that she and the father of her baby were married.
Mike Zeigler: Oh, that's great. Yeah. I've seen videos of that, too. Her new husband, he's holding up, I guess it's the marriage license and he's celebrating.
Eric Gates: That's right. And not only did they personally celebrate, what the really touching part of this story is that all of the women in her group at the sewing school and our staff at the ministry, all of them really supported her and her husband at the wedding as though they were family. All the women in the sewing school made the dresses, the wedding dress, the man's suit and tie. They made all of this in the class and our staff and all of their colleagues from the class showed up and rejoiced at the wedding with them.
Mike Zeigler: When we talked to Emmanuel about this, he shared a little bit more about his own experience growing up, how he really was in the same situation as Adele, but with his mother. He never knew his father and he was raised by his mother alone. Friends reached out to him. So how did that experience shape the way he approaches situations like this?
Eric Gates: It's true. I think his experience, which you're exactly right, he grew up with a single mother in Africa, which is challenging. It's difficult. The economies are difficult. And even culturally there, I think being a single mother family has more challenges than it may in some western parts of the world. So Emmanuel, I think, grew up seeing firsthand those struggles. He relates to me often that it was pastors and people in the church, maybe cousins, aunts, uncles, that also pitched in to help support his mother and himself as a young boy. I think even when you look at what he studied eventually in his Ph.D., as you mentioned a minute ago, he studied women's role in literature. I think it really affected him and I think it really gave him a unique insight and a real empathy for women who struggle. So now, as director of the ministry, I know when he leads these programs he really truly has a heart for it and really loves these women and wants them to not only succeed in life but wants them to hear the Gospel.
Mike Zeigler: He has these experiences that under other circumstances could tear a person down, but he's received them from God to use, to lead him the way he reaches out.
Eric Gates: That's right. Another thing that Emmanuel often relates is that his mother used to tell him growing up, "Emmanuel, it's true you don't have really an earthly father here, but you know that God, your Father in heaven, loves you, He's with you. He'll always protect you." So I think Emmanuel really just exemplifies that love.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us, Eric. We thank God for you and for all the workers of Lutheran Hour Ministries around the world. I can see why you love what you do. You get to see how God's Word is transforming people.
Eric Gates: Yeah. Thank you so much for the invitation.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"By Grace I'm Saved, Grace Free and Boundless" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)