I really learned something yesterday through the sermon I preached on Eph 6:10-20, which I delivered at a charismatic evening service. It was great spending a few days with this passage. It reminded me that I once lived a kind of luke-warm Christianity and rather fell into that first dangerous category which CS Lewis describes, forgetting that the devil is at large in the world.
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which one can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them."
preface to The Screwtape Letters
I went to a seminar at New Wine led by Bishop Graham Dow on deliverance ministry. Whilst delivering prayer ministry at the end of his sermon, I could see what the devil can do and became aware that the more in love with Jesus you are, the more also you understand this living in the supernatural where with the protection of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing to fear but it is necessarily wise to understand where your weak spots are and where you are vulnerable to attack.
Each time I prepare to preach, I feel it. I wonder if any of you experience all those nagging attacks - 'you're boring', 'they will not understand you', 'what you are saying is not correct' etc. This kind of thinking is wrong from the beginning, it's alternative would be, 'they're going to love me', 'what a great line that it', 'I think I'll keep them interested', 'I am going to be great'. Either way, the devil is laughing if he gets us to focus on ourselves and our 'performance' rather than God.
What I have realised over the years is that if God will use people to speak, he will use them, despite our mess-ups and inadequacies, our stutters (look at Moses) and our stumblings (Paul!). There are people in my past who have impacted my life with just a word or a sentence that God has used to bring me into greater truth or change my life. These people are unlikely to be aware that their utterances were so profound, unless I have told them, which sometimes, I have. What God does with the words we speak is up to him and we are his vessels and must just trust the Holy Spirit. This does not take responsibility away from a speaker who should use the gifts God has given them to speak but it does free one up somehow.
Preaching evolves over time probably and I think I had a break-through yesterday because rather than always comparing myself to others, 'I do not tell jokes like they do', or 'I am not as grounded', or 'I am not as clever' etc (that faulty thinking), God had me realise that all I have to do is draw from the life that he has given me, which is unique to me. When my daughter, who is only five suggested she take a photograph of herself with a plastic spider on her nose to illustrate one of the points I was making in my sermon, I just went with it.
Sample from sermon 22/08/2010 The Kingdom Dress Code (Eph 6:10-20)
It is terrible to hear that some of our troops in Afghanistan have died needlessly because their equipment and armoured vehicles were not fit for purpose. The armour that God gives us is completely trustworthy. I wonder if we are dressed appropriately for Kingdom living. Are we meeting the dress code? When I went to New Wine I listened to Mark Melluish, who spoke about the power that the local church has to change nations and how if we got over our fear, we would be very dangerous people like those Roman soldiers whose armour Paul describes. Each time I come back from New Wine, where I really feel my own spiritual armour has been buffed up, I am aware of having more more positive thinking and right attitudes in my life. Last year I was more confident for beginning college training.
This year it just very simply meant that I came back with no fear of spiders and the same thing seemed to have happened to Fran too. It could be partly also because the children had taken small plastic toy spiders with them to New Wine and kept leaving them around the campervan much to their delight and our shock. Fran and I thought about how probably on seeing real spiders again, we would not be scared On returning home from New Wine, we would move house to Bramcote three days later and I kept rescuing five big burley men who packed up our house from spiders which caused them to shrink back and call for me each time they found them – they were huge but this had us all laughing. I knew what I was up against and they seemed as innocuous to me as those plastic spiders I had lived with all week in the campervan. Fran did even better than me. One night whilst we were all reading a bedtime story, a spider crawled up the back of Fran's head and onto her nose and just sat there. 'There's something on my face mummy', she said and we both laughed after we had chucked the spider out of the window to its safety. She was not at all scared. We had both been fearless! Just like those spiders whose plastic imitations I had lived with for a week, we need some degree of familiarity with what we are afraid of, we need to be aware of our weaknesses, where we might be attacked, discouraged, become less than we have been made to be and we need to defend ourselves against those attacks with the powerful armour God gives us.
I want to encourage us tonight to meet the dress code of the Kingdom.
I want to encourage us to shine for God by taking the polishing cloth of prayer to the spiritual armour he has given us.
God intends for us to be fearless. It might look as though he made us naked and vulnerable when we think back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and when we think forward to Jesus hanging naked on the cross but instead the first human and the most perfect human were dressed in a spiritual armour that human eyes can not see. Where Adam's armour was weak, Jesus' is impenetrable. God always designs his creatures fit for purpose and Christ came to clothe us with power from on high. Paul describes six elements of our armour: the belt, body armor, boots, shield, helmet and sword....ETC
There are always going to people whom you please and people whom you do not. Whilst we need to be mindful about to whom we are speaking, I think we also have to be ourselves. The danger with the internet is we can spend hours and hours discovering how other people have preached a passage, we can download podcasts, read exegesis papers, watch Youtube preaches and hook up to God TV but the words we speak have to be the ones that God has given us. I spent way too long once with Mars Hill on Jonah before preaching on this book in an evangelical church. I am realising that the time we spend in preparation has to be spent largely in prayer and it is a very different kind of preparation to that for a college paper.
...so the journey continues, we learn and grow. It's painful and exciting. We can remember those break-throughs along the road and those moments when we were visited by the darkness. It's a vulnerable place to be, just you and God's Word and people hungry for Him but he never leaves you empty and always leaves you changed.
A few days to go, and I will hand the big summer essay in. The last of the boxes has gone to the garage and we have made a home here in our little house that stands in the shadow of the huge steeple of a church, which we have attended on Sunday mornings and through which God is having us make all sorts of new friends.
God continues to be faithful as we try desperately to hear what he is saying to us through all the usual brain clutter of life. Keep on marching!