Belt and Braces

“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armour of God’s righteousness.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty of how Paul advised devil resistance. For the third time in this short section, he exhorted his readers to “stand“. “Stand your ground“, “stand firm“, “standing firm” all appear between verses 11 and 14. In the face of an onslaught, when the fight or flight emotions flood in, just to stand seems a bit counter-intuitive. But Paul, writing under the Holy Spirit’s direction and influence, knew what he was talking about. There he was in his prison cell, probably chained between two Roman soldiers, suddenly struck by how he could use the armour they were wearing as an illustration of the spiritual armour his friends in Ephesus would need. 

The first item that caught his eye was the soldiers’ belts, which he straight away associated with the “belt of truth“. He could see immediately that truth was an important defensive weapon to be used against the devil’s attacks. The devil is very good at telling lies. In fact, Jesus warned us of his propensity for lying, as we read 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“. But we have access to the absolute truth, because it is contained within God’s Word. Perhaps the devil is whispering things in your ear this morning, like “you’re rubbish”, or “you really messed up yesterday”, or he prevails on someone else to malign you on social media. All such comments can be distilled as lies, because the absolute truth is that you are a child of God. And so am I. I’m conscious as I write this blog today, that the devil is not happy with the words I’m using. He’s telling me I’m running out of time and need to be doing something else. But I’m determined to write down the truth about God’s love for His children. About how He created us, planned for us before the world was even created, put us together in our mother’s wombs. About how we are so wonderful to Him that we are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8) and have our names written on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16). These things are the truth about us. Not the lies the devil is using. So we stand firm in the truth about who God is and His relationship with each one of us. 

The second item Paul noticed that his soldier-jailors were wearing, was their body armour. Their breastplates, protecting their hearts and vital organs from attack. And he associated this with righteousness. You see, it is our hearts that are the place where our relationship with God resides. Not our physical hearts, but that part of our spirit that softens when we think of God and His people, where the love for Him flows, where we feel the whisper of His love-breath, sweet and always there if we listen for it. Unfortunately, the sin and hassles of life will harden the walls of our hearts. But we have the truth before us that He will always forgive, always be loving, always be there for us. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, when He died for us and exchanged His righteousness for our sins, we always can claim, and have access to, God’s righteousness. We confess and repent, He forgives. So the next time the devil accuses us of sin and tries to drive us down the tubes, we can stand because before God we are righteous. And there is nothing the devil can do about that. He was defeated by Jesus at the Cross. Keep Romans 8:1-2 in mind, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death“. The devil will try to condemn us because of our sins. Jesus says otherwise – I know who I want to listen to!

So we have an effigy of a Roman Soldier. And the belt and breastplate are glowing there like burnished gold, inducing a wobble into the devil’s tactics. Amazingly, there’s more – next thrilling instalment tomorrow.

Gates

“Open for me the gates where the righteous enter, 
and I will go in and thank the Lord. 
These gates lead to the presence of the Lord, 
and the godly enter there.”
Psalms‬ ‭118:19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Gates. What picture comes into our minds when we think about gates? There’s the wooden gate at the entrance to someone’s garden. Or the motorised gate that can be triggered remotely to allow a vehicle through. Wrought iron fancy gates are sometimes fashionable. Or perhaps a substantial oak door complete with cast iron studs. The picket gate in the gatehouse, perhaps, at the entrance to a churchyard. But whatever pictures we form in our minds, the Psalmist highlights three things about the gate that is set before him. Firstly, he has to ask someone else to open it – its not something that he can do. Secondly, he has to be righteous to go through it,  and thirdly, once through the opened gate, he can join the godly to enter God’s presence. And the reason he wanted to go through it was to thank the Lord. What a gate that must have been! 

But many years later, Jesus made an astonishing statement. He said, as recorded by the Apostle John in John 10:9, “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” But is Jesus the Gate described in Psalm 118? Is this a prophetic glimpse of the coming Messiah? Well, Jesus is the Gate, the Someone who opens the gate for us. I once was shown around the cash handling hall in a major British bank. To get in was difficult. It needed someone to vouch for me, and sign me into the compound in which the cash hall was located. And this analogy aptly describes what Jesus does for us. He vouches for us, and because we have been saved through His blood shed for us at Calvary, we can securely and confidently enter His gate. You see, to enter the Gate that is Jesus we meet the qualifications required to get in. And the essential qualification is righteousness. Only the righteous can enter into God’s presence. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God“. Because Jesus took on Himself all our sins, past present and future, we can receive the gift of God and stand righteously before Him. Lastly, when we pass through the Gate we enter into God’s presence. In Hebrews 10:19 we read, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.” 

The Psalmist asked for the gates to be opened. Tick. The Psalmist said the righteous can enter. Tick. We can go into God’s presence. Tick. So what the psalmist said in Psalm 118 was confirmed many years later by the first coming of Jesus. However, there is just one more thing we must do once we are in the presence of the Lord. That is, we must thank Him, and never stop thanking Him. Joining with many saints around the world and in past, present and future times. Thanking God for all He has done for us. Must be worth an amen?

The Real Greens

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees 
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. 
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. 
They flourish in the courts of our God. 
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; 
they will remain vital and green. 
They will declare, “The Lord is just! 
He is my rock! 
There is no evil in him!””
‭Psalms‬ ‭92:12-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Are there any palm trees and cedars amongst my readers today? Godly people, flourishing and strong? The Psalmist is comparing the life of a Godly person to the growth and stature of Middle Eastern trees that exemplify life as it should be – fully functioning as designed. And he goes on to say that the godly person flourishes, living a life as designed, in God’s presence. Because it is from Him that their life comes from. There are no spiritual deserts in God’s presence, stunting and even eliminating growth. In God’s presence there is an unlimited supply of all the nutrients needed to maintain life, as He designed it. 

But the Psalmist goes on to say that the flourishing taking place is not just for the early part of life – the vitality of the person continues until they take their last breath. Producing the fruit of a Godly life. Across the road from me there is a Rowan Tree. It has faithfully produced berries and green leaves for nearly fifty years from when it was first planted. But sadly, it’s days are numbered because a split has emerged in its trunk and the wood inside has started to rot. It is grimly hanging on but it is no longer as vital and green as it once was. Is that how we will end our days? Rotten and bitter inside, no more fruit, grimly hanging onto life? The Psalmist’s view of senior citizens in God’s presence is one of a different person. There may be a few wrinkles. They may be a bit stiffer and less able. But still living a fruitful life, doing God’s work in these godless days. Still with a twinkled eye. Still allowing God’s spiritual nutrients to flow through verdant and vital veins. 

And the oldies finish these verses with a timeless statement about God‘s justice, righteousness and dependability. Such sentiments are the fruit of a life that doesn’t end but transitions into God’s presence, continuing to produce fruit. Continuing in a green vitality. Continuing with God forever. The real Greens. God’s Greens.

The ‘Gods’

God presides in the great assembly; 
     He renders judgment among the ‘gods’: 
‘How long will you defend the unjust 
     and show partiality to the wicked? 
‘The “gods” know nothing, they understand nothing. 
They walk about in darkness; 
     all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, 
     for all the nations are Your inheritance.”
Psalms‬ ‭82:1-2, 5, 8‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is a strange Psalm, short but open to different interpretations. But a linguistic, theological and academic study, though interesting, is unhelpful for the punters like us living on Planet Earth. What was in the mind of the Psalmist, Asaph, when he wrote this?

Reading it I get the picture of our Heavenly Father dispensing judgement in true righteousness and purity, against the tendency of human traits to practice partiality and to favour injustice. The reference in the NIV to ‘gods’ could mean the involvement of angelic beings or prominent human figures from long ago, or be a more topical reference to demagogic leaders pursuing a popularity ticket. But however we choose to define the meaning of ‘gods’, the object of their unfairness and partiality impacts those who are least able to defend themselves in the world they find themselves. As Christians we have a responsibility to adhere to God’s laws and dispense His righteousness in the communities and societies in which we live. And this will mean a counter-cultural emphasis in the way we treat the least able members of our societies. 

The Psalmist ends his short dissertation with an appeal for God to judge the earth. That is not a reference to the inert substance on which we stand, but to the peoples who stand on it with us. One day everyone will face judgement. A weary Asaph wanted it to happen quickly. He wanted God to “rise up”, to wake up and be God in His capacity as the ultimate Judge. And in the process purifying His inheritance, the nations. It has been said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. To this I will add a third this morning – judgement. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives. A sobering thought that should help us in the ways we view those who live around us. But not from a position of fearfulness, but one of faith in the righteousness of our Heavenly Father, as we, His people, call on His grace and mercy.

Being an Example

My life is an example to many,
because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
I declare your glory all day long.
Psalm 71:7-8

Who can say, as David did in this Psalm, “My life is an example to many”. But how can he have the utter cheek to make such a claim after his very public and disgraceful affair with Bathsheba? Is he saying that anyone can behave in that way and it’s no big deal? Before we answer that question, it might be worth considering another similar occasion. When Peter was caught out by Jesus after denying Him, in His time of need, not just once, but three times. We can read the passage in Matthew 26. This wasn’t just a private occurrence – Peter made his denials publicly in front of a group of people. And we can read in John 21 how the risen Jesus took Peter through repentance to becoming a rock, on which Jesus said He would build His church.

So back to David. He also repented of his terrible sins and received God’s forgiveness. There are no sins that God will not cleanse us from. We have not done anything so bad that Jesus will refuse to pardon us. And like David, we too can be an example to many. In our communities we can be an example to our friends and neighbours, and by our lives we may the only glimpse of Jesus that many people will ever see. 

Those of us who have repented of our sins can stand before God wearing the righteousness of Jesus. How do I know? The Bible says so in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God“. So if God declares me righteous, as He did with David and Peter and countless others, I too can be an example to many. I have blogged before about the Pastor of a church in Glasgow, who was a drug dealer, imprisoned for his crime, saved through the ministry of Teen Challenge, and who returned to the very community in which he dealt drugs as their Minister and Pastor. I’m sure, at least initially, the community scoffed at him, as they did with Jesus when He preached in His home town of Nazareth. But the reformed drug dealer is now an amazing testimony to the grace of God. Like David, he too can say his life is an example to many. 

And so the challenge to us is this – as reformed sinners can we too be examples to those around us, telling about God’s strength and protection, and declaring His glory all day long? A thought for today?

Righteousness

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry;
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”

Psalms‬ ‭34:15, 17, 19-20‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Who or what is a righteous person? Does such a person exist? And why does he or she have troubles? These are questions that aren’t easy to answer, especially in a short blog post. From a Christian perspective, people are made righteous through their faith in Jesus. We believe that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, both human and divine, and that He came to this earth with one mission – to manifest God’s love for mankind by saving them from the consequences of their repented sins, by His sacrificial death on a Roman cross at a place called Calvary. Jesus took onto Himself our sins and in return gave us His righteousness. The faith that we hold, through a continuing trusting relationship with God, in our righteous state, brings us to a place where we can cry out to God and He will answer us. The verses before us today don’t say that we won’t have troubles. But it does say that God will deliver us from them. Sometimes, this deliverance happens quickly. But at other times it will only come after we die. But the faith and trust that we have in God will sustain us through all our troubles.

In the news this morning is yet another story of a person with Motor Neurone disease who wants to end his life through assisted suicide. A person without hope for the future. A person without a belief in God. A person who thinks that only blackness awaits him after death. But a person who will find that there is a worse place to be than this life here on earth. God has compassion and love for all mankind and it must break His heart to see such a person in such a hopeless state, rejecting the very One who will deliver him from his troubles. As Christians we must pass on God’s love to everyone we meet, not just those in such dire needs, in the hope that they too will embrace our wonderful Saviour and find that His righteousness is available to everyone