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            Anyone here ever get a ticket for speeding?  In my forty-seven years of driving I have received one.  It happened while I was listening to an audio book while driving through Indianapolis, Indiana.  I was so engrossed in the audio book - and I’m embarrassed to say it was The Bridges of Madison County, not a very manly book - but I was so engrossed in the book that I didn’t notice that we had entered a construction zone, and a highway patrolman pulled me over for driving too fast in construction zone.

            Has anyone here, besides me, ever gotten a ticket for driving too fast?  Has anyone here ever gotten off for driving too fast?  My favorite excuse given for speeding that actually worked was from the father of six who was pulled over for speeding.  The kids, even though Dad had told them to be quiet, were hollering and screaming and fighting constantly in the back of the van.  When the patrolman asked him why he was speeding, the father said: "I was trying to get away from all that" and pointed to the kids.  And it worked.  The police officer let him off with a warning.

            Don't you wish we had a something to get us way from the “all that” whatever the “all that” happened to be?  Some of you are old enough to remember the old television commercial for Calgon.  In the commercial, a woman wearing a fluffy pink robe is in a chaotic home scenario.  As tension rises, she utters the slogan "Calgon, take me away!"  The next scene shows her relaxing in a bath in a quiet room.   

            Or what about the current commercials for Corona beer?  My favorite is three people sitting in beach chairs at the beach, in their bathing suits, one woman and two men, and they watch all these people in professional dress, carrying briefcases, talking on cell phones walking by them.  Then, one woman breaks from the people walking by, and greets the three in the beach chairs, saying something like, “Sorry, I got held up at work.” And one of the guys hands her a Corona and the next seen she’s sitting with the other three, at the beach, in a beach chair watching the people in business suits walk by.  The Corona beer got them away from “all that.” 

            Wouldn’t it be great if we had something that would allow us to get away from it all?  And wouldn't it be great if we could get up every morning and put on a special suit that would protect us and our family from the confusion, the harshness, the brutality and coldness of everyday life?

            Well, we don’t have a magic water softener or a magic beer that gets us away from it all, but as followers of Jesus Christ we do have suit, a spiritual suit, a suit of armor that is designed to help us deal with the challenges and frustrations of everyday life.  The Apostle Paul refers to it as the Armor of God.  He put it this way ...


            Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand therefor, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


            This is our last message in our Armor of God sermon series.  In just a moment we will turn to the last piece of armor we are to carry with us, the sword of the Spirit, but first a quick word about the first five pieces of armor that we have discussed: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that get us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. 

            As we reflect on these, I want us to note that these first five pieces of armor are defensive in nature.  They are to protect the soldier.  And we know a lot and we do a lot about the importance of protecting ourselves today.  We have computer firewalls and antivirus software to keep folks from getting our important information stolen and to stop malicious infections on our computers.

            We have security systems in our homes and cars.  We have fire alarms and rain gear.  We get vaccinations to protect us from disease.  We protect our eyes with sunglasses.  We have metal detectors at schools and airports to protect us from violent weapons and all these things are defensive in nature.  They are there to protect us.  Paul says we should protect ourselves spiritually, as well, and he begins by having us put on five defensive pieces of spiritual armor.

            Then, Paul, moves to the offense, and I think it's interesting that Paul only lists one piece of offensive equipment, but what a piece of offensive equipment it is: the Sword of the Spirit.   Now a Roman soldier did not carry a broadsword, that we looked at last week, but most often a sword that was 14 to 16 inches long that was very sharp at the end and on both sides.  It was a sharp, double-edged sword.  It cut both ways, and Paul reminds us that as followers of Christ we carry a similar sword, the word of God, the Scriptures.  In fact, turn with me to Hebrews 4:12 on page 972 of your pew Bible.  Paul not only thought we carried such a sword, but also, so did the author of the Book of Hebrews.  Listen to how the author of Hebrews describes the sword we carry ...


            Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 


            Remember how well Jesus used this sword?  Remember the temptation he faced in the wilderness, and how he refuted each temptation?  Old Redlegs threw three temptations at him - food, power, miracles - and Jesus refuted each temptation with the sword of the Spirit.  To each temptation he said, “It is written.”  “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”  “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord God and serve only him.’”  “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  He used the Scriptures to go on the offensive.

            Unfortunately, too many of us keep our sword in the sheath and never pull it out. Recently, in the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal, there was an article entitled "Losing Touch with Scripture."  The sub-line said, "The Bible remains a bestseller, but many people know little about it."

            Then the article recounted the story of Jay Leno, on the Tonight Show, moving through the audience asking people what they knew about the Bible.  He said to one man, "Name one of the Ten Commandments."  The man said, "God helps those who help themselves."  Leno asked another "Name one of the apostles."  The person could not name one.

            Finally, after asking several Bible questions nobody could answer, he said, "Who can name the Beatles?"  And the answer came ringing from throughout the crowd: "George, Paul, John, and Ringo."  What was Leno's point?  We're living in a society that claims the motto, "In God We Trust," and yet we know more about the Beatles than we do about the Bible.

            This same article said that occasional Bible readers declined from 73% in the 1980s to 59% in the year 2000. Only 16% of Christians said they read their Bible everyday.

            Well, let me state the obvious.  A sword must be removed from its sheath if it is going to be of any use.  A closed Bible is no better than no Bible.

            Martin Luther preached a sermon in 1531, and though this message is almost 500 years old, he said something in it that still pertains to us.  Here are his words:


            Christendom must have people who can beat down their adversaries and opponents and tear off the devil's equipment and armor, that he may be brought into disgrace.  But for this work, powerful warriors are needed who are thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures, and can contradict all false interpretations and take the sword from false teachers - that is, those very verses which false teachers use, and turn them round upon them so that they fall back defeated.  But as not all Christians can be so capable in defending the Word and articles of their creed, they must have teachers and preachers who study the Scriptures and have daily fellowship with it, so that they can fight for all the others. Yet each Christian should be so armed that he himself is sure of his belief and of the doctrine, and is so equipped with the sayings from the word of God, that he can stand up against the devil and defend himself when men seek to lead him astray.


            Earlier in our series we have talked about defense.  Today we have stressed offense.  Let me close with one more “ense.”  Let me close with presence.  Listen to what Paul writes after listing the armor of God.  He writes,


            Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.


            Defense.  Offense.  And practicing the presence of God.  One of my favorite stories is about the preacher who died and went to heaven.  This preacher was known as one of the best preachers around.  Thousands of people had come to Christ because of his sermons.  And he knew he was good.

            St. Peter was showing him around and they passed through this huge section of humongous homes.  These things were so big, they were nearly castles, not mansions. Either outside or looking out the window of each of them was a little widow lady or widower or a teenager or a child.  And they all looked somewhat overwhelmed by the size of their mansion.

            The preacher was getting excited, if these people, just you're ordinary every day kind of Christians got those kind of mansions, imagine what he was going to get.  As they ended their trek through the neighborhood, they came upon a large Texas style ranch house. It was gorgeous but wasn't huge.  It had everything you could imagine but it was nowhere near what he was expecting.  So he asked, “Why?”

            St. Peter sort of grinned and said, "Oh, we appreciate everything you did.  You're a great preacher and hundreds upon hundreds came to Christ because of you. But truthfully, you were just the distraction. The real work, the tough work was done on the knees of every one of those people we passed.  They were our prayer warriors.  And that's where the real battle was fought."

            Prayer brings us into the very presence of God.  And once there, God wants to know everything on our hearts and minds about ourselves and about everyone we know and love. 

            Defense.  Offense.  And most importantly, presence.