No matter how hard you try, sometimes you can’t avoid conflict. At the picnic last week I was given the choice of either playing volleyball or spoons. Knowing volleyball and some of the persons who would be playing I decided that spoons would be a much safer place to recreate. I was wrong. A Russian lady tried to yank a spoon out of my hand and I still have scars to prove it. I didn’t let her get it. My sweet little Yvonne whacked me on my forehead with a spoon until I had a head ache. I tell you, conflict will follow you wherever you go.

Because we live in world of conflict you will be under great pressure. There will be times that the pressure will seem so great that you will be in danger of being overwhelmed. So, you will need to fight to maintain your peace. When I am struggling with my weakness, when I am dealing with disappointment, when I am feeling like a failure and when I am feeling like the task is too great for me, when I am feeling like all is dark and ugly, I look for help. I go to where I can find something, so great and so beautiful that it could only have been built by God. There I am brought back to the reality of how awesome and wonderful my God is. Surrounded by the physical evidence that God is powerful and beautiful I am giving the encouragement to go on

Shoreline Park helps me when I look at the great expanse of that beautiful ocean and the splendor of that view, complete with islands, clouds, boats, birds and dolphins. It creates a fresh confidence in a God who does all things so well. Sometimes I am privileged to go to the Sierras. You cannot help but being impressed with the greatness of God when you look at those huge granite walls rising out of the ground some 13,000 feet high. Next to those great edifices you feel so small and insignificant and yet you see a God who spoke those fortresses into being. Then in the midst of those barren rocks and intimidating granite walls you see such delicate beauty springing forth in the form of waterfalls, red wood trees, and delicate flowers. I tell you, I never leave that place the same.

God is so great and God is so beautiful and it becomes so clear when you are surrounded by the Sierras. Psalm 92:4-5 comes alive in such an environment: “For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. 5 How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts!” When you link up with God’s thoughts and deeds, when you see just how glorious He really is, you can’t help but be glad and encouraged.

Big Minds, Big Hearts, Big People: Ps 92:4-5

There is another place where I go for a help and I don’t have to travel anywhere to find it. I just open up a book. I do not read fiction or self-help books. I read books chucked full of theology. I read from men who have walked further than I have, stepped out and trusted God in obedience far greater than I have ever done, and found Him faithful.

I read books that challenge my comfort level and most of all, reveal to me a God who is far greater and awesome than I ever imagined.  Someone has said that the character of a man is shaped largely by the friends he likes to keep. It is my experience that you cannot find better friends than good books written by men who combine a deep faith in God with a passion to know more about Him. I say this because I believe our great struggles with faith comes from our inability to think right thoughts about God. These men have been to the mountains of God. But it is not east to ascend to such heights. It takes hard work.

I think that is the reason many of us don’t like to read challenging books. It is not because we can’t read but because we don’t want to work at our reading. I think we avoid thinking for the same reason. It is not because we don’t have the brains to think clearly about God and His ways. We just don’t want to expend the energy necessary. Too often we want a God who is nice and soft who easily conforms to our desires for comfort and security. We don’t want a God who stretches us to the limits. We don’t want a God who dares us to leave all and bank all on His faithfulness. We don’t want a God who not only leads us to the mountain top but also leads us through the valley of death.

A. W. Tozer made that point in an article he wrote, “The Use and Abuse of Books:”

Why does today’s Christian find reading of great books always beyond him? Certainly intellectual powers do not wane from one generation to another.” Then give his own explanation for that weakness: “To enjoy a great religious book requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have. The early Christian Fathers, the mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied, and none but the God enamored can come. One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without any intention of obeying them.”

Some of you may be saying, “What does this have to do with the “Helmet of Hope and Salvation?” Here is my answer: In order for you to maintain your hope in painful and dark hours you are going to have to be able to think clearly. Your thoughts will have to be fixed upon a God who is greater than our momentary problems and feelings. You will need a God who is bigger than terrorists, financial difficulties and nuclear bombs. Our problem in life has to do with our concept of God. J. B. Phillips was right, “Our God is Too Small.” Jeremiah Burroughs, the great Puritan writer was correct when he wrote: “The reason why we worship God in a small way is because we do not see God in His glory.”

How radically different our life would be if we would see God in all of His splendor and glory. Like Isaiah, it would revolutionize our life. We need to see Him whose power can do more than all we ask or imagine. We need to see Him whose awesome plan goes beyond this life and this time. If we get all of our joy and motivation from what we see in this world we will live a very ordinary, safe, and fruitless kind of existence.

But if we place our faith and our hope in the awesome God of creation and redemption, there are no limits as to what we might do in response to His call.

But, in order for us to live that kind of life, we will have to struggle and fight our way through disappointment and frustration and mental attacks. We will have to learn how to think clearly when things are not going as we planned.

If God is the Eternal and transcendent Holy One, don’t you think that the mystery of His splendor would demand that our minds and imaginations would be stretched to the limit as we are touched by revelation of His Person? Given the evil and confusing world that we live in, we will have to condition ourselves think clearly about God and His Word. If we are to maintain hope when things appear to fall a part around us we must base our life on His awesome power as revealed in His Word and world. Listen to what one of the giants of faith, C. S. Lewis has written concerning the importance of maintaining the hope of the believer:   

Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not [as some modern people think] a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want to “spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown ups, they should not talk about them. All the imagery [harps, gold , etc.] is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people [not all] music is the thing in this present world which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share the timelessness of heaven [gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of heaven [gold does not rust] and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, he meant that we were to lay eggs. [Mere Christianity, p. 116, 119]

Lewis is saying two things. First, he is saying that the hope we have in future reward is absolutely essential for the Christian to hold on to. It is a key theological truth about God and His plan for His people. People who place their hope in God’s salvation do mighty things because they are free from the fears and the motivations of this world. They keep going and hold on when it look and feels like there is no reason to do so. They do so because their hope is in a Sovereign invincible God. So we can say with the Psalmist: “The LORD reigns. ‘The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’” Our hope is anchored to the God who never changes.

Second, he says that for hope to really be a source of power in our lives it demands that we think clearly about the implications of hope. God has revealed His character and His will. And, He has given us a brain and intelligence to struggle through the awesome implications of His truth.. He has mysteriously chosen to reveal Himself through words and ideas that have been conveyed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Today we encounter these words written on the pages of the Bible.

Our problem today is that we think poorly because we read so little. John Wesley, who used to read books on horse back when traveling, told his younger men in ministry, “Read or get out of the ministry.” Reading helps us think. But today we live in a photographic culture instead of a typographic culture. Most communicating is done through pictures, videos, and movies.  The work of thinking is all done for us and therefore we are not forced to wrestle with concepts. Someone else interprets the matter for us in pictures. So, our ability to discern truth and sort out opinion is not developed.

Consequently, we are too easily confused and disappointed by the things that confront us and the pressure that assail us on a daily basis. We may be soothed for a moment by a weepy song on TV, but it does little to help us think about the great struggles in life that needs our minds settled upon God and His plan for us and His world. One well traveled observer has described North American evangelicalism as man-centered, manipulative, success orientated, self-indulgent and sentimental, 3000 mile wide and a half inch deep. I am afraid he is right. Our spirituality reflects our ideas of God.

II.   The Helmet of Hope and Salvation: Ephesians 6:17; 1 Thess 5:8-11

How can we defeat the wily and crafty ruler of darkness in heavenly realms when our thinking is so shallow? No wonder we are so impotent in our missionary impact to our society. Although we know the Truth, we act as if we aren’t quite sure. Although we serve the awesome Creator of the universe, we act as if He were a man like us. Although we are in the midst of a fierce battle for man souls, we act as if we are on a deserved vacation. That is not the message of the Bible. Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians:

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

That is not the language of vacation. That is the language of war! The great pastor R.G. Lee once said, “If you don’t get up in the morning and meet the devil, you’re just headed the wrong way.” We are people of the day. We have been told the truth. We are in a spiritual battle and we should live like it. There is a devil who doesn’t want the kingdom of God to advance. If you are going in the right direction, if you are on the front line, you’re going to get hit by him. The devil will attack you with every weapon in his arsenal to discourage you. He is the accuser of the brethren and he would love to neutralize you with accusations that push you into hopelessness.

That is why James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil!” Don’t give in without a fight! We must recognize and accept that fact that we are in a battle and so we must be “self-controlled, putting on faith and love, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” That is why Paul says, put on the helmet of salvation.

Here is what I believe. The battle always begins with our thoughts about God. A. W. Tozer once said that our first step down is thinking thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. When we fail to grasp His omnipotence, His omniscience, His omnipresence, and make him into nothing more than a superman we limit His sovereign power over our lives and the history of this planet.

If you think that He is hampered by sin and evil and circumstance you will always feel insecure and timid. If you are not convinced that all things work together for good for those who love God and called according to His purpose, you will always be at the mercy of every unkind wind. If you do not believe that the giving of His Son, the greatest and hardest gift he could give to us, does not guarantee that He will give us “all things,” you will never be more than conqueror. If you do not believe that nothing can separate you from the love that is in Christ Jesus, then you will be constantly gripped by anxiety and hopelessness instead being confident and radical in your living and giving.

When we take our eyes off the greatness of God we will put our hopes in ourselves. When we decrease the greatness of God we elevate the greatness of man. So our life rests upon our shoulders. If we are left to ourselves then we must strive for success and happiness. If happiness is the goal then every painful disappointment and every hurtful circumstance becomes a mortal enemy to our well being. If the blessings of living are restricted to the short time we have on this earth then we must cram every moment with a passing feeling of pleasure, for we know that one day it will all be gone and we will be left with nothing. Then, partying is a priority even though head aches and regrets are all we are left with the next morning. People become objects for our use instead of subjects of our love and service. Success and fulfillment is determined by the changing whims of the day and we are left to constantly fit within the demands of a self centered, competitive culture. In other words we never can rest, because it always depends upon our accomplishments.  

Then, it is only a matter of time before we find that those things do not satisfy. It always amazes me that our culture has become so gripped by a desire to imitate the rock star and movie star whose life off camera or off stage is so empty and destructive. Multiple marriages, angry and broken children, drugs and alcoholism, trouble with the law, faces and bodies which look empty and twenty years older than they should look, are the norm not the exception.  

Following models like my father and mother would be considered definitely not cool today, but look at the result of their lives. They were married fifty-five years, producing four children who love and respect them dearly. All four kids have been married for 35years or more to the same spouses. There are thousands of people all around the world who were changed from broken people to children of hope because mom and dad dared to give themselves away for the sake of Christ. Their lives still testify of the faithfulness of God even though their formal ministry has ceased because of the effects of time and age. Why would I want to be like Elvis Presley, Britany Spears, Frank Sinatra, or the Shack, when I can imitate the faith of my parents? In placing my faith in Christ, just like they did, my life will have an influence that will survive the seventh game of the NBA finals.

When it all ends, no matter what I have to go through for my faith, I will be able to say with David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor, “I never sacrificed a thing.” I will be able to say with Samuel Zwemmer who lost his precious wife and two dear daughters on the mission field after fifty years of little visible success, “I would do it all over again. The sheer joy of it all is what I remember.”

That is the kind of God glorifying life the devil hates. He doesn’t want you to trust in God. He doesn’t want you to be a conqueror. Here is his pattern. First he will go to God and accuse us before God, like he did with Job and Peter. He infers that the only reason we have faith is because of what we are getting from God in the form of worldly riches and blessings. His goal is not just to make us look bad but to bring aspersion upon the glory of God. In other words, he implies that we serve God for the things we get from Him rather than for the joy we take in knowing and loving the beauty and glory of Jesus.

Next, the devil comes to us appearing as an angel of light in order to get us to fall in temptation. He offers something that rivals God’s blessings. They look good on the outside but on the inside is filled with poison. After we fall for his trap, he rips off his mask and discloses his true identify and intent. He then turns into an accuser to remind us of our failure. He tells us how bad we are for failing to be loyal to Christ. He plays us like a drum. He sifts us as wheat. He plays games with our faith. He wants to so confuse us that we never become what God wants us to be. In the end it is his intention to taint the glory of God that is called into question when we fail to trust Jesus.

The apostle Peter was a logical object of this kind of attack. Jesus had already singled out him for leadership in Matthew 16:17-18: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Jesus has publicly acknowledged the work of the Father in Peter’s life. Then he goes on to predict that Peter, or the faith of Peter, would be the rock upon which He would build His Church. That Church would be so powerful that even the gates of Hades or death would not be able to withstand its powerful advance. So, the devil naturally sets his aim against the faith of Peter. It would be to his greatest pleasure to see Peter lose his faith and lose his hope. Peter’s failure would be a great reflection upon the inability of God to keep his followers and to keep his promises.

In spite of Peter’s bold affirmation that he would never deny Jesus Christ, he did. Jesus was not surprised and even predicted that he would. Matthew records that after Peter denied Christ: “Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” There the devil thought he had him. Sorry for his sin precisely because he did love Jesus and broken because he had betrayed His love Peter wept bitterly. Peter thought himself hopeless and the devil was there to remind him of his condition. The devil was on a roll. If he could keep Peter hopeless he wins.

We can see how his failure deeply affected Peter. Even after he sees the risen Christ and hears and sees his miraculous works after his resurrection, he does something rather strange. In John 21:2-3, Simon declares, “I’m going out to fish.” It is very possible that Peter thinks that his calling to be a disciple and leader in the Church of Christ is now dead. His great hope of being a follower of the Lord Jesus has forever been destroyed by his denials of Christ, so he decides to go back to “life as usual.” He still believes but feels disqualified for service of his dear Jesus. In other words, hope has been harmed. Even the great plans of Jesus for his life are over. God’s glory has been in someway tarnished by his own weakness. That is what the devil would love for all of us to think. He wants us to think that hope is gone.

But what Peter forgot was that Jesus not only predicted his trouble, Jesus also prayed for Him. Remember what Jesus told Peter in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Sin and the devil would not have the last say. Christ was greater than Peter’s sin. God would make sure that Peter’s faith would not fail. Somehow God would even use Peter’s failure to grow Peter so that when he would “turn back he would be able to strengthen his brothers.”

Jesus not only prayed for him but he did something just as wonderful, he personally came to seek out Peter to restore him to his commission. Around a fire with fish cooking on the grill Jesus restores his fallen friend to his post. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loved him and with each affirmation Jesus gives him a fresh commission to feed Christ’s sheep.

Each commission is an answer to each time Peter denied Jesus. Jesus wanted Peter to know that He was greater than Peter’s sin. Peter would be restored and would live to demonstrate his love for his master, not in his own strength but in the strength of God’s Spirit. It would cost him his very life but he would never regret nor forget that day when Jesus came to him to give him hope. Peter would glorify Christ even though he sinned.

That is what Paul means when he tells us to put on the helmet of hope. The helmet of hope is meant to protect our hope by thinking God’s thoughts about our Jesus and His plan for our lives. We are in a battle for truth. He will come and try to give a hit to out head so that our thinking becomes cloudy. In college we had a flag football league which got rather ruff at times. I was playing quarterback on our team. I called an option play where I would go down the line and either run or pitch the ball determined by the reaction of the defense. As I cut back into the line the middle linebacker and I knocked heads. You have to know that this linebacker weighed 275 pounds and was recruited by Georgia Tech to play football. Well I never knew what hit me. The strange thing about it was that I stayed in the game for awhile but I cannot tell you to this day what I did. I played a whole quarter not knowing where I was. That may tell you a little about the way I played quarterback. Later I was taken to the hospital with a concussion.

That is exactly what the devil wants to do to you. He wants to slap you up side the head so that you will forget who God is and who you are in His will. The enemy will try to cloud our thinking so that we will live on the basis of our feelings and our confused perceptions. But we are to resist him. In the words of Paul in 2 Cor 10:2-5: “we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Did you hear that? We demolish arguments and every pretension [that set them selves up against God]. We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. We refuse to live by our feelings or by the circumstances that surround us. How we think is absolutely crucial to our ability to wage war against the enemy. If we do not think God’s thoughts we will be seduced into thinking the enemies lies. If we do that we are prime targets for discouragement and hopelessness.

There will come times when we find ourselves in pain and trouble and seems like it is all over for us. Maybe we see no success after years of service and we feel like it is all our fault. Maybe we think that the challenges are too great for us and the enemy is too strong.

Maybe we have sinned so many times that we believe God has nullified the promise of blessings upon your life. What do we do? We clear the cobwebs from our mind. We resist the devil. We refuse to listen to his lies. We put our trust in Jesus Christ. We stop focusing on what we cannot do and start focusing upon what God can do. Psalm 62:8 gives us great counsel: “Pour out your heart to God, for He is our refuge.” Ps 42:5-6 also has good counsel. Speak to yourself and say, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God.” Paul put it this way in Col 1:27: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ is living in you to preserve your faith and bring you home to your final glory. His name is at stake in your victory over the devil.

There is one more thing that will we need to know. God has given us another very great resource to help us in times of great struggle. We are not alone. God has given us the fellowship of His body to help and encourage in times of struggle. Peter goes though great struggle and battles shame and hopeless. He finds that God is strong and faithful even in his unfaithfulness. After wards he goes forth to strengthen the brethren in like struggles. In other words, God has ordained that he would be glorified as we turn toward one another in the midst of painful times. That is why Hebrews says: Heb 10:23-25 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Vance Havner once said, “Snowflakes are frail but if enough of them stick together, they can stop traffic.” God has ordained that as we would turn to one another and link our hearts and hands in faith in Christ we would stop traffic. We would put a road block that would prevent the enemy from running ruff shod over the church of Jesus Christ. I thank God for those of you who are my family and who not only pray for me but root for me as well. You want me to be successful and fruitful as I serve the Lord and you have invested yourself in my life to see that it happens. I hope that I have been the same kind of encouragement to you in times of distress. Together we will have the joy of feeding many of Christ’s lambs for the sake of His glory.

One of God’s great gift to the church down through the years has been the Puritans. Although they lived and wrote 300-400 years ago their thoughts about awesomeness of God and the holiness of our calling still impact the Church through their sermons and books.

The Puritans had a love affair with Christ. They wrote much about the beauty of Christ. Thomas Goodwin, writing about heaven, said, “If I were to go to heaven, and find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately; for heaven without Christ would be heel to me.”

Samuel Rutherford also writing about the beauty of Christ and His ability to meat our deepest longings wrote,

If there were ten thousand millions of worlds, and as many heavens, full of men and angels, Christ would not be pinched to supply all our wants, and to fill us all. Christ is a well of life; but who knows how deep it is to the bottom/ Put the beauty of ten thousand thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden, in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness into one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths.