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How to Beat a Stress Test / The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – 8/22/2021

Ephesians 6:10-20

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes

If you have ever spent any time in an airport then you know how busy, crazy and complicated they can be. And think about all the things you don’t see, for example, the details of doing security checks, or matching up thousands of pieces of baggage with the right traveler and the right airplane, or monitoring weather conditions all over the world. It’s pretty incredible that millions of people fly all over the world every year with few disruptions. How do airports do it? Well, did you know that before a major airport opens, it has to undergo a stress test?

An airport stress test is like a dress rehearsal for opening night of a Broadway show. Recently, a young man participated in a stress test for a new airport built in Berlin, Germany. The Berlin Brandenburg International Airport was completed in October 2020, at a cost of $7 billion dollars. Before they officially opened their doors to the public, they asked for a few hundred volunteers each week to participate in a stress test to determine if the airport’s operations were working like they should. For example, do the signs in the terminal make sense? Are the security scanners effective? Is the baggage handling operation matching up the right bag with the right flight? Do the toilets work? Like they did with the new Browns stadium, if you can remember that far back.

Volunteers were asked to go through the whole process of acting as if they were taking a flight. They went up to the ticket counters and got their plane tickets. They went through security checkpoints. They bought overpriced food and magazines from airport kiosks. They checked airport message boards to confirm flight schedules.

Most of it was fairly routine. But the airport designers threw in a few challenges. To prepare the employees for any challenges they might face, they secretly arranged a number of small crises. Certain passengers were told to act like spoiled, high-maintenance VIPs. Flights got canceled at the last minute. Hundreds of bags got re-routed to another airport. A security scanner suffered a glitch. All these surprises were arranged to test the airport employees’ resourcefulness and attitude in the face of problems. Would they rise to the challenge? Or would they react in anger, lashing out at the frustrated passengers crowded around them?

How do you think you would do in that situation? Do you get a headache just thinking about it? This article made me think about how useful a stress test really is. What if you could get a dress rehearsal that would prepare you for the challenges and heartbreaks and battles of life?

Two weeks ago, I talked about a passage from Ephesians 4, and how the apostle Paul was trying to get people from every segment of ancient Roman society to envision a new kind of community, a community based on equality and sacrificial love, something that had never been seen before. Ephesians 4, 5 and part of 6 also challenge believers to envision a new way of relating to one another. Paul challenges Christians to treat others the way Jesus would, with compassion, kindness, respect, humility. And if this new way of life isn’t challenging enough, remember that the early Christians endured hostility and persecution by the Roman government. How would they respond? Would the pressures to fit in, to conform to their culture, cause them to lose their cool, as well as lose their faith?

Paul knew the struggles they were facing. When he became a Christian, he lost his position as a Pharisee. He lost the status and security that all Pharisees were given. We can also assume he lost the respect of his friends and colleagues. For the rest of his life, he endured harassment and persecution and beatings and imprisonment in order to share his faith. And in this passage, Paul shares with them, and us, his secret for facing any challenge without losing his faith.

He begins by writing, finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you’ve done everything, to stand firm.

According to Paul, the first step in facing down any challenge is to depend on God. Some of us live as if the only power we have to draw on is our own, and we’re whipped before the battle has even begun.

Remember that scene in the Old Testament in which David, the young shepherd boy, is going out to face the giant Goliath. King Saul places his own armor, his breastplate, his sword, his helmet on David. One version of the Scripture says, David tried in vain to go. Saul’s armor was too heavy! The little guy couldn’t move! So, David took the armor off and went out to face Goliath with only his faith in God, God’s armor. David said to Goliath, you come at me with sword and shield, but I come to you in the name of the Lord God of Israel. He will give me victory this day. You know how that story ends. The shepherd boy killed the giant warrior.

I wish that every one of us could go out and face the world wearing the armor of God! The difference in our lives would be extraordinary. Young people at school, as well as men and women on the job, battling temptation, overcoming discouragement, standing up to the bullies of this world. I wish every person listening to this message could leave here and walk in the confidence that there’s an unseen strength and power that goes with us.

The second step for facing any challenge is to ask God to give you courage and confidence. Confidence and courage make such a difference in life. Verses 14-17 in our passage reads like this, stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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.

Effectiveness in life often is determined by the twin qualities of courage and confidence. But where does this courage and confidence come from? It comes from basing your life on the truth of God and the character of God. When you trust in God to lead you in wisdom, truth and power each day, obstacles become opportunities to grow in the faith. Enemies become opportunities to grow in character. Challenges become opportunities to grow in wisdom. Does faith in God mean you’ll never experience fear? No! But it does mean that you’ll act with wisdom, character and courage in spite of your fear. The secret to dealing with any challenge is to learn to depend on God, to find your strength, your courage and your confidence in God.

Finally, the secret to dealing with any challenge is to prepare yourself daily by opening yourself daily to the power and the presence of God. That’s what the armor of God is. The word prepare is from the Latin paro which means ‘to make complete, to point in the right direction, and to equip for battle. That’s exactly what the armor of God and prayer do for the believer: they make us complete; they point us in the right direction, and they equip us for battle. But we must prepare ourselves every day by prayer, by reading our Bible, by spending time in placing our minds and priorities and habits and attitudes in line with Jesus Christ. You’ll face suffering and challenges and spiritual battles in your life. Now, don’t act surprised. It happens to everyone. God isn’t going to protect you from every battle. God is, however, going to equip you for every battle. But you have to do your part. And before you say that’s against Lutheran doctrine, that sentence doesn’t mean anything about doing our part in our salvation. That’s been assured, I’m talking about fighting against the forces of evil and those who would do us harm.

A former Navy SEAL and best-selling author, wrote about his training with the Seals that taught him, among other things, mental toughness, the ability to control his thoughts so that he didn’t get distracted from his mission. One of his mental practices was to respond to any challenge or obstacle with one word: “Good.” For example, Jeep broke down on a rescue mission. Good. Suffered an injury during a covert operation. Good. Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good.

This one-word response forced him to look at the situation from a new perspective, to see it as an opportunity instead of a threat. It forced him to see the positives in a negative situation. He used this one-word response to prepare himself ahead of time for any battle he might face.

That’s the kind of spiritual preparation Paul wants us to have, to see any adversity as an opportunity for doing good. Let me give you an example of that.

In the early part of the 20th century, Japan officially annexed Korea. Japanese officials announced that on the first day of every month, all Korean citizens would be required to bow down in worship to the shrine of the Japanese sun goddess. Anyone who didn’t bow down to the goddess could be beaten or arrested.

Later, in the 1930s, a young Korean schoolteacher was pressured by her school administrator to take part in this forced worship of the Japanese sun goddess. However, being a Christian, her faith in Jesus made it impossible for her to participate in this act. However, if she didn’t participate in this act of pagan worship, she and her colleagues and students could become targets of persecution by the Japanese government.

The first day of the month came around, and everyone in her school marched toward the Japanese sun god shrine. She could hear students around her whispering, questioning if their Christian teacher would betray her faith in exchange for her safety. When the order came to bow down, she stood tall. Inside, she was terrified. At that moment, she thought to herself, “I am dead.”

Fortunately, she survived this challenge to her faith. However, she and thirty-four other believers were arrested and thrown into prison. They were beaten and left in miserable conditions. For six years, she survived in this brutal environment meanwhile sharing her faith with the other prisoners. When they were released in 1945, a prison guard who was impressed by their courage, said as they passed through the exit, these are the ones who for six long years refused to worship Japanese gods. They fought against severe torture, hunger, and cold, and have won out without bowing their heads to the idol worship of Japan. Today they are the champions of the faith!

Where did this young Korean school teacher get the strength, courage and confidence to withstand arrest and torture for her faith? She prepared herself by daily putting on the armor of God. Whatever battle you’re fighting, against depression or anger or unbelief, the battle has already been won in the heavenly realms. God stands ready to fight for you today. All you need to do is prepare yourself with the armor of God and stand firm while God works through you. There is nothing you can’t overcome if you rely on the strength, courage and confidence that come from your relationship with God.