The Battle Is On

Sooner or later we all will have to face the music.  We will all have to face God. The apostle Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 11-13 that it all comes back to the fact that “the battle is on.”  August 12, 2018.  

Football, Quidditch, Indy cars, interest rates, market share, mythology, political campaigns, video games, chess, and checkers.  Name the experience or activity, and you’ll hear people call out, “The battle is on.”  Some say it with a big, cheesy grin confident in their superiority and eventual victory.  Some say it with a veneer of bravado but underneath their fight or flight barometer needles toward flight.  Some live for competition. Some dread it. But what if there’s more at stake than prize money or power?

You may run into people who pooh-pooh the idea of God and eternity.  All their energy goes to making life in the here-and-now as comfortable and pain-free as possible, and when it’s done, they believe we simply become worm food, and that’s it.  To such a person I would say, “What if there really is a God and there really is an eternity, and we’re going to end up either under his anger in abject misery, pain, and fear or in his arms in total joy, happiness, and bliss?  Laugh it off, shrug it off, turn your back if you want, but what makes you sure you’re right? You’ve got nothing to lose in lending an ear to a story that began centuries ago and has been embraced and retold by millions and millions of credible, intelligent people.”  The apostle Paul makes it clear in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians chapter ten that it all comes back to the fact that “the battle is on.”

For real

Call it inattention.  Call it indifference. Call it whatever you want.  The Christians of Corinth did not reckon with the seriousness of the spiritual battle we all deal with daily.  Maybe they had become numb to the dirty words, smutty pictures, outside-of-marriage hugs, and beer slopping from everyone’s glass in every TV show, commercial, and movie and weren’t bothered by it any more.  Maybe they started dabbling in some of those attitudes and actions. “The only way to get ahead in business is to cheat, right?” “If a marriage isn’t what you expect, dump it, and find someone else.” “There’s a little truth in every religion, so I’m going to pick and choose what suits my personal beliefs.”  “So, what if I have a joint now and then. It’s legal is many states, and it’s not affecting my work, dude!”

Paul wrote, “Wake up!  The battle is on!”  To prove it, he drew on history.  “Look at the ancient Israelites. When God led them out of slavery, it looked like they had it made.  They had food and drink and clothes with no holes and were on the path to the promised land.   I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”   Yet, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  Why?  You would think they would fall on their knees in grateful joy, “The Lord God has rescued us, provides for us, and is leading us.”  But they kept peeking around the corner like little kids to see if God wasn’t looking, “Let’s see how far we can go. Let’s see how much we can get away with.”

Our society is loaded with people who crave instant gratification for any and every desire regardless of the consequences.  The abuse of tobacco, alcohol, prescription, and illegal drugs costs approximately one hundred thirty-seven billion dollars in health care expenses each year.  Add in the cost of dealing with crime and the loss of work productivity, and the number balloons to over six hundred billion dollars, seventeen percent of the federal budget.  Less than half the children in America are growing up in a two-parent, man and woman, first-marriage home. Research has shown that kids without that pay the price and are at a significantly greater risk for mental illness, dropping out of school, incarceration, and suicide.  But the battle isn’t just “out there.” Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” We need the apostle’s warning today as never before, not only because of sin in our society but because sin has infected us deep inside.  The battle is on, and it’s for real!

For our soul

The Corinthians nodded, “You’re right, Paul.  The battle is on!”  But the apostle didn’t want them to parrot his warning and then get off track, losing focus on the main issue.  They would have blown it if they said, “OK! We can see our sins, and we’ll cut back on sinful actions.” Paul warned, “That’s not the point.  The battle is not so much about behavior. It’s a battle for your soul.” Satan tempted the Israelites not at their strong points but where they were weakest.  He baits the hook according to the appetite of the fish. Martin Luther observed, “Satan is like a hunter. He wrings the neck of some birds but a few he leaves as decoys.”  In other words, the devil sometimes attacks directly and snags people, but at other times he lets people think they’re just fine and then sneaks up on them when they aren’t paying attention.

When Abraham Lincoln became a candidate for president, someone asked him what he thought of his prospects.  He replied, “I do not fear Breckenridge, for he is from the South, and the North will not support him. I do not fear Douglas, for he is from the North, and the South will not support him.  But there is a man named Lincoln of whom I am very much afraid. If I am defeated, it will be by that man.” Mr. Lincoln saw himself as potentially his own worst enemy.

What happens if we become indifferent to the battle for our souls?  Look at history. Shortly after the Israelites escaped Egypt, twenty-three thousand rebellious people died in a plague.  Later in their journey to the promised land, those who stuck their tongues out at God died from poisonous snakes. The point?  Don’t place fast and loose with God’s commands. Have you ever made God take a back seat? Paul warned, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.”  Ever look at someone of the opposite gender with something lower than respect in your eyes?  “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did.”   “Lord, how can I trust you if you don’t answer my prayers the way I want and right now?”  “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did.” “I don’t like my boss.”  “I don’t like the hours I have to put in.”  “I don’t like homework.” “I don’t like my apartment.”  “I don’t like the way I look.” “Do not grumble, as some of them did.”  These things happened as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  Has Satan snuck in and hooked you with misplaced priorities or dirty thoughts or a cranky nature?  My friends, the battle is on!  It’s for real, and it’s for our soul!

For our good

A soldier crouched in his foxhole.  Fearing he might lose his life and never see his loved ones again, he decided to reread the beautiful letter he had received three days earlier from his girlfriend.  He pulled it from his pocket and began to read. His mind drifted back home. He could see her smiling face. It was as if he wasn’t in the battle any more. Then an enemy soldier snuck up on him and slit his throat.

After the disaster in Eden that blew apart the harmony God intended to have with people, the Lord could have and should have squished them like bugs and tossed them in hell.  But instead, he surprised them and us, promising a Savior to rescue them and restore them to his good graces. But if he left them alone at that point, they might have drifted off thinking about how nice they had it, not paying attention to the devil’s tricks to pull them back to his camp.  So, God told them, “You’re going to experience physical pain. There will be times when men and women don’t get along. It will be difficult to earn a living.” Why did God do that? Was he being rude? Was he out to get them? Not at all! In fact, just the opposite. You see, he understands sinful people like Adam and Eve, like the Israelites, like the Corinthians, like us.  He knows that we have a tendency to downplay or ignore the serous nature of the battle for our souls. He wants us to stay alert. That’s why he allows temptation and testing. All of that comes into our lives to remind us that we are in a position of weakness, desperately needing his help. The battle is on, but it’s for our good.

And just when we start to shiver in our boots or get hit with a wave of anxiety, God promises, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  If you think you are strong, look out.  The dragon’s jaws are open to gobble up the overconfident who are not paying attention.  But if you realize you are weak, good. Then you will rely all the more on the Lord God. Whatever testings and temptings come, God is faithful and will not abandon us.  He will always provide a way out. Sometimes the way out is giving us the courage to say, “No” to temptation. Sometimes the way out is the ability to bear up under the pressure so that we fight on every day.  In Bible-talk that is called repentance, which is not cod liver oil for the soul but a consistent, every day recognition of our own poor performance and a reliance on God’s outstanding promises of full forgiveness and the open doors of heaven.   The Lord Jesus makes all the difference. He gives us confidence and comfort for the battle. As if that’s not enough, God layers on a promise for right now. There is no temptation that you can’t say “No” to. There is no burden or problem that you won’t be able to bear.  How do I know that’s true? There’s an empty grave outside of Jerusalem. Jesus is not in it. He came out victorious so that you and I can join in the battle cry, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).  The battle is on, and it is for our good.

In the end, it’s the “W” makes all the difference.  You may run into people who pooh-pooh the idea of God and eternity, and when they hear you talk about life as a battle, they may respond, “That’s exactly why I’m not interested in Christianity.”  Here’s what you can say. “Whoa! Christians don’t have a corner on the market. Life as a battle is true for everyone, whether they admit it or not, whether they believe it or not. Sooner or later we all will have to face the music.  We will all have to face God. But as a Christian I am content and confident in dealing with the reality of the battle because the “W” makes all the difference. I not only know that the battle is on, but because of Jesus the battle is won!”  Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on August 12, 2018