The bloodiest day in United States History was September 17, 1862 when 4,700 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War battle of Antietam. That was until September 11, 2001, when over 3,000 people were killed in a well planned terrorist attack. By comparison, 2,388 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor, and 1,465 Americans were killed the first day of the Normandy invasion.
As a result of September 11, 2001, our nation has declared war on terrorism, and indeed, we are at war. But it is a war unlike those our nation has previously known. This enemy is elusive and cowardly. This will be a long, drawn-out affair. It will inevitably take its toll on our country. Not only are our armed forces in harm’s way, but civilians here at home are also potential targets of the enemy in this war we are involved in.
What is our responsibility as Christian citizens at a time like this? What’s the best way that we can be of service to our God and our country in this time of war? That’s what we want to address over the next few weeks. Today, I want us to see what counsel Paul gives us in Ephesians 6:10-20.
Paul tells us that we should live daily on a state of "high alert." This should be especially true of American believers during these days in which we find ourselves.
Our military has a system of terrorist condition indicators. It is called the Threat-Con (threat conditions) system. Posted at entrances and in key locations on each military base are Threat-Con signs. Most of the time they read "normal". That means standard operating procedures are in order. You do your job; you go to class; you put in your time. Normal Alert conditions are very INWARD focused. It’s all about the base - the graduations, the classes, the degrees, the promotions, the inspections. But since Sept. 11th we have moved beyond "Threat¬Con normal." You see, the Threat-con system has multiple levels.
The next level is Threat-Con Alpha. This is when there is a general threat of possible terrorist activity. The nature of that threat is unpredictable but personnel are reminded to be on the look out for anything suspicious.
Next comes Threat-Con Bravo - which leads to taking such measures as barricading streets and setting up barriers. After that comes Threat-Con-Charlie. This condition applies when an incident occurs against a military base or installation.
Finally, we come to Threat-Con Delta. This applies when there has been an actual terrorist attack and the community needs to be warned about the possibility of other attacks. On September 11th, 2001, our country went from Threat-Con Normal to Threat-Con Delta overnight. Threat-Con Delta is a state of "high alert."
In a state of high alert everything changes. There is an OUTWARD focus. The normal things might still happen but those are not what everyone is focused on. They are focused on what is going on in the world, and what their responsibilities are in light of what is going on.
There are spiritual realities at the root of every physical reality. That’s what Paul says in verse 12. This is illustrated well by the conflict we find ourselves involved in. This is perhaps one of the most unique things about it. The physical realities of this war have their root in spiritual realities.
Those who oppose America are involved in a jihad - a holy war. Their motives are based on an empty religious system that calls on its followers to contend for their faith by bringing death to others. Christ, on the other hand, calls on His followers to contend for their faith by bringing life to others. While those who have declared war on our nation use methods of death and destruction, we are to share a message of life and deliverance!
Certainly, as American citizens, we have an obligation to involve ourselves in whatever way is necessary to deal with the physical realities of this war. But we who have been made spiritually alive through faith in Christ cannot be content with contributing to our nation’s well-being on that level alone. We must commit ourselves to living in a state of "high alert" spiritually!
This brings us to the question of how we, as Christians, should respond to the challenges facing our nation in these days. We need to be living in a state of "high alert." But what does a state of "high alert" look like?
1. There is a visible change in activity - Vs. 10-11
When a nation is in a state of "high alert," daily life is no longer standard operating procedure. People are armed and ready. Troops are being moved. Routines are changed. Everything is focused on fighting the war.
Our president has called thousands of reserves to active service. They were trained but were not actively involved in the military on a day to day basis. But in a time of "high alert," such people are activated to full time status.
Likewise, Paul tells us that believers cannot go on with business as usual, but that we must be armed and ready to obey when our "commander in chief calls on us. This will result in a visible change in our activity.
How? Well, for one thing, if we are living in a state of high alert, we will be on our knees. Not only as part of public and corporate gatherings, but we will be spending time with God on a daily basis - verse 18.
Also, those of us who have been living on reserve status will report for active duty! When believers are living in a state of high alert, they will go from being "Sunday only" Christians to "seven day a week" Christians.
During Desert Storm some reserves were interviewed by a reporter. They said they did not want to go to war. They had signed up for the benefits, the sign up bonus, the college education - but one weekend a month and 2 weeks a summer was all they had planned on giving.
Some Christians like that. They want the benefits that come from knowing Christ, and are willing to give up a Sunday now and then - just don’t ask them to go to active duty. It was never part of their plan. But listen, it doesn’t matter whether or not it was a part of your plan, active service in the work of the kingdom is part of God’s plan; and for the sake of God and country, every Christian needs to be living in a state of high alert - which means that it is time for you to get active!
2. There is increased readiness for action - vs. 14-17
Every day there are men and women in our armed forces who are training so that they might be effective in battle. They involve themselves in various exercises and role plays; working through every scenario so they will be ready for every possible situation.
Likewise, believers need to submit to training (2 Timothy 2:15)! Peter says that we are to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," (1 Peter 3:15).
Let me ask you. If someone were to ask you why you believe in Jesus and why you believe the message of the Bible, could you give them a reason?
There’s a lot of talk about Islam these days; and in the present atmosphere of "tolerance" and "political correctness" that has overtaken our culture, Christians need to be equipped to explain why the god of Islam is not the God of the Bible, and why everyone needs to turn from whatever god they trust in to trust in the only true and living God, Jesus Christ. But too many Christians cannot do that because they have not submitted to training!
I understand that the terrorist who flew the planes on September 11th gave at least 9 months of their lives to training so that they might be prepared for one day - one event. Most Christians, on the other hand, won’t give 1 hour to participate in training!
When are we going to get serious about the work of the Lord? When are we going to realize that a high calling requires a high level of preparedness? We are called to live in a state of high alert, and that requires training to help make sure we are ready for action!
3. There is eagerness for assignment - vs. 11; 13
Patriotism among civilians in America is back in fashion! But it has never gone out of style among our military, who are even more passionate about their country today in light of the events of 9/11. We find that our military personnel are eager for assignment. They have been trained - it’s why they signed on. They want to do their job. Because they love their country, they can’t wait for an opportunity to defend our freedom. How grateful we should be for every member of our armed forces!
Likewise, every Christian, because of his love for God, should be eager to assume an assignment in the work of the kingdom, and each of us has a job to do! Notice how Paul emphasizes that we each have a stand to make; that we each have ground we are responsible to defend. When we are living in a state of high alert, we will be eagerly looking for an assignment and a responsibility to fulfill. We will want to do our part!
It’s been said that when it comes to serving the Lord, everyone seems to want to serve in an advisory capacity!
To highlight its annual picnic one year, a company rented two racing boats and challenged a rival company to a race. The rival company accepted. On the day of the picnic, everyone entered into the spirit of the event. Women wore colorful summer dresses and big, floppy hats. Men wore straw skimmers and white pants. Bands played and banners waved.
Finally the race began. To the consternation of the host company, the rival team immediately moved to the front and was never overtaken. They won by 11 lengths. The management of the host company was embarrassed by its showing and promptly appointed a committee to place responsibility for the failure and make recommendations to improve the host team’s chances in a rematch the following year. The committee appointed several task forces to study various aspects of the race. They met for three months and issued a preliminary report. In essence, the report said that the rival crew had been unfair.
"They had eight people rowing and one person steering and shouting out the beat," the report said. "We had one person rowing and eight people steering and shouting out the beat." The chairman of the board thanked the committee and sent it away to study the matter further and make recommendations for the rematch. Four months later the committee came back with a recommendation: "Our guy has to row faster."
That’s the picture of too many churches. The population in the U.S. is growing at a faster rate than the growth of our churches. We are falling behind. In response, what do we do? We simply tell the few who have accepted a responsibility to work harder. Instead, what really needs to happen is for more of us to get working!
4. There are people with a sacrificial attitude - v. 13
Many of our fellow citizens have died already in this war on terror. Many more are willing to do so as well. They are willing because we Americans understand that freedom is something worth sacrificing to defend.
The terrorists who high-jacked the airplanes on September 11, 2001 were willing to give up their lives and there are others who are also willing to die. They are willing because they want to impose their religious beliefs on all who do not embrace them - even by force.
It is for the cause of freedom that every Christian citizen must be willing to do what every American should be willing to do - to lay down their life, if necessary, in doing our part to see our nation win this war on terror.
But for the sake of God and country, we must be willing to go a step further. We must be willing to die to ourselves and live for God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength! We must "seek Him first and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) regardless of the sacrifice involved. As Paul told Timothy, we should be wiling to "endure hardship... like a good soldier of Jesus Christ," (2 Timothy 2:3).
The 9/11 terrorists sacrificed themselves for the sake of a dead founder, a false god, and an empty religion that cannot fulfill anything it promises.
We, on the other hand, are called to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of a living Savior, the true God, and a faith that delivers everything it promises.
When it comes to discussions concerning the state of our nation, Christians are fond of quoting Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." In doing so, we often give emphasis to the latter part of the verse and speak about the deplorable state of our culture and society. What I believe God is calling us to do is to emphasize the first part of that verse and understand that He is calling us, through living in a state of high alert, to promote righteousness in our nation. If Christians don’t, who will?
For the sake of God and country, let’s get outward focused, rather than inward focused. Let’s commit ourselves today to becoming active in the work of the church; to participating in the training that is offered and that we all need; to requesting an assignment and fulfilling it; and to making whatever sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure is necessary to see that the cause of righteousness is advanced. Let’s answer the call of God to live in a state of high alert!