Summary: This sermon is about how to deal with tempting thoughts!
Jenny struggled with depressing thoughts. Most of the time she knew she had a really good life. Good job. Roof over head. Great boyfriend. But she had these occasional piercing thoughts that of doubt and depression.
John was a great guy. Everybody at work loved him. Great wife, wonderful children. He was headed to the top. But throughout the day he struggled with temptations. He could be going along fine, and suddenly thoughts about women, other than his wife, we tempting him.
Marie thought she had her problem under control. She attended church, was active in Sunday School, seemed to be walking strong and sure enough she was shopping and suddenly the temptation had resurfaced. Temptations to shoplift, to take something that wasn’t hers. Thoughts, like bullets shooting through her mind.
Bill had been clean and sober for nearly ten years. He was still going to AA, but even wondered sometimes now if he really still needed to go. He had rebuilt his life, married a new wife and started over again. He always avoided alcohol, bars and anything that tempted him. Then he went on a business trip and the hotel desk clerk asked him during check in “do you want a key to the mini bar?”. There wasn’t an immediate “no” – his mind was racing – tempting thoughts, a little voice screaming “go ahead, what can it hurt?”
In the coming weeks, I really feel lead to deal with what I will call “life issues”. This week’s life question being, “How do I deal with tempting or bad thoughts?” I came across a web discussion board; actually not so much discussion as certain “staff bloggers” from various denominations post on various issues and list how their background deals with the issue. The site itself is called “Internet Monk” but the discussion I came across was called “Liturgical Gangstas” as was about “spiritual warfare”. At its center, these thoughts that bombard the mind are spiritual warfare. A United Methodist perspective was provided by Rev. Matthew Johnson (NFI), though I do not know who that is. He states clearly our problem:
“I don’t know that there is a theme or a practice of spiritual warfare in my tradition. We Methodists tend to be dispassionate when it comes to spiritual warfare. We do have some charismatic people and groups within our denomination, but my experience as a cradle Methodist is that the general attitude toward spiritual warfare can be summed up this way: “Meh”.
In my experience, United Methodists rarely talk about spiritual warfare and even fewer practice the more popularized versions of spiritual warfare. There is very, very little literature about spiritual warfare in our denomination both currently and historically.”1 (Internet Monk, Johnson, Rev. William., “Liturgical Gangstas 16: Spiritual Warfare”)
We can fight, that which we don’t know about, or that for which we are obviously ill prepared. That means we not only have to know Jesus, but we must also learn and grow by studying his message.
When we think about the mind, and our tempting thoughts, it is no wonder that Ephesians 6:10-20 gets to the heart of spiritual warfare, and tells us (vs. 13) “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” and (vss.16-17) “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is no wonder that we should have to protect ourselves with shield of faith, and helmet of salvation because the flaming darts of the evil one are trying to bombard us.
That passage begins (vs. 10) “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” (A friend of mine used to sing that in a song). In another scripture we are told (James 4:7) “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
So the question is “How do I deal with tempting or bad thoughts?” How do we go out in to the world and live this everyday in Jesus Christ? We have already been given some clues: Submit yourselves to God; walk in his ways; stand firm by putting on the full armor of God”. But what do you do when the thoughts are bombarding you? When sin is lurking at the door and its desire is to consume you?
Our text today instructs us “we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We 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. 6And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”