Sifted | Sermon Note Sundays

I’m back from kids camp, and, boy, am I pooped! But there’s no way I was going to miss Pastor Chuck’s third sermon in his series on demolishing strongholds. I’m plumb tired of lugging mine around.

Here’s a quick review just in case you missed the first two sermons in the series.

A spiritual stronghold is anything we have in our lives that has a hold on us and keeps us from being as close to God and as right with God as we can be. It’s that sin that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to shake. It distracts us from being about the Father’s business and from sitting at His feet.

No matter how we try, we can’t rid our lives of spiritual strongholds on our own. “For our struggle is not 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” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). We can’t fight with our fists or our faulty willpower. We must use spiritual weapons. The only way we can pick those bad boys up is if we throw down up our hands and surrender.

Lord, I surrender. I can’t do this myself. I need You! 

The next step to kicking those strongholds to the curb is to train our minds to think biblically. When those strongholds try to pull us in, we must replace those temptation thoughts with truth straight from the Word of God. The more we do it, the easier it will become to resist the pull of sin.

Lord, Your Word holds all the truth I need to combat the lies of Satan. Give me the strength and discipline to fill my mind and heart with Your word and to fight temptation with Your Word hidden in my heart.

To read my recaps of Pastor Chuck’s first two sermons, go here and here.

This week, Pastor Chuck didn’t exactly give another step to demolishing strongholds. He issued a warning.

Satan wants to take us down, and he will use any means necessary to make it happen.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV).

He’s not the cute and cunning cartoon character with the pitchfork and shifty eyes. He is a vicious and relentless foe we’d best not underestimate.

Pastor took us to the Gospels where Peter found out first-hand that Satan is more than a pesky fly at a picnic.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is sitting at the Passover table with His disciples trying to explain what is to come. He warns them that bad stuff is about to go down and that He already knows they will tuck tail and run.

Peter, in his macho way, says, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (26:33 NIV). Jesus lets him know that not only will he fall away like the rest of them, he will bold-faced deny Christ three times before it’s all over.

Luke adds an important statement to this Upper Room account. He records Jesus as saying, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31 NIV).

I love this Scripture for so many reasons.

Simon, Simon

Jesus had given Simon the new name, Peter, which means “rock.” I guess you could say Simon was his natural name and Peter was his supernatural name. When Jesus warned Peter of his upcoming failure, He called him Simon. He knew Simon’s fleshly fears would get the best of him. He knew he’d fall back to the natural when the going got tough.

Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.

You see that? Satan had to ask to mess with the disciples during this time of turmoil. This tells me that nothing is out of God’s control.

Now, for some, this might feel disturbing. God allows Satan to torment us? Why? How mean is that? He could keep Satan away from us if He wanted to, so why doesn’t He? I’ve asked those questions myself.

Nowadays, I choose to find comfort in the truth that God’s hand is ever on my life. If He allows me to be sifted, He will bring something good out of it. I also have to believe that there are times Satan wants to sift me and God says, “Nope. Not today.”

So what is this sifting that Satan desired to do to Peter and still desires to do to us?

John Piper, in his sermon, “The Sifting of Simon Peter,” explains.

What does “sifting like wheat” refer to in real life? The best clue comes in the next sentence where Jesus says, “But I prayed for you that your faith fail not.” Satan aims to sift Simon and the others like wheat. Jesus aims to keep Simon’s faith from failing. So probably “sifting like wheat” means doing something to make the disciples’ faith fail.

We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women. What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company. Faith cannot fall through the mesh. It’s the wrong shape. And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands.

Faith cannot fall through the mesh. The more our faith becomes part of us, the better we can hold up to Satan’s sifting.

But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.

This part does me in, people! Jesus, the very Jesus who bled and died for me, prays for me the same way He prayed for Peter! He bends the Father’s ear and whispers MY name. YOUR name. He whispered His dear Simon’s name.

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV).

He’s praying that our faith will hold firm. He wants us to climb out of that sifter stronger for the sifting.

And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Jesus didn’t say IF. He said WHEN. He knew Peter would screw everything up and even told him so, but He didn’t intend to leave Peter in his guilt and shame. After Christ was resurrected, he went to Peter, dusted him off, and set him back on the right path.

Our God is a God of restoration. Even when we crash and burn, He doesn’t leave us rubble.

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me'” (Jeremiah 15:19 NIV).

Our past sins don’t disqualify us from future purpose. God went on to use Simon Peter to preach the truth of the Gospel boldly and to strengthen the fledgling church that still stands today.

The Prince of Darkness wants to stifle our light, friends. Are we going to let him win? If God sees fit to let Satan sift us as wheat, will our faith keep us from falling?

These are questions only you and God can answer. Sifting will come. Are you armed and ready?

Lord, Satan is a lying snake, and I refuse to take him lying down. You are my safe place, my strength, and my song. I choose You and Your ways. I can look back and remember times of sifting where I lost my faith and fell flat. And I remember other times when I barely hung on. I want to be so full of faith that I bounce right off that sifter and land on my feet. And then I can fall at Your feet and give You all the praise and glory. 

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The Word of God is our Road Map to Freedom from Strongholds

God was all over the place at Woodridge Baptist Church yesterday! From the graying, grinning greeter lady at the front door to the kids shouting praises upstairs during children’s worship. I couldn’t stop smiling.

One of my favorite moments was singing “My Tribute” shoulder-to-shoulder with my dear friend, Carolyn Brumley. I haven’t heard her sing in 30 years, but her Spirit-filled tones sounded like heaven to me. Carolyn is one of those women God placed in my life way back then to help train me in the faith that sustains me in the here and now. I can’t even articulate how grateful I am for Carolyn Brumley, Carolyn Whitten, and Cathie Grayson for being mentors in my younger days and treasured friends, always.

Oh, Lord, thank you! And help me follow in their footsteps to love on young girls and women you place in my sphere of influence. 

Last week, my pastor started a series of sermons on demolishing strongholds. You can go back and read about the first sermon here. In that sermon, he shared that the first step in demolishing strongholds is to surrender. To admit that we can’t kick that sin habit to the curb on our own.

But surrender doesn’t mean we’re off the hook and it’s all on God to fix us. God’s power is the fuel to get this freedom truck moving, but we have to stomp on the gas! God’s Word is the perfect roadmap.

This battle we fight is a battle of the mind. The evil one knows if he can keep our minds off track, he will keep our lives off track. If we know we’re off course, we just might make a u-turn, but if we have no idea we’re on the wrong road, we’ll just keep toodling along straight to a dead end.

The Word of God is our roadmap to freedom from strongholds, but, just like a closed map, it won’t do any good if we don’t pick it up and study it.

God’s Word exposes our stronghold as the death trap it really is. 

When we apply the light of God’s Word to our strongholds, our excuses scatter like roaches in a dark room. None of our justifications or comparisons can stand up to God’s truth. God doesn’t care that Betty Lou next door drinks way more than you do. It’s not about Betty Lou. It’s about you. God doesn’t care that those pain killers were prescribed by a doctor. He cares that you are enslaved to them and that they are killing you. God doesn’t care that overeating is a socially acceptable sin. He cares that you are turning to fried chicken for comfort instead of Him.

God’s Word helps us navigate life according to God’s clear vision rather than our cloudy emotions.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). Our emotions flip and flop and swell and fade like ocean waves in hurricane season.

God’s Word allows us to replace our thoughts with God’s thoughts. 

The Bible is a powerful distraction from strongholds. When tempted to turn to that besetting sin, we can fight the urge by replacing those temptation tapes playing in our heads with truth tapes.

How does that look in real life? We can’t just sit around with our Bibles in hand all day, but we can store up God’s Word through scripture memorization and strategically placed visual reminders.

Psalm 119:11 says, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (NIV).

Ask God for a scripture or two that speaks to your specific struggle. Post it in the places where the struggle is most real.

  • If your stronghold is porn or some other media-oriented thing, post a sticky note on your computer or TV with a Scripture that reminds you of God’s heart on the matter. “Get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Ezekiel 20:7 NIV).
  • If your stronghold is food, post a sticky note on the fridge or pantry. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NIV).
  • If your stronghold calls to you the most at a certain time of day, set an alarm on your phone for that time and name it, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).
  • A spiral-bound book of index cards makes a perfect home for scriptures you are trying to memorize and mediate on. It’s small enough to keep in your purse or pocket, and you can pull it out and flip through it any time you need it. Sitting in parent pick-up or the drive-thru. On your lunch break or potty break. At the very moment when temptation hits you like a Mack truck, that notebook of truth can be your detour.

We express our faith when we turn our attention to God’s Word and away from our stronghold.

Essentially, we are saying, “God, you are bigger than this stronghold. There’s nothing You can’t do! Meet me here and fight for me as I battle to choose Your way over mine.”

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

God’s Word is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and worthy of our praise. Turning to God’s Word again and again and again strips our strongholds of their power.

Lord,

You are my path and my destination, and Your Word is the flawless map to show me the way. Show me in Your Word the scripture truths specific to my need. I want the mind of Christ, so I can live a life that pleases You. I don’t want any strongholds blocking my path to freedom. In Jesus’ Name I pray, AMEN

How will you use God’s Word and the pray without ceasing life to demolish strongholds in your life? I’d love to hear how God’s Word is helping you walk in freedom.

 

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