Suiting Up for Battle

armor of God

Who or what are believers fighting against?

This is a critical analysis of a sermon about putting on the armor of God based on Ephesians 6:10-18 called Suiting Up for Battle by Brooks Braswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Umatilla (FBCU).

Amor of God, Special Teams

This is a review (three of three) of a sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-18 called Suiting Up for Battle by Brooks Braswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Umatilla (FBCU). You can read part one here and part two here.

Passionate Special Teams

Braswell explains that in special teams, there are eleven players on each side. When something big happens, even though it takes ten other guys to make the play, most of the attention goes to the eleventh person. Braswell says that when you do the hard job, you don’t get all the glory. To illustrate his point, he says that in FBCU, there are offensive players, defensive players, and special teams players, like the weed-pullers.

He’s not talking about spiritual weeds. He’s talking about actual weeds growing throughout the church landscape.

Braswell jokes that some people think they need titles to do good. “You’re the Weed-Puller. I have just given you the authority to pull weeds,” Braswell says. “Executive Director just gave the authority. There we go. I’ll sign it on a document if you need me to.” Everyone laughs.

In light of a recent blog post on language and power in the church, I feel emotionally incontinent for laughing along.

Braswell talks about people who man the drink table, take out trash, and cut the grass. This is what special teams is all about, Braswell says. There are people who monitor the air conditioning and lights, ushers and greeters, people who work during special events, and those at home praying for the ministry at FBCU. Braswell asks, “Where is your place on the special team?… “

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that God has special teams and players behind the scenes who accomplish great things in the Reign of God, who tirelessly throw themselves into doing good without looking for recognition. Of the principles that are pertinent in Braswell’s sermon, this concept is probably the most valuable.

What’s Wrong with Doing Kindness?

Three separate studies published by the American Psychological Association found that people are not as likely to be motivated to do good when no one is watching, specifically, “People are motivated to behave selfishly while appearing moral.”

Jesus said,

Whenever, therefore, thou mayest do kindness, thou mayest not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory from men… But thou, doing kindness, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thy kindness may be in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret Himself shall reward thee manifestly.

If you were to take a street-corner pole and ask, “Is doing kindness wrong?” chances are, you’ll likely get some strange looks and responses like, “Of course not!” and “That’s a silly question.” and “No, it is not wrong to do kindness. The world needs more kindness.” But in the Reign of God, things are not always as they seem.

Let’s take another look at the conversation between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan [Σατανᾶ]! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:21-25)

Human concerns deal with worldly outcomes. Peter wanted the Messiah to liberate the Jews from Roman tyranny and establish an earthly Messianic kingdom. Peter’s human concerns caused him to see a suffering and crucified Messiah as a ludicrous impossibility.

The concerns of God deal with heavenly outcomes.

Heavenly – epouránios  is from epí, meaning “on” or “fitting,” and ouranós, meaning “heaven” (the abode of God) and has the meaning “heavenly, referring to the impact of heaven’s influence on the particular situation or person.” (Strong’s 2032 )

Christ could not and would not be satisfied with the limited worldly outcome of liberating the Jews from Roman tyranny. His heavenly concerns caused Him to see His suffering and crucifixion as an inevitability with the heavenly outcome of the liberation of all humanity from every form of tyranny.

When believers disregard human concerns, they are no longer motivated by worldly rewards like being glorified by others or possessing power over others. When believers embrace the concerns of God, they are motivated by heavenly rewards like glorifying God and being an intentional participant in His Reign.

Special teams players seem to have the concerns of God in mind as they do private acts of kindness. Like I wrote before, the concerns of God deal with heavenly (on/fitting the abode of God’s influence) outcomes. This makes sense since the abode of God is the believer him/herself (John 14:23).

God’s got so much more in store for you.

Braswell addresses those in the audience who don’t have an offensive, defensive, or special teams role at FBCU, saying,

Where is your place on the team? …If the only role that you have here at First Baptist Umatilla is just sitting here on Sunday morning and soaking up the message, can I assure you of this? God’s got so much more in store for you. He’s not going to force it on you, but, man, you can step out over there and knock on the shoulder of the coach and say, “Coach, put me in.”

Braswell makes an assumption about people who sit and soak but don’t have any active role in the institution. His assumption is that such believers are not players in the game. “Where is your place on the team?” Braswell asks. The special teams players he mentions:

  • pull weeds at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • serve at the drink table at events at Bethel Baptist Church
  • take out the trash at Bethel Baptist Church
  • cut the grass at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • monitor the air conditioning and lights at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • usher at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • greet at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • work during special events at First Baptist Church of Umatilla
  • pray for the ministry at First Baptist Church of Umatilla

I assume, based on the information provided, that when Braswell asks, “Where is your place on the team?” where = the role of the player or what the player does and team = First Baptist Church of Umatilla, Bethel Baptist Church, or some other local institutional church. What Braswell is forgetting is that believers may or may not go to church, but believers ARE the Church, and wherever we are, there the Church is, doing what the Church does best! Every believer is a player, and the team is not an institution. Perhaps the believers who sit and soak aren’t active in a local institution because they are too busy being active in the Reign of God, which fills not only the 338,000 Christian institutional churches in the United States of America, but all things in the entire universe.

Would-be drink table servers may be out on the field with the homeless and hungry, who would love to have an ice cold drink and someone to treat them like a real human being. Would-be greeters may be out on the field advocating for people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia. Would-be ushers may be out on the field as volunteer reading tutors to middle school students who are reading at second grade level. My point to Braswell and anyone who shares his mindset is, if The Church Has Left the Building, the Church’s acts of kindness and prayers have a private audience with God. Since God’s opinion trumps all other opinions, you need to Get a New Scorecard, Kemosabe.

Armor of God: Determined Defense

This is a review (two of three) of a sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-18 called Suiting Up for Battle by Brooks Braswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Umatilla (FBCU). You can read part one here.

Determined Defense

Using a football analogy, Braswell chides the church for a poor defensive strategy: “As long as we survive, we’re okay. That’s not a good defense. That’s called being a wimp.” He quotes himself from a previous sermon, saying,

“Our watered-down pulpits in the churches today have created a generation of spiritual wimps. We’re allowing the world to come in and pretty much dictate the world around us, dictate what we can and cannot do.”

On this point, I can’t disagree more. The pulpits have created a generation of spiritual bullies. Take, for example, the recent World Vision fiasco, described by Rachel Held Evans in How Evangelicals Won a War and Lost a Generation:

On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision pointed to “disaster,” and the Assemblies of God denomination encouraged its members to pull their financial support from the organization.

Evangelicals took to Twitter and Facebook to threaten to stop sending money to their sponsored children unless World Vision reversed course.

Within a day of the initial announcement, more than 2,000 children sponsored by World Vision lost their financial support. And with more and more individuals, churches and organizations threatening to do the same, the charity stood to lose millions of dollars in aid that would otherwise reach the poor, sick, hungry and displaced people World Vision serves.

So World Vision reversed course.

Stearns told The New York Times that some people, satisfied with the reversal, have called World Vision headquarters to ask, “Can I have my child back?” as though needy children are expendable bargaining chips in the culture war against gay and lesbian people.

Braswell’s statement, “We’re allowing the world to come in and pretty much dictate the world around us, dictate what we can and cannot do,” evidences his worldview. He seems to see things as them versus us. The outsiders against the insiders. The unchurched/de-churched versus the churched.

Sometimes in scriptures, “the world” means people, but most of the time, “the world,” means, “ordered system.” Last time I checked, the ordered system of the United States of America has no legal basis to interfere with the ordered system of the institutional church.

Jesus “conquered” the world. We don’t see the outcome of His victory all at once, though. Similarly, believers “conquer” the world — through the selfless love of Christ. It takes time. You don’t see immediate results when you conquer the world His way. For more information, read Parade of Triumph: Via Dolorosa.

The Truth

A determined defense, Braswell says, is relentless. Stand firm in the truth.

In part one of this series, I wrote,

Because Braswell does not define the term “God’s word,” I can only assume he is talking about the Bible. Perhaps this is not an accurate assumption.

The sermon-listener (and blog-reader) can now know for certain that when Braswell says “Word of God,” he means graphḗ, or the Bible/Scripture/writings, and not lógos, the word/Word of God, based on the following statement:

What is the truth? It is the Word of God. How can we stand firm if we don’t know it? How can we know it if we don’t read it? How can we really understand it if we don’t study it?

Hit your mental pause button for a moment, because I feel the need to clarify something.

Blog comments help me discover whether readers receive the message I intend to send. In part one, I must not have communicated effectively regarding the value of scripture or studying it along with other believers, as is evidenced in the following comments:

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with saying that believers should spend time studying the Bible with others, with the goal of growing spiritually, of being fortified in their faith to fight the forces of evil both within and without. That the early Christians recognized the value of coming together to learn the gospel truth and be equipped for their mission in the world seems hard to deny (Acts 2:42ff.). But I don’t disagree that the source of spiritual strength is God, that it is not a product of human exertion, but a gift of God’s Spirit at work within us. (Mary Vanderplas)

[Braswell] is not saying this is the only way to achieve spiritual strength, but stating that this is “a way that we would like to invite you to do so, here at FBCU”. It would be wrong for a Pastor to not make his church members aware of the power and strength that can be achieved as a believer through fellowship and study, and becoming locked into the church body. (Nikki Ceglar)

Alice, how are you ever going to know the lógos if you don’t read and study the graphḗ? (Lanny A. Eichert)

As always, I consider the comment section just as valuable, if not more, than the blog content. So, I’ll state as plainly as I know how, what I failed to communicate in part one: Please don’t think that the source of our spiritual strength is a book. But do read and study scriptures. And please do continue to compare notes with other believers. And above all, make sure you’re allowing the book to read you. For more on this, read Organized Bible Study, 25% Truth, Ancient Landmarks, What the Noah Movie Says About God, and Hawking and MacArthur Explain the Universe.

Now back to the subject at hand.

Consider Braswell’s assertion, “What is the truth? It is the Word of God.”

Jesus said, “I am… the truth.” John calls Jesus the “Word…with God” and the “Word…the God.” God spoke creation into existence by the power of His Word, and everything that was made was created through (dia) Christ. So, yes, Jesus = the Truth = the Word of God.

In reference to “the truth” in scripture, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations because of the wide array of interpretations of “the truth.” Believers disagree about “truth” as it pertains to scripture. But believers agree about “The Truth” as it pertains to Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected.

To say the Word of God (the Bible) is truth is such a non-specific statement that any believer ought to proceed with caution. More often than not, the person who says the truth = the Bible is really saying the truth = his/her particular interpretation of the Bible.

Holding the Defensive Line

Braswell continues,

The church has moved back for far too long. We need to be immovable. We are the rock.

This statement is very powerful, but Braswell and I definitely understand it differently. His challenge is aimed at both the collective and the individuals within it. Believers anywhere, regardless of affiliation (or lack thereof) with the institutional church should take a defensive position, not against people, but against the spiritual influence of any corrupt “ordered system” in their lives — methodical misinformation delivered via positions of illegitimate authority and influence that essentially replace the leadership of the Spirit of God.

The World is Changing

“We just keep taking steps back and steps back and we change our doctrine and we change our faith and we change and we redefine…” Braswell says.

The world is changing, I say to myself, and then…

“The world is changing,” Braswell says.

I chuckle at how loaded those four little words are. I can’t help but think we are looking at the very same idea, only from completely opposite perspectives. There’s nothing wrong with changing your doctrinal view if your doctrinal views are in error. Aren’t you glad the institutional church changed its views on slavery? That wasn’t a step back — it was a step forward.

Remember the Titans

Braswell returns to the football analogy, specifically, the film, Remember the Titans, in which a defensive coordinator says,

I don’t care what we do for the rest of the night, but you blitz all night… and if they ever cross the line of scrimmage, I’m going to take every last one of you out of this ballgame. Don’t you ever let them forget the night that they played the Titans.

As I read this, I picture World Vision and the Mohler gang. Don’t cross the theological line of scrimmage. The spiritual police will take you out of the game. They’ll never let you forget the night you challenged orthodoxy.

The Line of Scrimmage

A determined defense, according to Braswell, is about standing firm in the faith “in family, not just in churches.” To illustrate this point, he talks about how he took his four daughters to see Disney’s Frozen on Ice. During this outing, Braswell intends to set a dating standard for his daughters. He wears a belt, tucks his shirt in, and pays for their tickets, because “the guy is supposed to pay.” He makes a point to say his daughters won’t be dating a guy with droopy pants. He says its like drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Girls, this is the line of scrimmage. This is where we go. This is what we do.” Braswell explains,

We live in this world where we want to lower the bar, where we want to lower our standards, we want to back away and let anyone walk into our lives and into the lives of our families. And can I tell you something? That’s just not right.

Braswell’s Devil is, indeed, flesh and blood people — some crazy… from the freedom-from-religion, or people who are responsible for the changes taking place in the world, or guys with droopy pants who want to date his daughters, etc.

Although I agree that there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries in toxic relationships to protect your family or your sanity, it’s not fair to label people who despise religion as “crazy.” It’s not good to judge the character of a person’s heart based on whether his pants fit. It is not accurate to label anyone who does not stand in opposition to cultural evolution as “spiritual wimps.”

Strong Offense

This is a review (one of three) of a sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-18 called Suiting Up for Battle by Brooks Braswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Umatilla (FBCU).

Braswell says three components of a healthy church, a healthy Christian life, and a healthy family are:
  1. A Strong Offense
  2. A Determined Defense
  3. Passionate Special Teams
Strong Offense

According to Braswell, the church has focused too much on defense and not enough on offense, and in order to go on the offense, the believers need to be strong.

While it is true that our spiritual strength comes from God, the part believers sometimes forget is that His strength is best demonstrated through our weakness. What might seem like defeat is, in the scope of human history, victory. For more information about how this works, read Being the Ministerial Exception and Persecution, Tribulation, and Overcoming.

Finding hope in the idea that the strength comes from God, Braswell explains that having a strong offense is all about being prepared. Prepared for what? Satan.

That Sneaky Little Snake

Braswell says that everyone at FBCU needs to carry a shovel so that when “that sneaky little snake tries to slide into the church, every one of us have the authority by God through Jesus Christ to chop off his head.”

Some believers see Satan as a personal being, while others define “Satan” as the adversary — an allegorical personification of evil influences and intentions. (That’s definitely another blog for another day.) Regardless of differing views, one idea remains — that is, it’s good to “chop off his head” or to eliminate evil influences and intentions. Every believer is authorized and equipped to efficiently and effectively deal with Satan/the adversary, but in doing so, we need to remember we are not fighting against flesh and blood. We are not fighting against PEOPLE.

At this point, it would be beneficial to introduce an account of Jesus doing some head-chopping:

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan [Σατανᾶ]! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:21-25)

I’ll refer to this account again throughout this series, but for now, just note that Jesus addresses Peter as Σατανᾶ. What are we to make of this? There are a few possible ways of interpreting Jesus’ choice of words:

  1. Simon Peter is actually Satan.
  2. Jesus was actually addressing Satan, who had somehow used Peter as his mouthpiece.
  3. Jesus was addressing Peter’s conduct, which was based on evil influences and intentions, like that of an adversary.

Of these possibilities, the first is just silly. But the other two bring new meaning to what chopping off the head of Σατανᾶ looks like.

If Jesus were addressing Satan, as many believers claim, it’s reasonable to interpret the situation like this:

Christ looked for the moment through Peter, and saw behind him His old enemy, cunningly making use of the prejudices and impulsive honesty of the undeveloped apostle. It was the old temptation back again, that was now presented through Peter — the temptation to avoid suffering, persecution, bitter hate, scorn and murder; and instead, to erect a secular throne that would in pomp surmount all other thrones upon the earth. (J. Morison)

If Jesus were addressing Peter’s conduct, it’s reasonable to interpret the situation like this:

Simon was not innocent of selfishness in his concern for the life of his Lord, for he shrewdly concluded that the servants might suffer with the Master. Jesus strongly resented this evil spirit of the world, and urged the absolute necessity of self-denial. (J.A. Macdonald)

Either way, a strong offense — chopping off the head of Σατανᾶ — for all intents and purposes, requires an inner strength that has the appearance of weakness to anyone who doesn’t comprehend how the Reign of God is accomplished. A strong offense has everything to do with being willing to lose worldly power through self-denial. Keep this in mind as we continue to examine Braswell’s sermon.

How do believers get strength from God?

According to Braswell, here’s how believers get strength from God: They should attend church on Wednesday night and get plugged into a small group in order to bring God’s word into their lives. Braswell compares this routine to a body builder working out, drinking a protein shake, and pumping spiritual iron. Braswell is very animated, adding sound effects, and flexing his 140 pound body as he describes weight lifting, spotters, and the like. The comical and entertaining discourse takes a sudden dark turn when he says of the church, “We’ve thrown in the towel.”

There’s nothing wrong with attending church or getting plugged into a small group to study the Bible. But there’s a huge difference between studying the Bible and bringing “God’s word” into our lives. Because Braswell does not define the term “God’s word,” I can only assume he is talking about the Bible. Perhaps this is not an accurate assumption. Nevertheless, the subject demands attention.

What is the Bible? What is God’s word? Are they the same thing?

Take a look at this:

And the Father Who sent me has Himself testified concerning me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His [lógos] dwell in you, for you do not believe the One He sent. You study the [graphḗ] diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very [graphḗ] that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40 NIV)

Notice the words lógos and graphḗ. The graphḗ testifies about Jesus, Who is called the Lógos with God and the Lógos-God. Lógos ≠ graphḗ. To illustrate this point, consider the study of DNA.

The DNA molecule is literally encoding information into alphabetic or digital form. And that’s a hugely significant discovery, because what we know from experience is that information always comes from an intelligence, whether we’re talking about hieroglyphic inscription or a paragraph in a book or a headline in a newspaper. If we trace information back to its source, we always come to a mind, not a material process. So the discovery that DNA codes information in a digital form points decisively back to a prior intelligence. (Stephen C. Meyer)

Just as studying DNA may not result in recognizing an intelligent Creator, studying the Bible (graphḗ) may not result in knowing the Lógos-God or His message (lógos). God’s word in our lives is the lógos in our lives, not the graphḗ in our lives. The graphḗ conveys the lógos about the Lógos, Who enters into our lives and gives us strength. It is very important to understand that we do not get strength from God by bringing “God’s word into our lives” (if God’s word = Bible).

Understanding and Recognizing the Source of Strength

After doing a two-hour word-study on strength, I could not find anything in scripture to indicate that bringing the Bible (graphḗ) into our lives is how God gives spiritual strength. Feel free to leave a comment if you find something. I did, however, repeatedly and consistently find the idea that God is our strength and believers already have an unlimited reservoir of strength in Him — with no mention of being involved in a small group or doing some heavy Bible-lifting in order to access that strength. Perhaps the reason Braswell says of the church, “We’ve thrown in the towel,” is that believers don’t recognize or understand the strength of God within. Paul explains this concept:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)

The Full Armor of God

Braswell say believers need to put on the full armor, and he illustrates the point by telling a story about wearing special clothing to protect against mosquitos. If a spot remains open, the mosquitos find their way in. The church is so busy trying to put on the armor, Braswell says. In the next breath he asks: When does the church go on the offense?

When are we ever going to do anything to go against them? When are we ever going to say, “Hey, you’re not welcome in my life?” (Braswell)

I begin to wonder whether Braswell is talking about the “Devil” or real flesh and blood people.

Internal Battleground

The armor of God consists of defensive parts: salvation, faith, truth, peace, and righteousness, and one offensive part: Spirit. Given the fact that each metaphorical part deals with one’s state of being, state of mind, beliefs, or intentions, it is safe to assume that the battle takes place is in the hearts and minds of believers, not in any geographical location, the political arena, a business or organization, etc.

The battle is internal.

The purpose for the armor of God, according to Paul:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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 6:11-12)

Let’s look at the words devil, schemes, rulers, authorities, powers, dark, spiritual, forcesevil, heavenly, and places in the Greek:

  • Devil — diábolos comes from the word diabállō, which means “to slander, accuse, defame.” Diábolos is a slanderer; a false accuser; unjustly criticizing to hurtmalign, and condemn in order to sever a relationship. (Strong’s 1228)
  • Schemes — methodeía is the root of the English term, “method,” and it means a predictable or pre-set method used in organized evil-doing. (Strong’s 3180)
  • Rulers — arxḗ has a temporal meaning: from the beginning or the initial starting point. It has a figurative meaning: what comes first and therefore is chief or foremost, or what has the priority because ahead of the rest. (Strong’s 746)
  • Authorities — eksousía comes from the words ek, meaning “out from,” and eimí, meaning “to bebeing as a right or privilege” and has the meaning: authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment or authorization, operating in a designated jurisdiction. (Strong’s 1849)
  • Powers — kosmokrátōr comes from kósmos, meaning “world” and kratéō, meaning “to rule”) and has the meaning: world-ruler. (Strongs 2888)
  • Dark — skótos – has the literal meaning: darkness or obscurity and the figurative meaning: the principle of sin with its certain results. (Strong’s 4655)
  • Spiritual — pneumatikós comes from the word pneúma, meaning “spirit” and has the meaning: spiritual, relating to the realm of spirit, i.e. the invisible sphere in which the Holy Spirit imparts faith, reveals Christ, etc. (Strong’s 4152)
  • Forces — Not found in the Greek
  • Evil — ponēría comes from the word pónos, meaning “pain, laborious trouble”) and has the meaning: pain-ridden evil. (Strong’s 4189)
  • Heavenly — epouránios comes from the words epí, meaning “on, fitting,” and ouranós, meaning “heaven” and has the meaning: heavenly, referring to the impact of heaven’s influence. (Strong’s 2032)
  • Places — Not found in the Greek, but assumed by most translators because of the epí part of epouránios.
It seems to be about people, but it isn’t.

Perhaps you have been slandered, unjustly criticized, condemned, or otherwise hurt by someone. We do not fight against flesh and blood.

We’ve all seen the news reports about the organized evil-doing of the Islamic State, chopping off people’s heads and bringing oppression and tyranny to others. We do not fight against flesh and blood.

Political leaders gain positions of power through empty promises, and once they have secured their positions, they make decisions that are in the best interest of greedy and corrupt people or organizations. We do not fight against flesh and blood.

The popular Christian worldview draws attention outward instead of inward, directing the attention of believers to a battleground out there instead of the battleground within. The popular Christian worldview puts a bullseye on flesh and blood people (“When are we ever going to do anything to go against them? When are we ever going to say, ‘Hey, you’re not welcome in my life?'”) instead of putting the bullseye on activity in the invisible sphere, the heavenly battleground, the internal struggle.

Braswell does this in his sermon.

Recently, Braswell was invited to pray at an event at the Lake County Fair. After the event, he decided to write a letter to those who invited him to pray, so that they could “see a compliment before they see a complaint.” Braswell explains,

So, before some crazy from the freedom-from-religion says, “We don’t believe you should be praying at the Lake County Fair,” there will be 1500 people in FBCU ready to charge hell with a water pistol, because we believe that you should be able to pray.

Later, the Lake County Fair officials called Braswell, saying they want him to be the official Lake County Fair Chaplain. After an enthusiastic response from the audience, Braswell asks, “Why don’t we come together as a group, and do what God wants us to do?”

What Jesus Said About Public Prayer

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing …on the street corners to be seen by others… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.

Look at the purpose Braswell proposes: “…we believe that you should be able to pray.” I agree with this, in a sense. Yes, believers should be able to pray. But how can anyone prevent a believer from praying?

The believers at FBCU can pray any time and in any place. They can even pray in the epicenter of the Islamic State. The only thing that can stop the prayer of a believer is loss of consciousness or cognitive ability. So until someone screams Jihad and cuts off your head, then pray as much as you want! And if someone cuts off your head, you can express your prayers to God, face to face.

The problem, then, is not that believers who subscribe to Braswell’s view can’t pray, it is that they want to broadcast their prayers without anyone giving them a hard time about it. They want to do battle with “some crazy from the freedom-from-religion,” and abandon the battle that really matters. In Braswell’s example, the heavenly battle is ignored.

What is the heavenly battle? It’s not us versus them, it’s who we are in Christ versus who we were in Adam. I’ll borrow from Ephesians and the Strong’s definitions to describe it:

Take a stand against any organized actions (“1500 people in FBCU ready to charge hell with a water pistol”) with end results that are meant to sever relationships (with the “freedom-from-religion” people) with those who are not part of your “tribe.” For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the desire to be the first and therefore chief or foremost religious representatives at the Lake County Fair.

Your fight is against asserting your rights and privileges through delegated empowerment or authorization, operating in a designated jurisdiction. So, wrestle against this idea that the world should be ruled by people who believe exactly what you believe.

This battle might not seem specific enough for you, because you can’t point to it and say “there it is,” (that is, unless you point in the mirror).  Your enemy hides in obscurity, buried deep beneath layer upon layer of religious tradition that says it is not hypocrisy or sin to pray so that your prayers will be seen and heard by others.

Look at the history of the institutional church. How much pain-ridden evil is a direct result of imposing religious beliefs by force? Does the glorious ministry of reconciliation to which you have been called involve fighting for your right to do something Jesus expressly instructed believers NOT to do?