God's Protection Plan.
Miss Hannigan is a wicked woman. In the movie Annie she is the evil administrator of the orphanage where the little girls live. With her brother, Rooster, and his girlfriend, lil, she plans a fraudulent scheme to get a lot of money fast. Using Miss Hannigan's information about Annie, Rooster and Lil plan to pose as Annie’s parents and claim the reward from Daddy Warbucks. They will get rich quickly, they think, and so they sing “Easy Street”. The song tells how wonderful it will be when they are rich, how luxuriously they will live, and how easy it is to get there by cutting a few moral corners. Life is a great on easy street, and they will get there easily. The only problem? Their scheme fails, and easy street becomes hard labor, as they are arrested for fraud.
The illusion and easy street is far too common among us today. It underlies all kinds of get rich quick schemes, from selling drugs to bank fraud. Gambling has become more widely acceptable, and is even sponsored by state governments. When our states sponsor lotteries, we are simply sending the message that people should quit working hard, quick getting educated, and start playing the odds to get rich quick.
The image of easy street even abounds among some Christians who proclaimed that belonging to Christ will mean the end of their troubles. They say it is the quick way to put everything right. Some go so far to say that in exchange for a contribution, prosperity and health will quickly follow. In Dallas, Texas, one television evangelists promises, in the name of God, that sufficient faith will always lead to healing and wealth. The prosperity Gospel brought the unusual step of a government investigation into the evangelists preaching because of the possibility of fraud.
The God of the Bible promises something entirely different from easy street. The God of Abraham, Moses, Deborah -- the one who sent Jesus as our Lord and Savior -- that God promises to walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death in such a way that you will fear no evil, and that you will be comforted. God does not promise that you will have no enemies, but God does promise to set a banqueting table for you in the midst of your enemies. With all the difficulties that life inevitably brings, believers in God will be able to say, "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
The letter to the Ephesians make our Christian situation abundantly clear. Being a Christian is not easy street. We are not invited to follow a Lord, who made it as a big success and achieved fame, riches, or honor. Instead, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. We are invited not to life of material prosperity, and ease, but to take up our crosses and follow Christ. We are told that we are enlisting in a fight, that is not against normal, everyday people, but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness that plagued us and all of humankind.
Sin has an infectious character that can never be quite contained or prevented from spreading. Racism plagues our country, and rears its ugly head in both personal and institutional forms. Greed infects both our business practices and our political lives. Atheism and materialism affect our views of the world, so that we think that God no longer matters and prayer no longer works. Young people are convinced that the pleasures of today are more important than the consequences of tomorrow. Disease, tragedy, and death take away our health, our well-being, and even life itself.
Against such foes we are given spiritual help as a gift from God. Ephesians tells us that in this spiritual warfare, we do not count only on our own strength and abilities. Most importantly, we are given God's armor for protection in this spiritual warfare. Ephesians gives us a list of several gifts from God that protect us.
Your loins are girded with truth. Ephesians has in mind, a leather apron worn by Roman soldiers that protect the midsection of their bodies. The truth is seen as covering your vital organs, because the most powerful form of spiritual evil is the lie. There are lies about happiness, lies about God and religion, and lies about particular circumstances. We tell ourselves the big lies about what life is all about, what constitutes happiness, and what we ourselves are really like in God's eyes. People rarely choose evil things for the sake of evil, but because they have been duped by the false pretenses that evil makes. As a protection, Jesus tells us. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
Righteousness is a breastplate, and salvation is your helmet. Through faith, God's righteousness becomes our righteousness. We are covered by the atoning blood of Jesus and saved from guilt, fear, and anxiety. When temptations come, our trust in God and commitment to God's kingdom protect us from caving in to their pressure. The helmet of salvation means that we are protected from doubts about who we are and whose we are.
Far too often the world sends negative messages. The boss comes in chews you out. Not only did you do a bad job, last week, but, you are bad employee and, by implication, a bad person who is not worth very much. Maybe it's not your boss, but a customer or a teacher or student. When those negative messages come, salvation is a helmet that can ward off the blows. The poster of the poor child is right: I know I'm somebody, because God don't make no junk. Because of the righteousness of Christ and the gift of salvation, we know the love of God in our lives.
In a world filled with conflict, the Gospel of peace is one your feet. Peace is the message of the reign of God. Peace means wholeness, restoration of relationships, and the love that should exist between God and humanity, and between people. We carry the message of peace into situations where everyone else sees only conflict.
In 1973, and group of demonstrators from the American Indian movement took over a village of Wounded Knee to dramatize the cause of Native Americans. They were heavily armed and were soon surrounded by heavily armed law-enforcement officers determined to end the protest. John Adams, a United Methodist minister, came there to mediate the dispute. Among widespread predictions of violence and bloodshed, Adams patiently served as a conduit for negotiations between the two sides. He literally rode a horse from one group to another, because no other form of communication between them was possible. The siege lasted 70 days, and the violence was much less than many people predicted. Picture, if you will, a lonely man riding a windswept prairie between in hardhearted enemies bent on killing. His mission was the Gospel of peace. If it had not been for him, great bloodshed would have taken place.
So many times, ordinary Christians are like John Adams. They work with a troubled family, or in the office, or at the school, and are agents for reconciliation between people who appear to hate each other. These peacemakers are called to carry the same message so that peace can replace conflict, love can replace hatred, and anger can turn to contentment.
Faith is a shield that turns back the flaming darts of evil. When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is hard to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp. Because of our faith in Christ, we know that the swamp will be drained some day. We have read the book and we know the end of the battle. Our job is to get rid of the alligators and drain our portion of it as God enables us to do it. We seek the little victories, knowing that the total victory has already been won.
For offensive capability, you have the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The Spirit gives you words to say, when you do not know what to say. Life in the Spirit of God is a life of prayer, a life of study of God's written word in the Bible. It becomes a spiritual weapon to push back evil and to defeat it.
At Sea world of San Antonio, Texas, the trainers are also performers. It looks like a fun job, getting to swim around in the pools with whales and dolphins, interacting with the them in one-to-one relationships. A trainer was asked how someone could get a job like his, and the answer started with getting the right college education. But then one comes for the interview. Before the interview starts, the applicant must swim underwater the length of the pool, swim back to the surface, dive 20 ft. to the bottom, retrieve an object there, get out of the water and immediately read a script into the microphone. If you have the abilities and the strength to do all of that, you are qualified to begin the interview. The message is, that being a trainer requires a lot of preparation.
People face evil situations every day, and the amount of spiritual preparation is an important factor in how well they are able to cope. The Christian who has accepted the whole armor of God is fully prepared for the difficult testing that occurs in life. When the evil day comes, make sure you have put on the God’s armor, and having done all, you will be able to stand.