"Whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world.
In late November of 1995, 20 year-old U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary Mayo tossed and turned on his bed, as his ship sailed through the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. In the early hours of a Saturday morning he had finally had enough tossing. He made his way to the deck and looked at the vast ocean before him. Suddenly, the boat rolled, the wind shifted, and like an invisible enemy in the darkness, a door knocked him off balance and into the sea. Despite his cries for help, nobody knew that Lance Cpl. Zachary Mayo had fallen overboard. It was a long 36 hours before he was rescued from the shark-infested waters by Pakistani fishermen.
What was it (besides the grace of God), that kept him afloat and alive for so long? It was his Marine training. As he began to tread water in the dark Arabian night, he removed his military overalls, tied the two legs in a knot, then forced air into them by swinging them over his head, fashioning them into a make-shift life preserver. Like every recruit, Mayo spent four days in a pool of water, where he learned basic survival skills.
Sin is an enemy which has knocked humanity into the sea of death and damnation. The Bible is a book of survival skills. It tells us how we can live.
This next piece of armor is worthy of close inspection...this is a life preserver. In the version that Paul used, scripture says, "Above all taking the shield of faith." This part of defense is fundamentally, ultra-vitally essential. This is that which extinguishes all the "flaming arrows of the evil one." In other words, if you don't use this portion of your armor you will be wounded, perhaps fatally, by the flaming arrows of the enemy.
Faith is spiritually what oxygen is naturally. If the life of the flesh is in the blood, the life of the blood is in the oxygen. Without faith, the Christian gasps, writhes, and then dies. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith, the sharks will devour us. But with faith, it is not only possible to please Him, but to move mountains, subdue Kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtain promises, and stop the mouths of lions. God has given top the mouths of lions. God has given us an honor roll of soldiers who have gone before us in battle. Hebrews Chapter 11 gives a list of those who through faith did exploits for their God, and as warriors have now been promoted to Headquarters. They exercised faith in attack and in defence, proving its worth. It's now up to us to follow their example. These soldiers of the cross found that faith in God gave them the ability to be "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might," to be "more than conquerors," because they knew that God was for them, that He always caused them to triumph...through faith.
It's all very well to speak in such glorious terms of faith, but how can we, in everyday life, live practically in this realm? To illustrate the principles of faith, let me share something interesting with you. For many years, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel almost daily in an open city square. In one sense I was fulfilled in my ministry, and yet I had a great longing to reach more with the Gospel. In 1982, doors began to open for me to do just that. Requests began to come from churches saying, "Come and stir up our people to evangelism." Yet, I was horrified to find that not only did few Christians witness of their faith, but I rn.
Then I heard that in 1982, $2,000,000,000 was spent on Christian television. I was impressed by the amount, until I found that those programs were being watched by only 4% of the viewing public. It would seem that $2,000 million worth of programs, were being watched mostly by Christians--commonly called "inreach." The Church was "preaching to the converted," an idiom used by the world to express "futility." Sad though it may be, few of the unsaved tune into Christian television. Of course, many Christian programs drum up financial support by speaking of a "potential" audience of multi-millions, but that merely means that there is a possibility that that many could actually be watching. However, in reality, sinners love the darkness and hate the light, neither will they tune into the light, lest their deeds be exposed. Men and women don't want to surrender. They are going to fight until they are forced to lay down their arms. Add to that fact that no matter how comfortable we make our Christian buildings in an effort to attract them to church, we have to go a long way to compete with the warmth and comfort of their own living room, coupled with a "good" murder movie and some heart-palpitating sex and violence.
Secular, not Christian television is the medium to reach the lost, but how do we get the Word of Truth through the secular authorities, when the Bible tells us that they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness?" If a program even hints of sin, righteousness or judgment, and was somehow purchased by the world for broadcast, it would no doubt be slotted into the early hours of the morning.
It was when I was considering these thoughts that I had an idea. Imagine you are an average unsaved person. You are enjoying your favorite sexually explicit and violent television program, when there's a commercial break. Suddenly, a man appears holding a Bible and you hear the words:
You watch a few more commercials, then back to the program, but now with the truth of Judgment Day fixed within your mind. This thirty second commercial has a threefold effect. First and foremost, it gets the Word of God, spoken twice (with a closeup shot of the wording for those who turn the sound off during commercials) into the hearts and homes of millions of viewers (remember, God's Word will not return void). Second, it promotes the Word of God (two versions). Third, it promotes Christian bookstores (most of whom advertise in churcin church columns and Christian magazines, thus many are unknown to the general public).
I was so excited about the concept, I hardly slept for three or four nights. I submitted the scripts of the commercials to the advertising department of the local television network, and to my delight they said they were O.K. as advertisements! I could hardly believe it. They gave me permission to quote, "God commands all men everywhere to repent, etc;" "...You must be born again...;" "The fool has said in his heart there is no God;" "Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man...;" "God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;" "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." They saw the quoting of scripture in the commercials as merely a comparing of translations, to promote Bible versions! Years earlier, I heard about a hardened sailor merely hearing Scripture as he stood outside a meeting, and was soundly converted. The same Word of God cut me to the heart on the night of my conversion, and here we had an opportunity to use this mighty weapon right in the very midst of the enemy.
It was on a Friday morning that I wrote in my diary to contact "Seven Seas Television," a Christian organization who could advise me as to how I should go about making the commercials. I would find their address on the Tuesday when I returned from a series of meetings in another city. I wasn't even sure of the city in which Seven Seas was stationed, but I would make that a priority for Tuesday.
After a seminar the following day, when I shared the vision of the commercials with the people with whom I was staying, they told me that they knew a television producer who knew the Lord. I said that I would love to spend some time with him to get his thoughts on the commercials. He was duly contacted, and I was delighted to find that he had already decided to come to my meeting the following morning. After the service, I met the gentleman and shared the concept of the commercials. He loved the idea. He gave me some helpful advice, then handed me his card saying that if he could be of any help, not to hesitate to contact him. I stared in unbelief at the card--"Ian Ralston, producer, Seven Seas Television." Standing in front of me was the very man I had wanted to contact on the Tuesday after my return. I neither knew the name nor the address, yet God had brought him to me. I felt sure that God was with me in the venture.
Where Was The Enemy?
The next move was to raise the necessary finance. A package of twelve commercials reaching a viewing audience of around 3,600,000 would cost $7,200. It was around that time I found out that a Christian friend had just started a job with a local secular television station. On enquiry, I found that Greg's job was in the advertising department. Greg was ecstatic, and was even convinced that God had him in television for such a time as this.
I sent out literature to 350 churches, 90 bookstores and a number of individuals whom I knew had a desire to see the Kingdom of God furthered in the nation. The response was very encouraging. Thousands of dollars began to roll in. Opening the mail was a most uplifting experience. One Bible distributor did express a concern that the commercials gave an impression that we were demeaning the King James Version. I wrote back and told him that we were using that in every one of the twelve commercials and that I was hoping that other Christians would see what we were actually doing. If we didn't structure the commercials to look as though we were comparing versions, there would be no way we would be allowed to quote Scripture. He was satisfied and showed his support by sending a large check. Almost everywhere I turned, I received nothing but encouragement.
All the money for the production and for the screening of the commercials rolled in. I felt that I was at last doing something substantial for the Kingdom of God. I was going to have the privilege of firing the cannon of the Word of God right into the heart of the enemy. Over previous months, I had become disheartened that the Church was always on the defense. It seemed I was forever being asked to sign petitions. We were putting all our energies into holding ground, and little into taking any. Now it was just a matter of aiming the cannon and waiting for the right time to light the fuse. Everything was set. The commercials were made using a well-known Christian newsreader who was delighted to do them free of charge. A Christian organization had produced them at a 50% discount--everything flowed. In fact, things were going so well, I was wondering where the enemy was. I was suspicious, but I wasn't complaining.
I was relaxing at home when Greg appeared unannounced and grim-faced--"The top guy in television said that he did not approve those Scriptures...he's lying. I remember his words Ray. Pharaoh has raised his ugly head!"
Twice Greg had sought written confirmation of the commercials and nothing had come through. We talked for a few minutes and then decided to have a time of prayer. As we prayed, different scriptures came to mind: "The battle is not yours but the Lord's," "If God be for us who can be against us." This was just another meager fiery furnace, a little lion's den, puny Red Sea. The Lord would make the way for us to go through, and all we had to do was to "Stand still and see the salvation of God."
The combat had begun. The battleground was in my mind. I was determined to hold my ground. I held the shield of faith high. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a fiery dart struck my mind--"What if God doesn't help you? What if the television people see what you are up to? If they have seen that you are preaching the Word of God there is no way they are going to let it through? How naive, to think that secular television would allow the Bible to be read on television."
My mind flooded with the weight of other thoughts. I would have to return all the money. I would end up $2000 in debt because I spent it on production costs. All that work down the drain! So much for the offensive...back to the petitions.
I would say to myself, "What's going on, I shouldn't be thinking like this!" For the shield of faith to do its work I had to wilfully stand within my mind. The enemy draining me of my courage. He was wanting to totally discourage me into retreat. These thoughts that had invaded my mind were merely imaginations based upon the belief that God was going to let me down. Paul exhorts us with the words, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to tear down strongholds. We 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" (2 Corinthians 10:2-5).
The King James Version uses the word imagination instead of the word "pretension," and that was what I was having. I took myself in hand and began obeying the command to have faith in God. I cast down those imaginations and determined within myself that I would trust the Lord no matter how grim it looked. Nothing is too hard for God. I would look to His ability and not the situation. I took hold of the two-edged Sword and thrust it in the face of the enemy: "If God be for me, nothing can be against me, for with God nothing shall be impossible." I remembered the disciples reaction to the workings of the enemy. Peter and John were forbidden by the religious authorities to speak any more in the name of Jesus. We pick up the story in Acts Chapter 4:
These soldiers did not allow the propaganda of the enemy to have an earhold. They would not look to the situation, but to the transcending ability of their God. They picked up the shield of faith and extinguished all the flaming arrows of the evil one--precisely what I had to do if I wanted God's approval, and if I wanted to defend myself against the onslaughts of the enemy. Faith will trust God in the lion's den with the beasts biting at our face or at the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh biting at our heels. The mind says there is no escape, but faith says, "Stand still (don't panic) and see the salvation of God." It has been well said, faith is dead to doubt, deaf to discouragement, blind to the impossible, and knows nothing but success in God. As Spurgeon remarked, "Faith may swim, where reason may only paddle." It is the victory that overcomes the world, with all its trials and discouragements. Faith in God gave Jesus such peace of mind that He slept during a raging storm while the disciples who had lost their faith, were filled with fear. The Bible promises, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). I had not kept my mind stayed on God. I had lowered my shield of faith and allowed the flaming arrows to strike me.
The battle raged for about 24 hours before God brought deliverance. Greg received a long distance call from the top man in television advertising. He had viewed the spots and said, "Those commercials look O.K. to me." Some time later I had the unspeakably joyful experience of seeing the commercials screened right in the middle of prime time television. I was so ectatic I actually did a somersault across the living room.
I had been through an experience similar to that of "Christian" and "Hopeful," so graphically illustrated in the great classic, Pilgrim's Progress. Both Christian and Hopeful left the King's Highway and fell asleep in the grounds of Doubting Castle. Giant Despair woke them and asked what they were doing in his grounds. They said that they were pilgrims who had lost their way. Giant Despair, being stronger than both of them, drove them into Doubting Castle and thrust them into a dungeon which is described as being "very dark, nasty and stinking."
For four long days and nights they lay there until Giant Despair's wife, Diffidence (lack of self-confidence) counselled her husband to beat them without mercy. Giant Despair was obedient to his wife and beat them, then told them that they should kill themselves (nice guy). Christian and Hopeful actually considered the suggestion, but the fear of God stopped them. The next evening, the giant returned and became furious because they hadn't taken his advice. Mrs. Despair then told him to take Christian and Hopeful down to the castle-yard and show them the bones and skulls of those he had already dispatched. The next morning the hen-pecked hulk took them into the yard, showed them the bones and skulls and said, "These were pilgrims who trespassed on my grounds and I tore them to pieces." The giant then assured his captives that he would do the same to them within 10 days! Hopeful and Christian decided to pray.
After about six hours of prayer, Christian cried, "What a fool I am, thus to live in this stinking dungeon when I may as well walk out in liberty. I have a key in my bosom called `promise.' That will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting castle." Christian then pulled out the key, unlocked the door and they escaped...no doubt the wiser.
What a wonderful allegory of those who doubt the promises of God. How perfectly it described my own experience. The second my mind doubted the promises of God's help, Giant Despair would appear and begin to beat me without mercy. What a fool I was to lie in such a dark, nasty and stinking dungeon! The moment I took out the key of promise, I found release.
A Day in the Life of "Mr. Spiritual"
The subject of faith is such an important one, lets dwell on it for a little longer.
Sue looked at me and said, "I have never had such a sore throat in all my life!" The painful expression on her face as she tried to swallow, revealed the truth of her words; and the painful expression on my faith revealed the truth of my lack of trust in God. I suddenly became conscious of a dryness in my own throat. This was the morning I was supposed to fly to New York. David Wilkerson had asked if I could do a seminar for his church, and I had also offered to do an open air in what was said to be the most demonic stronghold of New York. I spoke in Washington Square in Greenwich Village six weeks earlier, and there was a great deal of opposition. Paul Jorgensen, a video producer offered his services, and was driving nine hours from Pittsburgh to New York to produce a video to inspire other Christians to do open air preaching. Hundreds had already registered for the two hour seminar, and I had heard that some were even praying through the night, that God would bless the outreach.
Suddenly, I found myself in the heat of the Battle of What-if? Fiery darts blasted an exposed and defenseless part of my mind. I pin-pointed the area targeted by the enemy. It was the open expanse of the Hill of Imagination. It seemed, like some gigantic magnet, to attract the missiles of the adversary. In they came, one after another: "What if you get a sore throat? What if, like your wife, you can hardly swallow, let alone speak? What about the video producer's nine hour drive? He'll have a nine hour drive home too -- all for nothing. Nice. All the expense of the airfare . . . all the trouble ones have gone to. And you are going to let them down." I also thought about how I was hoping to sell our books and tapes that weekend to raise finance needed for three new tracts we were having printed. What if the weekend meetings were canceled and we couldn't pay the printers?"
I felt a little nervous at the endless thoughts invading my imagination. That had the effect of making my mouth go dry, which naturally made me conscious of my swallowing. This was it! I was sure I had the beginnings of a sore throat. I wouldn't be able to speak! All this, despite the fact that I wouldn't let Sue come within arms length of me. All this, despite that fact that I showed great faith and compassion by praying for her healing (by extending my hand towards her as she stood on the other side of the room).
I gulped down some water. That didn't help. What a pain! I might as well go somewhere, lay down and die. The thoughts had a familiar "Giant Despair" ring about them.
It was then I remembered what I should have been doing with my shield of faith. I began to think of how negative our imaginations are. We find it so easy to lean towards pessimism, and so hard to be optimistic. It is as though we are halfway up the "hill of the Lord." On the top are our aspirations for the Kingdom of God, and below is the darkness of the devil's will. There is a natural inclination to fall back down into negativity, and any progress takes nothing but the muscle of determined effort, if we want to achieve anything. Yet, almost all of life is just like that. We battle just to stay alive.
Imagine if you became passive in life. You just lay in bed, refusing to move an inch, hoping that evolution will somehow cause you to better yourself in life. What will be the natural development? Your hair will become greasy. Your teeth will cultivate the "furry" feeling. You will get bed sores. You will develop body odor, and other natural bodily functions will place your friends at a great distance. Hunger pains will grip your stomach, and thirst will cause your tongue to swell and your lips to blister. Your finger and toe nails will grow long, brown and curly. Your inactive muscles will begin to wither. If you don't get up and fight for life, you will eventually die; and if we don't get up and willfully fight for the will of God in our lives, we will naturally incline to the will of the devil. Satan will sift us as wheat, and he will eventually kill us if we don't stir ourselves to fight like the man or woman of God we know we should be.
We are surrounded by negative laws. Light must have a source to shine. Darkness just is. It is easier to spend money than it is to save. It is easier to destroy something rather than build. Going down is easier than up. It is easier to criticize than to encourage. Weeds grow easier than flowers. It is easier to eat than to fast. Bills come more often than checks. Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upwards. The curse that came with sin meant that we have to work for that which is worthwhile, by the hard sweat of our brow. It takes effort to breath in the benefit of oxygen, breathing out the poison of carbon dioxide comes easy. To grow in God, we must breathe in the life of faith, and breathe out the poison of doubt. One takes effort, the other comes easy.
Of course, I didn't get a sore throat. That was all in my imagination -- an imagination fed by the father of lies. In fact, I spoke in three teaching sessions, and preached open air without amplification for over an hour in Washington Square.
I was very pleased with the turnout for the seminar -- about four hundred people came on a Saturday morning, then about 150-200 showed up at Washington Square in Greenwich Village for the open air. When we arrived, we found that the Hare Krishnas were having an open day. Hundreds of them had different weird and demonic displays -- of "holy" cows, reincarnation images of half man and half pig (I know a few who are already like that).
Of course, after about ten minutes of speaking, the police arrived and pulled me aside. They seemed interested in what I was doing (a fake funeral), and then asked me to move. I wasn't breaking any law, but they were so polite and reasonable, I told the crowd we had been asked to move and invited them to follow us for 50 yards or so, which they did. I spoke on the fact that all religions are seeking salvation from death, and think that to do so they have to either do good works or offer some sort of religious sacrifice. In the West we sit on hard pews thinking God will be impressed with our suffering. The Hare Krishnas think they will be saved by their works and wear a pony tail so that Krishna can lift them up to Heaven when their reward comes. Not many know that they pour a mixture of yoghurt and cow urine over the heads of their idols as a sacrifice. I'm sure God is impressed. Hindus also rub cow droppings into their skin as a religious act. Actually, the presence of the Hares in the park gave color to the afternoon. My video friend who drove for nine hours from Pittsburgh knew what he was doing and got some real good footage of hecklers, etc.
One of the greatest revelations a Christian can have is to realize that to doubt God is to call Him a liar: "Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar" (1 John 5:10). If I was to ask you your name, and say "I don't believe you" when you told me, I'm sure you'd be insulted. If I don't believe what you say, it means I think you are a liar, that you're trying to deceive me! Martin Luther said, "What greater rebellion, impiety, or insult to God can there be, than not to believe His promises."
I looked at the angry police officer and asked, "Am I breaking the law?" "You are breaking about five right now!" he grunted. It was a warm Saturday night in Dallas in June of 1993. I spoke to a group of Christians who had never been involved in open air preaching, then took them to downtown Dallas and staged a fake funeral. I had been speaking to about 50 or 60 people for about 20 minutes, when two policemen arrived at the scene, left, and returned some time later with their boss. When I asked what laws I had broken, he could only give me two -- I was blocking the sidewalk, and I was gathering a crowd. Both were minor crimes, but were enough to stop me from speaking. In the past, other officers had been reasonable and allowed me to ask the crowd to make room on the sidewalk for those who wanted to walk by. Not this one. When I asked if I may then conclude, he gave me the sum of 20 seconds to do so.
Afterward the local pastor and I went back to him and asked if there was anywhere in the Dallas area where I could speak lawfully. He wasn't very impressed, and when the crowd gathered around, he became nervous and told me to tell "my" people to go away. When I said they weren't my people and that I was a guest speaker, he became quite upset and asked his officers if they had their citation books handy. That's when I left. Both the pastor and I were very close to being arrested.
After the incident we felt a little discouraged, but instead of giving up and going home, our group split up and did "one to one." It was the first time many of them had ever shared their faith, and the pastor told me the next day, every one of them was bubbling with excitement, despite the brush with the law. In fact, the incident had stirred a greater enthusiasm in most of them, and opened their eyes to see how anti- Christian America had become.
Being an overcoming Christian means arming yourself with a fighting spirit. It means not giving up when something goes wrong. Most people naturally don't have an aggressive attitude. Even in secular life, the world will stomp all over you if you will let it. Surveys show that more than 80% of people will not complain if they are not happy with a job done by a store -- they complain to many others, but not the store. We tend to shy away from confrontation.
The Bible says, "Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you." The word "submit" means to obey in a subordinate sense. It means that we should understand the structure of the Army of God, and have faith in Him who leads us to a point where we fling ourselves, without reserve, into His all-powerful arms. The word "resist," means just that. We are to stand against the enemy, having a fighting spirit in every area in which he seeks to overcome us. The Church should be a force to be reckoned with, and it is satan's will that we don't see the power that a mere man or woman has, if he has a fighting spirit and faith in the promises of God.
One thing I find that stirs me to anger, is graffiti. I feel angry when I drive through a city in which local residents have obviously taken pride in their community and planted trees, gardens and parks, and yet have had mindless graffiti scribbled all over their buildings. It must be so disheartening that so much work can be so quickly and easily degraded.
I heard that some businesses, in an effort to fight graffiti, are having motion detectors placed above the walls of their buildings, and when someone is detected too close to the wall, they set off water sprinklers, dousing the would-be "tagger," and spraying the wall to a point where paint will not adhere to it.
Satan wants to scrawl his mindless obscenities on the walls of the mind of the Christian. He wants to claim territory, and steal our confidence before God. But we must never become disheartened and give up the battle; we are to arm ourselves with a fighting spirit. That means having the motion detector of a primed conscience; a conscience which is sensitive to unlawful activity. As soon as there is any detection, we are to turn on the "washing of the water of the Word," so that nothing will stick on the walls of the mind.
Use every stick the devil throws at you to start a fire in your soul. Pile high every stone of persecution, then stand on it to be a true and faithful witness for the Kingdom of God.
I spoke to a man once who had the warmth of dry ice. I gave him two of our "I.Q." cards, as an ice-breaker, and not a drop melted. His name was Dwight, and he had massive biceps that were even larger than mine (wow!). It turned out that he was another California Christian casualty -- he had "tried" Christianity once, and it "didn't work" for him. Then he embarked on a theological speel of trying to justify Judas Iscariot. His line of reasoning was that Judas had no choice. I let him speak for some time on the subject, and then I told him that Judas was a thief and a hypocrite, and had the same choices as the other disciples. I told Dwight that if he stayed in his sins, he would follow directly in the path of Judas, but that God didn't want him to perish. The ice remained cold, but quiet. I think that Dwight felt my concern for him. He even took some literature, and allowed me to pray with him. When the devil tries to intimidate us through lack of warmth, we shouldn't be deterred. All we want is a listening ear, whether it be cold or hot, it doesn't matter.
We must have a fighting spirit, not only in the realm of claiming God's promises for ourselves, but for the souls who are taken captive by the devil to do his will. We are to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude verse 3). Both the words "earnestly" and "contend," are the same word in the Greek language. They are both "epagonizomai," from which we derive the English word "agonize," and mean that we are to "contend for a prize . . . to contend with an adversary." Have you ever seen arm-wrestlers contending for a prize? Watch them psyche themselves up. Look into their eyes and see their commitment. Watch their muscles flex and the sweat pour from their brows as they agonize, strive and struggle to come to grips with their adversary. At that moment nothing else matters but the prize.
We are to do the same thing in our wrestle with the world, the flesh and the devil, and with the souls of the unsaved. We are to take a firm grip around the throat of that which wants to swallow us, whether it is the fear of man, fear of the future, or trials and temptations, and not let go until we see the light of day. We can see it through the eye of faith. Though it may be dark down the throat of affliction, we know that if God is for us, nothing can be against us, and by the grace of our God, we can hang on until we get the victory, whether it is in this life or in the next.
"...take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16).
Back to Evangelism page