Inside the walls of a church building is where life happens. It’s where babies are dedicated and their parents vow to train them up in all the ways of the Lord. It’s where newly wedded couples promise before God and man to love one another unconditionally as long as they both shall live. It’s where broken sinners kneel at the altar of God’s infinite grace and hand their lives over to Him so that they can be born anew. It’s where new believers are submersed under the baptismal waters as a public acknowledgement of their new life in Christ. It’s where Scriptures are taught, songs of worship are sung, countless prayers are cried, and families gather on pews. It’s where the resurrected life of Jesus Christ is celebrated week after week, generation after generation. Big or small…the size of the building doesn’t matter. Anywhere a Cross is hung and the Gospel is preached is hallowed ground. It is a sanctuary of security. It’s the only place in this world where it is safe to be a Christian.
November 5, 2017 is the day when that safe place became unsafe. A gunman in full body armor paced the center aisle of a tiny rural church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and shot at every breathing soul who had gathered inside to do what they faithfully did each and every week – worship Jesus Christ. This madman took aim at God’s people, and, to the world, it looks like he won.
Churchgoers around the world either turned on the news or opened up social media after they left their own churches on Sunday afternoon and came face-to-face with the horror of what had happened. Despite the uncertainty of details, one fact was clear…this was spiritual warfare. The evil that once lurked outside of the church, covertly targeting believers’ private lives, had found its way inside and it came with one intention – it came to kill. John 10:10
The Apostle Paul concluded his letter to the church of Ephesus with, “Finally,” and then he proceeded to tell them about the spiritual battle that they need to be prepared for. He said:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13
When the day of evil comes. Until this past Sunday, I think most American Christians in this modern age never comprehended how evil “the day of evil” could be. While evil seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, drowning us in daily newsfeeds littered with more terrorist attacks, teenage suicides, pedophilia, perversion, and corruption than ever before, we never thought it would hit us in our holy spaces at point blank range. Despite all the heart-wrenching, gut-twisting news that touches each and every community, each and every day, we have always had our safe houses of worship to run to every Sunday to escape the evil outside of it and to seek solace from its pain.
If what happened to the church on Sunday is indeed a spiritual battle, how do we make use of the spiritual weaponry that Paul lists in this ancient 2,000 year old letter when our battle is now against AR-15s and tormented souls in tactical gear? How do we stand firm while our enemy uses other delusional pawns to plot and plan against us?
The answer comes from the two men who are most affected by the horrific evil that has come upon the churches at Sutherland Springs and the body of believers worldwide. The pastors of this small community, one being the pastor of the church who will lay half of its congregants, including his own daughter, to rest this week, are showing us all how to do exactly as Paul tells us when he says, “Put on the full armor…and stand firm.”
Within 24 hours of their day of evil, these two pastors appeared on national media, drew up their swords, and struck back at the enemy with two blows:
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, First Baptist Sutherland Springs:
“Christ is the one who’s going to be lifted up. And, as I was telling everyone, you lean in to what you don’t understand…you lean into the Lord. And, I will submit this to everyone, my families here and you guys there…whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. I don’t understand but I know my God does and that’s where I’ll leave that.”
Blow #1: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Pastor Paul Buford – River Oaks Church, Sutherland Springs:
“It’s only our faith in God that’s gonna get us through this, and it’s our faith in God that’s gonna say that we trust that everyone that was in that church that didn’t come out of there is present with their Lord and Savior right now. Because the Bible tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
Blow #2: So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
What exactly is the Sword of the Spirit? How did these pastors use it?
“And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” is translated in the original Greek as “machairan pneumatos o rhéma theou.”
A machairan (sword) was a 19” razor sharp double-edge sword with an upward turned tip. Of all the Roman soldier’s five swords, the machairan was feared most. It was designed not only to kill but to rip the enemy to shreds with a stab and a twist to the gut.
The Greek word rhéma (word) describes something that is spoken clearly, spoken vividly, or spoken in undeniable language. According to Greek expert Rick Renner, it carries the idea of a quickened word, such as a word of Scripture or a “word from the Lord” that the Holy Spirit supernaturally drops into a believer’s mind, thus causing it to supernaturally come alive and impart special power or direction to that believer.
Putting these two definitions together, the sword of the Spirit, which is our only defensive weapon in the Armor of God, is like the deadliest, most feared sword and is activated when we SPEAK the Word of God to our enemy. It is the SPOKEN Word of God given to us by the Holy Spirit in our time of need.
Jesus Himself showed us how to wield the sword of the Spirit in Matthew 4:1-13 when He faced the enemy head-on after a 40-day fast in the wilderness. Jesus spoke Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13 back at Satan after Satan tried to tempt Him. Jesus countered every temptation with Scripture. After three failed attempts, Satan fled. Poof! Gone!
The Word of God, which is sharper than any double-edged sword Hebrews 4:12, had the power then and it has the power NOW to make Satan flee. These Sutherland Springs pastors gave him a big one-two punch when, by speaking Scriptures, they fought back by saying, “No, I don’t understand but I lean on God’s understanding,” Proverbs 3:5 and “I am confident that the ones you took from us are in the presence of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. With these two Scriptures, they showed the entire world how to put their hope and faith in an all-faithful, victorious God. Death will not leave its sting in Sutherland Springs. With remnants of unspeakable evil all around them, they still testified that CHRIST WILL BE LIFTED UP some way, somehow. They believe as Paul believed, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12
These two pastors, led by the Holy Spirit, are showing all the grieving, scared body of believers how to withstand such terrible evil. These pastors are refusing to be moved an inch from their faith in the goodness of God. They will not quit worshipping. They will not quit gathering. They are using the Word of the Living God to fight back. They know a sweeping work of the Gospel is happening right now because of the evil that befell their community. They are confident that God will turn ALL of this into something good.
One tiny church in rural Texas, riddled with bullet holes and roped off with police caution tape, reminds us that there are no safe places anymore. The only safe place we have is in the arms of Jesus. Only He can deliver us from the evil one Matthew 6:13, from the lion's mouth 2 Timothy 4:17, and from every other evil attack 2 Timothy 4:18. And, only HE can bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom one day when our work on earth is done 2 Timothy 4:18. And, until then, as God’s people left to stand firm in this dark and evil world, we are called to put on the FULL Armor of God and join them in this great and mighty work.
The Armor of God Series -
Part One: Know Thine Enemy
Part Two: The Devil's Destination
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural, an even 50/50 split of introvert/extrovert, and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.