Empty for a Reason, Perfection Not Necessary

Christmas at Our Rich Retreat

Christmas at Our Rich Retreat_Come Empty, Leave Full

We don’t simply decorate our house for Christmas; we do a Christmas Load In. It’s as though every Elf on the Shelf comes to a pre-season-kickoff-convention and collectively loses their minds partying. Let’s call it the 6 Days of Chaos at Our Rich Retreat. Sometimes as I empty the boxes, I learn a lesson.

Must … not … accept … empty …

Around Day 4, I pulled out an ornament-holding tree that stands about two-feet tall. I decided I would adorn it with a set of dinky-sized, metallic-red bulbs. Due to the way I’d used these itty-bitty ornaments in past years, the little guys were in various totes around the house. Digging through dozens of boxes, I came up with almost enough ornaments to fill the little tree, but I was one short. It became a game-stopping quest to find this missing one-inch bulb. To understand the scope of my quest, check out the number of totes we have for Christmas (… and check your judgment; I know I’m crazy).

Christmas Crazy_Trailers are NOT empty

Empty Spaces are Meaningful Spaces

I eventually had to admit defeat; I couldn’t find that last bulb. My decorator-elf-self started thinking about unearthing another set of small ornaments to alternate and fill the tree. In the next moment, however, the Holy Spirit gave me a better idea: Leave that spot empty because it’s a picture of so many things.

  • The lost. As diligently as I’d searched for that missing little bauble, God is searching for those who currently are rejecting His offer of love and grace. Going past that tree this season, I’ve been reminded to pray for the lost. I pray for some by name. I also pray that my eyes are open to seeing how I can reflect God to those I meet … maybe it’s an opportunity to point a lost soul to Him.
  • Those who feel left out. Many come to church but don’t feel included. They look around and see all the “matching ornaments” and don’t feel like they belong. Because they feel different, they drift away and leave an empty spot. When we’re at church, we need to look up and around. Let’s break away from our friend groups when we see someone alone. It could be the difference between those folks feeling the joy of being visible and connected or them leaving feeling empty.
  • The missing people in our lives. I lost it last night looking at pictures of my mom holding my kids when they were little … she’s been gone for 10 Christmases. The missing ornament on that tree reminds me to pray for those who are also navigating the holidays with those empty spots on the trees of their hearts.
  • Seasonal emptiness. The holidays can usher in so many disappointments that leave many feeling hollow. Again, let’s keep our eyes open for those who need encouragement through a kind word, an extra hug or an invitation to spend time together.

With Jesus at the Center, We're Never Empty

Emptiness Leads to Holiness

That spot on my tree is empty for a reason. Only one thing can fill it – prayer. I pray expectantly – not only that God would work in others, but that He will work through me.

Out of the chaos of decoration boxes came an invitation to holiness. Out of the manger in Bethlehem came the One who can fill our emptiness with His holiness. May any emptiness in our lives lead all of us to more holiness this Christmas.

The Past: That Train has Left the Station

looking back to good times train

The past can be a pesky business. Thinking about it can lead to 2 trains of thought. One path revisits the train wrecks we’ve made of certain situations. The other track leads to a sort of longing…a wishing we could go back to how things were when life was ‘good’. Both past-trains can render us stuck and unable to move forward in life.

train wreck of the past

Train Wreck

Getting held up because of a Train Wreck in our past can immobilize us due to frequent stops at negative stations like guilt, shame or unforgiveness. We severely limit ourselves from the fullness of our potential when we allow past mistakes to define us. Forgiveness for self and forgiveness for others is a journey. However, we need to be aware that there are ways we can bring it to a grinding halt. If we don’t consistently choose forgiveness for ourselves and for others, the stench of the past robs our ability to breathe the air of today.

we all make mistakes_train

The motivation to forgive is grounded in this teaching from Christ: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15). I take that to cover not only forgiving others, but also forgiving ourselves. If the God of the Universe forgives us (and He does when we come clean with Him), then who are we to not forgive ourselves?

It’s almost as though we want God to say over and over that He forgives us…to speak into our insecurity. But God says in Psalm 103:12 that as soon as we have dealt with the issue, He forgives and sees us as clean. When He forgives us, it’s not partial. No matter how many times we beat ourselves up, God gave all forgiveness in the first conversation. It may feel too good to be true; that is the amazing grace of God. Accepting it is the way forward from a train wreck of a situation.

looking back to good times train

Good Times Train

The hard times in our past are not the only things that can derail us. Nostalgia can become a sub-conscience trap. We remember how happy we felt once upon a time and wish we could ‘get back’ to how things were. God, however, never calls us backward. He leads us to grow and move forward on our journey. I think of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:12-26). The path ahead of her seemed uncomfortable and scary, so she wasted herself—literally—on looking back and longing for what was.

It’s not that our good times weren’t great; it’s that they belong to the past.

We can even do this in our relationship with God. We may:

  • remember times when we were ‘on fire’ for God, but now feel flat
  • recall seasons when we couldn’t get enough of studying the Bible, but now feel like it’s something we should do
  • reflect to periods when all we wanted was to do things God’s way, but now it’s a struggle to keep on track

…and we wish we could recapture those days. But God doesn’t. Every season of our life is in place so we will experience God in a new way—not just the ways we’ve already enjoyed with Him.

full steam ahead to now train

The NOW Train

To move forward, it’s time to hop on the NOW Train. It’s a bit of an aggressive ride, but it goes to refreshing places. Here’s your ticket to NOW:

  • Na na na na…hey hey hey…goodbye.
    Will you let the past be in the past? The space that’s been occupied with ‘what was’ now becomes available for ‘what’s next’.
  • Oh for the love of all that is holy — ease up on yourself.
    So you messed up. Ok. Welcome to being human. Even if others want to rub your nose in it, God doesn’t.
  • What can you do to experience God in a new way?
    I asked someone the other day, “What’s your favorite color?” When she said it was red, I said, “Every time you see something red, let that trigger you to talk to God, think about Him, praise Him…” It’s not always about ‘doing’ more; it’s about soaking in His presence.
A Train Blessing

As you pull away—full steam ahead–from the station of the past, here’s my prayer for you:

May you recall train wreck times as powerful moments of learning and redirection.
May the good times be precious memories allowed to remain in their time and space.
May NOW be your moment to embrace the present and His presence.

A Bruised Heart Full of Sprap

sprap = spam + crap

Bruised Heart

My heart is bruised. It has a specific cause rooted in the actions of others. I thought I was fine; turns out, I’m not. It hit me as I stood in a church to sing:
      Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
      Holy, holy is He
      Sing a new song to Him who sits on
      Heaven’s mercy seat
In the past when I sang this, I could always recall a new work I’d seen God do that week. I’d think about it and effortlessly praise Him with a ‘new song’—but not this time. I felt flat and disconnected. I couldn’t sing…but the song kept going. I couldn’t sing, so I prayed. “Lord, all I can tell You is I’m aware my heart is bruised and I know it has nothing to do with You. I love You, but the hurt is making me numb.” I’m not sure what I expected God to do…but before I tell you what He did, let me unpack a little about a bruised heart.

“You’ve Got Bruised Mail”

See if you can relate to this: You’re going about your life. Over time, you become aware that truckloads of junk you know you didn’t ask for are getting deposited into your life-inbox. Feeling strong, you scroll through, select and ‘delete’ that junk. You don’t open it or look at it. Out of sight, out of mind, you think you’ve cleared it away. The next day, however, the crap reappears looking exactly the same. With irritation, you take a peek, but then quickly close and trash it all.  However, it won’t go away. Crazy as this sounds, the following day more junk just like it starts to infect your mind/heart-inbox because you made the fatal error of looking at something in that sprap.

SPRAP - Spam + Crap = unwanted junk deposited into our life-inbox

facepalm

You looked at the sprap, and now you can’t shake it. The ridiculously ugly content has gotten into your head and has bruised your heart.

 

What the sprap bruised your heart?

I know the nature of my sprap. Is yours within this list?

*Degrading words
*Family dysfunction
*Abandonment
*Being overlooked
*Made to feel inferior
*Betrayal
*Broken trust
*Abuse of power
*Death
*Addiction
*Deception
*Rejection
*Prayer that seems unanswered
*Low self-worth
*Your pride alienated others

The list of human-to-human ugliness is unending.  While it’s awful, God has the power to bring something beautiful from it. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph—who could put a check mark by most of the hurts on the above list–saw God’s mighty hand at the end of many bruising years. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Our bruises, too, have the power to help others if we’ll deal with our sprap and let the Holy Spirit begin the healing.

Healing a bruised heart
Some hearts are more than bruised, they’re broken. Healing may be a long process and require professional help before the pain can connect to God’s promised good.  Psalm 147:3 is a sustaining hope for the journey, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” My heart is saddened thinking of how uphill that path is for the deeply wounded because I’ve been there, too. What I can tell you is that those I’ve known who’ve opened their sprap and done the hard work to heal are some of the most interesting and dimensionally profound people I’ve met. Their ‘new songs’ are powerfully moving.

For me, God began healing this bruise on my heart in that worship service. When I couldn’t connect to singing a new song because my bruised heart was too numb, the Holy Spirit met me there. As the music played, I suddenly had this understanding: You are singing Me a new song. This is the first time you’ve sang to Me with a bruised heart. This is a new song and now you know what it sounds like. I receive your praise in this new song. That assurance was the beginning of my bruise fading; but it’s just the beginning.

His love gives us courage to keep moving toward healing. That’s my new song. I’m praying for all who read this—whether bruised, broken or healed. May a new song rise up and may that song point people to God’s love.

 

How to ‘pain’ with someone

Be present in someone's pain

Be present in someone's pain
My teen had her throat ripped out this week. Please indulge my dramatic way of sharing she had her tonsils removed; I’m a bit sleep deprived. I find it interesting that in all the post-op literature, I didn’t find the note: Parents of teens: Prepare to return to an infant-sleep-schedule. In order to manage my girl’s pain, every 4 hours, jarring digital bells alert me it’s time to serve  “Pre-Dawn Pain Be Gone” cocktails…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My daughter is a trooper, but this is incredibly painful for her.

Being near her over the past few days. memories over a decade old are stirring. The intensity of her pain has reminded me of the days my sisters and I stuck close to my mom as she dealt with cancer. Apples and oranges to a degree, but pain is pain. One connecting thread between the two events has emerged as I’ve loved on my little one this week. It’s not something that I articulated when we were in the throes of caring for mom, but the truth is timeless: It is a tender and precious privilege to be allowed this close to someone’s pain.

PAIN IS PAIN

People hurt deeply on relational, emotional, spiritual, physical and mental levels. When I’m invited into a person’s pain, it’s a privilege no matter what the cause. While it’s my joy to journey with them, their pain can become a transferred pain if I don’t interact with it well. Maybe that’s why some folks shy away from being near pain. Perhaps we fear we’ll take on their burden and be debilitated by it.  As I prayed this week, God brought to mind some of His wisdom regarding how to be present in someone’s pain.

HOW TO “PAIN”
  • Don’t be Jesus: Especially in relational, emotional and spiritual hurts, but true in all pain, our job is to point people to the true Healer. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in being there for someone that they begin to rely on us for healing instead of God. They increasingly need assurance from us. They begin to quote our words instead of His. Their pain transfers to us as its host. We need to be wise, pray before coming alongside and continually point them to healing through prayer and His promises.  Isaiah 53:4-5~Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.
  • Be on hand, not handy: Why do we feel the need to “fix” things? Probably because we see the brokenness. However, the best gift we can give is to allow a hurting person to ‘be’. If we’ll listen, we can discern when he/she is ready to take a step toward healing. It sounds odd, but even physically hurting people need the space to be overwhelmed in their pain before they can embrace taking steps toward wellness. Not having to be alone in that space is a gift we give and a privilege we’re granted. Put simply: Listen and don’t tell them how to get over it. Be present in their pain. James 1:19~My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
PRAY PAIN AWAY
When we’ve been in the presence of intense pain, it’s human nature to absorb it. We feel the way to honor someone’s pain is to feel the weight of it on us. However, that equals us trying to be Jesus. He is the one who has the ability to heal, not us. Our job as we travel on a painful path with another is to have a burden for prayer. As we lift the weight of their pain to the Lord, we are ‘doing’ the best thing we can for them. When the Lord leads us to act, then we are His hands and feet. By praying their pain ‘away’, we remain available to help them with clarity as the Spirit leads. And we’re available for the next hurting person we meet.
pain bearable with God
May we respond to pain with prayer.
May prayer lead us to respond to pain in love.

 

 

I care; You share

Even though my plate is full, I care, so you share

Even though my plate is full, I care, so you share

I had coffee with a friend today. I thought we were getting together to laugh. Turns out, we got together for a lesson.

During our conversation, she shared a profound truth, and I asked her to write a guest post on my blog. For you to fully grasp the power of her message, please allow me to share the highlights of what my friend is facing:

  • Her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, has cancer
  • Her 17-year-old son has been dealing with the legal system all year. He was recently released from a psychiatric hospital stay. After a 3rd violation of his probation, they have court soon to determine if he will stay in the home or be placed in the system.
  • Her father-in-law lives with them. In the last month, he has been hospitalized twice with mini-stroke symptoms.
  • Her mother lives with them and, in the last month, has also experienced health issues.
  • My friend has her own mental health journey that is challenging to navigate with all these stressors.

…and we think we have problems? But wait: Capture that thought. My friend, Amanda Meers, has a word regarding that ‘thought’, and I believe we all need to hear it.

Amanda’s insights

I tell you these things, not so that you will feel sorry or have pity, but to acknowledge that sometimes it feels like God gives us a triple plate of life. Most people would prefer these things to happen on individual plates at different times in life (if they have to have them at all). Some people, like me, get all of the plates at once. I have a nickname amongst some of my friends, Jobina (the female Job).

I am often told, when reaching out to different people in my life, that what’s going on in their world is nothing compared to what’s happening in mine (whether they know all of it or only about Sarah’s diagnosis). This is a huge pet peeve of mine!!!

Let me explain:

Yes, everything happening in my life (taken individually or all together) is a lot for anyone. However, that doesn’t mean that the trials happening in your life are any less important or significant than those happening in mine. It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges. If you or someone in your life is going through a hard time—whether it’s a cold, the flu, a baseball bat to the face, strep, issues at school or work—it’s all hard, it’s all scary, it’s all traumatic, and it’s all life. We are in this life together. We are supposed to share so that we can lift each other up in prayer.

Going back to the fruit example (apples and oranges): We are all fruits picked by God. We’re all different—whether you consider yourself an apple or an orange. We have different sizes, different colors, different bruises. When God picks us, we are placed in the fruit truck, all headed to the same place—but our journeys are so different.

Sometimes when people tell me “Well, I know my stuff is nothing compared to what’s happening in your life,” it feels like this means you think that I can’t or won’t or don’t want to pray for you. Praying for you and what’s happening in your life takes the focus off my life. I want to be other-focused. I want to pray for you. So many have been faithful to pray with and for us. By not allowing me to pray for you, you are denying me a blessing. Even if you factor out the friendship and love I have for you, we, as Christians, are meant to pray for each other. Praying for others is my job. If you are not sharing your prayer needs, you are depriving me of the opportunity to do my job. I can pray for you (and I do), but if there are specific things I can be praying, I want to know so we can go to the Father together in prayer. We are not meant to carry our burdens alone—no matter what they are.

We're all fruity. Let's show we care. Let's share.

Great job, Jobina. Thank you for permission to not compare my apples to your oranges. Thank you for praying for my apples as I’m praying for your oranges. Thank you for the invitation to be fruity together. 

You can reach Amanda at ameers2002@icloud.com

Breastplate Covering Exposes Light! – Armor Up Part 5

God's light coming from heart covered by His breastplate of righteousness

God's light coming from heart covered by His breastplate of righteousness

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…Ephesians 6:14.

definition of breastplate, righteousness

Typically, if something is covered, it’s in darkness. However, in a holy-flip-move, God’s breastplate of righteousness is in place so that its covering produces light. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to share what happens if we don’t have this armor in place.

OUR DARK SECRET PLACE

Cathy Ncube

Take off the ARMOR OF GOD!
   Remove the BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS!                 
     Throw away the SHIELD OF FAITH!  
         Forget the TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD!

Let’s do what we want to do
        in our dark secret world,
           at our dark secret place,
               at our own selfish pace.

Let’s make our own choices.
Let’s listen to our own voices.     

Let’s act by the power of
    OUR might.
It doesn’t have to be right.
Let’s do it anyway.
Let’s go astray.

And when we leave that darkness and
   face family and friends,
They’ll never know about our dark place    or of our dark secret sins.

We will not worry about the
         consequences.
We are fully protected by
         Satan’s fences.

And if we die in our
    sinful state,
Hell has an open gate.
Our “hearts” are the spiritual part of us that connect to the world. What we intake becomes what influences us. Out of the overflow, our hearts flex and we output words and actions. These demonstrate what we believe and value to those around us. If our hearts are not covered by God and His ways, darkness resides in the place of light. It’s often a slow fade, but it starts with the word “no”.

CRACK IN THE BREASTPLATE

crack in armor

At the point where we say “no” to God, we open a little crack in the armor where Satan’s arrows can get through.1  These are the most deceptive of moments because they often feel good. It’s easy to think that ‘this’ is a good thing—especially if it is relieving pain, loneliness or hurt. If the breastplate of God’s righteousness is not in place, we may even think that ‘its’ arrival is a light to pierce a dark season of our soul. The guiding question we need to ask ourselves is this: Does what I’m doing align with God’s Word? If not, it’s not from God.

It can be tricky, but remember:

…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14

God, on the other hand:

God is pure light, undimmed by darkness of any kind. If we say we have an intimate connection with the Father but we continue stumbling around in darkness, then we are lying because we do not live according to truth. If we walk step by step in the light, where the Father is, then we are ultimately connected to each other through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son. His blood purifies us from all our sins. If we go around bragging, “We have no sin,” then we are fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we own up to our sins, God shows that He is faithful and just by forgiving us of our sins and purifying us from the pollution of all the bad things we have done. 1 John 1:5-9

BREASTPLATE IN PLACE

If we’ve left our hearts exposed and darkness has taken up residence, God stands ready to help set our breastplate of righteousness in place.

Check out this sermon illustration I recently heard:

Imagine you bought a house. You have all new furniture loaded on a moving truck and you’re ready to move in. On a dark evening, you drive over to the new house to start setting some furniture in place. The key works and, in a minute, you’re in. Walking to the first room, you flip on a switch and, unbelievably, you see the former person’s furniture is still there! Your shoulders droop because you had hoped to get started right away setting up your new life. Now, you see there is unexpected work to do. Before the new furniture can get moved in, the old is going to have to go. Overwhelmed, you know you’re going to need help…and a Helper arrives. This is the Holy Spirit coming to do the heavy lifting. He walks you through the darkened rooms of your heart and shows you what needs to go so the new can come in. He doesn’t leave you to do it alone, He is there to do the work in you. As soon as you’ve partnered to clear out one room, the Lord tenderly puts His arm around your shoulder and says, “Now: Let’s walk to the next one.” Chris Malone @ChrisMMalone

May God’s breastplate of righteousness cover us so well that His light cleans our rooms and shines from our hearts.

 

1GotQuestions.org. “What is the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)?” GotQuestions.org. N.p., 04 Jan. 2017. Web. 11 May 2017. <https://www.gotquestions.org/breastplate-of-righteousness.html>.

 

The Grace and Truth Tightrope

truth in love tightrope of grace

 

tightrope between grace and truth

When does a tightrope walker think, “…Point A to Point B on a skinny rope strung between high towers? Sign.me.up.”? Probably after observing someone do it well—someone who made it appear an attractive, thrilling adventure.

Our lives are a balancing act. We walk the Tightrope of Tasks and the Rope of Relationships. If we take a misstep along either, we lose equilibrium. We flail and try to regain control. In the meantime, we attempt to stay upright as we hyper-focus on not crashing.

Some tightropes are short and only affect the moment. Others, though…others are lengthy and have long term effects. One lengthy tightrope caught my attention this week—the tightrope between grace and truth.

Tightropes too tense

It seems that in the Christian community (and I realize I paint with broad strokes here), when a person commits a sin, he/she is met with a lot of truth. It’s as though the community absorbs the sin and puts their collective head down. They force the one who committed the sin to drop his head in a sort of community-imposed, “Look at what you’ve done.” The focus is on the one who made the mistake. The way that person is received causes him to center on himself. Truth, truth, truth pounding—even when it’s God’s truth—throws a hurting person off balance. The tightrope he’s walking? It should be a twine woven of love. However, if the community heaps condemnation—whether openly admitted or secretly harbored—the twine starts snapping under the walker’s weakened feet. It doesn’t feel like love. Yet…

truth in love, tightrope
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:15

…it should.

Tightropes gone slack        

On the flip side, I recently soaked in an atmosphere that caused me to consider the imbalance of grace without truth.

Scene: A hipster coffee shop in East Nashville
Characters:

  • Me: computer and caffeine at the ready
  • Baristas: long-haired, tattooed, relaxed, open, in their zone
  • Customers: Hipster moms and dads, college students, bearded/tattooed/funky hair/lots of metal in body parts/all holding cell phones/most seemingly relaxed and in their zone

As I watched the baristas interact with their new and regular customers, my pastor/writer’s mind started speculating. Let’s assume—not with any judgment, but simply for the sake of assuming—that most of the folks in the coffee shop were not Christians. Here’s what got me. Take that hurting tightrope walker from the above scenario. If that guy were to come and share that same sin with this group, he’d find acceptance. Because there is no scriptural truth on which non-believers base their lives, the kinds of things that wig out Christians don’t hit their radar as an issue. If the hurting person shared how condemned he felt by the Christian community, he wouldn’t find that here. Instead, he’d find acceptance and “grace”. The tightrope under his feet would strengthen by the non-judgmental love this community extended. Their grace may be the very thing that causes him to walk away from Christians all together.

However, this twine becomes ensnaring. Because God’s truth is not part of the life-conversation, the feeling is…well Dori comes to mind with the message…

just keep sinning

…“Just keep sinning, sinning, sinning, sinning”. He’ll be stuck in that spot on the tightrope. It’s loving, but it’s a deceptive encouragement.

Tightropes that go the distance

After someone has messed up and we have the privilege to walk with him on the tightrope between grace and truth, let’s take our cues from this:

  1. Have a vision of “Point B”: Point B is where this hurting person will emerge after coming through their mess. Is the goal of Point B to rub his nose in his sin or is it to see him stronger in his relationship with the Lord? Knowing the end goal shapes how we interact with him today…because today is prayerfully one step closer to Point B. It also prevents us from reacting in ways that cause him to turn around and give up even trying to do the walk. Our actions should help restore the hurting person without us putting ourselves in the judgment seat. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
  2. Check your twine: Are you laying down “love” as the encouraging pathway out of the mess? If love leads, the hurting person can receive truth that will be life-giving as they journey. The encouragement to suffering friends is to “Just keep swimming” away from the mess and to know that your love is there for them. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13) …but the greatest of these is love.
  3. Lean on the grace you’ve received: It’s disappointing when people let us down. Hmm…with 7+ billion people on the planet, I wonder how frequently God says that. We let Him down often, but we never want His grace to fail or flee from us. The more we feel His grace, the more we want to live a life that pleases Him. That’s the beauty of God-ordained grace and truth. Let God be God in other people’s messes. (2 Corinthians 12:9) But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

 

Tightrope between grace and truth

I have struggled with this tension between grace and truth, so I write to you and to me.  Here’s what I know: I want to be a person who powerfully navigates the tightropes of my life so others see that walking with Jesus is an attractive and thrilling adventure. I want to be a person who encourages others on their tightropes to look up, see the truth in God-Point B and know they are walking toward it with my love under their feet.

What tightrope are you navigating? I pray you are feeling God’s grace from His people. I pray His people are speaking truth, but only after loving you well. If you aren’t experiencing that, don’t give up on God, but find Christians who get it. There’s nothing like hearing grace-filled truth because it will lead you to deeper experiences of God’s love.

 

Where did you get that belt? Armor Up Part 4

Belt of truth

Belt of truth

Continuing the Armor of God series, this week we’ll ‘buckle down’ and explore the belt of truth. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…” (Ephesians 6:14).

Before unpacking the spiritual power of the belt, will you indulge me a minute? As I’ve thought about belts the past couple of days, I can’t get past something that drags me down: Sagging. For the love of Fruit of the Loom, WHY???????

sagging pants belt low

I look at this picture, see the belts desperately trying to keep those pants afloat and think, “Oh, you poor things. Did your arms get so tired you couldn’t hitch yer britches another 10 inches to your waist?”  Look, let’s set aside what I think the saggy, underwear-are-outerwear crowd communicates to the world. None of us can escape the fact that how we wear our clothes does communicate to the world.

Belting up in Paul’s World

In the time the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians (AD 60-62), the belt of a Roman soldier was the main piece signifying he was set apart to his position.

In Rome, a man’s dress and his social cultural and political identity in Roman society were directly connected; the toga was both the prerogative and the iconic symbol of the Roman male citizen. What then, was the distinguishing dress of the Roman soldier? We know that in Apuleius’ time unarmoured soldiers usually wore a belted tunica, nailed sandals and a long, heavy cloak, fixed on the right shoulder with a fibula. Neither the tunica nor the cloak seem to have differed much from average well-off civilian clothing. The truly distinguishing factor of the military dress were the sandals (caligae ) and the military belt.1

Wearing the belt specific to his position distinguished a Roman soldier from people around him who—otherwise—wore similar clothing. This got me thinking…

Belting up in Our World

How does the ‘belt of truth’ distinguish modern-day Christians? Do we wear it because it’s fashionable, functional or foundational?

  • Fashionable: In our world, it seems increasingly unfashionable to be a Christian. The perception exists that Christians are intolerant (unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect persons of a different social group, especially members of a minority group).2 Tolerance is showing respect to those who differ; it does not, however, mean an acceptance of the values that create the differences. The best way we can walk toward loving unity in our world is by respecting all views while maintaining the values we hold. Too often, Christians—to be tolerant—wear a belt that is fashionable, but not one constructed of the material contained in God’s Word. Times change, but the truth of scripture doesn’t.
  • Functional: For those who feel their belt is constructed of truth and not of the latest trend in cultural thinking, what purpose does the belt serve? Is it whipped off to ward off those who don’t subscribe to Christian beliefs? Is it used to beat others with the truth? Remember, the belt of truth should distinguish Christians from those around them. If we recall Jesus’ greatest commandment, we’ll know that truth should always offered in love (Ephesians 4:15).Greatest Commandment Matthew 22.37-39
  • Foundational: By definition, foundational means “the basis or groundwork of anything”.3 When we believe that truth is contained in God’s Word, every area of our lives is affected. We’ll “stand firm” (Ephesians 6:14) against all the challenges of life because the foundation of what we choose is based on God’s ways. We’ll be loving and tolerant while “standing firm” on the values God’s Word contains.
Belting up in Your World

How is your belt?  Hopefully yours isn’t sagging! I pray that we Christians are mindful how, like Roman soldiers, our belt [of truth] distinguishes us from others around us. Further, my prayer is that God’s foundational truth is so attractive in how we live that others want to ask, “Where did you get that belt?”

 

1Hoss, Stephanie. Wearing the cloak dressing the soldier in Roman times. Edited by Marie-Louise Nosch. Vol. 10. Ancient Textile Series. Oxford (GB): Oxbow Books, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2017. https://www.academia.edu/212354/The_Roman_Military_Belt. Chapter 4: The Roman Military Belt.

2“Intolerance.” Dictionary.com. Accessed April 21, 2017. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/intolerance?s=t.

3Foundation.” Dictionary.com. Accessed April 21, 2017. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/foundational.

 

 

Shield-Butt: The New Head-Butt – Armor Up Part 3

Shield of faith

Shield of faith

All my growing-up-in-church life, I consistently heard there is only one piece of God’s armor that is offensive: the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Let’s challenge that by expanding how we view the shield of faith.

When life is hitting hard and attacks are coming from all directions, Ephesians 6:16 assures us that we have protection if we pick it up: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. So, the shield of faith is given to protect us from attacks. However, if we know more about the way shields were used during the time Paul wrote Ephesians (AD62), I think we’ll see there is more we can do with our shield to operate in power during life’s battles.

Roman scutum shield and boss
(left) Scutum shield from Roman invasion of Britain (AD43) with missing boss (right) Another boss, made of bronze and decorated, found in Britain.

At the time of the Roman invasion of Britain (AD43) most Roman shields were rectangular and curved, like part of a cylinder. This shield is called a scutum. In battle the shield was held with the arm straight, holding a grip in the middle. The grip was across a hole cut from the middle of the shield. This hole was protected by a metal boss, a hemisphere of iron with an iron plate around it. The soldier could push this boss into his enemy to knock him off balance.1

But(t) shield…what?

You’re familiar with a head-butt, yes?

Head-butt definition

What if we learned to spiritually “shield-butt”?

When we feel like things are falling apart/are out of control and we don’t see how we can move forward, understanding that we have the ability to shield-butt is empowering. When circumstances are hard, we can either cower under our shield of faith or we can rise up under its protection and operate in power during the battle.

But(t) shield…how?
  1. Remember to pick it up. 2 Samuel 22:31 “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in him.” This God stands ready to be your defender and protector. By faith, call to Him—not your family, your friend nor Facebook—before doing anything when an attack hits. God will set your shield in place. You will feel His strength transfer to you.
  2. Realize its power. 2 Samuel 22:2-3 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.” You are being protected and guided by the all-powerful God. Stand up with that shield and push back at the attacks by stating in your mind and out loud that you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). You will feel equipped to deal with whatever comes.
  3. Recognize that shields come in all sizes. 2 Samuel 22:36 You make your saving help my shield; your help has made me great.” As you continue, by faith, to reach for your shield every time an attack hits, your spiritual muscles will continue to develop. You will be able to grasp and wield shields of greater size.

During a particularly tough time when I was on staff at a church, I was crying out to God. He showed me some of the spiritual attacks that were being leveled at the church. I remember being on my knees and saying, “I’m raising my shield over her [the church], but I’m only one.” That’s when God taught me that shields come in varied sizes and that He had given me a big one for this battle. When I got off my knees, I felt empowered with His strength, equipped to handle what would come and knew I was continuing to build my spiritual muscles as I gave the mess a good spiritual shield-butt in prayer.

Don’t cower; take up that shield!

1North, Tony. “Roman Shields.” Time Trips. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2017. <http://www.timetrips.co.uk/rom-art-scutum.htm>.

How’s your helmet? Armor Up Part 2

Helmets as the armor of God - How's your helmet? - Ephesians 6:17

Helmets as the armor of God - How's your helmet? - Ephesians 6:17

I overheard this conversation snippet in a coffee shop the other day…

Barista: “Hey there! How’s married life?”
Customer: “Great! Of course, it’s only been a month, but it’s great!”

What a wonderful world it would be if every married person always responded, “It’s great!” While this is possible, preventing the first-blush of a relationship from burning out requires intentional action from those who want to keep that fire stoked.  

How can we keep our “first-blush” love for God on fire? This week we continue our quest to be well protected by the armor of God as we take the intentional action step of properly wearing our “helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17).

In the era Paul wrote Ephesians 6:17, logistically “A helmet was vital for survival, protecting the brain, the command station for the rest of the body. If the head was badly damaged, the rest of the armor would be of little use.” Spiritually, we “take the helmet of salvation” and wear it properly so that the “assurance of salvation is our impenetrable defense against anything the enemy throws at us.”

The helmet symbolizes us being mindful that God has given His salvation to us. As I prayed about writing this week, God prompted me to reflect on this question: What do our helmets currently look like?

BEAUTIFUL IN BATTLE

Do you remember…

  • being excited at the new life you found in Christ when you first put your faith in Him?
  • having moments when you were amazed that God loved you—enough to die for you?
  • having incredible encounters when you felt God’s presence?

In those types of moments, our helmet of salvation might look something like this…

New helmet as part of the armor of God - Ephesians 6:17

…shiny, solid, attractive and fully capable of protection. During times when it’s easy to connect with the first-blush gratitude we have for our salvation, we project wearing this type of helmet through all of life’s battles. Whether we “received” this helmet recently or if we’ve worn it for years, its shine comes from our perspective of how amazing it is.

  • Action step: Show off that attractive helmet! Reach out to others who appear to be hurting and unprotected.
BATTERED FROM THE BATTLE

At times, we may forget the power the helmet of salvation has to protect our minds due to the combat in our lives. We try to figure out messes with our way of handling things before we even think to talk to the Helmet Giver. In those seasons, perhaps our helmets take on more of this look…

Tarnished helmet as part of the armor of God - Ephesians 6:17

…still solid and capable of protecting us, but a bit tarnished and not nearly as attractive. Do others see our helmets of salvation—our testimony of God’s amazing grace to us—through the filter of a Christian ungrateful for his/her armor? Remember, preventing the first-blush of a relationship from burning out requires intentional action from those who want to stoke that fire.

  • Action step: When life is hard, polish that helmet with prayers of gratitude simply for your salvation. With joy you will draw from the well of your salvation. Isaiah 12:3
BASHFUL IN BATTLE

Yet another thought occurred to me this week. Do people see our helmets at all?  Are we so concerned that people might think we’re a “Jesus Freak” that we keep our helmets in a place that is off limits? Maybe those helmets look something like this…

Helmet in museum as part of the armor of God - Ephesians 6:17

…stand-offish, secret, only touchable on special occasions. We’re told to “put on salvation as a helmet” (Ephesians 6:17/NLT). If no one outside of church knows we’re a Christian, it’s going to be difficult to feel God’s protective power as we engage in the battles of life.

  • Action step: Unlock that vault! Pray and ask God for boldness to live your salvation out where others can see. Like the disciples Peter and John, make this your life verse: We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20
BE REAL IN THE BATTLE

Wearing a fake helmet will allow attacks to undermine our assurance that God is with us. There are too many people who like to pour what I call “Jesus Juice” on a helmet that is not properly fitted. It looks sort of like this…

Spray painting a helmet as a cover up to the armor or God - Ephesians 6:17

…a cover up job. The “I’m doing great” response when inside we’re falling apart or we’re simply not on fire for God. Don’t settle for a lukewarm relationship.

  • Action step: Get real. Ask God to send you His comfort and assurance that He is with You. Ask another Christian to journey with you as you reconnect to your first-blush relationship with God. Never be lacking in zeal, but always keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12:11

Keeping your relationship with God strong. Remember: Preventing the first-blush of a relationship from burning out requires intentional action from those who want to keep that fire stoked.  

Look in the spiritual mirror: How’s your helmet?

 

 

1 GotQuestions.org. “GotQuestions.org.” GotQuestions.org. Got Question Ministries, 04 Jan. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017. <https://www.gotquestions.org/helmet-of-salvation.html>.