Pride and Conviction

Well, it’s that time of year again… We find ourselves nearly in the middle of June and, as such, thoroughly entrenched in National Dairy Month, Adopt-a-Cat Month, Safety Awareness Month, and Accordion Awareness Month. We also are (supposedly) to rally together in June to promote camping, candy, roses, and vegetables (https://nationaldaycalendar.com/june-monthly-observations/). However, while I bet very few of us are out marching in celebration of accordions and roses, I am sure everybody is aware that June is also LGBTQIA awareness month. Namely, June has become Pride Month and the rainbow flags are flying thick.

Now – aside from the obvious injustice that accordions are not receiving their proper attention – Pride Month poses as a particular challenge to many, myself included. I am faced with this enormous question: How am I, as a follower of Christ, to interact with Pride Month 2018? 

So many will be quick to speak for biblical – and, I believe – moral, truth. They will declaim any sexual relationships and attractions other than those commended in scripture. However, often these comments are hurtful, unhelpful, or hypocritical.

The other tendency is to lean toward affirmation. However, to praise a lifestyle that we believe to be immoral is to lie to ourselves and others. We cannot tell people celebrating Pride that we are happy for them if we believe they are on a path toward destruction. And, if we genuinely believe this, it does them no kindness to affirm them on their path.

It is better to say nothing than to be wrongfully affirming and better to say nothing than to be purposefully abrasive. My proposal for those who, like myself, are unsure of how to interact with Pride is that we neither falsely affirm nor seek to attack. Rather, we as Believers ought to use Pride Month to be convicted of our own struggles and then to engage in honest conversation with each other.

“What struggles?” you might ask, although I hope you don’t. If you are the type of person who can honestly be baffled as to whether or not you are battling sin, then I fear you have already lost the war. Whether straight or LGBT or questioning, we are all living in a fallen world and our hearts desire that which is not good. The difference is that Christ has overcome these struggles and, in Him, we too might be conquerors, putting to death the flesh and living by the Spirit (Romans 8:12-13).

Ironically, the main problem for all of us is, I believe, pride. This makes June a perfect month to reflect on our struggles. Everywhere we look, rainbows and catchy slogans and personal testimonies are demanding that we celebrate Pride. However, pride is the very problem.

Pride by definition is the state of deriving pleasure or satisfaction from a possession, quality, achievement, or relationship. The dilemma is that this pride becomes a self-focused and temporal source of identity. Possessions are lost or used up. We change our minds, loves, and habits. Someone will always achieve more than us. Even the best relationships will inevitably let us down. Pride Month reminds us that we are, as humans, prone to find our worth – our very identities – in what we are proud of and this becomes dangerous. Rather than immediately celebrating or condemning, though, we ought to find this convicting.

Paul warns of this in Galatians 6:11-14, telling Christians that our physical characteristics and/or our heritage (circumcision or lack thereof) do not have any bearing on our true identity as Christians. Rather, the only worthwhile boast is in Christ, for, as Lord and Savior, He is the perfection of the qualities, accomplishments, and relationships that we seek so desperately. 

Furthermore, this passage reveals that not only are we not to take pride in earthly circumstances, but that they are to be dead to us. We are crucified with Christ and the world crucified to us, therefore, any earthbound identity must be forsaken. Any relationship, quality, goal, etc. (i.e. any source of pride) that is not in accordance with the “new creation” of Christ’s death and resurrection must be abandoned, and, any of these that are permitted by scripture must be pursued within the context of a Christian walk (Galatians 6:15).

In short, pride is focused on the self; it is placing one’s sense of identity and worth in a temporal relationship, role, accomplishment, or characteristic. It is not lasting and it cannot save. As Christians, we are to exchange pride in self for boast in Christ. 

Christians, I fear that during Pride Month, we may find ourselves succumbing to a worse pride than a wayward heart, that of self-righteousness. We might look on those celebrating and feel somehow as if we are smarter or better because of our “traditional” morality. Beloved reader, this we cannot do! We must fight to the last of our strength to resist the allure of self-righteousness, which is simply pride gilded in religion. We cannot honestly scorn those exalting their personal attractions if we are so absorbed in our own righteousness as though it were something we had earned.

The answer, again, is to view pride with a heart of conviction. We are also Pride. We might not be dancing in celebration or changing our Twitter handles to include rainbow flags, but we too demand affirmation. We too cling to what feels right even in the face of what we claim as moral truth. We too seek to justify ourselves and find ways to feel satisfaction in who we are as individuals.

Dear reader, we must recognize that we are all characterized by pride, not that we might all celebrate, but that we might all be convicted.

June is a month where daily we must ask ourselves: Where does my identity come from? Is there an aspect of myself without which I would not know who I am? What is it that I desire and how am I pursuing it?

 

I know these questions are enough to send just about anyone into an existential crisis and honestly I have been feeling that lately. What would I be if I were not a musician? Not a writer? Not a runner or a reader or a quirky blonde with a knack for puns? Even with all these things, am I more than the sum of my parts?

Let me give you an example.

I am a runner and I often plan my entire day around squeezing in a run. A solid percentage of my Instagram is comprised of snapshots from cool trails. Before I  began running, I was an anxiety-ridden teenager battling an eating disorder and, after discovering running, I was happier, not only in the activity, but in the identity it brought with it; the running community is supportive and fun, I like how I feel after a good run, and it gives me a chance to explore new places.

However, this habit-turned-identity became a double-edged sword. I did not run this morning and my first thought was “Well, this day might as well be a lazy one.” Why?  Because I have stacked my identity on top of the pillar of being a runner and, more broadly, an achiever. Being an achiever is who I am: It is a part of me that I cannot escape. 

But this is not right. If skipping a single run (or failing to practice to my best standard or not writing something blog-worthy) can derail my whole day, something is wrong with the hierarchy of my identity. What if I were unable to do these things at all? Where would I find the pride of achievement? Who would I be without this pride? 

Reader, I am sure you have felt similar fears. And, if not, I am sorry if my post has inspired them in your dear heart. But, in facing our fears, we might find our true identity much better than in running to temporal roles and relationships. And, I am convinced, we will find a greater sense of satisfaction, patience, and joy in rightful temporal roles and relationships once we free ourselves to live fully into the enduring, lasting identity we are promised in Christ. 

Running is not immoral, but as soon as it becomes a point of pride, it no longer is an identity in communion with Christ. But, when I use it as an active reminder that I am running the race, pursuing the prize of the upward call, then it becomes subject to my identity as redeemed and beloved by Christ (Philippians 3:14). We must abandon those identities that cannot be reconciled to Christ and find those that can all the more precious for their roots in Him. 

Throughout this month, I want to challenge you to be convicted of your own idolized identities and grow in compassion for those who are seeking affirmation and love where it can only be found on earth. Dear heart, we are dead to the identities that will one day fade, but we are oh so alive in the resurrection of Christ. Look to the love and righteousness promised in Him and recall from whence you were saved. Pride does indeed go before the fall, but from the deepest of wells, the light of the stars can best be seen, and we find our enduring and truest boast when we are most humbled (paraphrase from “The Valley of Vision”).  

One more thought: rainbows. In Genesis 8-9, after the worldwide flood, God places a bow in the sky to be a sign of His promise to Noah (and mankind). My heart aches to see this symbol of divine mercy turned into a banner for desires and relationships contrary to His design. However, it gives me hope to remember that when God sealed His covenant, He promised faithfulness despite the wayward heart of man. As we find ourselves facing countless rainbow emojis, we might reflect on God’s grace in the face of our fallenness; a symbol of God’s used wrongly by man is yet God’s to use for good (Genesis 50:20). Man will fail, desires disappoint, but God is faithful. Let us find our identity in our Savior and glorify our God even and especially during this month of pride. 

We boast in no other love than that of Christ our Lord, born and crucified and raised to life that we might be saved to an enduring relationship with and identity in Him. 

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The Royal Wedding

The Royal Wedding was beautiful: the flowers, the music, the gown, and- of course- the fabulous array of hats. But this event was not just a stunning example of a wedding ceremony, but of a liturgy. It was set in a gorgeous chapel, featured traditional English hymns, and presented a rich theology in both the message and the order of service.

The dean of Windsor opened by invoking the Father, Son, and Spirit and then introducing the responsibility of the congregation (Note: not merely guests, but a congregation) to witness the marriage now and to support it in the future. In the brief discourse that followed, he made no effort to soften the truth of marriage as an image of a holy reality:

“Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body, and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

From this opening statement, all gathered (and the many millions watching worldwide) were confronted with the truth that marriage is at once something greater than we could ever imagine, but also something far less. In recognizing marriage as an image of the divine union, faithful husbands and wives will find their marriages elevated and edified. However, they also will find that there is something far greater which they must strive toward together: the ultimate marriage of the Church to Christ.

That the Royal Wedding followed a liturgical structure made this explicit. Why should a wedding parallel the order of an ordinary (though grandiose) church service? Because the marriage of a human man and woman is not the primary focus, despite the media thrill. A liturgical wedding reminds guests that they are in fact called to be the congregation and believers that they are to be the Bride.

In the same way that we might consider a wedding liturgical, we must not forget that every gathering of the faithful in worship- that is to say, every Church service- is also to be a wedding. As the Dean of Windsor proclaimed, human couples are but imaging the divine mystery of Christ and His redeemed Bride. This marriage of the heavenly and earthly ought to be celebrated both in liturgies and weddings.

I am thankful for my nondenominational upbringing, but I do feel that something beautiful and significant is lost when traditional liturgy is abandoned completely. I recognize the dangers of becoming focused on ceremony instead of faith alone, but having never experienced the dignity of such a service, I had never considered what it meant to be the Bride of Christ until I began working as an organist for an Anglican church and then attended a mass in Assissi, Italy.

At first, I was inclined to view it all as spectacle; it felt posed and practiced, so unlike the “authentic” and casual services I had experienced. However, as we stood to the strains of a familiar hymn and the priests processed down the aisle with incense and sacraments, I realized that I was not at church as I knew it, but at a wedding.

The white robes, the organ processional, the congregational responses affirming the creeds… These were all things I had associated with weddings, not necessarily with church. However, the two quickly reconciled as I recalled that the Church is a Bride, indeed, the Bride.

I knew then that, should I marry, my wedding would have to be more liturgical, not just because I am a traditional soul with a soft spot for stained glass and organ music, but because I want my wedding and the marriage that follows to be an overt visible image of the union of Christ and the Church. To have a wedding that is conducted like a church service is to image the divine mystery and to remind those of the Church that it is they who are the Bride even if they are not yet gowned in white.

It is for this reason that I now yearn for liturgy and ceremony. I fear that many contemporary believers, like myself, have forgotten (or perhaps never considered) what it means to be the Bride of Christ. To participate weekly in the procession, recital of creeds, and celebratory singing is more than just a rote liturgy; it is a rehearsal for the realization of the true Marriage. 

To rehearse is, simply, to remind and to prepare. The idea of rehearsing for the marriage of the Lamb is beautiful in itself, but also practical. Beyond the joy of realizing ourselves to be a Bride with hope in our future union, to know ourselves as the Bride of our Savior is to change our entire outlook- the entirety of our conduct, relationships, and lives.

Since that moment in Assissi, I have been often been convicted by this. Would the Bride of Christ present herself as anything less than modest, caring, and thoughtful? Would the Bride of Christ fail to speak out for truth and discernment? Surely not! A virtuous woman would not cease to honor and defend her faithful husband.

And men, called to image Christ in their marriages, are yet members of the Bride of Christ. They are called to the same fidelity, focus, and fervor, loving their earthly spouses because they also are to live after the example of Christ and are themselves waiting upon him as the true Bridegroom. A godly husband on earth is yet a Bride of Christ in heaven.

“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

                                     – Ephesians 5:32-33

Beyond conviction and correction, though, to be the Bride of Christ has been a source of immense encouragement. In recent years, I have watched friends and peers I’ve known since childhood fall in love and marry. While I recognize that marriage is a blessed relationship, I know that it is intended as an image of a greater reality. While this truth gives greater significance to a godly marriage, it also brings hope to those who have not found or cannot have this type of relationship; to be a single believer is not to be excluded from marriage, but to be able to live fully into the most blessed Betrothal.

Indeed, upon the consummation of this most holy and redemptive union, there will be no other marriage. This is not because marriage is not a good thing, but because it is an image; once the divine reality is realized, what need is there for a reflection?

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

– Matthew 22:30

Husbands and wives are called and enabled to love each other by realizing their identity as the Bride of Christ and their role as image bearers of this relationship. In the same way, single Christians are also to show the redeeming love of Christ and live in the faithfulness of His Bride. How comforting to know that earthly marriage is not a prerequisite to the heavenly union! And how edifying to find that an earthly marriage might sanctify toward this union!

If I never marry, I will yet be a Bride. By the blood of Christ, I have been redeemed to a union that has fully saved and will fully sanctify and fully satisfy forever. As one of my favorite hymns sings, what wondrous love is this?

In realizing this, we find a richer joy in weddings, for we look toward the reality that is promised us. We are also revived in our hope and love as we weekly participate in the various liturgies that represent more than a rote pattern of worship, but the Holiest Matrimony. Married or single, all members of the Church are exhorted to look to Christ with the joyful anticipation and diligent preparation of a Bride awaiting her Beloved.

“Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

                             – Revelation 19:7-10

Let us as Christians be reminded each week in our worship that we are the Bride and let us rejoice in marriages as they image the mystery of the divine union.

The most Royal Wedding is yet to come. 

 

Daniel and the American Empire

Throughout the book of Daniel, we see the interactions of men of faith with an ungodly empire. Not only does this biblical account document their faithful lives and the sustenance of an even more faithful God, but it provides a practical example for how we as believers are to live in society under a human government. In short, the book of Daniel teaches us how we are practically to interact with the empire of America as people of faith.

The empire (culture, political climate, etc.) of America is no better than that of Babylon, except perhaps in our ability to disguise the reality of our degeneracy in more persuasive rhetoric:

We do not have human sacrifice, yet in defending the extermination of the most vulnerable as a right, are we not sacrificing human lives to ourselves? We do not have sacred prostitution, but we promote a culture of such complete sexual freedom that do we not we end up worshiping sex itself? We do not have a confusing pantheon of idols, but do we not find ourselves pulled constantly between the exaltation of wealth, reputation, health, and ambition?

Honestly, though, America alone is not Babylon; all human societies without the mercy of God are Babylon. Still, how are we, as Christians and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, to live in and interact with our current earthly nation and, more particularly, our government? The book of Daniel presents clear argument for involvement yet consecration; we are to influence while remaining set apart, living as dutiful citizens here because of our true citizenship beyond.

“The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king…But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” (1:5-8, ESV)

When he is taken into captivity, Daniel rejects the food provided by the Babylonian king. This is likely to avoid eating food that is not acceptable by the Old Testament law. However, this also is a nonverbal declaration that Daniel and his companions are subject to God alone and, thus, look Him for sustenance. Similarly, we cannot expect provision from the government, but must look to God to provide. Also, we are not to become indebted to a human authority, especially at the risk of violating God’s commands.

We can be comforted to see in Daniel that God is faithful to provide beyond what we would expect; although Daniel and his friends did not eat of the king’s portion, they grew in strength and wisdom beyond all those who did. 

“God gave them learning and skill in all…and the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in every matter of wisdom and understanding…he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in his kingdom.” (1:17-21)

Continuing on, although he refused to violate the law of God in obedience to the offers of men, Daniel did not abandon a remarkable respect for these human authorities. Part of recognizing God’s supreme authority is to also recognize that leaders, even wicked or poor ones, have their power only by God’s permission. In light of this, even the seemingly worst rulers must be treated with respect, though not necessarily with agreement or endorsement.

“You, O king…to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given wherever they dwell, the children of man…” (2:37)

Daniel here addresses the king with the utmost ceremony,  but without abandoning clear adherence to his faith. Indeed, his faith and virtue shine even brighter in his dignified address of the king, for it reveals that he respects this king because he knows his power is granted by the King of Kings. If we are to honor our God who gives and takes away all authority, we must show respect to earthly leaders regardless of their personal merit. In acting with such graciousness, we might even direct the hearts of leaders to see who is the true Ruler: 

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his ace and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries…’ Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts” (2:46-48)

We are called to respect our authorities, even those we did not want. We cannot simply ignore them and mock them because they are “not our president,” but rather we ought to offer respect, even if it is respect in disagreement. The book of Daniel continues to show how just such disagreement can be used to change the government. When Daniel refuses to abandon his faith, despite the threat of the lions’ den, not only is he rescued, but the king’s heart is lifted toward the Lord. 

“Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (6:25)

Throughout the account, we see Daniel granted positions of great influence due to not only his respectful demeanor, but his ability to offer godly insight. In this, it is clear that we can have a massive impact on our government for not only our earthly nation, but the Kingdom of God. However, to do so, we must be involved. Daniel did not seek a personal policy of noninvolvement. Rather, he confronted and entered into the government which posed a threat to him and his people, speaking truth where deception once reigned.

“Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (6:3)

“The king…said to Daniel, ‘You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah… I have heard of you that the spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.” (5:13-14)

The manner in which he influenced the government is remarkable. Daniel did not demand to be heard, nor did he adapt himself to be more palatable. Rather, he simply lived in excellence, striving to be the most faithful and diligent man of God that he could be, leaving the promotions in God’s hands. Today, we can apply the same approach; if we genuinely are seeking to make a difference in our nation, we cannot do so by anger or avoidance, but through excellence and honesty.

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and please for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done  wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.'” (9:3-5)

Although wicked governments can be changed by excellent people of God, we must leave the ultimate judgement to Him. In the meantime, we must work hard and pray harder. We are not only called to be influencers, but intercessors, calling upon the Lord when our leaders do not. We, like Daniel, cannot forget the power of prayer and that we have constant court before the King of Kings. We are quick to protest, but slow to pray, and should learn from Daniel that our prayers are heard by the God who works in the hearts of men.

“Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.'” (6:5)

However, personal excellence and service to God do not guarantee that our governments will change to favor our faith. We have to remember that to be chosen for life in heaven is to be chosen for trials on earth. It cannot be surprising when human governments fail in their first purpose: protecting their citizens. In fact, we should not be surprised when we are persecuted. Daniel lived in a manner so that his only fault was his faith and yet he was punished for it. He obeyed the laws of the land until they conflicted with the law of God and there he took his stand. Today, we must defer to the government, but know where the line is and hold fast to truth.

“O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (9:19).

In these times of discontent with government and culture, we must ultimately recall this final lesson: even amidst persecution, the righteous will outlast many generations of wicked rulers. Unlike God’s reign, the tribulation of wicked governments will not endure. With this hope eternal, we can withstand the momentary affliction of imperfect kingdoms while we yet strive to improve them for the eternal kingdom which is and is yet to come. Following the example of Daniel, we are to be respectful and responsible citizens on earth because we are ambassadors of heaven.

Daniel was a captive of Babylon and yet he lived with dignity, diligence, and dedication; how much more so should we do the same as free citizens of America? We are to be servant-leaders of our earthly nations, at once dignified and humble as we remember that we are both servants and heirs of the King of Kings.

“Easter morn rose grey with fog”- A Poem for Easter Sunday, 2018

Easter morn rose grey with fog

-anticipation hid-

No dawn’s light to testify

to what the Savior did.

.

Still we know and sing aloud

of the Risen Son

And yet the part that strikes me most

was that on Friday done.

.

Rising up is natural;

the sun never stays down.

What is more a miracle’s

a God put ‘neath the ground.

.

That He should live, lifted high,

is glorious, fitting, right-

And yet what is most shattering

is that my Lord would die.

.

Rising reign proves deity,

but in that final breath,

Is found the Lover’s agony

that giveth life in death.

.

Now on this grey Easter morn

the fog is found a friend;

Coronated by cruel thorns,

the radiant King ascends.

.

I know by noon the sun will burn

this ling’ring shade away.

Yet ’twas the shrouded cross earned

the joy that warms today.

.

“He is Risen!” Yes, indeed!

We, in Christ, are raised!

And “lema sabachthani”

Has turned to sunlit praise.

Tenebrae: a sonnet

Awhirl before my eyes did swirl the sparks

As one by one the candles turned to smoke

And sitting there in silent, stillest dark,

A flicker burned within and I awoke.

.

I felt a pang for that dear body broke

That bled betwixt time and eternity.

It seemed I saw His image in the smoke

And felt my heart, too, fixed upon that tree.

.

Oh how I ached to join this agony!

Yet I, near sleeping, safely sat below.

I closed my eyes the better then to see

And hear the ever-present, past echo.

.

To wait in darkness was my only wish;

Now hidden, I wanted no light but His.

Mirror, Mirror had a Great Fall

pexels-photo-414752.jpeg

There is a story to be found in anything and, I am finding, that there is also a theology to be found in any story. I feel this poem is an apt example of enjoying the beauty of an old tale reimagined while contemplating a truth that shimmered in the retelling.

Mirror, Mirror Had Great Fall

“Mirror, mirror upon the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?”

I once was asked from day to day

And in reply I’d always say

“My lady, it is surely true;

The brightest, fairest one is you.”

 

It was my joy, your face to see,

Peering in and out of me.

And mine was whitest complexion

For it was rightest reflection;

To revel was no vanity

For I shone back your own beauty.

.

“Mirror, mirror upon the wall.”

I’d thrill to hear my mistress call

And sing to her worshipful words

That beauty best was only hers,

That there could be another one

Would be to think the moon the sun.

 

Yet still a subtle crack did creep

Out from some secret, smeary deep

And when her face would turn aside,

A self-whisper would soft confide.

The dream I dared not dream when she

Would smile, singing, before me.

.

“Mirror, mirror upon the wall-”

Her song my heart did yet enthrall

For ’tis my nature to reflect

That which I love as first object.

In her dawn’s light, all else soon fades,

Sly secrets flee as shyest shades.

 

But then again as she’d depart

(Though I know she yet saw mine heart)

I’d ponder those sly smudgélings

That obscure honest imagings

And I could not but speculate

What once I’d simply contemplate.

.

  I, the Mirror on the wall, 

Dreamt I was fairest of them all!

And as I answered, said aloud

Those words, so false and yet so proud:

“I cannot say, my dearest queen,

For you’re the only one I’ve seen.”

 

“Perhaps,” I pressed, not to give in,

Enthused by this first spoken sin,

“There is another one dearer

Kept hid within this magic mirror

And if I only can break free,

I’ll find the fairest one is me.”

.

O! Mirror hung upon the wall,

You must have known that you would fall;

To try and see your own self rule

Was to prove only princely fool.

A mirror looking in its glass

Will find nothing but emptiness.

 

In turning to a blank portrait

I chose the broken mirror’s fate;

Bad fortune was my prideful gain,

For nihil gleamed the shattered pane.

I thought not e’er to see again

Bright Beauty,

but, of a sudden- 

.

“Mirror mine, though you did fall,”

Spoke she, most loved and feared of all,

“Your shattered face was made for mine

And I have power to refine,

To smooth and polish, good as new,

Though with a somehow richer hue.

 

“You, shaped to be an image of

The Beauty that shines forth above,

Are raised once more to this high wall,

To see the more-than-fair of all

And hence reflect and emulate

That Beauty ever true and great.”

Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne