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

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A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

Sing, Muse

Dear reader,

Please read the following poem. Then, please click the link and listen to me read it; I have of late found great value in reading poetry aloud. Once you do those two things (it should take but two minutes of your time), you are welcome to read my explanation of the poem or to interpret it for yourself. I’d imagine both will lead to similar conclusions. Finally, if you are so inclined, I would love to hear from you! Thank you in advance!

-Ryanne

First, the written word: 

Sing, Muse, of rage-

     or rather- Desire.

     Drive with twin rhyming whips –

              Name and Fame-

     up mountains toppling, rising peak,

     ever crying, out of reach,

     “On, on, onward!”

.

Harpy howl to clamoring poets’ ears

     as siren song does fall.

     Dazzling, drawing, drowning:

     divine-seeming, it pulls

     still higher, higher

     up Tow’r where language

     began and begins

     “On, onward, pilgrims!”

.

So scaling e’er, traipsing eager,

     though weary,

     worshippers seeking sanctuary

     not for rest

     but to exalt,

     that which in climbing, we sculpt:

           New relic, sainted self.

.

Oh! To be one of the many few,

     who, pious, always “onward”

     and yet- when time trickles low-

     kneeling, wonder,

          “wherefore.”

.

Wherefore place an icon made

     (like us only in its fade)

     of substance age-old, ever-new:

     Ambition dressed as Holy Muse?

 

Second, the spoken word: 

 

Finally, a brief word of explanation: 

I found myself forcing creativity today, working to compose a piece of music without passion. I was inspired only by the thought that if I finish this, it will be another successful accomplishment to my credit.

But as I realized that selfish ambition was my main motivation (at the moment), I was deeply convicted. Why create at all if what compels me is untempered ambition? What profits it to climb what a favorite author of mine calls “the Alpine Path” if I seek only to plant my lonely, temporal banner at its peak?

And, as in most moments of intense emotion, poetry happened. In scribbling and speaking this poem, I was able to recall why I write and compose: not to glorify myself but, as in the parable, to be a faithful steward of my talents. To do this, I must write to the best of my ability to reflect the true Author and pray that my words will direct minds toward the living Word.

A Sonnet: Lunatic Reflections 


“We think to be the burning bright of sun

Which lends to us the glow we know as pow’r. 

And yet when seasons change and months are done,

We wax and wane with ev’ry passing hour. 

Beneath the pale and ever-shifting face, 

The darkened side is ever on the lurk. 

Pretending this is truly not the case

Becomes the end of all our earthly work. 

For yet we make an idol of the moon,

Exalting her and self as the true light. 

When we, lunatics, fade upon the noon

And only shine amidst the blackest night. 

The moon and we, are mere reflections dim 

Of all truth, beauty, goodness bright in Him.”
-Ryanne J. McLaren

Divided Services, Divided Body?

I love traditional worship and, as a church musician, am in favor of the whole package: choir robes, pipe organ, hymnals, etc. I once even jokingly said I’d drown myself if I ever heard “Oceans” played in another chapel.

That said, though, I am not necessarily in favor of having separate traditional and contemporary worship services. Before coming to the church I currently attend, I found myself in pursuit of a completely traditional service as I sought to avoid what I saw as the church-turned-concert vibe of many contemporary services.

But is this biblical?

I can easily make a case against a solely-contemporary worship regimen. After all, hymns provide a link to our Christian heritage, are (in general) more closely inspired by specific scriptures, and tend to be more musically complex. However, there are many skilled contemporary Christian artists who write songs packed with beautiful music and sound theology and it is not wise to ignore these for the sake of tradition.

Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion writes (in many more words) that so long as it remains rooted in scripture and dedicated to administering the sacraments, churches on Earth are encouraged to grow and develop according to their situation in time and location. Thus, while we should not forget our tradition, we also should not refuse to progress and continue to create.

Thus, the statement that we ought to remember our traditions and the belief that we ought to continue to develop our worship should not be mutually exclusive.

We may certainly choose to attend chapels or such gatherings that have the musical worship that we prefer. However, in the church, it is potentially unwise to cater separately to both extremes: traditional vs. contemporary.

I love traditional worship and do not mind contemporary when it is done with excellence, but I especially love the church services where the two are combined. I should clarify that I am not talking about contemporary remixes of the hymns; for example, when good ole “Joy to the World” becomes “JOY! UNSPEAKABLE JOY!” and is repeated for eternity, I cannot help but cringe. I am simply saying that rather than alter the hymns to make them more palatable for contemporary Christians, we should sing them alongside new songs. And, in doing so, we might bring the two extremes of the worshipping body together.

I have personally observed disgruntled older Christians in contemporary services and, although only twenty years old, I relate. As soon as the guitar and drums come in, we often lose our motivation to worship because the melodies are unfamiliar, the words projected on a screen rather than printed in a hymnal, and the music is too loud. Rather than adapt, my traditional pals and I attend a separate service that fits our expectations.

On the other hand, younger congregation members might feel uncomfortable in a liturgical service. They find the hymnals unwieldy, the music or lyrics too complicated, and the environment too formal. Rather than finding such a service reverent, they might find it stiff and distant. And so, like their older counterparts, they create and attend a service geared specifically toward their desires.

What seemed like an insignificant difference of musical preference is much more: it is a fundamental division of the church body.

In a traditional service, it is rare to see anyone under a more venerable age. In a contemporary service, primarily youth attend. There is a massive gap between generations in the church. And this is wrong; just as only featuring one era’s songs of praise does not accurately represent the span of Christian creativity in worship, hosting separate services for each worship preference does not accurately represent the body of the church, or- more importantly- the body of Christ.

The body of Christ, we are told in scripture, is united. Paul’s letters are overflowing with calls for the crucial unity of church members. For instance, 1 Corinthians 1:10:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Does dividing the congregation based on means of worship obey this call? Does it reveal that we are living with “the same mind” or does it demonstrate a willing, opposing judgment?

What is the solution to this division? It cannot be to abandon one mode of worship for the other, forcing all members to sing hymns or contemporary music as this would further promote disunity! It would either divide us from our heritage and thus from the brethren that came before us or it would disconnect us from the current Christian culture. Either way, choosing one exclusively is not the answer; severing the past from the present obviously cannot heal a primarily generational division.

Rather, just as we ought to bring together the generations and preferences of our congregation, we must bring together the worship of our history and our present age. Blended services are a blessing (even if it means suffering through that repetitive refrain or faking your way through a wordy hymn) because you might be suffering and faking next to a kindly grandmother, an enthusiastic college student, a smiling toddler, or a wise father. Worship is about more than music; it is about the communion of the saints. Where the members of the body proclaim truth in unity, there is worship.

Romans 12:4-5 reads:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

These verses, which focus on spiritual gifts, may also be applied to worship. We are individual members and, as such, carry our individual preferences. I personally find it easier to worship through the hymns, but many I know find contemporary songs more accessible. These are not doctrinal conflicts, but rather individual differences between members.

Ultimately, though, we are not called to live according to ourselves as individuals but to submit to one another. We are to bring together our gifts- and our preferences- to serve each other so that we join to become something greater: the united body in and of Christ. Combining our worship services, even if it is just once in a while, and singing praises together is a small step toward this perfect and desirable unity. Together, we might sing both beloved psalms and new songs to our one Lord, “who was and is and is to come.” And, together, we might realize fully the truth of Psalm 133:1:

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

“Lovely” 

While reading the theological works of Martin Luther, I was enthralled not only by his wisdom but by his beautiful writing. As a hymn writer, he obviously possessed poetic skill, but his prose likewise exhibited wonderful phrasing and ideas such as that of God’s love making someone lovable, rather than being merited by someone who was already attractive. Similarly, as Christians, we are called to treat all with love, regardless of how “lovable” they might seem. I was inspired to write this little scribbling after pondering this idea that to be lovable, one must first be loved. I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Lovely

Love is drawn by brush and pen

Born of beauty, free from sin.

And all the wise of ages old

Know that to love, eyes must behold 

And see the shining of the fair-

Charming face and gleaming hair.

To be beloved, one must be,

In the first place, Lovely.

So to despair, Hell of the mind,

Are driven we who cannot find

A flake of gold or ounce of good

In this dark world, whoever could?

In sorrow then, lost mankind must

Find in ourselves nothing but dust.

Our blinded eyes, though made for sight

Only despise their helper, light.

Downcast they stay and fall for lies.

Told to us by the so-called “wise.”

Yearning ever for bright beauty,

We stumble, groping inwardly. 

And searching with shadowy eyes,

Are satisfied by dull disguise. 

Still, light through darkness penetrates,

As by truth’s sword love recreates

The Image of our fallen face,

Made to share in glorious grace. 

He gives our souls a glowing dawn 

That we ourselves could ne’er put on. 

Unearned love then is all that wrought 

The beauty that we ever sought.

From seeking worth but being worst,

We rest in the love that moved us first. 

And now as His saved beloved, we 

Can finally grow lovely.