Don’t Drop Your Sword

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“and take the sword of the spirit… which is the Word of God.” Ephesians 6:17

One of the eternal truths I’ve learned from being mom to two boys is that there will be swords. There will be light-sabers. There will never be enough. It starts out early, with straws or crayons and just escalates from there. Our collection is extensive. When I ask if there are any we could maybe get rid of I’m met with shock and disgust at the very idea, “No! we use them all, we need them all!” I swear, they are programmed to swing some sort of weapon around at least half the time. They are created with an amazing sense of adventure and a very strong awareness that each story has a good guy as well as a bad guy. I foolishly asked once, “Does there always have to be a bad guy? Why can’t you both just be good guys?” The answer was of course, that there would be no point if everyone was on the same side.

As I picked up a red light saber from the stairs (bad guy) and a green one from the counter top (good guy), I realized just how right they were. There is a dark side calling out to us through fear and anger as well as a good side that counters the dark lies with the truth.  We have been given spiritual weapons to fight with, but we must choose to use them.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:14-17

To be a Christian is to be a warrior. We aren’t neutral in this battle and we can’t pretend there isn’t an enemy. We fight in spirit and in truth. Our greatest asset is the Word of God, and the enemy would like nothing better than for us to put that weapon down. Of all the armor, it is the one thing we use to go on the offense. The Word of God fights for us. It cuts through the fear, doubt and whatever else the enemy tries to use against us. We cannot put it down or neglect it.

I will never forget one summer while on vacation in France, the boys were playing in a park with their light sabers. One of them had dropped their weapon in the grass and was walking away. An old man walking with his newspaper came up to them and pointed to the sword in the grass. “You dropped your sword. Always keep your sword with you,” he said to them and then just walked away. As everything is a Star Wars reference for us, I joked with them that he must have been Obi Wan, warning them to pay attention.

We need to be careful not to put down our sword. We are so vulnerable without the Word of God, easily swayed  to a ‘dark side’ that, unfortunately, parades around as light. We can’t just pick it up in times of trouble. It has to become a part of who we are. One of the things I love most about this is that God never leaves us hanging. He honors our choice to pick up the Word and He comes in like a whirlwind to bestow His mighty power to our situation. It’s never in vain.

There are red light sabers and there are green ones. There isn’t a neutral color. As much as we’d like there to be all good guys, we live in a fallen world where there are plenty of bad guys. God has equipped us with the greatest weapon of all, if we would only pick it up. It’s good to know about the sword, but the power comes when we learn to use it.

Christians, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6). 

Hold tight to the Word, the one true weapon of our warfare, and watch God fight the battle for you!

A White Stone and a New Name

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“One of the things I find beautiful in the book of Revelation is when Jesus says, “To him who overcomes I will give a white stone and on that stone is a name known only to the person who receives it and to Me” (2:17).The white stone signifies victory and could very well hint at purity. The significant thing to me is there is a name on that stone that is the name Jesus knows me by. My mother does not know me by that name. My friends don’t know me by that name. No one in this world, including myself, knows who I really am. I think that when we see ourselves in the light of Jesus, which will only happen when we give up ourselves and begin to seek Him wholeheartedly, then we will eventually grow into the person that He meant for us to be. When we see our name on that stone we’ll say, “Wow, thats me! How did You know me when I couldn’t even know myself?” For me, that’s part of the goal of spiritual maturity.” Rich Mullins

This verse in Revelation is one of the most intriguing and beautiful passages in all the Bible for me, and one of the most mysterious. A white stone with a new name? One that is uniquely ours that no one understands but God and myself? To think that God knows me in a way I don’t even know myself and will reveal that identity to me one day gives me goosebumps. Whenever I read this passage I think “I want to know what my stone says!” Imagine your most true self summed up in a name and handed to you by Christ Himself. It staggers the imagination.

For the time being, we are citizens of a fallen world, but it doesn’t change who we are. We all have a true self that God created us to be. We strive and work to become better people in many ways, but I think growing into who God actually made us to be is one of the holiest things we can do. It’s not about becoming perfect or working harder – it’s about embracing our weaknesses and faults and handing them all over to a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. What if we stopped trying be so many different people and focused on discovering more about our unique calling?

We have an identity in Christ that is unique. This should be an encouragement to all of us to seek only His will for our lives and let everything else fall to the wayside.

I actually like that no one is able to figure out the exact meaning of this passage. There is an excitement and wonder in it that should make us long for the truth of who we are in Christ. We get a taste of it here on earth and see the fulfillment of it in heaven. For now it is, as CS Lewis once wrote, “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” 

I try and instill in my kids that they need to be who God has made them to be, no more and no less. I need to remember that myself. Find your identity in Christ and you won’t need to find it anywhere else.

“To him who overcomes I will give a white stone…”  What an unbelievable gift!

Who Wouldn’t Choose Life?

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This would be almost funny to me if it weren’t true. I read in the news this week that this proposed “choose life” themed license plate was ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina because “the state doesn’t currently offer an alternative for those who may disagree with supporting life”. That’s right, there must be a countering license plate made available for those with an opposing viewpoint. I get it, separation of church and state and all that. States can’t impose or endorse ‘morality’ on a license plate. North Carolina does offer, however,  license plates supporting sea turtles, shag dancing, and the NRA – so there’s that.

This license plate debacle got me thinking – not about pro-life, pro-choice or politics – but about what it means to choose life. Biblically speaking, that is. God desires that we choose life and blessing. It’s laid out clearly by Moses, as he stands with the people on the verge of their long-awaited promised land:

“So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them (Dt. 30:19-20).”
Funny that you would need to tell a group of living, breathing people to “choose life.” Strange to think that people would consciously NOT choose life for themselves. Israel did it and so do we. How many times did they experience God’s saving mercies only to go right back to complaining and worshipping false idols? A lot. How many times do we walk away from God’s very best for us and choose something far less satisfying? A lot.
What does God mean when He tells us to “choose life”?
  • He tells us, “give attention to My words, incline your ear to My sayings… for they are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:21-22). 
  •  Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is “living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword” (4:6).
  • John 6:63 explains that the words He speaks to us are “spirit and they are life“.

We choose life by choosing to be in God’s Word. We choose blessing over cursing. Life over death. It’s not a guarantee that we will be swimming in blessings all the time, but it IS a guarantee that we will be transformed more and more into who He has created us to be. We find peace in the middle of chaos. Joy in spite of frustration. Clarity in the midst of confusing circumstances.

We can’t limit the huge amount of choices we are faced with every day. I’d love it if my kids were presented with only good things to choose from, but that’s unrealistic and unbiblical.  I pray instead that when faced with both good and bad, they choose the best by choosing life. Jesus doesn’t force us into anything. He stands patiently before us ready to guide us into our best life. It’s our choice.

God put a big exclamation mark on the Deuteronomy verses for me a few years ago when, after studying about choosing life and blessing, I walked off a plane into a jetway filled with these signs:

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Over and over, down the entire walkway it repeated “blessing/curse”… seriously. To this day I have no idea if it was an advertisement or just posters. I do know it was a fantastically great way for God to get the message across to me.
The world around us more often than not continues to choose anything but life. Sadly, our culture kind of embraces death and the curse. You may not be able to “choose life” on your license plate… but no one can ever keep you from choosing life in your heart. Embrace the Word, choose life, live in the freedom granted to you by Christ and see what happens!
 

Where is Your Jesus?

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A few years back, we took a family trip to Germany with our then 4 year old son. We had lived there a few years earlier (before children) and were excited to go show him all our favorite places and introduce him to a new culture. I love Europe. My favorite thing to do is go inside old churches and chapels – I love the smell, the way the light shines though centuries-old stained glass, the faded paintings. I could literally spend all day looking over the details and wondering about the people who put them there.

Needless to say, this is not the favored activity of a 4 year old. You have to be quiet in churches. Running up and down the aisle is frowned upon. He preferred playing with little German kids in the park. He preferred playing in the rocks outside. Anything was better than walking through an old church with mom whispering about art!

One morning, we drove up to a vineyard that had a little chapel. I peeked through the door and saw mostly darkness. It was a sad little place. No big windows to let the light in. No paintings on the walls. Just a crucifix hanging above a little altar. I went in and sat down for a minute. Pretty soon, my little guy came and sat down by me. We looked up at the cross, a most Catholic-looking Jesus hung there, bloodied and with a look of excruciating suffering on His face. It occurred to me that J had never seen this Jesus before. He had seen the storybook Jesus, holding a lamb and frolicking with children in a field. He knew Jesus had died for him on the cross, but how much does a 4 year old really get?  My first thought was, “crap…he’s totally going to be traumatized by this and have nightmares about a scary Jesus!”  I pondered getting up and going back to play in the rocks. But then he said something that I will never forget. He looked at me and said “mom, it’s a good thing Jesus isn’t still on the cross, huh?”

I was totally taken aback. “Yes! Oh my goodness, yes it is a good thing!” I asked him to tell me more about what that means. “Jesus is alive now. He isn’t there anymore, he is in our hearts.” If ever there was a parenting moment of glory, this was it for me. He got it. Four years of Bible stories, celebrating the resurrection at Easter and talking about Jesus living in our hearts had come to this. When faced with a suffering Jesus on the cross, he realized that Christ now lives in us.

We talked about how none of our crosses had Jesus on them – and how virtually all the crosses we saw in Europe had an image of a crucified Christ. I had always just chalked it up to Catholic/Protestant differences and moved on. This taught me so much more.

The crucifixion of Christ is of utmost importance, not to be ignored by any means – but what if that is all we ever see? A sad, suffering Jesus? He died so that we may live! The work is finished. We are forgiven. I began thinking about how I was living. Was I walking in the resurrection power of Christ or was I living like He was still up on that cross, striving and under the burdens of all my shortcomings?

Praise God the tomb is empty! Jesus didn’t stay indefinitely on the cross suffering in misery. For the rest of our trip, we would walk into a church, see Jesus hanging on the cross and my son would whisper with a sly little grin on his face, shaking his head,  “He’s not really up there anymore mommy!” He spoke with authority, like he was in on a special secret that not everyone understood.

So where is your Jesus?  In America we don’t often see this version of a suffering Jesus in our churches. In Europe, this is the only Jesus I ever really ever encountered. We need to know them both. They are the same God.

But lets remember one thing: we are forgiven and the work is done!

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Romans 6:9

I want to live like that, to tap into that power. I want my kids to know where their Jesus is. He isn’t stuck on a cross and neither are we. He is not defeated and neither are we!

Live in it!!!

 

The Messages of January

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Happy New Year! As much as I love the fun of the holidays, I always feel kind of refreshed when January rolls around. A new (mostly blank) calendar and a house free of Christmas nutcrackers does me good. A symbolic “do over” time for everyone, January holds a lot of possibility. We hit the ground running for sure – the gym is packed with well-intentioned go-getters. Weight loss commercials play nonstop on TV. The Target Christmas section is now a home-organization paradise, with bins and totes and hooks galore to help us find a place for our newly acquired stuff – and if we need more stuff, we can always hit the Valentines Day aisle, because it’s been up since before New Years.
So, the messages of January assail us:
Get in shape! Organize your life! Get it together! Check off that list!”
It’s all well and good – but what happens when we try and apply those New Years intentions to our spiritual lives?
We start off with a bang, but it rarely lasts. The Bible reading plan we began tapers off once we reach Leviticus. That calendar begins to fill up. Duty replaces passion. The excitement for what could have been fades away. We are disappointed with ourselves for not sticking it out. We go to church, read some books, get some pointers… but the spirit in us is not engaged. By March or April, we return to the same old routine. We aren’t created for resignation, however. Why do I say that? Because the next January 1st we will do it all over again. So, the desire to grow and know God more is a part of who we are. Why then, do we lose it so quickly?

“The Religious Man or Woman is a popular story option in which we try to reduce the wildness of life by constructing a system of promises and rewards, a contract that will obligate God to grant us exemption from the Arrows. It really doesn’t matter what the particular group bargain is-doctrinal adherence, moral living, or some sort of spiritual experience-the desire is the same: taming God in order to tame life. Never mind those deep yearnings of the soul; never mind the nagging awareness that God is not cooperating. If the system isn’t working, it’s because we’re not doing it right. There’s always something to work on, with the promise of abundant life just around the corner. Plenty of churches and leaders are ready to show you how to cut a deal.” John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

Try as we may to organize our spirit life, there is a wildness about God and life that we can not get a hold of. His desire is to make us holy, to be in relationship with us. You can’t compartmentalize holiness. You cannot make a system out of it. Systems last until February.

Here’s a thought: What if we embraced the desire in us, that wonderful drive we feel at New Years to do great things, and just handed it over to the God who gave us the desires in the first place? The goal isn’t to be comfortable and organized – the goal is to get out there with those desires and let God lead us through the wilds and the unexpected into our victory. What if the excitement of January could be turned into a year long adventure of actual achievements? It’s not foolproof, and we aren’t perfect, but how about going in His strength instead of our own? How about asking Him what His desires are for us this coming year? We aren’t meant to set and attain goals alone. We aren’t meant to rely on human strength or wisdom to get us to the finish line. Our “deep yearnings of the soul” can be fulfilled by one thing alone, and that is a holy God making us holy.

Don’t let the messages of January turn to disappointment in a few weeks – embrace the desires God has placed in your heart and ask Him to walk it out with you. His ways may be a bit wilder than we expect or a bit messier than we want – but they are the only way in which we will ever have true success.

Long live the January goals!