Friday, August 27, 2010

The Armor of God

A friend asked me this week, “What do you know about the Armor of God?”

I’d read Ephesians 6 many times before. I even have some of it highlighted in my Bible but I had to admit that I couldn’t remember much about the Armor of God. It wasn’t a scripture that I’d been able to connect with in the past. The helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shoes of peace, shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit didn’t really spark any understanding in me, a devout peacemaker. When she explained it in a way I could connect with though, it began to open up a new understanding in me about some of the precious gifts God has given me to face everyday challenges and the spiritual warfare that often hides behind them.

God has gifted us with salvation, with wholeness, with completeness in him through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. God’s salvation embraces us to guard against Satan’s attacks in our thoughts, on our will and our emotions as a helmet protects a soldier’s head. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 speaks to this as well: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)

When we give our lives to Christ, we are washed clean and clothed in his righteousness. We stand confidently in God’s presence because the Father sees not our sinfulness, but only Christ’s right-standing, in us. As a child safely curled up in her daddy’s lap, we need not hesitate to bring our pain, our overwhelming struggles and our fears to our Heavenly Father. We can call him from the darkness to scare away the monsters from our lives and know he will be there to comfort us.

In John 14:6, Jesus tells us that he is the truth. We have been given the truth to secure and embrace us. We have his life to learn from and to imitate. We have his death to free us and his resurrection to lead us into the new life he is creating in us.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27, NIV) True peace, the kind that Jesus gives all his followers, the kind that endures and overcomes the storms of life – that kind of peace comes only from God who has the power to control all things, infinite wisdom and enduring love. Do not be afraid, be confident in Christ.

Faith is our shield. Our confidence in God, our trust in Jesus, our belief in his grace repels all doubts. When we are faced with things we don’t understand or that confuse us, we have our faith to know and rely on that God exists, that he loves us and is active in our lives. Faith deflects doubt and gives us something sturdy to lean on as we stand against the challenges in life.

Finally the Sword of the Spirit is God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that All Scripture is God-breathed and useful in showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes and training us to live God’s way.(Msg) This precious gift is meant first to guide us in our own repentance and teach us more about who God is and who we are in Christ. Second, it is our guide and our authority in dealing with the everyday challenges we face.

This was my introduction to the Armor of God and it has left me wanting to know more. So I’ve determined to make the time in the next few weeks to meditate on this passage so that I can better appreciate these amazing gifts I have been taking for granted. I hope I have encouraged you to take another look at this wonderful scripture as well.

Blessings All!

About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls (May 2010)

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Blessing Lost

The Bible tells us a story of a desperate father who brings his  little boy to Jesus for healing. The boy is being tormented by a demon causing involuntary convulsions in him bringing him great harm and many times nearly killing him. Jesus is on a mountaintop with Peter, James and John so the remaining disciples at the foot of the mountain try to heal the boy but find they are unable. Upon his return, Jesus reminds them that all things are possible for those who have faith and then heals the boy. When the disciples ask Jesus why they failed, he explained that the power the disciples lacked could come only from God, and therefore was available only through faith and prayer. (Mark 9:14-29)

I always assumed that the little boy grew up to be a strong, healthy man who married the girl of his dreams and had a houseful of children. But recently, I found myself questioning that assumption. What if that boy’s symptoms returned two months later? What if, once the convulsions returned, he were plagued with this condition for the rest of his life? Those who want to find fault with Jesus might say that the boy had never really been healed. False prophets might blame the boy’s own sinfulness for his troubles. Really, what do you tell someone whose “answered prayer” suddenly becomes unanswered? What do I tell the woman who just had another miscarriage? How do I encourage the man who moved his family across country on the promise of a job only to arrive and to have the job offer fall through? What do I tell them when their “happily ever after” all of a sudden isn’t anymore? And what if I’m the one facing the disappointment of a blessing lost? What do I tell myself?

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. All I do know is that Jesus loves me with a perfect, eternal love. Whatever life brings me in the next moment, the next day or week, I know he loves me. He has not, nor will he ever abandon me. With faith and prayer I will make it through the challenges that come my way because he is with me. He will guide me, carry me, and push me through the obstacles in my life to bring me closer to him. There will be disappointment and hardship in this lifetime, but still I am hopeful because he has promised that someday I will know only his joy and peace. I can hold unswervingly to this hope I profess because he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23) – of that I have no doubt. I may never be able to explain to you or myself why bad things happen to good people or why God doesn’t heal the pain and sickness of all of those we lift up to him in prayer. When disappointment or hardship knocks me down, all I can do is remember to bring my fear, my confusion and my pain to him. I can lean on him, cry on his shoulder and know that he is there for me and with me through it all.
About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (May 09)

Friday, August 13, 2010

This Is True Love...

I received an email this week that told the following story:
     An elderly gentleman in his 80's was in a rush to get to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's disease. She no longer knew who he was and in fact she had not recognized him for the last five years.
     And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?” I asked.
     He smiled as he patted my hand and said, “She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is.”
     That is the kind of love I want in my life. The kind of true love that is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

It spurred memories of my paternal grandmother who also suffered with Alzheimer’s for many years. I watched her memory of who I was, who her own children were, and the life she had lived in her 80-plus years slowly disappeared from her consciousness. Even the recognition of my aunt, who cared for Grandma twenty-four hours a day to the detriment of her own health, was eradicated by the disease. When confronted by one of her own sons that surely she must remember him as he held an old black and white photo of him as a child out for her to see, Grandma become confused, agitated, and hostile. He needed so much for her to recognize him, to call him son, and it was beyond her ability.

I also remembered my mother’s mom who had cancer that spread to her brain which caused her to suffer severe dementia as the cancer ate away at her short-term and then long-term memory. It wasn’t unusual for her to welcome you many times during a one-hour visit as if you just walked in the door. She just wasn’t able to retain the memory of your arriving. During one such visit, I watched my mother say “Hi Mom, nice to see you,” with patience, grace, understanding and love each of the dozen or so times Grandma greeted us. In that hour, my mom taught me that love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be in a way I will not easily forget.

As I thought about these things, I realized that I too had suffered a kind of spiritual Alzheimer’s or dementia before I came to know Jesus. He is my Creator, my God, and yet sin had destroyed that part of my soul which held the recognition of who he was and is to me. In his amazing love, he never left my side even when I couldn’t acknowledge him. I may not have known who he was, but he knew me and loved me. He didn’t try to force me to recognize him in my life the way my uncle did with Grandma but rather just accepted me as I was the way my mother did with her mother. He was with me then and he is with me now even when I foolishly get too busy to look for, listen to, and recognize him in my daily life. He loves me perfectly with a love that accepts all that is, has been, will be, and will not be. That’s the kind of true love I have in my life.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2002)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Twenty-Five Years Later

This week I celebrated a very unique anniversary - I have lived twenty-five years longer than I ever expected. As a early teen, I had made the decision to take my own life on my eighteenth birthday. My hollow, hopeless existence left me wallowing in a pain I couldn’t live with and so at the dawn of my teenage years, I wrote my suicide poem and planned out that fateful day. If my irresponsible teenage angst didn’t kill me first, I would.

However God had other plans for me and I find myself looking back on those years now in gratitude. Without God’s intervention, I would have missed knowing my nieces and nephews. I never would’ve had the pleasure of meeting the dear, dear brothers and sisters in Christ I call friends who make me laugh and think and sometimes grumble. This blog wouldn’t have existed and you would be reading something else right now. I’ve lived and learned and grown so much over the last quarter century and I am only now discovering the woman God created me to be. As I watched God perform the miracle of healing in my life, I learned to lean on him, to seek him first, last, and always. He has taught me love, patience, joy and hope through the relationships in my life and I am still learning.

Though I’ve learned many important things in those unexpected years, these are the three that top the list:

1) God loves me for me – just as I am. I don’t need to earn his love (thank goodness, because I can’t) and there is nothing I can do that would make him not love me anymore. Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection has brought me into the Father’s presence with joy and thanksgiving and nothing can take me away from him. His Spirit lives in me, forming a living unbreakable bond in our relationship.

2) It’s the little things that make life worth living: the last I love you, the last hug. A cup of cool water, a warm coat, a hot meal. The look on the elderly neighbor’s face when you take out her garbage again this week. The two-page letter written to a soldier overseas. A shoebox full of toys and socks for a poor child you’ll never meet. The extra $20 spent at the grocery store each month for the food bank.

3) Life is a precious gift – don’t waste it. Live each day, take each breath knowing that God prepared it just for you and him to share.

If you find yourself identifying with the first paragraph of this blog, if you are considering suicide – please seek help immediately. Call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to your local hospital emergency room. I promise you, living is worth it.

About the picture:
Pittsburgh, PA (June 2010)