Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Strength to use the armor...

I've had spiritual warfare on my mind for the last few days, after an article a friend shared with me. It's got me thinking and praying in ways that I haven't in awhile.

So I found it rather interesting what I happened across this morning as I flipped through my journals looking for a reference to something completely unrelated.

Evidently, back in June of 2004, I'd been reading some sort of book that had a chapter on joy. (I wish I had written down what book it was.)  But I wrote:
I've always known the verse, 'The joy of the Lord is your strength,' but still somehow, I've always considered joy to be an extra gift... a sign... something that is an effect, rather than a cause.  But that chapter shows how joy is actually essential to the Christian walk! Yes, it's an effect... a fruit of the Spirit. But it's also a cause-- a tool. Actually, it's our strength!

I immediately thought of Ephesians 6 where it describes the armor of God. Those verses have been brought to my attention quite a few different times and ways in the last few days... but how does that section of scripture start?
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. - Eph. 6:10

I'm wondering how often we skip that first verse and we jump to the rest. We talk about the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and we attempt to march out into battle... in our own strength. Without an ounce of His joy inside of us.

I wrote in my journal:
What good is the sword of the Spirit if you don't have the strength to wield it?  What good is the shield of faith if you don't have the strength to hold it? What good is the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness if you do not have the strength to uphold their weight? And what good does it do the world to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace if we have not the strength to walk in them?

Could it be that this is sometimes why our weapons feel so powerless? Because we have no strength?  No joy?

I did a quick search for "joy" on BibleGateway.  Most of the results it turned up (before you get to Psalms) were examples of when joy is easy... when it is accompanying blessing and victory. But what about when we're defeated and feeling anything but victorious?

I went back to Nehemiah. What exactly were the circumstances when he told the people that the joy of the Lord was their strength?
Then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem." - Neh. 2:17

Ever felt like that? Like you have no walls to protect you from attack?

So they determined to rebuild the walls, and work began. Did it go easy?
Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. - Neh 4:1

And if that wasn't enough...
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.  - Neh. 4:7-8

That wasn't the only difficulty these people were facing.
Now there was a great outcry of the people... there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." there were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." - Neh. 5:1-3
So they had a bad economy, too.

But Nehemiah pointed out to them that some of their struggle was their own fault... because they were charging each other interest when they lent money to each other, and they were buying and selling their Israelite kinsmen as slaves when they could not pay their debts. So trouble was compounding trouble.

Their response?  They repented and restored everything they had taken from each other. Their hearts were right before God.


They continued building until the wall was finished, but don't think their troubles were over yet!
Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. - Neh. 7:4

So they had their wall... but the city was still desolate, and there were still enemies outside the wall, and the famine was still upon the land.

Then the book of the law was found, and it was read and explained (and translated) to the people. Their response again showed that they had a heart of repentance.
For all the people were weeping and they heard the words of the law. - Neh. 8:9

And it is now, when they are standing inside an empty, desolate city in the midst of a famine, convicted of their sin, surrounded by enemies, and without much help from the empire that ruled them... that Nehemiah says those famous words.
Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." - Neh 8:10

This was the first day of the 7th month, and for several days they continued to read, and they found where God had commanded them to celebrate the Feast of Booths. In Leviticus 23, God explains that the purpose of this feast was to remember how God had delivered them from Egypt.

So on the fifteenth day of the 7th month, the people celebrated the feast "for the first time since the days of Joshua the son of Nun."

And there was great rejoicing. (Neh. 8:17)

So they found joy... not in their current circumstances, but in remembering and testifying about who their God was and what He had done.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. - Ps. 16:11
Splendor and majesty are before Him
Strength and joy are in His place. - 1 Chr. 16:27
But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy; - Ps. 5:11

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elections and eternity...

The United States is going through elections that somehow seem very different to me than what past elections have been.

It's normal for different people to have different thoughts and opinions on how things should be run. It's normal for people to have different priorities. It's also normal for people to look at the past and present and see them differently. 

But the thing that strikes me the most is how vastly different people's perception of facts are.  Facts are supposed to be facts. Unarguable. Things that people agree on, even if they totally disagree on what to do about them. 

Yet, in this Information Age when anything can be googled within seconds and news can be sent around the world even faster, facts have somehow become evasive things that shift and turn and transform into something totally different than what they appeared even days earlier. 

I read lists of comments on websites, and I see that half the comments are written by people who cannot understand why so many of "the other side" cannot see what to them appears elemental... and the other half of the comments ricochet the exact same statement back at them!  Both cannot be right.

What is truth? 

Of course, I know what I believe, and I know what seems obvious to me.

But how do I know that my perceptions are any more accurate than the "other" half of my fellow citizens?

Perhaps this is what Solomon was thinking of when he wrote:
Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. for God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.   - Ecc. 5:2

We citizens (and those around the world) like to pass judgement on the claims, proposals, and speeches of those running for office.  We aren't afraid to say so when we think they are lying, and we often are just as eager to denounce their ideas of what would be good for the country.

I wonder how often God listens to us and shakes His head ruefully at our supposed wisdom?  Is there, after all, anyone living today who has perfectly run a country with 50 separate states (each with their own agendas), and 314 million people (each with the freedom to state their own opinions), and an economy that involves 1/5 of the world's production (even if it is struggling), and...

You get the point.

Yet most of us don't hesitate to claim that we know what would be best.

It's actually quite ludicrous to think anyone other than God has any idea what would be best for this country. (Or for the world.)  And His priorities are not the same as ours.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts."   - Isaiah 55:8-9

The only conclusion I find left for me to make is that I have a simple choice:

I can either get myself worked up over what I think the country needs, and I can worry over my future, and my welfare.

Or I can rest in the fact that my God-who-loves-me and who has promised to provide-- He is the One who ultimately appoints rulers.

“It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.   - Daniel 2:21
For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. - Romans 13:1
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Phil. 4:19

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The forging of a blade...

Fire. 

I've gone through a bit of it this past month, and God has been speaking to me about the purpose of trials.

In one instance a few weeks back, I was the kettle, someone else was the pot, and I was being called black. Boy did I get angry! It just wasn't fair! Besides, I was only mildly grey in comparison. It didn't seem right, and everything within me got riled up against the injustice of being accused of something far beyond what I actually did... by someone who was regularly far worse than I was. (At least in my mind.)

But as I submitted my anger to God and humbled myself before Him, He began speaking to me

Does not the Bible say that I must return evil with good? True, Jesus did say to remove the log in your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of someone else's... but He didn't say the one with splinter can get mad at the one with the log and refuse to do anything about the splinter that was still there.

He reminded me of those truths, but still I resented the level of criticism that I had been subjected to. I could not understand how it could be a good thing for me to receive such harsh criticism over something so very, very small.

And then He reminded me of a line out of that fantasy book I mentioned.
A blade is only strong because of the fire it passes through, isn't it?
That line shot through my spirit, and with it, more details.

When a swordsmith forms a blade, he subjects it to high heat, and he pounds that edge to make it fine and thin and sharp. And the sharper he wants that edge to be, the more heat and pressure is required.

I saw, in my spirit, a blade that was relatively sharp.  A close look, however, revealed tiny, tiny rough spots here and there. I am sure that a swordsmith with such a sword would then get very, very critical with his heat and his blows, focusing on each small imperfection, one at a time, until each one was worked out.

And so it is with the Master Craftsman who will complete what he began in me. The faulty humans around me are His tools.  We are like sandpaper - rough against each with our faults and failings.  He uses uses those around me however He desires to fashion me into the vessel... the sword... the woman that He wants me to be.

I can look around at the other swords who aren't being subjected to the same fire and blows that I am, and I have a choice:

Will I complain because of the detailed and critical work being done on me?

Or will I embrace the fact that it is my turn to be made more perfect and beautiful and powerful? Will I submit willingly to the fire and the pounding with a yielded spirit made softer by humility?

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. - Romans 5:3-5
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