~~i want to be everything you dreamed when you called my name~~

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Revealer of Mysteries

There is an old Petra song that I keep thinking about...I know it’s not Petra’s originally, but Petra is who I associate it with!  The song goes:

In heavenly armor we’ll enter the land – the battle belongs to the Lord.
No weapon that’s fashioned against us will stand – the battle belongs to the Lord.

And we sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.

When the power of darkness comes in like a flood – the battle belongs to the Lord.
He’ll raise up a standard, the power of His blood – the battle belongs to the Lord.

When your enemy presses in hard, do not fear – the battle belongs to the Lord.
Take courage, my friend, your redemption is near – the battle belongs to the Lord.

This song has been on my mind this morning as I contemplate just how much do I think I need to do to be effective for the Kingdom.  So many times I try to manipulate a situation, or try my best, or...[insert behavior here] to give God a chance to show up big and bring glory to Himself.  And I’m humbly reminded that I have nothing to do with this.  Other than my weak ‘yes’ that makes me a pitiful vessel for Him to work through, I’ve got nothing!  And as I have been considering this song, I started to realize – I do have a part to play.  Not that God needs me to – He could certainly show up and turn the wrong things right without myself (and one day will!).  But God wants me, He desires me to take a part in this battle.  My part is to enter the land clothed in heavenly armor.  God’s part is to do battle through me, protected in His armor.  The following passage is probably not mind-blowing at a surface read for most Christians.  If I am honest with myself, it hasn’t been particularly mind-blowing for my own Christian walk until this morning.  Thank God for His tender desire for me to understand Him, and His willingness to reveal His mysteries to me!

Ephesians 6:10-20
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 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. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Where to begin....I suppose I’ll just work through the passage and what God stirred up in my spirit.  The whole point of this passage is to equip us as believers to stand up to the enemy, and stand through the enemy’s schemes and attacks.  The devil’s schemes are many and varied.  We cannot fathom these schemes or, in our human ability, defeat satan.  Satan is a much more powerful being than we are!  We cannot begin to oppose him – only God, satan’s Creator, can overpower him.  Thus, we have to put on God’s armor.  We must be strong in His mighty power.  God and satan battle each other, we really have no part in it.  We, as Christians, become the battleground.  I think it’s important to understand – we cannot help God win!  God, however, can help us win!  We must relinquish ourselves into God’s ability, receive the armor, and stand and watch God win, in and through us, against satan.  It is our responsibility to put the armor on!  We can never overcome the enemy unless we wear God’s armor.

So what is this armor???  First, we must remember that we are to put on his FULL armor.  Not just parts of it.  No chink in the covering must exist.  It is only when He is protecting us thoroughly and directly that we are able to stand in the day of evil [insert specific circumstance here].  The more and more I studied this, I remembered that God enjoys teaching us about His nature.  And through this passage we learn, part by part, more about God’s nature as Paul compares the different pieces of armor.  God will protect us with His very nature – with WHO He is!

Belt of Truth:
In ancient times, the first step in preparation for battle was for the soldiers to gird their loins.  In battle, they would wear long, loose robes that were difficult to run in and could actually hinder their fighting if they weren’t tied up.  Because of this, they would pull the robes up and tie them around their waists with a belt.  From this belt, they would also attach other battle gear.  The belt of truth is that on which our other equipment rests.  The scabbard for a sword and the breastplate are both attached to the belt.

So what does this have to do with God’s nature?  God is TRUTH.  Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”  With the belt of truth buckled around our waist, we are completely encircled on all sides by truth. 

Breastplate of Righteousness:
The breastplate guards our heart (Psalm 119:11).  Our basic defense against evil is obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Bible.  Wrong actions and thoughts are weak spots through which Satan can shoot his flaming arrows (see also Proverbs 4:23 – it is important for us to guide our minds and hearts because they determine our actions!)

Only God is RIGHTEOUS – or perfect.  Always right and never wrong – never capable of making a mistake.  Taken with the belt of truth, these pieces of armor cover our mid-section, chest, and waist areas – representative of covering our emotional self – our sense of well-being and integrity.  All of our most vital organs are protected with these pieces of armor.  Truth and righteousness keep us emotionally stable.  It is when lies and errors, dishonestly and wickedness abound in a person’s life that the resulting confusion begins to tear them apart and make them emotionally unstable.

Shoes Fitted with the Gospel of Peace:
Bad shoes can really have an impact on you in the battle.  If you have ever run for any distance with a bad pair of shoes, you understand the difference that good shoes can make.  The gospel is one of peace – peace between God and man.  Because of the peace we have with God, we are able to fight our battles (see also Romans 10:13-15).

God’s nature also contains the gospel – good news to mankind.  It is part of the nature of love – because God is love – to reach out and give to the object loved that which is needed.  Otherwise there is no love.  Feet cause us to go forward.  God went forward, condescended, to us, to love us, to know us, to touch us, and to rescue us.  And His rescue is characterized by PEACE!  God didn’t send Jesus to condemn or make war against us, though we fully deserved it.  No, God came in peace, bringing peace.  Jesus is the Prince of PEACE!  This is the beauty of the good news of salvation.

Like shoes needing to be the right size, so our application of God’s gospel to our lives needs to be fitted rightly to our individual feet.  The gospel can be delivered in many ways.  Our feet, or our method of influencing people for the Kingdom, need to be in readiness.  Scripturally, we know that we should always be ready to explain the hope people see in us.  We keep the gospel on the tip of our tongues – handy for any situation.  Paul says here that this readiness comes from the gospel itself.  By nature, God’s nature, there is eagerness to save people.  We can be eager because the message is so very good – salvation to whoever will have it – it is free, it is everlasting, it is able to completely save!

Being armed with the gospel of peace is a strong protection because our feet are for good, not evil, when we go with the gospel.  Our reason for living is pure and right and completely in line with God’s will.

Shield of Faith:
FAITH simply is trust in God.  The root of most sin is a lack of trust that God can or will meet our needs.  Because we do not trust God, we try to meet our own needs, in ways that are harmful to us.  God created us and knows us best, so He is best able to meet our needs.  Faith thus becomes our protection against harm.

This one is tricky, because how can faith be called an attribute of God’s nature?  “Faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love”  We know that God is love, we know He is the basis and reason for our hope through redemption.  How is God the embodiment of faith, of our faith in His goodness?  We have faith in God, does God have faith in us?  Interesting thought, isn’t it?  To me, faith is very near the heart and attributes of God.  Faith perhaps could be said to be our end of God’s power at work.  We believe God is able – and so faith is our way to tap into God’s limitless power resources!  Our faith activates God as our shield.  Our faith brings God to accomplish victory on our behalf.  With faith, we can extinguish all that the enemy can hurl at us!

We are told in the Old Testament that God Himself is our shield.  Since we are weak and powerless, the shield (God) can be lifted and moved to any position of protection and be made to block satan’s attack.  He, literally His life and Who He is, becomes our protection.  God, our shield, extinguishes flaming arrows of satan. I believe that sometimes satan’s attacks seem nearer to us than God is near because satan comes at us through the realm of earth’s atmosphere – so right where we live.  Satan’s attacks come along avenues that form the works of our every day lives – parts of our circumstances, parts of our weaknesses, parts of our prejudices, etc.  The enemy has good inroads.  Also like arrows, the assault is well-aimed.  Again, satan knows our weak spots, the chinks in our armor. The weapons are individually aimed.  His arrow of condemnation hits us and we are tempted to cave in with guilt and disbelieve God, believe satan’s lie and, in doing so, fall wounded.  When faith is shattered by unbelief, we are spiritually dead.  But God also knows our weak spots, and His greatest desire is to make them strong through Him.

The shield of faith prevents the fire from touching us because God, in Christ, intervenes, preventing condemnation, both of me and of Who God is.  Notice that the shield not only provides a layer of protection, but it also extinguishes the fire of the arrow.  I’d like to think that as soon as the accusation that satan brings touches the mere concept of God, Who is all Truth and Righteousness, the fire immediately goes out!  Praise the Lord for Christ, who is our living truth and righteousness!

Helmet of Salvation:
The head is the most vital area of a soldier.  If a soldier looks above his shield, his head is vulnerable.  But with Christ as our Savior, we are no longer vulnerable.  The helmet of salvation is that aspect of God that is redemptive toward us.  It is within His heart to love and even to have created objects to love to display and enrich His quality of love.  Salvation is that display of His love to us as individuals.  The helmet covers the brain of a person.  The brain is central to making decisions involving the will, such as when we chose Christ in SALVATION.  The helmet protects the most important part of the human body.  Salvation is probably the most important doctrine of our faith because it begins our being united to God, and enables us to continue to learn more. First we are born, then we grow.  We must take salvation first.  Thus, the helmet empowers us to be able to wear all the rest, and it, again, is God Himself with us.  We cannot save ourselves. Only through Christ are we saved.

The Sword of the Spirit:
And finally, the sword, the only offensive weapon listed.  It is the only weapon adequate for spiritual battle.  Only through God’s Word can we fight our battles (see Psalm 119:11 and Hebrews 4:12).  Whenever a soldier goes to battle, he takes his weapons with him.  We are often involved in spiritual battle, yet we often leave our swords at home.  We fail to practice using our swords and then don’t even taken them to battle.  Memorizing scripture helps us to have our swords available at all times.  Christ always prepared for battle and armed himself with the sword (see Matthew 4).

The sword of the Spirit, we are told here is the Word of God.  Again I ask, what attribute of God is seen?  God is a revealer of mysteries.  We find this out in the Book of Daniel.  God’s Word reveals Himself to us.  Without His Word, we would know nothing of Him.  Thus the revelation quality of God, His openness, is very evident here.  And because God chose, lovingly, to be open with us about Himself through Scripture, we now have available a piece of armor unique in comparison to the others.  His Spirit has the most power of all the pieces of armor.  What God has spoken through Scripture, is cutting – a separator.  It is truth in action, shedding away lies and anything that falsely competes with the realism of God and Truth.  It is the weapon Christ used against satan in the wilderness temptation.  It drove satan away when it was truthfully applied; it did not help satan when it was misquoted and falsely applied against the Son of God.

We learn a very great deal about God from the armor He provides us to use.  When we take on the full armor, let us remember we are taking on God, literally, to our being, as our one and only aid.  We are called to suit up and show up – God is the One who will surround us in the spirit and fight!  Does that make it easy?  Certainly not.  But I think that is where our faith is strengthened.  That even when we are in the midst of a difficult situation, when we choose faith, God strengths our faith.

Take courage, my friend, your redemption is near!  May the God of Truth and Righteousness help us to encircle ourselves with WHO HE IS, His very nature.  Then believing Him utterly, accepting Him completely, so that we may stand against evil!  Father, enlarge our faith in Your faithfulness to us!  Help us to believe You will be our shield against the attacks of satan.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

YET, I Will Rejoice...

There have been a lot of things going on in the lives of people around me that are unexplainable. Take the earthquake in Haiti, and the devastation we see in the lives of the people there. As I watch these precious people on TV, I can't help but wonder if I would be singing praise to the Father on the streets mere hours after the earth shook. I also have a number of friends who are going through really difficult circumstances, not to mention the ever present "D" word in my own life (dissertation, that is). Well, I was reading in Habakkuk this morning and was confronted with my own spirit of unbelief in trusting God's best for my own life and the world around me.

Sometimes the prophets in the Old Testament strike me as a bit intimidating. They appear to be spiritual superheroes as they speak God's truth in the face of what I would consider to be nearly insufferable persecution and something surprising directives from God, "Hey Elijah, why don't you head down to the river bed - and I'll just send some ravens with your food each day!" (see 1 Kings 17). Many of us can relate immediately to Habakkuk, however. He began his book by complaining! Then, despite his numerous questions and doubts, he discovered amazing truths about his God.

Habakkuk's initial complaint seems quite valid (Habakkuk 1:1-4). He observed the moral decay all around him and wondered where God was. (sound familiar?) How could the Lord just sit back and allow these terrible injustices to go unchecked?

God's response was really interesting to me (verses 5-11). He wasn't preoccupied with other things. God was watching and keeping an account of all of these wrongs. And He was about to do something about sin and evil. The only problem for Habakkuk was that God's solution was the last thing he probably expected. Certainly God intended to judge the wicked - but He was planning to carry out that justice by sending the Babylonians to conquer the nation of Israel!

I was as confused as Habakkuk (verses 12-17). How can God punish evil with more evil? Doesn't that go against His nature? If God is holy and unable to tolerate impurity, how can he use it for his own purposes? Which relates this back to things like Haiti, my dissertation, my friends' present trials. How long, O Lord? And if You really do work for the good of those who love You (Romans 8:28), why all of this strife?

As Habakkuk complained again, "God, why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" (1:13), God's response followed in the following chapter (2:2-20). In this passage, the Lord directed His people as to how he wanted them to live - despite the evil all around them: "The righteous will live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). This statement first implies that God's people accept God's methods and His timing, even when they don't understand. Habakkuk (and we) needed to come to terms with the fact that the despised nation of Babylon fit into God's plan - whether or not the Babylonians realized it. Everything - everything - is working toward an ending. I have to come to terms with understanding that spending 7 years in graduate school, and 3 years on one crummy dissertation, fit into God's plan. Beth Moore once said, "God means for me to cast my utter dependency only on Him. His plans do not depend on any human - nothing and no one critical to my God-planned future can fail to come through once God says it's time! No human has the power to overlook what God determines to oversee."

Living by faith means that God's people accept God's words. It means believing that even if every shred of evidence points in the opposite direction, God is in the right, and we can bank on God's word as our only reliable investment. There may be times when we doubt God's purpose because of our inability to see a situation from His perspective, but as we get to know Him better, we can declare along with the prophet Habakkuk, "Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!" (Habbakuk 3:18).

I believe even Jesus struggled with these issues of trusting God's plan as he poured out His soul to His Father in Gethsemane just prior to his arrest. "My Father," he pleaded, "if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. YET not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:36). Could good really result form such unspeakable evil? Could God's plan truly be to offer ultimate hope to humanity through the sacrifice of His own Son in one of the most bitter scenes in all of human history?

Notice that Jesus, like Habakkuk, used the word yet.
"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, " asserted Habakkuk.
"Yet not as I will, but as you will," declared Christ.
Both are exemplary prayers of submission to the Father's perfect plan.

I pray that in the midst of unexplainable circumstances, we might all respond with Yet...knowing that in all things, God does work for the good of those who love Him.