Faking Until Breaking: The Beauty of a Broken Soul

 

img_0475Recently, I suffered a loss. Yes, I suffered. My grandfather ultimately was the “victim” of death, per se, but death takes many more hostage if grief is not dealt with in a healthy manner. I was held captive by this trauma that so quickly seemed to plague my life. After sitting by my grandfather as he took his last breath, I was left feeling all sorts of emotions that I could not make sense of –selfishness, sadness, anger, confusion. My own mind seemed foreign, at times. Most of all, though, I felt the need to fake fine.

There are many lies and preconceived falsehoods about emotional weakness. Some may fake fine to seem strong. But is there more strength in humility or having things all together? Some may minimize the pain in an effort to convince themselves and others that they’re fine. God won’t tell us “it’s not a big deal,” so why do we hold ourselves to a higher expectation of grief than God does? Some may build up walls, vowing to never be vulnerable to pain again. Are we the protectors and guardians of our heart or is God? Some may say it’s time to move on with life and forget the past. How can we receive healing if  “moving on” is just running away from the problem? Some may look at emotions as dangerous and avoid them at all costs. How can we sort out truth from falsehood if we avoid the emotionally-driven questions? All of these ways of coping are in our own strength, though. They only prove to be futile. The funny thing is, God sometimes grants us that freedom to let us have our own unhealthy ways of handling the pain, only so we turn back to Him. When we do look to God in the midst of our brokenness, he promises comfort and the gift of lament.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

-Matthew 5:4

As soon as my grandfather passed, I felt an immediate obligation to be stronger for the other people in my family, to be strong for myself, and ultimately, to be strong for God. I cried, but I didn’t lament. I mourned, but I didn’t bring my hurt to God. I was stuck believing a lie, that I had to delight in my circumstances at all times, and if I didn’t, then I was a disappointment to my Heavenly Father and therefore a bad disciple of Christ. I knew in my mind that God wanted my brokenness, but I never believed it. Thus, I hid my hurt from God and tried to take on the pain by myself.

Honestly, faking it was simply easier, too. Rather than opening up and reliving the horror that I had experienced, I put on a mask of normalcy and continued about my day like nothing was bothering me. I made it my goal to suppress any negative feelings within myself. After I found this loophole in the mourning process, I convinced myself that this was better than being sad or angry. And it was. Acting was easier than living truth, especially when the truth was that I was a wreck of emotions and thoughts gone haywire.

I remember describing it to my family and friends like I was in a pit. I felt like I was digging deeper and deeper, not even realizing how far down in the earth I had gone. I wanted to stay in the pit. Yes, it was lonely and dark, it was scary and confusing, but it felt just as emancipating as it was imprisoning. Down there, I didn’t have to have it all together, perform for others, or brave the harsh expectations to be “over it.” At the same time, though, I cried out for a rope and God threw down grace to pull me out. The problem was, I didn’t want to be saved at the moment. I wanted the hope of seeing light again, but I didn’t want out yet. I was grateful for the offer of salvation from my affliction, but I just needed a while longer to cope in the pit with my own futile ways. Is that wrong? I thought that I had two options: sit in the pit by myself or grab on to the rope when I knew I wasn’t ready to. Little did I know, there was a third choice that God offered me – to descend to the pit and weep with me.

When we feel blessed, we give thanks and praise. When we are sad, what do we do then? As I stated before, God gives us the gift to come to Him in pieces – lament. Lament is simply a prayer for help in a time of affliction or pain. In Greek, lament is translated to thréneó, which is a comprehensive word, “designating every species of pain of body or soul” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).  The pain does not have to be at a certain threshold to be considered worthy of lament. It is the outcry to God in the depths of brokenness at any level. When we come to God with raw feelings of anguish, we pave a pathway for a genuine relationship. We wrestle with God.

Lament often begs the question why. This is seen countless times in the Bible, such as Psalm, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations (the last one is kinda obvious!). Here we see God’s people crying out, begging the questions that so many of us are so scared to ask. Why do you let my attackers prevail? Why do you inflict pain upon me? Why do you…” Fill in the blank. In their utter despair, they chose to look to God in anger, hopelessness, sadness, and extreme torment. Notice, though, how the questioning of God is not rebuked in anger or turned away, instead, it brings the people closer to an intimate relationship with their Creator. God is prepared to listen and console His people in times of distress, and He gives us a way to express our grief at His throne. What a wonderful way to worship the Lord! Through trials and tribulations, we are still able to glorify God with genuine communication, holding nothing back, and still hope in a will bigger than the pit we find ourselves at the bottom of.

But let me say this. Asking why does not always mean there will be an answer. Sometimes there will be an answer, but it won’t be a likable one. Asking God questions does not mean we are entitled to a happy ending or an immediate response. In Psalm 88, we see that sometimes laments go unanswered. In Psalm 44, we see that laments do not always end on a happy note. Let me say it again for the people in the back. WE ARE NOT ENTITLED TO ANYTHING.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

-Isaiah 55:8

Our why or how long or where are you laments show us the lies we believe, though. They reveal the deep-rooted falsehoods intertwined with our hurt, begging for truth to overpower darkness. Often times, when we have the inability or no desire to lament and ask questions, we try to answer them on our own. Instead of opening ourselves up to God’s voice, we close ourselves off in an attempt to console ourselves with convincing, humanistic responses. We project reasons on God’s actions. For example, I asked God if he would abandon me during my period of grief. I asked if he would grow weary of waiting for me to heal. Immediately after voicing it, writing it, making it known to God and myself how I felt, I combated the lie with God’s word. I knew he wouldn’t leave or forsake me (Deut. 31:6), and that doing so would be a direct violation of His character. The best way to discern falsehood is to know truth. Pouring our heart out to God gives Him the opportunity to directly battle the lies running wild in our minds.

I also found myself holding to a “karma” theology when it came to trials and hurt in my life. If something negative occurred, then I would assume that it was due to something I did to deserve the repercussions of my actions. I assumed it was God’s way of punishing me and showing me his disfavor. Although there are some instances in the Bible where God allows hardship to fall on people as a result of sin, He is a just god, not a punishing one. Not all pain has a direct cause and effect. It may just be the result of the fallen world we live in. Not all traumatic experiences have a precise equation of A+B=C. Our minds are too finite to understand the ultimate reason for suffering on this earth, that is why God permits our laments.

Through this process of learning to be okay with not being okay, God has revealed to me his abundant love. His love in wanting to use this to build me back up. His love in growing me closer to him despite my flaws and grief. His love in weeping with me. That alone makes me want to sing again!

 

 

End Note: A lot of the concepts in this blog post come from the book No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece. Check it out!

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A Fleeting Wreck

I was just cruising down the highway, nearing closer to the exit that led to home. I sat back, relaxed in my silver sedan, as I began to merge into the right lane mindlessly, as I had done countless times before. It seemed that this lane-change would be no different from past times but, oh, how wrong I would be in a matter of seconds. Mid-merge, compromised in two adjacent lanes, my car coasted at a comfortable sixty miles-per-hour. And just like that, a truck appeared in my peripheral vision. It was inches away from me; most would say too close for comfort. I knew at that moment, it was too late to swerve out of the way. In that moment, I knew I would crash. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I slammed on my brakes, attempting to dodge the truck that I knew I’d collide with momentarily, and at least try to avoid the inevitable mess that was just before me. I lost control of my car as the brakes took over, trying their best to do their job, but failing miserably. All I could do was hold my breath and brace for impact. The abrupt and unforgiving sound of grating metal against metal (the worst noise I think I have ever known) erupted, accompanied with a sudden jolt that knocked me around like a helpless rag doll.

How crazy is it for something that extreme to happen so quickly? I remember driving over to the shoulder of the road with my hazard lights on, and just thinking, Wow, God is so good. I walked away from my first car accident free from injury and alive, as did the other person involved in the wreck, but there was something more to this experience that revealed God’s love to me yesterday. There was a strange sense of peace that overwhelmed me; fear and worry seemed to be so distant in the moments following the crash. A word came to mind and echoed persistently in my head – meaningless.

My car. Meaningless. My finances. Meaningless. My life. Essentially meaningless. What I mean by that before you raise your eyebrow and question my sanity is this: this world is temporary, and in an odd way, that comforted me. God transformed my worry-filled worldly view to that of an eternal perspective. My car accident reminded me that all of this is fleeting. With that in mind, I was encouraged, reminded of the hope for salvation, with another earthly thing being taken away from me. Thinking about the failed short-term things reminded me of the everlasting – God’s love and perfect will.

Meaningless, Meaningless

In Ecclesiastes, there is a common theme that everything on Earth is arbitrary. In Chapter One, it captures the general idea of the whole book:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do I gain from having a car? What do I gain from living life the way I want to? What do I gain from following my own desires? What do I gain from toil or hard work if it isn’t for the Lord? Nothing. So what is meaningful?

13 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

This is the purpose that we can find in the day-to-day things of this life. Although youth, riches, wisdom, toil, and pleasures are meaningless, there is something with a bigger purpose. Our eternal meaning, our eternal purpose to fulfill the will of God, is the goal. The will of God is for us to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), to endure until the end, and abide in Him. We don’t need any earthly things to do that. In fact, they are more distracting than beneficial a lot of times, all a blink of an eye. If our minds are focused on Heaven and not on Earth, peace that surpasses all understanding overtakes us. That brings me to my next point…

Do Not Worry

On top of everything being utterly meaningless in the eternal-term of things, I found that I also felt at peace when I crashed because worrying was meaningless, as well. As I sat in the freeway, shocked at what had happened, my immediate response was to start panicking and concocting negative scenarios in my head. God brought my mind to Matthew 6:25-34 in those moments, though, and put everything in perspective for me.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Worrying happens when there is nothing that can be done to change a situation, but the thought is entertained anyways. Therefore, power is surrendered to fear instead of God. Seeking God’s kingdom (his reign and lordship in our life) directly combats worry, though. So, if anxiety and a concern gone haywire accomplishes nothing, it is futile. When worry is out of the picture, it leaves room for a desperate faith and allows us to turn to the only constant in life. God.

God is Good

God is always good. It is not conditional, it is not fluctuating or depending on your actions or deeds. So if this is true, how can I look at a car accident as God’s punishment to me? That would directly defile the very nature of God himself, and I would be believing a lie. Instead of walking away, angry at the demise of my car, blaming God for letting this happen to me, I chose to view the circumstance in a different light.

God is good. Maybe this car accident came from him, maybe it didn’t, I don’t want to claim I know that or not. Regardless of what happened to me yesterday and what will happen to me in the future, God still works everything for the good of those who love him.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

How can I be angry or upset or worried when God is using undesirable and inconvenient situations to reveal his love and ultimate will for my life? How can I focus on the bad when he is reminding me of something better than this world and the things it has to offer? How can I betray my faith in God when he is using trials to sanctify me and bring me closer to him? I can only thank him continually for his grace in showing me truth and goodness amidst a trying time such as this. My wreck only personifies this earthly life and its charms, fleeting and temporary, but God never fades. His love endures forever.

God’s Plan is Perseverance, Not Escape

 

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Just my talented friend’s photo of a few of us watching the sunrise in someone’s cornfield. It was a regular thing for a while, now I am back to sleeping in until eleven!

Over the past few weeks, I have been tested. A lot of my quiet times have consisted of journaling out how I was feeling because, honestly, I couldn’t focus on much else. Today, in fact, I was writing yet again, and while I reread my raw emotions scribbled on the page, I realized I had to combat these negative feelings with scripture. I was done wallowing in disappointment and discontentment. Strangely enough, Jeremiah 29:11 had really stuck out to me during my times of struggle this month, but I had never read it completely in context. I had seen it as a comforting scripture, but not for the reasons it was meant to be interpreted as. I feel many other people have the same issue – we cling to scripture that is encouraging to hear, never look at its full meaning, and gain a false knowledge and hope according to our own interpretations of the verse rather that the absolute truth. I was strangely and inexplicably comforted, though, once I read Jeremiah 29:11 for its full value.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

A little context with Jeremiah 29…

The Israelites were banned from Jerusalem (their beloved home) and had been conquered by their enemy, Babylon. The consequences for their unfaithfulness and disobedience to God were being carried out through this exile. The Israelites had lost just about everything; they were ready to go back home. The exiles began to go through a period of unrest, listening and bringing up false prophets to tell them that they would be reunited with Jerusalem in just two years. One false prophet, Hananiah, keeps telling the population of Israelites that God has told him this will come to pass, and spoiler alert, it doesn’t! Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah, a prophet of God, writes the exiles a letter to denounce Hananiah and others alike, and instead tells the Israelites the truth about the how long they will be captive in the land of their enemy. What Jeremiah has to say, though, does not sit right with the Israelites.

Here comes that dose of reality that no one wanted to hear. Here comes the harsh truth from God himself. Are you ready?

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 

Wait, wait, wait, what? The Israelites have been believing they would get out in two years, and now God is saying to settle down and stay awhile? That doesn’t seem right. Where’s the grace, am I right? Verses 4-7 make it clear what God is saying. God orders the Israelites to stay and build a life in the land they are captive in. Jeremiah’s letter tells them to build houses and settle down, to plant gardens and eat the produce from them, marry and have sons and daughters –it sounds like the Israelites will be there for a while. I’m sure hearing those words was like a stab to the heart for most of the exiled people. How could Hananiah’s prophesy come true when God is telling them to settle down and repopulate the very land they wanted to get out of? There is nothing to satisfy their “itching ears” anymore. Hananiah is now dead. The truth has been told through Jeremiah. The captives are not happy.

Let’s just take a closer look at verse 7, shall we? Not only does God tell the Israelites to reproduce and reside in a foreign and unfamiliar land, he goes further to say that the exiled nation should pray for peace and prosperity in the Babylonian land.  The nerve of him! How could he subject the Israelites to a life of such hardship and then tell them to pray for it? This does not seem fair or like God’s character at all! Then the following verses seem to snuff out any additional thoughts of denial the Israelites may have had lingering in the back of their mind. Jeremiah tells them that they have bought into the lies they wanted to hear, and now he warns against further falsehood.

Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

God basically says, “So yeah, guys. The things you wanted to hear were false. In fact, you were deceived by these lies because you wanted to hear them rather than the truth straight from my mouth. You put your hope in fine-sounding doctrine, but that is not from me. I have not sent them.”

Let’s just stop here for a minute because it’s a lot to reflect on. Here these Israelites are, hoping in a lie, anticipating something that was never from God or in his plan. That’s what really got me thinking. Am I praying for prosperity in a land I don’t want to be in? Despite how badly I want to be in Jerusalem, a land of comfort and familiarity, am I making the best of my time in Babylon?

As I sat there, reading through my complaints and cries to God on my journal page, I realized the answer to my questions was no. I wanted God to take away my pain and suffering, not help me endure through it. And it was hard to come to this realization because I had hidden the motivations and hopes of my heart way down in the pit of my soul. I fooled myself into thinking I was hoping in God alone, but when the hope of something in this world was taken away, my eyes were opened to just how much hope I was putting in things not from God.

Specifically, for me, my “Hananiah” hope was in a doctor’s diagnosis and cure for a physical weakness I had been suffering through. When the specialist told me that they had no answer for the pain I was experiencing, no medication or solution to make it stop, I broke. I was confused as to why God wouldn’t let me get help and healing, and I was so hoping for the suffering to be taken away from me, in the form of medication or surgery, that I had completely blocked out the hope in God that I should have clung to in the first place. I had listened to fine-sounding words in my head, telling me there was bound to be something to help me escape my chronic pain, my Babylon. “This will be over soon,” I told myself. Hm, sound familiar? The Israelites had hoped their season of suffering in the land of exile would be over, too, putting their own plan above God’s accord. So much so that they brought up prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, they tried to relate their easy way out to God’s plan. It didn’t work, though. The same holds true with me, and whatever lies you may be convincing yourself of today. God’s timing will always prevail, God’s plan will never fail.

But I would like to point out, going back to verses 4-7 from before, God subjects the Israelites to the land of exile, yet still provides for them! He gives them shelter, food, family – blessings can be found in these things despite the place they resided in. Even though we may be subject to a land we do not want to be in, God still lavishes us with his love in the form of blessings on earth! Yes, this isn’t what you may have prayed for, but just take a look around at all of the other things God has freely given to you amidst the trial!

In verse 10, God makes it clear what his will is for the Israelites at this point of their life. God tells them to wait not two, but seventy years to return back to the land they once called home. God’s timing is key in this. He still promises to deliver on his word and be gracious to his children, however we must submit to his clock, not ours. This sets up the verse that originally attracted me (vs. 11) for an even deeper hope in God. In understanding that he will bring us back to a land of happiness, God’s love is shown in that he will take us out of Babylon when the timing is right, when we pray for prosperity and peace instead of escape from the tribulations, and when we put our hope in truth and not falsehood.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This verse has a different meaning to me now, an even deeper, more profound message. As blogger Mary DeMuthe puts it, God’s heart in Jeremiah 29:11 is not that we escape our lot, but that we thrive in it. So often this verse is used as a security blanket, a verse to assure ourselves that the lot will be taken in due time. Surely plans to prosper, not to harm, and give hope and future cannot come from trials and struggles. That is not what God declares here, though. Definitely not for the Israelites, and not for us either. Keep in mind, God says this right after he tells the Israelites that he will not let them escape their lot, and most of them will probably not even get to see the day that they escape exile. Seventy years is a lifetime to them, so their hope in breaking out of bondage has been taken away rather bluntly. God reassures us in verse 11, though, that despite the things that don’t go our way, despite the pain, the suffering, the hardships, the discontentment – all of it – that the plan is to grow us in faith, maturity, and closeness to him. God does not always allow us to escape the land of exile in the timeframe we want, sometimes we have to endure it with the hope of truth and salvation as our only motivators. God’s plan is perseverance, not escape. Harm is not the design; a hopeful and prosperous future is!

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1: 2-4

Deflecting Death- The Breastplate of Righteousness

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So this spring break, a few of my friends and I made it a goal to find the best place to watch the sunrise. We call ourselves the Sunrise Chasers. It’s crazy to think that this happens every day and the majority of us miss it and sleep through the beautiful emergence of a brand new day!

Continuing on with the Armor of God, the next piece of the armor is the Breastplate of Righteousness.

…with the breastplate of righteousness in place… 

Obviously, the breastplate was designed to protect the vital organs. The heart and lungs were guarded by this piece of armor; without the breastplate, a soldier would unquestionably meet their demise. With the utilization of a breastplate, attacks to the main sources of life would become ineffective and futile. The blows of the enemy would bounce back. The breastplate would deflect it, rendering the weapons and attempts of the opposing side virtually useless.

Without fitting ourselves with the breastplate, we leave ourselves susceptible to certain death.

…but righteousness delivers from death. -Proverbs 11:4

Often, when the word “righteousness” is mentioned, my mind wanders to the idea of self-righteousness. I tend to think of doing good things for others, for myself, for God. The concept of works is emphasized in my mind. If I don’t do X, then I will be considered “good” in the eyes of others and God, or if I do do X, then I will have a better reputation, I will feel better about myself. It is easy to slip into this mindset. Righteousness isn’t just doing good deeds, though! It lies at the heart, the very thing the breastplate defends.

As I mentioned in my previous post (and will probably keep mentioning), the breastplate is a gift from God. If this is something given to us, then how can it be our own? The righteousness that we put on is God’s, not ours. With this in mind, consider what Isaiah says regarding self-righteousness vs. godly righteousness.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. -Isaiah 64:6

Not super encouraging at first glance, is it? Our own attempts at being good are like a filthy rag, we cannot do it on our own. Imagine readying for battle, enemy arrows are flying, blood is being shed, havoc is everywhere. Here you are, preparing for the war of your life. You look at yourself in the mirror, putting on the belt, the helmet, the shoes… the rag? On your chest, you confidently wrap around a dirty piece of flimsy fabric, and confidently run out into the battlefield, screaming a war-cry, inviting the enemy to attack. It would be insane to do this, in a matter of minutes, the soldier with the rag would be impaled. They were not guarding their heart and leaned on their own understanding of righteousness – on their own independent nature. Dependency on God’s gift is key. Only through His power can we gain the strength and durability of a well-crafted breastplate. Isaiah points out that God clothes himself with the breastplate of righteousness, too.

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head… -Isaiah 59:17

This is the kind of stable and dependable armor that we should strive to clothe ourselves with. With this breastplate, the very one our Lord and Savior wears and graciously offers us, we are able to defend ourselves against the enemy’s attacks. This breastplate is crafted with love and protection, not pride and worldly standards.

Alright, so we’ve established that our own righteousness is not sufficient for battle, but how do we strive for godly righteousness? How do we fit ourselves with a pure and blameless breastplate?

In Romans 9:30, it is made clear that righteousness by faith is crucial. It is not by our own works that His breastplate safeguards us, but by an unadulterated confidence in the One who protects. In order to gain a better understanding for righteousness by faith, establishing what faith even is would be essential. (Side note: I will definitely delve into the idea of faith more when we get to the Shield of Faith!)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. -Hebrews 11:1

So a true righteousness is by faith alone, confidence and hope. Faith in God compels us towards a righteous lifestyle, towards striving for sanctification. And the promise of the Lord is what establishes our faith – his promise of coming back, of being who he says he is, of loving us. Throughout Psalm 119, the author of this chapter continually declares their love for God’s just law, their trust and hope in God’s word, and their delight in God’s commands. The image of cherishing and treasuring God’s word and promises is evident in this passage. It is clear that adoring God and his ways is true faith that comes from a pure trust in the love God has. We only trust because of love, and we only love because God first loved us. Loving the Word of God and his law is the example we must follow if we desire to become faithfully righteous through God’s power. This may get a little confusing. I feel that I have just thrown everything at y’all and it has become redundant or messy in organization, so I have taken the liberty of including a chart to explain what I mean.

LOVE 

(God’s love, not ours, compels us to love back and trust) 1 Corinthians 13:7, 1 John 4:19

TRUST/HOPE

(Because trust and hope are what fuel faith) Hebrews 1:11

FAITH

(Faith in who God is, in his character, in his coming back, promises, and ultimately his love for us result in a desire to be prepared and pure in the sight of such a loving and faithful God) Romans 9:30

RIGHTEOUSNESS

(Preserves us from death, life given to us from God) Proverbs 11:4

LIFE IN GOD

(The ultimate gift given to us, only acquired through a love, faith, hope, trust, and righteous lifestyle that deflects death, ultimately bringing life)

Hopefully that helped a little more to understand the pattern and beauty of how righteousness works! In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the breastplate is also compared to faith and love, proving the chart above to be accurate. It is only by faith and love that righteousness can even be attained!

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. -1 Thessalonians 5:8

Ultimately, it is not just righteousness that act as a way to guard our heart and our source of life, it is more than a few nice acts or avoiding sin – it is a complete and total trust in God’s love and law.

1 Kings 22 provides a great example of what it is like to be bereft of a breastplate in the heat of battle. Though this is a long and super interesting story, I will just get to my main point. King Ahab, the main dude in the passage, had not completely secured his breastplate during the war. He actually left it open slightly, ultimately leading to his untimely death. A stray arrow, of all things, pierced King Ahab where the armor did not cover, thus killing him slowly and painfully. He wasn’t even targeted! A mere wandering arrow had led to his downfall. Don’t leave your armor half-way on, vulnerable to the projectiles of temptation and worldliness. Put the breastplate of righteousness fully in place, securing it to deflect the deadliest of arrows!

 

Gird Em’- The Belt of Truth

 

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This here is a barn dance my campus ministry has attended a couple times, now. We’re do-si-do pros!

Happy March, everyone! I am aware that I posted nothing in February, but I assure you it was for a good cause! During the last month, I have been delving into Ephesians 6, studying more in depth the individual parts to the Armor of God. Lately, I feel like the spiritual battle has been evident in my life, and reading about the Armor of God really spoke to me in that sense. This begins a series of posts all about The Armor of God, so stay tuned for the rest to follow!

As a little preface before I dive right in, I feel it is necessary to keep in mind the verses that lead up to the Armor of God. I’ve noticed that many commentaries just look at the belt, the shield, the helmet, etc. and forget to address the context of the situation at hand. Paul says to stand against the devil’s schemes, but it is not in our own strength.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 

Ephesians 6:10 makes it clear that we are able to be strong because of the Lord and his might. He chooses to relent some of his power to us, in the form of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the Spirit/God’s Word. By equipping us with these gifts, God makes us ready to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12), and furthermore, stand against the Devil and his schemes. Another thing I would like to point out is that the day of evil is coming. According to Ephesians 6:13, we are preparing for a definite battle, not the probability of one.

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…

The Armor of God is made to deflect, protect, and combat the dark forces of this world, but it does not guarantee that evil will never bombard us. In fact, the Bible directly confirms that Satan will strike at some point in our life. The Armor is made to defend and fight back, so that we may stand our ground when the enemy attacks.

The Belt of Truth

Paul begins the list of the armor with the Belt of Truth. When I first read this, I was a bit underwhelmed. Come on, God, a belt? Really? That’ll intimidate Satan… but there is so much more to it than the surface definition! The Greek translation of this verse is, “Stand therefore having girded the loins of you with truth.” What the heck does gird mean? Why in the world are loins mentioned?

“Gird” in the English definition is to encircle with a belt, secure, surround the body. This is probably why we all know the first part of the Armor of God to be the belt. However, “gird” in the biblical times had other implications. The saying “gird up your loins” back in that time often referred to preparation and being ready for a service or endeavor. In fact, “gird up your loins” had a very similar meaning to our modern day phrase, “roll up your sleeves.” In both common sayings, there is an underlying meaning that implies action is about to happen, your hands are about to get dirty.

To really understand the depth that “gird” has, we have to understand how soldiers specifically girded their loins to prepare for battle. In biblical days, men and women both wore long tunics, therefore making it difficult to maneuver their legs with a full range of motion. The tunic hindered them from being prepared and left them susceptible to dangers of tripping and falling. So, in order to avoid falling flat on their faces, soldiers would gather the tunic, as shown below, so their legs would be free for hard labor or battle.

Image result for gird loins diagram

We are called, however, to gird our loins with truth, not our tunics. By (I’m going to say it again) girding our loins with the truth, God prepares us for spiritual warfare. The truth deflects the lies and deceit that the enemy hurls at us.

Truth itself is far more than the Word of God.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” -John 14:6

Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the Truth. Girding our loins and fastening the belt all goes back to following Him and His teachings, not our own version of truth. The belt that we take up is Jesus’, not ours. We cannot “lean on our own understanding” (Prov. 3:5); then we are vulnerable to attack.

Truth is the abstract concept of accordance with fact and reality, it is the foundation of The Bible itself. In fact, this correlates directly with the idea of truth as a belt. Without the belt, there is nothing to hold the sword, the Word of God. The Belt of Truth upholds the Sword of the Spirit. What would happen if a soldier did not secure their belt and it fell to their ankles? They would not have their weapon of offense. They would be left without a tool to fight back with. They would trip and fall over the belt that was supposed to be tightened to their waist. The soldier would be rendered helpless.

We must fit ourselves with the One Truth. The battle is real. The enemy is coming, but the armor is present. Gird up your loins and prepare for battle, soldier.

 

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Distracted by the Wind

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I just couldn’t pass up a chance to share this picture one of my friends captured when we took a spontaneous road trip to Chicago a week ago. The picture does not do it justice!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have felt a strong inclination to study out distractions more in depth. It is something that seems so minuscule and unworthy to address at times, after all, distractions seem to be temporary and fleeting most of the time, right? The new job that demands your attention, the difficult classes that require your full concentration, a relationship that commands devotion, and just figuring out what the future may hold can cause anxiety or apprehension. All of these examples seem to take our minds to a different place, seemingly for just a short amount of time. That’s the problem though; the word “short” is a very vague word. It is a word used to establish ambiguity, but create a sense of hope that the short affair will be over soon. It acknowledges an end, but not an end point. It is not a concrete word, it is a subjective connotation utilized to buy more time in order to continue doing what we’re doing while avoiding accountability. Think about when we were younger, and our parents or teachers would claim that something would be over “soon” or “in a bit.” These words mean various things to different people. “Short” can mean a minute, an hour, a few hours, days… The list goes on. So, my question is, how often do we tell ourselves that these meaningless distractions will be short lived, only so we can stop them at a time that we decide is more convenient for ourselves?

In Matthew 14:25-31, distractions among the disciples are present in this scripture. Peter, one of Jesus’ devoted followers, is in a boat along with other disciples, waiting for Jesus to finish praying on a nearby mountainside. It says in the passage that the boat that the disciples had boarded was a considerable distance from land, due to the winds and waves buffeting against it. In addition, this occurred during the night, so the fright factor was definitely there. At dawn, it all goes down. Jesus is seen walking on the lake, but the disciples don’t recognize Him. They immediately resort to fear, crying out that it is a ghost that’s before them, but Jesus immediately puts this fear to rest by explaining that it is him, and not a creepy apparition.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on water and came toward Jesus.

-Matthew 14: 27-29

Jesus calls Peter, and Peter comes. He is focused on the calling, his eyes are solely on Jesus. He is walking on water, achieving the impossible! Everything is peaceful, despite the chaos in the background. His focus is on the Lord, so automatically everything around him seems so small. All is well until the next verse…

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

As soon as his focus went somewhere else, his thoughts became full of worry and fear. What happened? Peter became distracted by the wind. It’s interesting how of all things to become distracted by, it was the wind that caused his downfall. The wind – an inescapable force, surrounding Peter, entrapping him in worry and doubt. The wind – something that Jesus could easily control, yet Peter’s sights were set on the problem rather that the solution standing right in front of him. The wind – a part of nature that can be so much as a breeze or as damaging as a hurricane. Yet it never really says just how strong this wind was that distracted Peter; it is assumed that it was strong, but never fully explains the amount of strength that it really had. I think that’s how distractions in our life work, too. We become so consumed in how big the distraction is, we become so full of fear or anxiety that we forget that Jesus is standing right there, more than capable to speak the storm out of existence. When was the last time that you were distracted by the wind? When was the last time that you let it get the best of you and you started to sink?

The thing about sinking is that most people don’t go under right away and die. They usually put up a fight, try to float for a bit, tread water and exhaust themselves, or try to swim to the nearest safe place.  Sinking is not a passive thing, it’s a very active struggle, but how many times do we find ourselves slowly sinking and try to handle it on our own? In this moment, though, Peter looked to Jesus, he didn’t try to stay above water himself.

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Did you notice that first word, though? IMMEDIATELY. I love that in the moment that Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand with such a sense of urgency. He catches a sinking soul. That is the grace of our God! In our drowning moments, Jesus stoops down and rescues us. What Jesus says next, though, does not seem as encouraging, but Peter needed to hear it. That is also our God.

Peter let the distractions give birth to faithlessness. His identity in that moment was one of little faith. It says Peter became afraid, and that was the beginning of a crippling snowball effect. As soon as fear overtook him, he could no longer stand. His distractions progressed to fear, and soon enough, fear progressed to faithlessness. The one who has little faith doubts. The mere distraction of the wind had progressed to doubt in Jesus. How did it escalate so fast? The wind seemed short. It felt fleeting. Distractions lead to a path defined by lack of faith and full of doubt. But why did Peter doubt? I think it is evident why Peter felt the temptation to doubt Jesus’ power. The wind was the focus, it was too much to take in without a savior in the line of vision, too. Peter’s sights were set on the chaos around him, not the offering of peace in front of him. It is either black or white, set your sights on things above or the worries of this world, there cannot be a gray area here. Taking your eyes of Jesus is faithlessness, that’s what it boils down to.

There’s more to the story, though. Often times, Peter gets a bad rap here. He was full of fear, he lacked a lot of faith, but what about the other disciples in the boat? If Peter had “little faith,” then just how much did the other disciples have? They weren’t even willing to step out onto the water towards Jesus in the first place. Yes, Peter seemed to have failed, but look at “little faith” in a new light, it was more than the rest. He had the nerve to question Jesus, so in return, he got to experience a supernatural answer. The other disciples didn’t. Peter took a risk in order to get to God, but what did the other disciples in the boat do? They stayed comfortable. Peter was the only follower that even had the audacity to question and walk out to Jesus. The others were fearful, but Peter had faith, though it was small. So even though he failed to remain above the water, he had enough faith to approach Jesus despite his uneasiness. “Little faith” was all Jesus needed to reveal a divine encounter.

All in all, what are the “winds” in your life? How do you handle them? Do you try to remain comfortable like the other disciples in the boat or are you actively pursuing Jesus like Peter did? When the winds catch your attention, do you refocus on Jesus or are you worried about the mayhem around you?

The two examples I have presented before you tell the story of two different viewpoints. The disciples in the boat saw the winds and a ghost, and decided to praise Jesus after the storm had past. The distractions took the spotlight in their minds, and Jesus was only thought of after the winds had died down. Fear had won. Peter saw the opportunity to pursue Jesus, but fell when he magnified the distractions rather than the Lord. The winds were too much because that’s all he was focused on, but he persevered and cried out to Jesus when he recognized that he was sinking. Both examples are not ideal. The ideal story would be that Peter walked towards Jesus with no doubt, no fear, and no worry. How wonderful it would be if we could do that in our daily lives, but the truth is, sometimes the distractions, well, distract us for a while. Redirect your attention to the one who stands before you, ready to catch you when you fall, prepared to reach out when you begin to sink.

Just Shut Up (Part 2)

To continue on from my last post (though it’s been a hot minute since I last posted), I am just going to dive right in. My apologies for not writing as frequently as planned, life has been a little crazy with the holidays coming up!

 

I could write about so many other times that it is just simply not necessary to speak up, (and I would love to!) however there is one instance that stood out to me above all — if your words will be a poor reflection of the Lord. This instance surpasses all others. Yes, shut up if you don’t know the full story, if you will offend a weaker brother or sister, or if it becomes gossip or corrupt slander, but this would all be avoided if we simply just asked ourselves, “Is this what would come out of the lips of Jesus?”.  In 1 Peter 2:21-23, Peter urges “God’s elect” (1 Peter 1:1), and furthermore, us, who are God’s chosen people, to “follow in his [Jesus’] steps.” The verse continues to demonstrate Jesus’ extreme patience when it comes to holding the tongue, and even more, how he managed to do it.

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 

Here, Peter brings us back to the scene of Jesus at the cross. He takes us back to the extreme humiliation, severe torment, and image of sinners spitting insults in a perfect man’s face. The level of injustice is inconceivable, yet Jesus did nothing. NOTHING. That blows my mind! Put yourself in his place for a second. How many times have you wanted to serve up your own form of justice to those who have persecuted you? Often times, my own form of justice included hurling insults back, getting even, and making sure that I had the last word. I wanted power in the argument by treating that person as they had treated me, but that is not the standard that we are called to live out. That is not love. Furthermore, that is definitely not how Jesus acted towards his oppressors. HE DID NOT RETALIATE. HE MADE NO THREATS. He did not become defensive, he did not see it as an opportunity to display wrath, he did not fight back. Jesus received this torment and loved anyway.

Quick story: The other day I was at work behind the cash register, and a rude woman approached me, calling me “stupid” and “a waste of her time.” You better believe that I wanted to fight back and argue the opposite, which I knew to be true, but I said nothing. I let her yell and take her aggression out on me, and as she continued to hold up the line with her anger mismanagement, I thought about how difficult it really is to avoid a sassy rebuttal. After the lady had worn herself out and exhausted all insults, she took a breath, looked at me standing there in silence, and apologized. She explained that she had realized her mistake, but the reason why may surprise you. She said (very briefly and slightly embarrassed) that seeing me stand there taking the heat had won her over. Moral of the story? This was nowhere close to the affliction that Jesus experienced, but it was SO difficult not to fight back, especially considering this woman’s blinding ignorance. Yet silence spoke louder than the words I wanted to scream back at her, and patience triumphed over anger.

But even later on verse 23, it explains HOW Jesus had the patience and self control to hold his tongue and take the beating. Instead of throwing out snarky remarks, performing a miracle, or rebuking everyone on the spot, which would seem to be justifiable, Jesus entrusted himself to “him who judges justly.” Jesus understood that even during a time of torture, he could not let other people’s unrighteousness affect his righteousness. He surrendered all tempting thoughts, actions, or words to God, knowing that his Father would take care of the battle. He acknowledged that God’s fair and perfect judgment supercedes human’s erroneous anger-motivated judgment. By keeping his mind on things above, understanding and having full faith that his oppressors would be justly judged, Jesus was able to keep his mouth shut and radiate love worthy to imitate.

People often say think before you speak, it is a common phrase used to promote reflection before words are just blurted out without a thought. I would like to take that phrase to the next level though, and get right to the heart of the issue. Think before you speak, but what are you thinking of? Is it how you can be the better person and promote self righteousness or is your mind on God and his role in the situation at hand? Being the better person is made out to seem like a healthy alternative to choosing not to fight back, however I find it is ironically prideful. By not speaking when provoked, even though you never got the last word verbally, you did in your head. Why? Because in your eyes, you are the superior by holding the tongue and the words that will consequently follow. It is righteousness for the wrong reasons. This is not an act of dependence on God, it is dependence on yourself and your own human capabilities. In order to truly follow Jesus and his example, the only option is to shut up because your eyes on God, who calls you to a higher standard.

Even Jesus had to rely on God for strength, so why would you be any different?