The Battlefield

battlefield.jpg

I just watched two Canada geese, with their feathers ruffled and necks stretched straight ahead of them, chase two other geese who were hoping to get some bread from me. Even though I didn’t have any bread and wasn’t planning to feed any of the geese, I was angry at the two aggressive Canada geese since I dislike all forms of aggression. It is no surprise, then, that I tend to pass over Bible verses that talk about the spiritual battle we are engaged in. Lately, however, I have been thinking about them more frequently and I am beginning to realize how much they reflect our reality. Whether I like it or not, we are living in the midst of a battlefield where the forces of evil are doing everything they can to diminish the glory of God and to destroy His beloved children. Of course, we do not need to fear because God has already won victory through the death of Christ but, in this time between Christ’s death and the final restoration of His kingdom, the battle still rages on.

I recently read something that helped me to realize that, in me, the battle is most apparent in my distorted thoughts and feelings. Too often, I find myself thinking that the world is out to get me, that I am not good enough, that I am deprived of something, or that life is not fair. Not surprisingly, these thoughts quickly lead me to feel depressed, frustrated and bitter. *

I have to remember that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44) and that He loves to pull me away from God’s truth by getting me to believe untruths about my reality. If instead of believing the devil’s lies, I choose to believe the truth of God’s love and abundant graces, my feelings of depression, frustration and bitterness quickly change to joy and thanksgiving. Ephesians 6:11-12 and 14 says: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places…Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth…” Of course, the most powerful of God’s truths are found in the Bible: we are His creation (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 139; Acts 17:26-28), we are deeply loved (John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:38), He is intimately involved in our daily lives (Proverbs 16:9; John 15:5; Romans 8:5), His plans for us are good (Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Corinthians 2:9; Romans 8:28), we serve an important purpose (Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 12:1-5; 1 Corinthians 16:12-20; Acts 1:8), and we are saved (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 8).

Ironically, some of the lies that I believe are so simple that I can easily refute them with logic when I spend time actually thinking about them. For example, today I was feeling sorry for myself because of the many “challenges” I face. Yet, when I spent a moment thanking God for the blessings in my life, I quickly realized that the blessings greatly outnumbered the difficulties. In fact, I am so blessed that when I tried to count my blessings, I couldn’t do it!

There are other lies, however, that are much more powerful and can only be refuted by clinging to God’s Truth. One of these is the lie that the story of my youngest daughter, Noemi, is entirely and only sad. While her story absolutely contains sadness, it is saturated with joy! Joy that God chose to create her – a unique person with a beautiful body and her own special soul. Joy that God chose us to be her family. Joy that we had eight months to have her in our lives here on earth. Joy that our belief that she was a tiny person allowed us to accept those months as her life. Joy, unbelievable joy, that she still is, that she brings God glory, and that we will be with her again.

A few weeks ago, I went to Noemi’s grave alone and, for the first time, rather than petitioning God to take care of my baby and allowing me to see her again in Heaven, I found myself thanking Him for Noemi and her story. As I stood there, looking at the ground where I had laid my baby’s body, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for her life and eternal story. I felt God’s sweet victory which won, not only my daughter’s eternal life, but also my freedom to embrace the Truth and to conquer the lies that the devil had strewn across my battlefield.

*Our emotional struggles are complex. I absolutely believe that the battle between Good and evil is waged largely in our minds and hearts. As a result, our feelings and mood can often be heavily impacted by this battle. That being said, I also firmly believe that there is both a physical and a chemical basis for our mental health. Fortunately, God grants us insight into the biological bases of mental distress through the fields of psychology, psychiatry and neurology. I would never want my words to diminish the importance of these fields in helping those who suffer or to make someone feel that their mental health difficulties are somehow their own fault. 

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Greater Than Our Blunders and Sins

Greater than all our failings pic

Today I lost my new friend’s son. Fortunately, a librarian found him wandering around while I diligently watched another little boy who, apparently, wasn’t my friend’s son. Still, I panicked when I discovered my mistake and I am sure that my anxiety didn’t even come close to what my friend felt when she looked around the sing-a-long and didn’t see her little boy. I can easily say that this was my biggest mistake in a long time; however, I made several trivial mistakes this morning, too. Someone aggressively beeped at me, so I must have done something wrong. Then someone else beeped at me because I was driving too cautiously. After I got safely home, I spent hours trying to negotiate with our prescription insurance after I made the mistake of waiting too long to begin trying to refill a medication. All in all, it was a morning full of blunders, not to mention the countless sinful, angry thoughts I had.

I could say that this was an unusual morning, but (apart from losing a kid) it wasn’t. Each day I make multiple mistakes, think terrible thoughts, forget to do things that I should do, and do things that I eventually wish that I hadn’t done. Sometimes these are sins, sometimes mistakes, and sometimes they just don’t measure up to the standards that I have for myself. Each time I make a mistake or I sin, I am reminded that I am an imperfect, finite, blundering sinner. In fact, the truth is that if I didn’t know God and how much He loves me, I don’t know how I could bear myself. Yet, because I do know how much God loves me, I am able to love my flawed self, even on days that I lose my friend’s kid.

You see, God’s love is transformative. It doesn’t overlook our blunders or even our sins. It sees us as we are, flaws and all; however, God’s love “never fails.” No matter what we do or don’t do and regardless of what we mess up or how often we give up, God’s love “always perseveres.” Consequently, when we come to recognize that a perfect God wants to embrace our far-from-perfect selves with His boundless love, we are driven to surrender ourselves to Him.

We see this theme repeated throughout the stories of the Bible. Some of our spiritual ancestors made silly mistakes that were recorded for us so that we could see the way in which God embraces our imperfections and does not allow His plans to be thwarted by them. For example, Joseph dreamed that God would bless him and give him a role that was more important than his brothers. His choice to share these inflammatory dreams with his brothers enraged them and resulted in his being sold into slavery. However, God was with Joseph and, through his mistake, God brought about the very plans that Joseph had prophesied. * Centuries later, Jesus’ disciples tried to guard their Leader’s time by turning away children who were trying to see Him. Rather than turning away from the disciples in disgust, Jesus used their mistake as an opportunity to unveil the tender nature of His love when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Other Biblical men and women committed sins that were documented in the Bible. Many of their stories reveal the power of God’s unaltered love. For instance, God’s love did not turn away from a Samaritan woman who had been married to five different husbands and was currently living with a man she was not married to. Instead, it revealed God’s truth to her and used her as a vital instrument in others’ salvation (John 4). His love didn’t shun a man who was afraid to be identified as a follower of Jesus, but made that man the foundation of the Church (John 18:15-27 and Matthew 16:18). The father’s love didn’t even reject a man who “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) and who wrote of himself, “I am the worst sinner of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Instead, it transforms him into one of the fathers of the church and a man who “was an example for those who would come to believe (1Timothy 1:16).

My guess is that we all have times when we feel guilty or just plain not good enough. Whether it is because we see our innocent human imperfections or because we are overwhelmed by the weight of our sins, these feelings can do one of two things: push us away or draw us in. Too often, we let our sins and flaws push us away from the God and cause us to hide from Him. Like Adam and Eve, our inadequacies and sins make us feel naked and vulnerable before a perfect God. They tempt us to say, like Peter, “Lord…you shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6-8) and they keep us from knowing His boundless grace, love and forgiveness. However, if we lay ourselves bare before God, His loving response to our sins and short-comings can become powerful motivators to run into His open embrace. His unconditional love and forgiveness can remind us that we are His dearly beloved creations, that He made us, and that He is remaking us “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14). It can fuel our desperate longing to “go home” to our Father and cause us to realize that we can’t do this life on our own. It can make us dependent upon Him.

This week, I’ll close with a poem that is based on the story of the Prodigal Son which is found in Luke 15:11-32. The story is, among other things, a wonderful reminder that God is our Father, that He deeply cherishes each of us, and that, no matter what we do, His desire for a loving and intimate relationship with us never wanes. I hope that the words of this poem encourage those of you who already know this love to see yourself through your Father’s adoring eyes, regardless of your failures and shortcomings. If you have not yet run into God’s embrace of love, I hope that my words will nurture your heart’s desire to surrender yourself to the One who calls you Beloved and Whose whole being longs to be reunited with you – flaws and all.

Beloved**

I walk the hard dirt road – alone.

I know no one and no one knows me.

My life is bleak and barren,

My body is weak and weary.

I have nothing in this world,

It is all sin and guilt and shame.

I weep as I wander the road, yet, I hope.

I hope because I am traveling to you

And because I know that you can use a hired hand.

I hope because you pay your workers well:

I have a chance to survive.

As I near your dwelling, you see me approaching.

I am too far to see your face.

I fear it holds anger, hurt and rejection.

But, suddenly you race towards me

And we weep together as you take me into your pure, perfect arms.

 

*You can read more about Joseph’s story in the Bible. It is found in Genesis.

**Poem by Ariane Sroubek, first published by the Live Poets Society of New Jersey in Of Faith and Inspiration (2003)