Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spiritual Wrestling

The once gray skies have cleared, and the dome above me is bright blue. I look away from the mirror-like lake, up at the trees. The thin white branches dotted with their remaining yellow leaves highlight the brightness of the blue autumn sky: a 65 degree treat on a mid-November day. Lying on my back, I watch as high, thin clouds move rapidly across my line of vision. The blue sky is marbled with white, the clouds showing evidence of upper atmospheric turbulence and wind. White terns soar high overhead, gliding effortlessly on the wind. I hear a nearby splash—of fish?—I hear but never see them. I wonder what life lies beneath the glassy surface. The ducks have already flown to warmer climates, but the occasional splash and the ever-widening ripples tell me that life teems just below the surface.

Isn’t this the way of the spiritual world? We see just a ripple, hear an occasional splash to remind us, but we are typically oblivious to the spiritual life all around us. We are oblivious to the spiritual battles being fought for us, oblivious to the spiritual turmoil within the lives of people all around us.

In Ephesians 6:11-12 (NKJ) we are warned to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” A similar warning can be found in I Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Just as there is unseen life beneath the surface of the lake, so there is unseen spiritual life. Just because we cannot see Satan or the other “spiritual hosts of wickedness” does not mean that they do not exist. Just because we cannot see them does not mean they are not actively working to win our souls or the souls of our loved ones. We “wrestle” against these unseen enemies Satan and his followers have declared war!

The battle rages, yet we often sit complacently on the sidelines, blissfully ignorant that our souls are threatened. Do we approach our lives as if we are preparing for battle? If not, then we may be overcome by the enemy.

Almighty God, open my eyes to the spiritual battles raging around me. Assist me as I don Your armor. Give me strength to fight this war that I might win glory for you.

I John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Buoy Me Up

The ocean is relatively flat in this sheltered harbor. Gentle swells buoy us up and down as we tread water 50 yards from the shore. We’re more accustomed to clear, flat, chlorinated swimming pools. Swimming in the ocean is a rare treat. Quickly we notice the buoyancy of the salt water is quite different from pool water. With just gentle kicks or quiet sweeps of my hands I keep myself afloat. Before long I discover another surprise. Between the salt water and my additional pounds, I can afloat upright, breathing easily, without kicking or stroking. I cross my legs and place my arms down at my sides. Still upright, my head stays above water. Keeping very still, I find my body gradually tipping; the waves have tipped my balance and I find myself on my back, still afloat. The same thing happens when I face the shore. This time my body gently tips forward, and I now float on my stomach. Being able to stay upright in the water with my head above the water without working to stay afloat amazes me! Very quickly we both adapt to this new buoyancy, enjoying ourselves in the waves, staying above water effortlessly. All we need to do is a few gentle hand strokes or kicks to keep our balance.

If only it were so easy to adjust to God’s buoyancy! After many years and many trials I’ve learned that God keeps me afloat even in the darkest of times. He keeps my head up even in the biggest waves of life. Yet still, how often I vigorously kick and press my hands against the waves, working desperately to keep my head above the water, forgetting that God buoys me up. If only I could learn to relax and allow him to buoy me up and keep my head above the waters that threaten to suffocate me. How often I kick and struggle, wearing myself out instead of giving in and allowing God to take control and buoy me up.
Father God, help me to trust in You and allow Your buoyancy to keep my head above the waves. Buoy me up Lord, buoy me up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Secure in His Arms

Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Tonight I am wide awake. My body is relaxed, my eyes are closed, and my breathing is deep and even. But my mind is wide awake and running, running, running. I am snuggled up against my husband, the back of my head and my neck resting on his arm. The tensions of the day stored up in the muscles of my neck and back slowly dissipate. The heat from his body keeps me warm, his deep, regular breathing soothes me, and the strength of his arm beneath my head makes me feel safe, secure, and loved. Even though I am wide awake, I relish this time of peace and contentment.

As my body enjoys this wide-awake repose, my mind questions, “Isn’t this the way God wants you to rest in Him?” His arms are always there, willing to provide my refuge, but how often I fail to turn to them. Instead, I turn my back on his arms. Then, the muscles of pride, self-reliance, and worry knot up, making me miserable. If only I would turn to His arms and allow Him to take my burdens, He would ease my pain. Often I stay huddled far away from his warmth, cold and alone. If only I would snuggle up to him, his warmth would radiate into me. If only I would listen to his voice and rely on his strength, I would know I am safe, secure, and loved. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carried them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).

Father God, teach me to rest secure in your arms.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Seedling

I Corinthians 15:20 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Sitting on the glider on the backyard swing set, I bask in the beauty of an early spring day. As I rock gently back and forth, the soft squeaking of the glider mesmerizes me, like the gentle creaking of a comfortable rocking chair. High in our mulberry trees, the male cardinal calls for his mate. A beautiful bush grows three feet taller than our privacy fence, its branches laden with pale green leaves and thousands of tiny, fragrant white flowers—sweet-smelling, like honeysuckle. A black butterfly, splashed with white spots and bold, orange stripes, lights on the flowers; he is hungry for their nectar.

The sunshine warms my face and arms. A breeze blows—not a typical Kansas gale, but a gentle breeze, enough to ruffle my hair and start the cottonwoods softly whispering. Far overhead planes from nearby Mid-Continent Airport drone, whisking their passengers to some distant city. The bark of the neighbor’s dogs occasionally punctuates the quiet morning; they beg for our attention.

Scott works in the garden, turning up the rich, brown soil. It’s time for the second round of beans to be planted. One by one, he drops the seeds into the soil, and then buries them deep in the brown earth. Soon we’ll enjoy the tender vegetables.

Consider the miracle of the seed. Buried two inches beneath the surface, the lifeless seed slowly awakens to new life. As the sun warms the soil, the seedling begins to stir until it cracks the seed open, much like a chick cracks the egg which shelters it. After the seed has cracked open, the seedling toils to break free into the fresh air and sunshine. Bent over, it slowly pushes through the earth, letting its back do all the work. Within a week the soil cracks and splits, evidence of the seedling’s labor. In another day the pale green seedling appears, still bent over. Soon the seedling completely emerges from the dark earth, and straightening its back and unfurling its leaves, it stands erect, lifting its head toward the warmth of the sun. Carefully, we nurture the seedling. Providing water and keeping the weeds away, we anticipate a harvest of delicious green beans.

Observing the plant life that God has created makes it so much easier to understand spiritual truths. Planting a seed and watching it germinate and grow is a metaphor for resurrection. Watching seeds emerge from their burial and watching perennials, dead through the winter, emerge to new life prepares our feeble human minds to understand resurrection and anticipate the glorious new life that awaits us in heaven with God. We need not fear death. We need not fear being buried in the earth, for we know, like the seed, we will rise to a beautiful new life, basking in the Son’s bright light.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Child's First Steps

II Peter 3:17, 18 “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Do you remember watching a baby learn to walk? First she holds tightly onto her mom’s hand, walking only with the reassurance of her mother’s grip. Soon she bravely lets go and takes a few tentative steps on her chubby legs. Back and forth she walks the few steps from Mom to Dad and then back to Mom, smiling the whole time. She has complete confidence in her parents; they will not let her fall. After her confidence grows, she will briefly venture out on her own. The steps are slow and the child is wobbly, sometimes swaying to capture her balance. She falls often, usually by plopping onto her padded bottom. But she doesn’t give up; she continues moving. After falling, she may crawl toward her goal and then get up and walk a few more steps. So it goes: walk, walk, plop, crawl, crawl, walk, walk, plop. Over and over she toddles her erratic walk. Sometimes she is off balance and lurches to one side; sometimes she rushes to keep from falling forward. But she keeps walking. She keeps learning. Before you know it, she is running. She runs everywhere. She is so full of the joy of running that she forgets to crawl.

When we first accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are born again; we are once again babies. We do not, of course, physically become babies. Instead, we are born as spiritual babies, brand new to the spiritual world. As spiritual babies, we must learn to walk spiritually. Our heavenly Father will watch over us as we take our learning steps. Like a small baby, we are tentative at first, unwilling to venture out on our own. Just as the earthly father encourages his children to walk, our heavenly Father encourages us on our spiritual walks. Like our earthly fathers, He holds his arms out to us, hoping we will be brave enough to walk toward Him. With God’s guidance and encouragement, we gather the courage to take a few tentative steps. We wobble, just as the baby does. Yes, we fall down. Unfortunately, unlike the baby, we sometimes refuse to move. The key to improving our spiritual walk is to keep trying, just as the baby does. When we lose our balance and fall, we cannot be content with just sitting. We must get up and continue to walk; if we cannot walk, we must crawl. Learning to walk with God is a slow process: walk, walk, plop, crawl, crawl, walk, walk, plop. The baby does not give up when she falls; neither should we. Over and over we continuously step toward our Father. No matter how wobbly and unsure our steps, we make progress toward Him. Before long we will find ourselves walking toward our God with confidence, perhaps even running with joy.

Oh God, our Father, guide us as we learn to walk with You. Teach us, encourage us, help us stand back up when we fall; help us walk toward You on our spiritual journeys.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Safe In His Arms

Today I venture off the usual broad path through the mowed natural grasslands. I wander onto the narrow, curving paths that transport me into a tree filled shadow land, cool and welcoming. I marvel at the quiet calm, broken only by the sound of my footsteps and the intermittent calling of birds, searching for their mates. The shadows provide a welcome respite from the late afternoon sun. This twisting dirt path through the woods supplies shade for my body and relief from the sun’s glare. As I travel through these woodland paths, I must carefully watch where I place my feet, for tree roots criss-cross my way. While absorbing the beauty around me I remain aware of the roots below, surfacing on the trail.

I remember another time, another path, other tree roots. It was prom night. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I went to prom with two other couples, both good friends of ours. After prom we walked in the woods, enjoying the pre-dawn scenery and longing to watch the sunrise together. My friend Becky walked in front of me and her boyfriend Bob walked in front of her. As we trekked down a steep incline, Becky caught her foot on one of the tree roots and fell forward, screaming a long, drawn out “Bob!” Bob, who walked several feet in front of Becky, and was at the bottom of the incline, calmly turned and caught her. Her toe stayed captured by the tree root, and her body stretched parallel to the ground, her foot at the top of the incline and her upper body shoulder high to Bob, who caught her from below. She escaped injury because Bob held her safely in his arms. Over the years Scott and I have often laughed over this incident. Although Becky’s tripping could have injured her, all turned out well because of Bob’s calm, steadfast nature; he safely caught her, preventing harm.

Continuing my woodland walk, I focus on the roots beneath my feet. I realize the tree roots that I can see on my path represent only a small portion of the roots filling the ground below me. Throughout this woodland the roots grow under ground, only occasionally surfacing along my path, only occasionally visible to my eyes. A passage of scripture runs through my mind, over and over: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). Just as the roots create a vast network in the ground below me, so my Father’s arms stretch beneath me, ready to catch me when I fall, ready to support me when my walking falters. Even when I cannot see His arms, they are underneath, providing comfort, providing strength. All I need to do to feel the strength and comfort of His arms is to call out His name. Just as my friend Bob caught Becky in his arms when she called out his name, so my God will catch me in His arms. I may stumble, but He will catch me; He will protect me.

Two weeks ago, at my high school reunion, I learned that Becky had died earlier this year. Even though we had not kept in touch, I mourn the loss of a dear friend. But I am comforted by two images: Bob catching her on that walk in the woods and our heavenly Father catching her in his everlasting arms. Never again will she fall. Never again will she need to call out for help, for she rests in our Father’s arms.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Like a Roaring Lion

1 Peter 5:8 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
The Ghost and the Darkness is a frightening movie about two man-eating lions. It depicts a true story, set in the late 1900s in Kenya. Watching it, one can imagine the terror of the villagers as one by one, people from their village are killed and eaten by lions. The lions might strike anyone who wanders away from the safety of the village, leaving the bare bones for loved ones to discover. Sometimes, the lions enter the village at night, padding silently on their huge paws. Quietly, they enter a hut, and then drag some poor unsuspecting victim, screaming, into the brush for dinner.

Scripture tell us that “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8b NKJ). Life in modern America--where the only time we might see a lion is while it is sleeping in a cage at the zoo-- anesthetizes us to the real danger of the lion. The people in rural Kenya understand the fear and the danger from a roaring lion. We need to realize just how dangerous our roaring lion, Satan, truly is. We are just as vulnerable to his attacks as a villager, alone, facing a hungry, man-eating lion.

How do we protect ourselves from the roaring lion? We must be vigilant, watching for his attacks, putting on God’s armor for protection (see Ephesians 6:10-21). We must live our lives full of truth and righteousness. We must be prepared to share God’s good news.

We must carry a shield of faith to protect us from Satan’s sharp claws and teeth. Our heads must be protected by the salvation of Jesus Christ and by the word of God. Additionally, we must pray constantly. Only God’s mighty power can protect us from the roaring lion.

O God, keep me ever mindful that Satan is always on the prowl, eager to devour my flesh, eager to devour my soul. Remind me daily to put on Your armor that I may withstand the attacks of this ferocious predator.