Gird Up or Armor Up, It’s Time to Suit Up!

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:11 NIV

A giant poster of a kneeling football player with the face of Jesus looking down on him, hangs in my home. At the top of the poster are the words “Always with you.” I bought this poster in 2021. It hangs in my bedroom, where not all who enters my home can see it, but I am able to see it every day. It’s positioned in a place where, when needed, I can sit in front of it and pray, as if I am sitting at the very feet of Jesus. When I look at it, I am reminded of a few of certainties: God is always with me and He is always fighting for my family. It also reminds me of the war the enemy has waged against all of us and the best way we can protect ourselves is by putting on the full armor of God.

If you’re familiar with American football, you’re aware of the physical battle the game entails. Two teams go head to head vying to move a somewhat egg shaped ball into the end zone to outscore their opponent. If you’re on offense, your job is to protect those who are handling the ball by blocking the opponent. If you’re the ball handler, your job is to trust your teammates are protecting your blindside so you can move the ball out of the enemy’s way. If you’re on defense, your job is to tackle the ball handler and/or attack the opponent’s blindside. No matter which side of the line you’re on, if you’re on the field, you’re playing a game that consists of hard hits and getting taken to the ground. In an effort to prevent injury, players are provided gear that protects vital areas of their bodies. They’re required to wear a helmet, mouth guard and shield to protect their heads, teeth and face. They don padding across their shoulders and chest area that protects their back, neck and sternum. Hip and thigh pads are added to their uniform pants as protection from dislocation, broken bones and/or getting cut. No matter how girded these players are, injuries can still occur. When it happens, players are taken out of the game until they have recovered and are cleared to play again.

The Bible tells Christians about a different protective gear. This gear is not only essential but necessary when dealing with spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is not a battle in the flesh and blood but occurs in a spiritual realm. It’s a battle for our souls, for our families, for our peace of mind and ultimately, for our lives. Although we may be able to identify a few human enemies in our world, the Bible continuously reminds of a universal enemy. Everyday we are at war and our enemy is invisible. That enemy strives daily to destroy every purpose and plan God designed for us. That enemy even has assignments over us that are centered around keeping us from living our God-given callings. Because we are a hunted people, God calls us to put on His armor daily in order to be protected against the ultimate predator. Although football padding doesn’t fully protect from injury, God guarantees victory everytime we suit up in His armor.

When it comes to the ideology of warfare, Sun Tzu tells his readers this: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” (The Art of War, 2010, Capstone Publishing) This can look like immobilizing the enemy before they attack or using the power of intimidation to push the enemy away. The Bible, however, tells readers that we are already at war and that we need to dress and arm ourselves for the enemy’s attacks. This is evident in Ephesians chapter 6 beginning with verse 11: “Put on the armor of God…” Throughout the next section of verses, Paul, the author of Ephesians, tells readers exactly what we need to wear. The full armor of God consists of a helmet of salvation, a breastplate of righteousness, a belt of truth, and shoes fitted for the readiness of peace. We are also instructed to carry the sword of the spirit and the shield of faith. Actually, a few translations say “take up” or “hold up” the shield of faith but does the wording make that much difference? I think so.

To carry something, you hold it in your arms or dangle it from your hands. To take up or hold up something you place it firmly in front of you as a preventative measure, similar to a stiff-arm position in football. In an effort to defend against a tackle, a wide receiver may carry the football in his arms but hold up his other arm, directly in front of his opponent. With his hand up and palm open in a “stop” position, the ball carrier is ready to block his enemy. In the same way, when we hold up our shields of faith, we block the devil from every fiery arrow he has aimed at us and our families. Afterall, faith is the our greatest defense against one of the enemy’s best weapons which is disbelief.

It’s one thing to know what to wear, and the weapons to arm ourselves with. It means something different, hopefully something more, when we understand the necessity of both and how to position ourselves for battle. The first piece of God’s armor mentioned in Ephesians chapter six is interestingly, not head gear or shoulder pads. It’s the belt of truth. Now I don’t know about you but when I’m getting dressed, my belt is typically the last thing I put on. Keep in mind, this armor is protective gear worn over one’s clothing, so it’s assumed you’re already dressed. Nonetheless, when suiting up, I don’t think I’d put the belt on first. So why does Paul tell his readers to belt up in truth first? Because he knows the enemy’s first attack typically comes in the form of a lie or some other falsehood.

To combat any lie of the enemy we must be girded in God’s truth. John 8:32 tells us when we know the truth, we will be set free. John 14:6 says Jesus is the truth and John 16:13 assures us that when the spirit of truth speaks to us, it’s not of his own words but what God has told Him to say. Just as a belt is made to hold up a pair of pants, the belt of truth holds us up and keeps us from buckling under the enemy’s lies. In Roman soldier times, the belt was the first article put on because “it held everything else together.” (Brown, G., 2016, God’s truth holds everything spiritually together also.

The second piece of armor mentioned is the breastplate of righteousness. A breastplate is made to protect the chest, heart and lungs. These organs are vital to our very existence. Puncture a lung or experience heart failure and doctors have only a few short minutes to repair the damage/get the heart pumping before you’re dead. In the spiritual realm, the enemy attacks this area through our emotions. Ever experience an emotional pain that left you unable to catch your breath or walk through circumstances where you physically felt your heart breaking? It’s an indescribable pain in your chest, a combination of an endless ache mixed with the sharpness of muscle tearing as if the circumstance is literally ripping your heart in half. Then there’s the paralyzing pressure of the enemy’s grip on your heart, squeezing tightly in an attempt to slowly crush it. Something that gets ripped in half is a lot easier to repair than something that gets crushed. Thus, feeling as though your heart is being crushed can invoke a cycle of high anxiety, chest pain and shortness of breath. This means, if we aren’t wearing a breastplate of righteousness, spiritual warfare can come in the form of emotional and physical ailments and they tend to target our most vulnerable and necessary organs.

Now, let’s talk about the helmet of salvation. This piece of armor resonates with me the most. Why? Because I am an overthinker and since a helmet is designed to protect the brain, the helmet of salvation is adorned to protect our thoughts. Just as our brains literally tell the rest of our bodies what to do, our thoughts direct our actions too. A helmet of salvation blocks the enemy from our minds. Confusion attacks when life’s storms blindside us. If we don’t guard our thoughts with the helmet of salvation, our minds will spiral and life altering decisions can be made that bring us no peace but only take us deeper into a world of darkness and confusion. We cannot control every thought that enters our mind but we do not have to entertain, believe or act on every thought either. We should test every thought by comparing it to God’s word. If it aligns with scripture, it is probably from God. If it does not, it’s definitely not from God. In case you’re wondering how to decipher your thoughts better, I believe 99% of our thoughts will either be from the enemy or our own humanness, not from God. God speaks to our spirits, not our heads.

Although Paul doesn’t mention this in Ephesians six , I believe there is one more essential piece of armor. I call it the mouth guard of trust. Our words hold more power than we know. If we speak of despair and insecurity, we will inevitably stir up both inside and around us. Don’t believe me, think of how emotionally draining it is to be around someone who is constantly complaining or speaking doomsday negativity all the time. If we speak God’s truth, we will be able to stand firm against every scheme of the enemy. This is where trust comes in to play. Have you ever felt like you were walking in God’s leading, praising Him for answered prayer only to be blindsided and have the very thing you prayed for ripped away suddenly? If you’re like me, you feel devastated and question if you even heard God correctly. Maybe you beg for God to restore it, or at least explain to you what in the world He is doing only to hear Him say, “Trust in me with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Trust is something I have always struggled with. Over the past several weeks, through Proverbs 3:5, God has revealed something to me regarding trust. God doesn’t call us to just trust Him. He calls us to trust Him with all of our hearts. Trusting with all your heart means posturing your own will in full surrender to God’s will because you trust His will is better than your own. This is neither easy nor natural. Especially if, like me, you prefer to be in the driver seat of your life. Trusting God with all our hearts is the equivalent of Peter getting out of the boat and believing he could walk on water. I’m just gonna get real for one minute and tell you that I have no intentions of trying to walk on water. I’m learning to trust God with all my heart, but walking on water was Peter’s gig and possibly not meant for all of us. So if ever there was a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer in any of these posts, it would be right now. Please don’t try walking on water as your method in trusting God with all your heart. Instead, simply pray, “God, I surrender. I trust You, I trust Your ways and I trust Your timing. Even when I don’t know what You’re doing and nothing makes sense, I will still choose to trust You.”

The enemy has waged a war on our lives and our families. It’s time to suit up and put on God’s armor. We have to gird our waists with the belt of truth, guard our hearts with the breast plate of righteousness and protect our minds with the helmet of salvation. To stand firm against all the devil’s strategies (Ephesians 6:11), we must also guard our mouths by speaking our trust in God out loud. We must arm ourselves with the sword of the spirit (God’s word) and take up our shields of faith. For it is faith that heals us and sets us free. Sun Tzu suggests avoiding battles altogether, but God says, the war is already on and already won. Not every battle is ours to fight. Exodus 14:14 is a reminder that God fights for us and we need only be still. He may not call us to fight every battle, but He does call us to put on our armor and prepare for battle daily. Are you willing to do that for your life and your family? I hope so, because whether you want to fight or not, you’re already standing on the gridiron of a battle field.

Happy Endings

“I thank you for answering my prayer and giving me victory!”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭118:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I love Christmas movies. I love them so much I start watching them before Halloween. Although the storylines are predictable, each one is heart warming, romantic, filled with hope and an unshakable belief in miracles. Each one always has a happy ending also. Who doesn’t love that?

This may sound ridiculous and a little like I see the world through rose colored glasses, but our real lives can very much be like a Christmas movie. I’m not referring to an eternal state of winter, homes decorated with Christmas trees and stockings hung 365 days a year. Life isn’t always heart warming or romantic either. What I’m referring to is the hope, the belief in miracles and the happy endings that most Christmas movie storylines encompass.

In the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey is down on his luck. He’s facing bankruptcy, poverty and loss of his family business. He’s in such despair that he contemplates taking his own life. At his lowest moment, he meets Clarence the angel, who shows him what life would be like if George never existed. George realizes just how much his life choices positively impacted his family and town and chooses to live. What he later learns is, the whole town came together to help financially sustain the family business. In the end, George is reunited with his wife and children with a restored faith and Clarence the angel earns his wings.

The Bible is full of happy endings too. Every trial and tribulation, every story of captivity ends with God’s deliverance and victory for those who obeyed and trusted in Him. Abraham goes from childless to the father of all nations. Moses is an abandoned child raised by Egyptians. He spends 40 years in the wilderness after murdering someone and then is used by God to deliver His people from the very Egyptians Moses was raised by. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, thrown into jail because of a lie and raised up by God to be the Governor’s right hand man saving multitudes during a famine. Daniel was taken into captivity and elevated by his captor. Even when he was thrown into a lions den, God delivered him and elevated him once again. Jesus Himself was tortured and murdered but conquered death when He rose from the grave three days later.

Why did all of this happen? Because God’s victory is inevitable and He clearly loves happy endings. Don’t just take my word for it, feel free to check out each example in His word and read about His victories first hand. The Old and New Testaments are full of testimony showing God’s ultimate power and victory.

I have no idea where you’re at in life right now. Maybe you’re at the top of the game and you think life couldn’t possibly get any better. Maybe believing in happy endings comes easy for you because you’ve never experienced anything shattering or disappointing. But maybe you’re in a constant state of chaos and unrest. Life keeps throwing you one crisis, heartache or disappointment after another and you’re barely holding on. Maybe you’re like George Bailey and have even contemplated taking your own life. If that’s you, stop right now and pray. Pour out all your hurt and sorrow to Jesus and ask Him to comfort you. He may not change your circumstances immediately but he can take away the hurt and pain if you seek His comfort. He is with all of us in the best and absolute worst of times and He’s always ready to comfort us in our time of pain.

When you’re done praying, resonate on this: what you are going through is a season. It may feel like a lifetime. It may even feel like a curse. But it’s honestly, just a season. Recognizing that your situation is temporary can strengthen you to persevere. It can also increase your hope in God’s ability to deliver you. God didn’t stop delivering His children when the Bible was done being written. Every person’s redemption story is merely an extended version of His word. Our testimony is a living chapter of the Bible. Instead of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-these books are titled by our own names and hold the stories of God’s unique work in each of lives. But living books don’t come in print-they are books filled with stories that can only be told by the one God wrote the story for. No matter how many twists and turns your story holds. I am confident it holds a happy ending. God needs you to endure the conflict so you can live to tell the story of His happy ending for you.

Some of you reading this have experienced tragic endings. You’ve lost loved ones in horrible ways and you’ve experienced things no human should ever go through. The idea of a happy ending may even anger or enrage you. All I can say is, I’m living proof that God can turn any tragedy into a happy ending. Death is a permanent loss that leaves a huge void. The idea of living without your loved one brings no idea of a happy ending. But God is faithful and can still produce one. It comes down to healing, believing and surrendering.

Happy endings come when we allow God to comfort us and heal our wounds. Happy endings come when we stand on His truths and believe Him at His word. Happy endings come when we surrender to His will and His way. If God promises to fight for us, we have to believe He will no matter how long it takes. When God tells us to be still we have to obey. Trying to manufacture our own miracles only delays His promise. Getting in God’s way produces Ishmael results when God promises us an Isaac. Surrendering takes great discipline and a trust to know that God always keeps His word. But the obedience of surrender also brings great reward including God’s happy ending.

Keep in mind one thing: although Christmas movies have predictable happy endings, God’s happy endings aren’t the same. God may allow a loved one to die from cancer. But their happy ending is perfection in eternity. God may allow a marriage to end. But he may bring provision as your happy ending making the transition back into singlehood a little easier. God may not give you the job you’re hoping for. His happy ending may be in the form of a different job that exceeds your wildest dreams. God may not heal you from a chronic disease. His happy ending may be in the strength and ability to prevail in spite of chronic pain. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always perfect and victory is always His. That happy ending is 100 percent guaranteed!

Premeditated Forgiveness

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬

Forgive as God has forgiven you. This concept is definitely easier said than done, am I right? It’s especially difficult when we dwell on the wrongs or when the offender is unrepentant and continues to wrong us. We may even find ourselves asking the age old question, “How do I forgive someone who isn’t even sorry?” The answer, as I discovered today, is this: We forgive the same way Jesus forgave Judas, Simon Peter and us-we choose forgiveness before the offense even happens. Say what now?

Forgiveness and not judging others has been a repeated lesson for me in my daily devotionals over the last few weeks. Both are something I greatly struggle with. Especially with those who make zero effort to change their ways or blame all the conflict on me. I also have to admit that I am a dweller. Too often, I get stuck on the offenses done to the point that I only expect negativity from my offenders. Instead of tunnel vision that only sees the good, I can only see the bad in these people. That’s NOT a very christian perspective is it? It’s one I do confess and seek God’s help in forgiving but honestly-I’ve allowed hatred to grow in my heart. The scripture in Ezekiel 36:26 hits the nail on the head about having a stubborn stony heart. I do ask God to remove and give me a heart of flesh yet my spirit keeps holding on to this hatred. The only willingness I have to forgive is the confession that I am not willing and need supernatural help to pluck out this root of hatred so my heart can soften to God’s command regarding forgiveness.

Stone is an incredibly hard substance. It takes a brute force to crack it and a repeated brute force to break through it. I need Jesus to use a jackhammer on my stubbornness in order to surrender to His will. When it comes to stubbornness, there’s “strong-willed” and then there’s me. I’m as feisty as Jacob was when he wrestled God and achieved a broken hip. 😂Thankfully, God skips the construction worker method and uses a softer approach like an invitation from a friend to do a You Version reading plan specifically on the topic of forgiveness. Today’s reading definitely chipped through the stone.

If you’re familiar with Jesus’ ministry, you know He hand picked twelve men to be His disciples. These men were taught and led by Jesus. They ate with Him and camped with Him. Everywhere He went, these men went with Him. They served with Him and they were served by Him. They prayed with Him daily. These men shared a spiritual and emotional intimacy with Jesus. Yet they failed Him and two that we know of, even betrayed Him. The kicker to all of this-Jesus KNEW how they would misunderstand and doubt Him, He knew how they would betray Him before He ever picked them. Yet-He. still. chose. them. to be His disciples. He used His betrayers to be His messengers for His ministry. If that’s not a “Say WHAT?” moment for y’all I don’t know what would be. Ha! Ha!

In all seriousness, this is where forgiveness resonates with me. If someone hurts me badly enough I cut them out of my life as a form of protection and boundary setting. I feel empowered to say “I deserve better and because you have mistreated me you no longer get to share in my life.” I wish them no ill will but simply do not care to have a relationship with them anymore. This practice has included family members, friends, acquaintances, and ex-boyfriends. There are some I have reconciled with but others I doubt reconciliation will ever be a possibility . Why? For one-because I don’t have the desire to reconcile. For two-I haven’t fully forgiven them. For three-I don’t think it’s beneficial for me or for them to reconcile.

Although Jesus reconciled with Peter, He told Judas to go do what he was planning to do and I haven’t found a scripture that shows He reconciled with Judas. That’s the balance of understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. God calls us to forgive everyone of everything. Although reconciliation is scripturally recommended, I do not believe it’s a command for every person and every situation. Let me give you some examples:

If a family member commits incest, God calls to forgive but it would be dangerous to reconcile with a predator. The same holds true for a spouse or former spouse who’s abusive or a person who holds a leadership role and uses that power to create a hostile environment. Judas’ betrayal was the catalyst for Jesus’ murder. That’s not a person to reconcile with! To reconcile, there has to be an opportunity to regain trust. You cannot trust an abusive, controlling or predatory person.

If a friend betrays you (like Peter denying he knew Jesus) or a family member hurts your feelings, if a fellow believer especially offends you, God calls us to forgive and to reconcile. The enemy brings division. God brings unity. Reconciliation is a must to keep God’s army united and to avoid giving the enemy a foothold in our lives. Jesus’ reconciliation with Peter is a prime example for us to follow (read John 21.) Reconciliation doesn’t mean we overlook the offense-it means we acknowledge the offense and we and the offender (or if we are the offender) talk it out in an effort to ensure the offense doesn’t happen again. Will the offense happen again? Possibly. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t tell us to forgive 70 times 7.

Reading John chapter 13 today showed me two things about forgiveness: One-I need to choose to forgive every offense even before it’s done to me. Why? Because Jesus died for me before I ever committed any offense. Two-I need to choose to walk alongside my enemies, even work and serve with them because Jesus served in ministry with men He knew would betray Him. This is all possible when I (and you) do the one thing Jesus did-keep our focus on God the Father, to know Whose authority we have and to Whom we belong. “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.” John‬ ‭13:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

You and I are children of God. No harmful act or hateful word can ever change that. If Jesus, the greatest man to ever walk this earth, was hated and betrayed by His so-called friends-it’s naive to think that we would not experience the same. When Jesus was beaten, spat upon and mocked, not one time did He say, “Do you know who I am? How dare you treat me this way!” In fact what He did say was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Who am I to act so high and mighty when people offend me? This is a very humbling question and to be honest-I’m eating crow as I write this post (metaphorically speaking!) 🙂

A Downpour or a Sprinkle?

“He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭107:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I believe everyone goes through storms in life. Some storms come in the form of financial despair, loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a rebellious child or maybe dealing with some sort of addiction. A stressful situation of any kind, especially the kind that seem to last for years or as if they’re endless, can feel like you’re walking against the wind of a full blown hurricane with no shelter in place to escape. But sometimes, what we imagine or expect to be a storm turns out to only be a little sprinkle. Let me give you two examples of what I’m talking about.

This past Independence Day, the morning started out very hot. My family and I “puddled” as we endured the humid temps watching a parade that celebrated our nation’s birthday. By afternoon we were lethargic and becoming stagnant because no one wanted to move in the heat. Normally we would’ve gone to the beach but this year we had different plans that turned into a day of “playing it by ear.”

Me, being a creature of habit and feeling overheated, felt a strong need to get to a lake. So my niece and I headed to the local lake that has a beautiful walkway trimmed around it. As we were driving the sky started to rumble and large drops of rain sporadically hit the windshield of my vehicle. The clouds didn’t look too stormy and judging by the rain droplets, I assumed whatever was brewing was going to blow over quickly.

For a moment, I was right. By the time we parked and headed on our walk by the lake, there were no raindrops. However, in a few short minutes that changed dramatically. The rain formed a steady sprinkle and by the time we were halfway into our walk we were caught in a massive down pour. When it started raining sideways we decided it was best to turn around and head back to the car.

Did I mention there was limited shelter in the area and lightning was striking over the lakeshore periodically? My niece and I could’ve panicked. But for some reason we just laughed as the rain flooded our heads, faces and clothing. In fact at one point the rain was coming down so hard I could barely keep my eyes open to see where we were going. Once we reached shelter we paused enough to get the water off our eyes and then head back out in order to reach my vehicle and drive home. Once in the vehicle, I had to wring out my shirt and my seats became drenched from soaked clothing. Nonetheless, this was one of the best moments of my life. The rain cooled us off and it was a rare memory that created much laughter with my niece also.

This morning the skies got loud again. The rumbling sound drew me outside to see what was happening. Dark gray clouds were heading my direction and getting noisier the closer they came. The wind was picking up as well. All signs showed one doozy of a storm about to hit. I returned inside and waited for more. Guess what-aside from a five second down pour, this morning’s display was “all talk” with very little action.

Circumstances in life are very much the same way. Sometimes we are hit by situations that nearly blow us over. Sometimes what we expect to be a major uproar turns out to be just a bunch of noise and nothing more. Sometimes, like my niece and I did by the lake, we heed the warning signs and find ourselves up to our eyeballs in a storm that could’ve been avoided. Sure my niece and I made it out and we shared one heck of a laugh as we went through the process but in stormy life circumstances most people aren’t laughing nor do they even know how to get themselves out.

No matter if you’re in a downpour or experiencing a sprinkle, Jesus is the master of the storms. Whether He chooses to calm the storm (like He did for the disciples) or allow you to experience a typhoon like Paul did as a prisoner on a ship, Jesus controls the storm. Even self created storms (brought on by our own sinful choices) can be calmed when we surrender to Jesus and seek His redemption. Jesus may use the storm to break you, but never to destroy you. Also, if you’re being broken by Him, He’s only breaking off what doesn’t honor Him in order for you to grow deeper in and closer to Him.

What situation are you facing today that feels like a major storm? Examine how you got there, confess anything that was self-made (including any lack of trust or disbelief you may be experiencing) and stand on His promise that He will calm your storm and still the waves. Also-ask God for discernment to heed the warning signs and also to know the difference between circumstances that are downpours and ones that are really just light sprinkles or sporadic raindrops.