Fighting A Battle In God’s Strength

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place  Ephesians 6:101-14

I Almost Pushed the Red Button: It was only the second day of school and to my surprise, I was seriously considering resigning. No, I didn’t have another something lined up, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted out. I had been struggling for a while with leaving teaching for a myriad of reasons and found myself constantly questioning God about what my next step should be. I wasn’t hearing from God and found myself slowly becoming a grumbler and complainer. I didn’t want to be, but it was true.

Listening to Lies:  As it turns out, the real cause of my grumbling was that while I was still seeking God, our relationship lacked intimacy, as it became about me getting what I wanted. As a result, I inadvertently began tuning my ears to the lies of the enemy, and found myself operating on lots of flesh and very little spirit. God reminded me He definitely wants me to bring my issues to Him, but this can’t be the basis of our relationship, as it could easily misguide my heart, my prayers, and worst of all, miss Him. This is exactly what the enemy wants.

Be strong in Gods Strength: When deer hunters hunt, they often wear camouflage, intentionally and patiently stalk their prey for hours, while lying in wait for the opportunity to make the kill, ultimately devouring the unsuspecting deer. While the deer has no way to protect himself from the attack of the enemy, as followers of Jesus Christ we have an entire arsenal that we can draw from, beginning with the truth of God’s word, In Ephesians 6:10 Paul reminds us to be strong in the vast strength and mighty power of God, meaning that we are not in this battle alone and need not attempt to go at it in our own strength. For this is not a physical battle. We must rely on and exercise the power of the Almighty God who lives within us to resist the constant advances of the enemy just as Jesus did when He was in the wilderness. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 tells us the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but divine and given to us by God to tear down those strongholds the enemy tries to establish in our lives. We must actively take captive the lies of the enemy and surrender them to the obedience of Jesus Christ. The enemy tries to make us weak, but the spirit of God in us helps us to stand firm and makes us strong.

Slowly Becoming: It took some time for me to learn what it meant to be strong in the power of God, but while reading through the Gospels I noticed Jesus was always stealing away to spend time with the Father and knew I was in dire need of an encounter with Him. At first, I was expecting and badly wanting to hear God say “Yes my child, resign, right now, today, in this moment, go!” But that’s not what God spoke. Instead, He loved on me, drew me in and taught me to draw on His strength, which meant that slowly, my complaints turned into thanksgiving and praise, discontentment for my job grew into appreciation, my unrest became peace, and my joy was restored.

Is there a battle you’ve been fighting in your own strength? How can you rely on the mighty power of God?

Sacred Story is honored to have Winter Butler as a guest contributor this month. A quick “hello” below:

Hey ya’ll! I just wanted to say thank you for letting me share my heart with you! My sweet daughter Seven and I have been members at Houston’s First Baptist church since October 2010. Though we are not Texas natives, God has loved on us and blessed us with an amazing church family, as well as unique opportunities to serve Him and grow together. We are ever grateful for God’s hand of grace and evidence of love in our lives, shown by the precious gift of salvation He has bestowed upon us. #love   ~ Winter

Foodie Favorite: Move over Butter. Try Coconut Oil.

I enjoy tinkering with oils and vinegars, not only for salads, but for all kinds of applications. I realize cold pressed organic virgin coconut oil has been touted as one of the “latest and greatest,” but my draw is purely flavor-driven. Coconut is one of my love languages; I adore coconut yogurt, seven layer magic cookie bars (the one on the side of the condensed milk can), Girl Scout Somoas, pina coladas, Thai soups and curries made with coconut milk, and more. Formerly found exclusively at health food stores and specialty markets, creamy and spreadable coconut oil (at room temp.) is now widely available, inspiring me (and hopefully you!) to invent coconut-infused thrills every time I take a lovely whiff. My latest culinary treat, besides smearing fragrant coconut “butter” on homemade toasted bread with jam, is barely melting a few tablespoons in the microwave and tossing it with raw sweet potato strips (french-fry cut), ground cinnamon, and kosher salt, then scattering them evenly on a cookie sheet to roast (400 degrees) until edges are browned and crispy. Move over butter, make room for coconut-scented creations.

This is just one example of coconut oil sold in stores, among many brands with variations and price points – find your favorite! To learn more about the health benefits and health concerns of coconut oil, click here.

~Lauren

Foodie Favorites: Jello Salad and Frito Pie Revival

Anyone remember the days of gelatin salads and Frito pie? I love strolling down what I call, Food Memory Lane, and recreating tastes from the past. When I was invited to bring a potluck salad item to a ladies event over the summer, all I could dig up in my refrigerator that could qualify as a salad ingredient was fresh fruit – no lettuce, vegetables, nothing. And then inspiration struck as I rounded my pantry and spotted a box of lemon Jello smiling at me. One of my favorite pastimes while visiting my grandparents’ home during the vaporizing Baton Rouge summers was making jiggly gelatin salad. My grandmother never followed any fancy recipe, just the one on the box, followed by scattering whatever fresh fruit she had on hand, and maybe some toasted pecans or cubed cream cheese, and voila: cold, colorful, vibrant, and totally appeasing to the young and young at heart. Go retro chic and take a whimsical gelatin salad to your next potluck event.

For another stroll down Food Memory Lane, especially now that the weather is cooling, stock up on some snack size Fritos. Then spoon bubbling hot chili inside the chip bag, top with grated cheese, sour cream, and perhaps some pickled jalapenos, and inhale this crunchy carnal combo…with a plastic spork, but of course. Perfect for a camp out, tailgating, or just a fun weeknight dinner with less dishes to wash. What’s your favorite vintage delight?

 

~Lauren

Belt of Truth and Breastplate of Righteousness

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…” Eph 6:14 NIV

I ❤️NY. I always imagined living there. So, when I was invited to move there for work I was gushing with a big YES.  It was almost like a wedding proposal. The box was pulled out, he took a knee and then said, “I want you pray about it for 30 days before you decide… ” Wom, wom.  I begrudgingly assured my boss I would do so.

Immediately I was too busy planning a move from Dallas to NYC to inquire of God, or anyone for that matter; until I was also invited to consider Houston. I never liked Houston. I went into prayer certain the Lord would confirm my decision. To my surprise, dreams of NYC brought on nausea and Houston perfect peace. God made the answer clear.  It was my turn to stand firm in obedience.

Like Laura shared last week in her story, “I resolved to move to Houston.”  With every intention of moving back to Dallas, I headed to Houston and met my new friend, Laura Wilcox.  The journey has not been easy for either one of us, but we have stood firm.

To stand firm is not waiting passively but actively engaging all of God’s armor.  Dr. Constable in Sonic Light explains that “Paul described the items that the Roman infantryman wore in the order in which he would have put them on. He first put on, over his short tunic (long shirt), a belt that would hold both the “breastplate” and scabbard (sheathe) in place.”  Without the belt in place everything fell off, including the sword which was hung on the belt.  The “truth” could refer to both God’s revealed truth, that the Christian has believed, and the Christian’s own truthfulness, specifically: a lifestyle that reflects the truth.

The “full truth” of God (i.e., His Word and its power), combined with the Christian’s spiritual integrity, are together the only adequate basis for a defense against Satan.  Similarly, righteous conduct (personal righteousness) seems to be in view as well as the righteousness of Christ that becomes ours at regeneration, both forms of righteousness being represented by the “breastplate of righteousness.” “The “breastplate” covered the soldier’s body from the neck to the thighs. It was usually bronze or chain mail. It had a back piece, but it was the front part that gave it its name.

What I have learned about wearing these two crucial pieces of armor are invaluable.

God’s word is truth. Truth is truth regardless of what I see or how I feel.  For example, my fear doesn’t change God’s promise that he will never leave me, never forsake me. My inability to see him doesn’t mean he’s not right here with me until the end of time.  All that I am hangs on God’s truth.  I can stand firmly in it. I can rest in it.

The breastplate covers my heart and protects me from making decisions out of emotions.  A righteous path is the right way. There is always a right way – whether I want it or not. A righteous step of obedience releases the full measure of God’s best for me. When you are held together with truth and covered with the breastplate of righteousness, you can go confidently into any challenge, any battle, any new territory and confidently stand firm.

What decisions are you facing? I’d love to be in prayer with you. Feel free to share in the comments below or e-mail me at bsikes14@live.com.

The victory is yours.

In His Unfailing Love,

Brandi

Foodie Favorites: Do the Mandoline Slaw

In the hectic seasons of life, my salads have evolved from lettuce-based salads into “what’s-in-my-produce-drawer-today-salads.” Frankly, I got bored with soggy, lettuce salads from a bag. Give me crunch! Give me color! Give me creativity! Turning beautiful, raw produce into slaw form delivers on all three, thanks to a mandoline slicer, one of my favorite kitchen tools. Think of it as “going slawing,” like the old “Let’s go Krogering” commercials. My internal conversation goes something like this: “Ooh…an apple! Yea, a carrot!  Score, a few green onions! No way, a wedge of cabbage and a fennel bulb!” It’s the little joys of participating in transformation. Most raw fresh produce will slice easily into paper-thin results on a mandoline, but use common sense and skip items like okra, eggplant, and potatoes. Why? For several reasons, but who wants to eat raw okra, eggplant, or potatoes anyway? Here are some steps to demonstrate how simple the process is:

  1. Shave chosen produce into large mixing bowl. I recommend a mesh glove or use safety guard on tool to prevent hand-slaw. Again, use common sense and don’t try everything on a mandoline, like green onions for instance – just use the knife. If you don’t have a mandoline, order one! In a pinch, a box grater can suffice, but use the length of the item vs. the width. Or just practice those budding knife skills.
  2. Toss a fresh, fragile herb into the salad bowl, like cilantro, basil, tarragon, or mint (the bruisers – not hearty ones like thyme rosemary, or sage). Choose a theme based off the herb. Cilantro and lime? Basil and balsamic? Tarragon and lemon? Have fun.
  3. Make a trusted homemade vinaigrette to coordinate your theme. The ratio is 2 parts oil (extra virgin olive oil is standard but you can experiment with others) to 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon, lime juice, or a combo?). Then play a little with the balance…add more or less honey, pressed garlic, dijon mustard, and salt. For extra zing, add a little lemon or lime zest.

 

~Lauren

Standing Firm in the Evil Day

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Ephesians 10:13

“I really love your ministry and yet I plan on staying in Dallas after I graduate [from seminary].” About 18 years ago I wrote this email to a leader within the division of the missions organization which employed me. I responded to his inquiry about whether I would consider directing the women’s side of a ministry to professionals in Houston.

I so appreciated him reaching out. However, I wanted to remain in Dallas where I had lived for two years and begun to develop sweet community. Plus, I resisted moving to the place where I grew up because of dynamics with family members who lived in Houston; due to brokenness, pain, and challenges in our past, we all responded differently, fracturing relationships. I felt like I’d be harmed in the crossfire of the emotional and spiritual battles.

Fast forward a month. A dear friends’ mother who approaches the throne of God for me with fervent prayer – and did so before I came to Christ – told me during a phone catch up that she had been praying for me and didn’t know whether to share her impression. She felt like the Lord was moving me back to Houston. This dear prayer warrior had NO IDEA I was being offered an opportunity to work alongside a ministry in Houston. I started to weep after she mentioned her impression. I realized God was getting my attention. This was not just about a location and an outlet to fulfill my passion for ministry, it was about standing firm in my story and taking up the armor of God.

Satan wanted to keep me and my family from experiencing healing, growth, and new blessings. He used intimidation, temptation to avoid a battle, and fear of conflict as strategy to keep me from entertaining the location of Houston for my next step. I am grateful God makes His voice known when we truly want to do His will. In my mind, I subconsciously assumed God wouldn’t send me back to Houston and didn’t even recognize there was a battle until it came to light. This is where the admonitions in Ephesians 6:10-20 we are reflecting upon this fall in our series of Standing Firm in Your Story come to life.

In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul exhorts the believer to be strong in God’s mighty power, introduces the armor as the way to fight against the devil, and describes in greater detail the battle against the unseen, evil realm. In verse 13 Paul speaks of actively taking up the armor in the “evil day.”  In the last year I read a classic written in the 1800’s by a Puritan named William Gurnall called The Christian in Complete Armour. Gurnall explains that the “evil day” can occur under multiple conditions: 1) a day when joy deserts us 2) a day when past sins are remembered 3) the day of affliction is the day when present sin is revealed 4) it is the day Satan comes to tempt 5) it is the day of trouble. Gurnall reminds us that we cannot escape the days of darkness. They will come but God makes a way to resist the evil day by standing firm through the armor He provides.

After I resolved to move to Houston, I recall the enemy threatening in an overt way since his subtle tactics had been exposed. I took up the armor of God to resist fear, self-absorption, and intimidation. I affirmed God was for me and able to protect me. I embraced His desire to pour out a new chapter in my story which I trusted would be for my good and spill over into good in the lives of others. By the time I moved to Houston I felt expectancy about what was in store. AND I can truly say eighteen years later that even though the battle remains challenging at times, I would have missed rich blessings on many levels had I not chosen to stand firm.

What “evil day” are you facing? Perhaps you are not sure how the devil is trying to steal God’s work in and through your story. Pray for wisdom, asking for the devil’s schemes to be brought to the light. I’d love to be in prayer with you. Feel free to share in the comments below or email me at laura@sacredstoryministries.org.

Sister, let’s make a fashion statement of faith. Go to your wardrobe and put on the armor.

~Laura

Next week Brandi will continue our series as she talks about specific pieces of armor in Ephesians 6:14.

Foodie Favorite: Chalupas for Easy Entertaining

When I lived in Houston, I took a Spanish conversation class and was invited over to my teacher’s home for the closing class party where she served “Tostadas.” It was like the fishes and loaves; we started with a few groceries which expanded into a beautiful and plentiful spread after only minimal effort. When I moved to San Antonio, I noticed that same flat crispy tortilla showing up to entertain large family and friend gatherings. Here, they refer to it as, “Chalupas.” Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, tostada, chalupa…it’s a essentially a Tex-Mex version of build-a-pizza. Start with the most important ingredient: the tostada/chalupa shells. Spread warm refried beans on the shell as the base for culinary expression and create from there using grated cheese, greens or shredded cabbage (our family likes the neutrality and nutrition of baby spinach), seasoned meat (my new delicious discovery: order bbq sliced brisket “to go” and ask them to chop it ahead) your favorite salsa, guacamole, sour cream…you decide your chalupa’s artistic destiny.

~Lauren

Waking up to the Real Battle

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” -Eph. 6:2

In his brilliant book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis records an imagined conversation between a high ranking demon and his nephew, a demon apprentice, as the two seek to sway a man’s soul away from pursuing God. They use clever tactics and deception in their ruthless attempt to steer their subject away from the safety of God’s truth and toward ultimate peril.

Worth reading, The Screwtape Letters effectively wakes us up to the unseen, but very real forces hovering around us all. Whether or not we believe it, there is a cosmic battle raging on in the angelic realm. God’s angels and Satan’s demons are at war- and we are all caught in the middle of it. What are we to do?

Acknowledging the war is only half the battle. We have to engage; sitting on the sidelines isn’t an option. We must fight by girding ourselves with the truth. When we fill our minds with the things of God by reading and meditating on God’s Word, we leave little room for the enemy to deceive us with lies.

In the book, Screwtape (the senior devil) says,“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” We are all prone to spiritual complacency at times; however, when we realize what is at stake, we must wake up and understand that without a solid, steady diet of truth we will be much more vulnerable to the enemy’s clever schemes.

This week has been a heavy one for me. My dear father-in-law seems to be approaching the final rounds of a courageous battle with cancer. In addition, I’ve watched my childhood friend, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, faithfully stand by her husband, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, on a worldwide stage.

Both of these situations have caused me to ponder the reality of spiritual warfare. Although my heart breaks as I watch my father-in-law, I also find hope in that he is nearer the end of his suffering and closer to meeting His Savior face to face. When that happens, he will no longer have to battle the forces of evil corrupting this world. He will be at peace in the presence of Jesus.

In the other situation, my heart has broken over and over as I’ve watched a family friend suffer unimaginably while our country fights and rips itself in two over the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is impossible to deny there is a spiritual battle going on, regardless of which side you choose. But I have hope in knowing that all authority is established by God.

In all circumstances, including death and suffering, we must remember who sits on the throne. Since God is in control, we can be faithful and not lose hope. Proverbs 15:13 tells us, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” He is omniscient and He is sovereign- nothing happens without His knowledge. Job 42:2 reminds us God’s plans cannot be thwarted. Indeed the battle rages, but more importantly, our Redeemer lives.

What are you battling today? Do not grow weary. You are not alone. If you are a believer in Christ, you stand in victory already through His completed work on the cross. Trust in Him for all things. Stand firm in truth. The battle is His.

~Courtney

P.S. Don’t miss next week when Mary Carmen will begin talking about the armor of God and the crucial elements we need as we face the battle each and every day.

 

 

 

Foodie Favorites: The “Manning Mango”

In my mind, the start of football season means the arrival of my favorite mango, the Keitt mango. While shopping at HEB yesterday, I spotted that long-awaited tall pile of football-sized mangoes across the produce area. With glee, I raced my cart over, fixing my gaze on their green grandness. I have been a fan following this varietal for almost fifteen years now. Here is my most pure and satisfying way to enjoy this mango (besides the pleasure of chasing it around my backyard as my seven-year-old spiraled it into our pool…let that be a warning to any moms!):

  1. Patience is key.  Determine if your mango is ripe by gently pressing on the skin.  It should give slightly (much like selecting a ripe avocado or peach).  The stem ends should also exude a faint, fruity fragrance as a sign of ripeness.
  2. Stand it up (“landscape,” not “portrait”) and carve as close as possible on either side of the mango’s thin, oblong pit. Use a larger knife such as a chef’s knife; a pairing knife is too small for a “Manning Mango.”
  3. Touchdown time: take a grapefruit spoon and savor scooping out the sweet flesh of each half.
  4. Final field goal: peel the leftover pit and devour it over the trash with juice squirting and dripping all over your chin.

We realize “doing life and consuming food” is part of living your story so our culinary trained contributor Lauren Browning offers some of her “foodie favorites” over the next couple of months. We’d love to hear thoughts on how you are enjoying her tips. Prepare on sisters!

Victory in the Unseen

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11

This fall the ladies of Sacred Story are standing firm together. We are standing firm in our marriages, in our family, in our neighborhoods, in our spheres of influence. We are standing firm in a strength that is greater than our own, holding fast to the true identities our Creator gave to us, and walking confidently in the peace that overpowers all chaos. Will you join us?

When I was a teenager I had overwhelming conflict with my mother. We loved each other deeply, but we could not get past Tuesday night without a knock down, drag out fight over insignificant topics that escalated to what felt beyond our control.

Have you ever felt overwhelming opposition, overwhelming conflict or overwhelming animosity?

Have you lost hope in a situation that seems beyond your control?

These are indicators of the schemes of the devil.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone is scheming against my family, my close friends, my people, intentionally plotting for my demise and our disunity, I get revved up.

This is how I felt when I realized the schemes of the devil were controlling my relationship with my mom. Our conflict felt overwhelming and out of control, unending even. That’s when we realized we were under spiritual attack. We were in ministry together at the time, running after lost souls for Christ’s Kingdom, and the enemy wanted nothing more than for us to mutually destruct ourselves. So, we told Satan his time was up running our relationship.

There is an unseen world around us, one just beyond our earthy eyesight. One with an enemy that seeks to paralyze you, but one with a Savior who stands in supreme victory.  He is undeterred and unfettered by the enemy.

My mom and I started standing firm in Christ, together. We practiced standing firm in our God-given identities when conflict came up, which it continued to do. When you start putting on the armor of God, start focusing on the true enemy, often the Devil fights back harder. But he cannot and will not win.

My mom and I started believing in the power of God and practiced putting on the armor of God together: believing the truth that Satan is the real enemy, not each other, resisting accusing one another through righteousness, restoring peace quickly through forgiveness, resisting being hurt by flaming arrows in conversation, remembering we are both redeemed from our former selves, and praying in the Spirit for the redemption of our relationship. And Christ brought resounding, restoring victory, beyond what I could have imagined.  

I echo Elisha’s prayer in 2 Kings 6:16 this morning, that the Lord will open your eyes to see his victory and power is with you today in ways we cannot comprehend. Our real enemy is the devil, not flesh and blood, and we can resist his schemes in every battle we face through prayer and putting on spiritual armor. You are surrounded by victory in the name of Jesus against the real enemy. Put on your armor today, for He is with you!

In Him,

Emma Abernathy