Years ago, we feasted during a dinner show at Medieval Times in Southern California.
Waitresses served our four course meal on metal platters piled high with large stalks of broccoli, a half of a chicken, and a baked potato the size of a nerf football.
Smiling barmaids poured soda refills before our large iron mugs reached the half-full mark.
Jousting knights faced one another in the center arena. Swordsmen performed an intricately choreographed dance of clashing metal. Clouds of dust rose and fell to the rhythm of each mighty steed’s pounding hooves.
We finished our meals and raised our mugs as the king led his army in a victory lap.
The crowd cheered louder.
Eyes wide, I appreciated the diligence of the knights in shining armor. They must have practiced daily to become master swordsmen.
As a follower of Christ, I understood the necessity of learning how to wield a mighty weapon.
The apostle Paul prepares believers for the war this world rages against the King of Kings.
Paul writes, “Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
He says the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, not like the Word of God.
He proclaims our need for the Holy Spirit in order to battle with courage, confidence, and clarity.
But before we practice, we must be nourished.
Our strength must be fueled as we recline at the King’s table, prayerfully feasting on God’s living and active Word.
Jesus says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you.” (John 14:26)
All three Persons in the Trinity are present in this one power-packed truth verse.
Jesus spoke, just as He continues to speak through Scripture now. The Father sends. The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds, just as He does while dwelling within Christ’s disciples today.
Power surges from the sword of the Spirit. And it’s our responsibility to learn how to use the sword the King has so graciously given to us.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV)
God’s Word reveals, transforms, empowers and brings understanding.
And Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, demonstrates how to stand firm on the mighty Word of God.
In Matthew 4, the Holy Spirt led Jesus into the wilderness. The devil tempted Jesus, twisting Scripture, challenging the Son of God by spouting the Father’s words out of context.
The lies didn’t stump Jesus, Creator of the Sword of Truth and Master of Swordsmen−Jesus, the Word, the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He battled satan with Scripture.
The enemy attacks relentlessly, seeking to devour, discourage, and destroy the people of God.
Like the valiant knights in the Medieval Times dinner theater, we need battle drills.
Our practice requires nourishing our spirits and developing muscle memory through the study of and obedience to God’s Word, daily.
The Holy Spirit strengthens our stride and arms us for battle, but we do not fight alone.
God fights for us and with us. He gives us troops to fight alongside us−the Body of Christ.
We need God. We need His Word. We need each other.
Running through daily drills, practicing and more practicing, familiarizes us with our trusty sword’s sharpened edge and prepares us for unexpected attacks.
By God’s grace and in His power, we can lift our hands in praise as our King leads us into victory, one battle at a time.
Lord, thank You for the honor and privilege of being invited to feast on Your Word. Thank You for empowering us to practice our swordsmanship through a lifestyle of worship and obedience. Please fill us with a sense of urgency and excitement to spend quality and quantity time with you every day. Arm us with clarity and understanding. Empower us to stand firm against the enemy’s attacks. And nourish our souls with Your Truth as we share Your story with boldness of faith and courageous confidence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What is one thing you can do to make prayerfully reading and applying Scripture more of a priority in your life?
“Wielding the Sword of Truth” by X. E. Dixon was previously published on the FBC Blog – June 11, 2015
A portion of “Wielding the Sword of Truth” by X. E. Dixon was previously published at www.xedixon.com on February 26, 2012
Six months into my pregnancy, Mom decided we needed counseling from Pastor Herbert C. Wilkens.
I was so not feeling it. I hadn’t been to church since the beginning of what Mom called my downward spiral. There was no way a complete stranger could understand what I was going through.
Besides, the last time we asked for a pastor’s help ended up being a complete fail.
Mom had dragged me into Pastor Jim Rosenthal’s office for prayer and guidance, post baby-surprise.
His eyes bore into my belly, forehead creased deep as the tread on brand-new tires. He encouraged me to avoid youth events until after I had the baby, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or awkward.
I told Mom he probably thought I was contagious. She laughed, but the vein on her temple throbbed.
The new guy, Pastor Wilkens, welcomed us with a grin splashed ear to ear. He reeked Jesus Freak from his pores.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes. He clapped his massive hands. “Change of plans. I was hoping Melissa could help a friend of mine with a big job.”
“Sure,” I said. Anything was better than being lectured, or even worse, suckered to buy into this pastor, whose eyes still hadn’t dropped to catch a glimpse of my bulging stomach.
He led us into a classroom with yellow walls and introduced us to his friend in need.
I bit my lip. No way!
Shawnee Pearson squatted on the floor arranging piles of paper hearts. Decked in black, including her chipped nail polish, she sported piercings and purple hair.
After Pastor Wilkens and my mom ditched us, I braced myself for the inevitable belly stare.
Shawnee hopped up and worked a staple out of the bulletin board with her fingernails. “Are you going to help me, or what?”
I lifted my chin and huffed. “I never figured you for an undercover Christian.”
“You would’ve known I was a Christian if you ever bothered to talk to me at school.”
Ouch! “Whatever.” I helped her cover the bulletin board with white paper. “White’s kind of boring, isn’t it?”
Shawnee’s laugh flitted like hummingbird wings. “It’s better to start with a clean slate.”
She handed me a poster board with Romans 5:8 written across the top. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I pressed my lips together, tight. Why now?
I didn’t cry when the pink plus sign filled the second window on the pregnancy test. I didn’t cry when Jacob blamed me for getting pregnant and ruining his life.
I didn’t cry when my friends suddenly got too busy to hang out with me.
I didn’t even cry when Mom broke down after I aired my dirty little secret.
Or when Dad left the room, without a word, and transformed into The Master of Avoidance.
“It’s not the end of the world, you know,” said Shawnee.
She handed me a red strip of border decorated with white hearts. “There’s always adoption. And if you keep it . . . well, the kid will be in pre-school when you go to college.”
“College? Are you kidding me?” I held the border in place while Shawnee stapled. “My life is over.”
She showed me a sheet of paper blanketed with multi-colored crayon scribbles. “What do you think?”
I sniffed, wiping under my eyes, hoping my mascara wasn’t running. Brown streaked fingertips guaranteed that, once again, hoping wasn’t going to be good enough. “It’s a big mess.”
Shawnee matted the picture onto a piece of red construction paper and stapled it to the bulletin board. She stepped back, tilted her head and plopped her palms on her hips. “Look at the whole picture.”
The frame embraced the twirling, swirling colors, highlighting speckles of orange and yellow. “It’s still a mess.” I shrugged. “But, now, it’s kind of pretty.”
Shawnee grinned. “That red frame is like the blood of Christ. God’s love surrounds us, transforms us, and makes our mess beautiful.”
“My mess is so not beautiful.” I tried to stretch my jacket over my bulge. Fat chance! “You don’t understand.”
“Jesus understands. He knows what it feels like to be rejected, abandoned, and alone.” Shawnee brushed her fingers over the crayon scribbles. “He understands hard times and temptation.”
“You believe that?”
“Uh, Yeah. God wipes our sin away because He loves us, Melissa. And the Holy Spirit helps us not to repeat our mistakes.”
“I’m stuck with my mistake forever,” I said, cheeks flaming. “What do you know, anyway?”
She raked a hand through her purple locks. “I was in rehab before we moved here.” Her eyes welled. “I tried to overdose after I had an abortion.”
Whoever said silence was golden must have never been right smack in the middle of an awkward moment.
I wanted to race out of the room. But, I felt a strange urge to hug the girl. Pregnancy hormones would be the death of me, moods switching quick as twists on a rollercoaster.
I picked up an oversized heart and the stapler. “You could use my help when you change these theme boards,” I said.
Shawnee’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not scared that hanging out with a drugged up Goth will ruin your reputation?”
“It’s a little too late to be worried about my reputation.” I pointed to my belly. “Besides, you said God gives us a clean slate, remember?”
Glancing at my swollen stomach, she shook her head and stapled another scribbled masterpiece onto the board. “The baby’s not the mistake, you know. The sin was stepping out of God’s will and having sex before marriage.”
She touched her flat abs. “Your life’s not over. But you can have a new life, a better one, with God’s help.”
“Read His instruction manual, for starters. You know, the Bible. And talk to Him like you would talk to your best friend.”
“I don’t have a best friend.” The words were sour milk in my mouth. “I don’t have any friends, anymore.”
“You’ve got me.” Shawnee nudged me with her elbow. “More importantly, you’ve got Jesus.” Her laugh tugged my smile out of hiding.
As I tossed useless scraps into the trashcan, I prayed for the first time in forever.
Lord, thanks for giving me a new friend. Please help me know You better so I can live like I believe what You say about me. Help me trust that because You love and understand me completely, even when I make mistakes, I’m a beautiful mess.
Have you ever thought your sin was too big to be covered by God’s grace and forgiveness?
How does knowing God loves us so much that He’s willing forgive and redeem the biggest sins change the way you think about confessing sins and believing in the hope of forgiveness?
“A Beautiful Mess” by X. E. Dixon was previously published in ENCOUNTER−The Magazine on January 30, 2012.
Photo taken and used with permission by Lindsie West
During the last few months of my mom’s life, she embraced God’s ultimate healing, testifying with a gentle smile and a mantra of unshakeable peace and heart-deep joy:
“God is good. And that’s all there is to it.”
In a recent study of Psalm 100, I discovered 7 truths that help me echo my mom’s mantra and experience joy that doesn’t depend on my circumstances, my abilities, or my feelings.
- Joy is a contagious attitude and a community adventure.
The psalmist begins with a simple invitation.
“Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.” (v. 1)
The privilege of proclaiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior is reason enough to shout joyfully, but the psalmist’s use of the phrase “all the earth” affirms an aspect of joy often neglected.
We need personal relationships with God and others if we want to thrive in pure joy.
Sure there are conflicts in the church. We’re sinners in dire need of a Savior, learning how to love Him and others. But, community also offers a God-given support network.
When one struggles, the rest serve and encourage with prayerful support. When one rejoices, praise bursts through the sanctuary.
We exalt God as we commune with God and each other, and true joy becomes contagious to the world.
- Serving is a privilege to rejoice in, not gripe about.
The psalmist writes, “Serve the LORD with gladness . . .” (v. 2a)
Selfless service always results in gladness. But we often serve to fulfill selfish needs for attention, affirmation, and acclamation. This squelches joy and can damage relationships, as well as our testimony.
People who don’t know God watch closely when believers face hardships or handle conflict while working together. If we’re complaining or displaying crotchety attitudes or critical spirits, serving becomes more of a chore than a blessing.
But when we’re motivated by love and gratitude for all God’s done for us, the genuine joy of Christian interdependence and service becomes desirable to us and to those who have yet to experience the joy of serving.
- Entering God’s presence is cause for joyful praise.
The psalmist beckons God’s people to “come before Him with joyful singing.” (v. 2b)
This joy is not evidenced by faking laughter, smiles, or a positive attitude.
Authentic joy is a result of experiencing God’s love so deeply that we respond in grateful praise.
Genuine joy stems from confidence in knowing who God is, was and always will be, in accordance to His Holy Word.
When we think about the One True God inviting us to spend time with Him, simply because He loves us unconditionally and completely, how can we not sing happy songs?
- Joyful confidence in knowing God minimizes pride and the pressure to be self-sufficient.
The psalmist declares, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.” (v. 3a)
Although it’s often hard for us to believe, life does not revolve around us or depend on us.
When we rely on self and neglect spending time with our Savior, our strength eventually depletes, our worries rise, our peace wanes, and our joy fizzles out.
But as we draw near to the Father daily, the Holy Spirit affirms our value is determined by our intimate relationship with Christ.
Joy becomes as natural as breathing when we remain dependent on God, not ourselves, and focused on God, not our mirrors.
- Joy roots deep in hearts that know God loves and cares for us, just because we’re His.
“We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (v. 3b)
We belong to God.
As beloved members of His flock, we’re never alone unless we choose to wander. Even then, our Good Shepherd remains with us, reins us in, redeems us, and renews us through His unconditional love and forgiveness.
Loving Him leads to loving others.
True joy abounds within authentic relationships, as we experience the nurturing power of intimacy with God and His family.
- With repentance and obedience to Christ, our joy is as secure as our place in eternity.
Because of the Lord’s glorious adoption, we can . . .
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” (v. 4)
No matter what we’ve done or from where we’ve come, God offers us an opportunity to repent and receive His life-transforming forgiveness.
Once we belong to God, joy rests in His worthiness, now and forevermore.
We have countless reasons to be thankful as we bless His Holy Name.
- God’s unchanging character fuels our joy, until He comes again.
The psalmist writes, “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (v. 5)
God is simply and completely, altogether good.
His truth is constant, dependable, relevant, and trustworthy.
His love crosses generation lines and penetrates all generations to come.
When we believe God is the only one who will self-sufficiently endure forever, joy infuses every aspect of our lives.
As we experience the power of these seven truths in our day-to-day living, we can offer God grateful praise in all circumstances.
And like my mom, we can joyfully declare with quiet and confident strength, “God is good. And that’s all there is to it.”
Lord, please help us draw near to You daily as Your truth affirms our joy is secured in Your unchanging character and limitless love for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
An early version of “7 Truths about Joyful Living” by X. E. Dixon was published on the FBCVV website on April 8 2015.
Tired of being a dollar short and a day too late.
Tired of being told to be patient and wait.
Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not good enough.
Just not enough.
Wear this. Have that. Do this. Be that.
Everyone wants it. Everyone does it.
Everyone gets it,
Sometimes, I want to scream.
But instead, I lift my head,
put on my mask,
I’ve got it.
This won’t break me.
But, I’m lying.
The wind whispers, “Be still, and know . . .”
The paths beckon.
Which way should I go?
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Lord, how can I keep on
through suffering and strife?
“Come to Me, all you who are
weary and burdened
and I will give you rest.”
Lord, help me believe You. Help me receive You.
Help me know, it’s only Your truth
I can cleave to.
Tired of trying to be it all, have it all, control it all.
I’m one step away from losing it all.
Can’t do enough. Can’t have enough. Can’t be enough.
Jesus, You are enough.
I slump to my knees. Tap.
Trust You with my pleas. Tap.
Surrendered, I’m free.
Tappin’ Out by Xochi E. Dixon, from the Life Psalms Collection, was previously published on the Real Teen Faith website on September 3, 2009.
Photo taken by and used with permission from Lauren Pfahlert.
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV)
My father creates custom quivers for bow-hunters. He carves intricate wildlife pictures into the genuine leather.
Archers from across the states have purchased these works of art, which are easily recognized as my father’s one-of-a-kind creations.
During my last visit, he carved the details of an eagle onto a side-quiver.
Pressing a blade into the supple leather, he varied pressure to create the different textures that give his artwork dimension. With gentle strokes, he covered the leather with crimson dye, magnifying its beauty.
As my father’s confident hands designed another masterpiece, I thought of how often I forget to appreciate God’s creativity in myself, and in others.
The Bible teaches that all people are important to God. He designs us with unique qualities and purpose.
Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “. . . we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Learning more about the Lord, through the study of His Word, helps us view others as God’s beloved masterpieces.
Like the pliable leather carved by my father’s skilled hands, our worth is determined by the unconditional love and creativity of our Creator.
We each have value as God’s one-of-a-kind creations, simply because we are His.
Lord, help us accept Your perfect love and see ourselves, and others, as Your unique masterpieces. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN
Suggested Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
Prayer Focus: THOSE SEEKING AFFIRMATION AND ACCEPTANCE
Thought for the Day: We are uniquely created for God’s glory.
“The Master Craftsman,” written by Xochi E. Dixon, was previously published in The Upper Room (Jan/Feb 2014) and featured on The Upper Room Blog in February 2014.