Tortoise formation

As I may have mentioned, I’m not much for war metaphors.

Thanks to my formative college years, I am more or less a pacifist (which, I know, makes me “less of a pacifist” by definition).

And I spent a season hearing too many sermons about demons under every rock.

To the point where I nearly threw the Holy Spirit out with the bathwater.


Here we are again, talking about the armor of God.

And this time it’s the shield that catches my attention.

Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  (Eph. 6:16)

I hear it described, so I do a little more research.

Apparently, in Paul’s day, a shield was a gigantic monstrosity of a thing.

Wood and metal covered in water-soaked leather.  To literally extinguish flaming arrows.

It was huge.  And heavy.

And it was meant not just for personal protection, but for communal protection too.

I read about the “tortoise formation” where soldiers stand strong together, shields raised in front and above.  They are completely protected.  Enemy arrows have no way in.

I love this.

Friends, this is what God wants for his people.

For us.

I’ve been around long enough to know that church can be a messy place.

It’s full of people and we are inherently, perpetually messy.

Can I be honest for a second?

There have been seasons when I wondered whether I could ever trust church people again.  Seasons where I prayed for God to help me love his bride and wondered if he heard me.

But, friends.  He did.

Because I have also known seasons of Jesus, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

And in those long nights, in those hard days, my own little community of Jesus-people went all tortoise formation on me.

They hoisted their heavy shields of faith and covered me.

They whispered faith-filled words into my ears.  Texted them to my phone.  Wrote them down in cards and sent them in snail mail (you guys—snail mail is my love language!).  They believed miracles for me when my own faith felt too small, too tired to believe them for myself.

Looking back from the shores of this more-settled season, grateful seems too small a word for those shields of faith wielded on my behalf.  The only appropriate response is to look around with Jesus-eyes and hoist my own shield of faith ready to snap into tortoise formation myself when a dear one needs it.

This is how church is supposed to work.

And I’m here to tell you that sometimes, in spite of our messiness, we Jesus-people get it just right.

Wrap up in your true identity

We’re talking about the armor of God this morning.

And I’m stuck on the breastplate.

I’ve never spent much time thinking about it, I guess.

But the piece of armor that protects your heart is crucial.


It’s imparted sinlessness.

Conformity to the claims of a higher authority.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  (Romans 3:22)

Righteousness is what God says about you, friends.

That because of an undeserved sacrifice, your debt has been paid.

You are clean.

Your enemy is no fool.

He will go after your heart.

You’ll never be good enough, he’ll lie.

No one could ever love you after what you’ve done.

You better keep quiet.  Work harder.  Run faster.  Prove yourself.

You’re a fraud.  A hypocrite.

Even after growing into my Jesus-identity for a lot of years, these fiery arrows still catch my attention.

But, dear one, they are lies.

All lies.

I want to look into your eyes tonight and tell you this.

I really, really do.

But since you aren’t here, dear one, please, please, please…

Wrap up in your true identity.

Lock eyes with your Father.

Hear his gentle words spoken over you…

Words of forever-truth that can’t be shaken.

That because of an undeserved sacrifice, your debt has been paid.

You are clean.

There is no condemnation here.

You don’t have to be enough… he already was.

You are not alone.

And you are desperately, passionately, forever loved.

Simple truth

I’ve been a Christian for a long time.

I’ve heard all the sermons.  Sung all the songs.  Read all the verses (yep, even those obscure ones).

And still…

The simple truth of the gospel gets me every time.

I never tire of the rescue story.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3)

Even as I close my eyes to speak grateful words for the body broken, I feel my heart being pulled in fourteen different directions.

So much clamors for my attention.

You’d think after so many years, I might be better at this undivided heart thing.

Because, really and truly, I mean it when I sing

And the heartbeat of my life is to worship in your light

But the older I get, the more I know what it means to fall short.

And to be rescued.

Once for all.  And again and again.

And (we—these sinners, these fallen ones) are justified freely by his grace

I love all the metaphors for this.

From orphan to beloved.

From ashes to beauty.

From mourning to dancing.

From captivity to freedom.

From death to everlasting, abundant life.

I know all this

In my head and in my heart one thousand times over.

But to hear it again, to speak it again, to sing again of Jesus arising, conquering the grave with my freedom in hand

Makes my heart want to explode.

Whether you’ve been a Christian for a long time or not, feel free to settle down here.

To linger here.

With the simple truth that you’ve fallen short (and you will again).

And you are justified freely because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on your behalf.

Because of Love.