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That I may declare it boldly

Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:13-20


When I was a baby my mom dressed me, often in clothes which she herself had made. Gifted with creativity, she knitted sweaters, booties, skirts, jumpers (and you name it) – all for me. Later on, my oldest sister was given the task of helping me and I still remember sitting on the baby dresser, feet dangling over the edge, as she washed my face, chose my clothes and carefully decked me out like a precious doll before she took me down to breakfast. How blessed I was! Care, clothes and food – all provided for me before I even understood what great provisions these were. And later, after breakfast was finished, my Father would add to the list of benefits by awarding me with an unequaled present, the reading of the Bible.

As I grew older, I learned how to dress myself. And so I did. Putting on undershirts, underpants, socks, skirts, tops, dresses, etc., all grew into skilled appareling techniques which I mastered with growing ease. As my Father kept on reading the Bible to all of us gathered around the table, I was continually instructed in the wearing of an armor. Although there were no mail accoutrements hidden under the dining room table, and no chain link vests hanging in the hall closet, nevertheless, I slowly imbibed the knowledge that I needed to be girded by this protection.

80,000 conversations

Although it is somewhat of an impossible statistic, it has been calculated that the average person will meet approximately ten thousand persons in his lifetime. That is mind boggling! These people will not be intimate acquaintances. Rather, they will be people whom we meet once, perhaps twice, in our lifetime and then probably only in a casual way. Nevertheless, they will pass through our lives – in shops, at malls, on streets, on buses, in classrooms, at baseball games or in restaurants. Ten thousand folks, each with a beating heart and a living soul! Ten thousand people! Enough to populate a small town!

When I was first married, I had to walk through the downtown streets of Hamilton each day to get to my place of work. No matter what the weather had in mind, sunshine, snow, rain or wind, every morning I would pass a woman at approximately the same spot. She was a thin, middle-aged lady with dark hair tied back in a severe bun. The woman always avoided my gaze and would never look at me directly. I began to say “hello” to her, but she never responded. I tried “good-morning” and “good day” and, after a few weeks, it began to be a sort of game for me. Will she react to me today? Will she smile back at me? What shall I do this morning to catch her attention? In the end, after about eight months, just before we moved from Hamilton to Guelph, she smiled back. And then, I never saw her again.


One piece of data I read posits the thought that if you have conversations with three new people each day for 73 years, an average life span, the number of conversations you would have during your lifetime would be 80,000. That’s a lot of conversations! And this number of people are as many as would fill an Olympic stadium! Time to clear your throat, or rather, time to think about putting on the armor.

Once, many years ago, my husband and I stayed in a small motel in Whitney, Ontario, a town bordering Algonquin Park. We were there for a few days of holidays and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The three children we had at that point were being looked after by family and we reveled in sleeping late and in long nature hikes.

Next to our little motel was a small trading post with a lady proprietor. She was a very sociable woman and whenever we stopped in to make a purchase, she talked incessantly and enthusiastically about the beauty of the park and about the delight she took in the wildlife around her store. She also went out of her way to show us some of the unique artifacts displayed in her shop. Friendly, good-natured and personable, she made us feel special. On the morning we left to drive back home, we stopped in to say good-bye. After briefly chatting, another customer arrived and we slowly faded into the background towards the door. Behind us, the woman chattered away to the newcomer. And then she swore. Her voice had turned raucous, loud and exclamatory, puncturing the air. We went on our way. I distinctly remember that it was raining hard outside. My husband had the windshield wipers of the car going quickly. Back and forth they went, as if they were trying to wipe out the memory of that swear word. We never saw the woman again.

What sort of letter are you?

We are letters. Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 3. We are letters which are read. When people are more intimately involved with us, they are more likely to read us more carefully (and between the lines), than those who know us only a little bit. Yet all the people who pass us, and that includes strangers who only see us for a moment or two, will scan us to some extent. And what will they read?

When I was in business college, there was a girl in my class. Her name was Ellie. She was a quiet girl with an appealing roundish face and glossy, bobbed, reddish-brown hair falling sleekly about her cheeks. Ellie gave the impression of vulnerability. Her large, brown eyes observed the world questioningly above a multitude of freckles.

During one of those first days of school, we both chanced to be going down the elevator at lunch hour and somehow ended up eating lunch together in a local park. Ellie boarded in the downtown Hamilton YWCA. She had a room there and invited me to see it. Her family lived on a farm, too far away for her to travel back and forth every night, she told me. I thought nothing of it until a few weeks later, when it became obvious to me, naive though I was, that Ellie was pregnant. It was difficult to broach the subject, but I did. Ellie cried and told me that she had been adopted and that her adoptive brother was the father. She loved the baby growing within her, but her parents had told her that she could only come back home if she would give up the baby for adoption.

Both empathetic and horrified after her revelation, I promised to help her. I was a Christian, I told her, and Christians always help others. It was a Friday and I went home full of plans, immediately contacting two local pastors to ask if they could help me find a solution to Ellie’s problem. Neither was particularly enthusiastic and, thinking back on it now, I cannot really blame them. Although my eagerness to help knew no bounds, the information I had was scanty. When I came back to school that following Monday, Ellie was not in class. Walking to the YWCA during lunch hour, I discovered that Ellie had disappeared. No one at the desk was willing to give me her address. I never saw her again.


If you go shopping, it is inevitable that you will pass a great many people whom you will never see again during your lifetime. It is unlikely that you will hold a conversation with each and every one of these people. But the sheer breadth and width of the scope of individual lives who intersect with you for only the space of a moment is mind-boggling. It can make you conceive of yourself as part of a huge multitude; it can make you conclude that you are immensely small; and it can make you regard God as incredible beyond comprehension. For He knows the minds and hearts of all – every step, every thought, and every hair on their heads.

Go out into the world, He said.

We tend to hide behind devices now – we speak to a lot of people on these devices, without actually really speaking to them – and feel good because people respond to our trivial questions and remarks.

There is a need for people to belong – the need to build up a facade of relationships – the need to look as if we are not alone. The sad truth is that most people don’t know how to belong any longer. If there is any sort of pandemic in the world which is in dire need of a vaccine, it is the pandemic of perceived friendships with inanimate cellphones. It is a deafness, an inability to interact, and a numbed knowledge of what real fellowship actually means. Detached and indifferent, many have lost the wisdom of how to live in community, of how to love your neighbor as yourself.

Catholic conversation

A number of years ago, I accompanied my husband to Montreal where he had to attend several meetings. While he was participating in his conference, it was my privilege to wander through the streets of Montreal. It cost me five dollars to get into the Notre-Dame Basilica. And thinking about it, maybe the five dollars went to a wrong cause and I should have resisted the desire to see the insides of this monumental structure. But I didn’t. I handed my ten-dollar bill over to a man behind a dark desk, a man who was neither friendly nor gracious and, after receiving my change, I pushed open the heavy, creaking door to the Basilica’s sanctuary.

An overwhelming smell of wax assailed me almost immediately upon entering. Electric light bulbs were hidden away high up on the ceiling or inside niches; and rows upon rows of flickering sweet-smelling candles were situated under every pillar. I made my way past these little flames with the wooden boxes in front of them, every one of them inviting poor, unsuspecting supplicants to put their dollars and dimes to bad use. Side aisles were flanked by stained glass windows. Haloed statues overshadowed these aisles every few steps. I strolled towards the front of the massive church. An English guide was stationed next to the first few pews, where she was giving a group of non-French tourists a brief history of the Basilica.

The friendly, short-haired guide motioned to me that I should sit down with the rest of the group in those first few pews. She asked us, “Did you know that the Notre-Dame used to be just a small chapel?”

The huge ceiling above our heads almost belied this fact, and we all stared up at the vast space above our heads because the guide made a sweeping upward motion with her arm. “Yes,” she continued, “and by the way, my name is Gabrielle, you know, like the angel.”

This evoked chuckles.

“Now we will just go around and everyone else can say their name and where they come from.” There were people sitting next to me from Norway, from BC, from Michigan and California.

“You know,” the little guide went on, “you are in a place where many famous people have been.” We did not respond but looked at her expectantly. We knew she would tell us who else had been there. And she did.

“In 1873, Sir George Cartier’s funeral was held here. And in the year 2000, Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s funeral took place here as well. And in 1994, Celine Dion was married in this very church. The truth is that one hundred or more marriages and approximately one hundred and twenty baptisms are celebrated here every year. We have a special chapel attached to the Basilica. It is the Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Chapel, also known as the wedding chapel.”

We took all this information in silently.

“And then, of course, in 1984, the Pope, that is, John Paul II, visited. He raised the status of Notre-Dame from church to basilica. He did this because of the church’s historic, architectural and artistic value. It is very beautiful, do you not think so?”

Heads nodded. Who could deny the architectural immensity of this place? A stooping figure hung on the cross straight overhead, surrounded by what I presumed to be the apostles. But above the cross was another representation – that of Mary being crowned by God. The guide was not long in pointing this out.

“Mary has first place here,” she said. “It is, after all, her church. That is why,” and she motioned upwards again with her arm, “the ceiling is blue. Blue is her color, you know.”

We all gazed up once more. It was true. The magnificent ceiling was a sky-blue. The guide continued to recite a litany of cultural events which regularly took place in the Basilica and how the Montreal Symphony Orchestra had performed there several times. Then, after telling us we were free to walk around and browse, she excused herself and left us on our own. I never saw her nor any of that group again.

A key conversation

But then there is this story.

A long time ago, a traveler reached the fork of an old Roman road. It was about suppertime and he, being quite weary, sat down. In the west, he could see a mountain and to the north was the city which today is called Nablus. There was a well nearby. In the present time, that well is surrounded by the walls of a convent, but at that moment it was quite out in the open. It was a deep well, almost 100 feet deep. The traveler was thirsty and when a woman appeared, a stranger, carrying a water-pitcher on her shoulder, he spoke to her. She had walked some ten minutes from the nearby city to get to the well and she was alone.

“Give me a drink,” the stranger said.

His accent and pronunciation immediately told the woman that he was not native born to the area but that he was Jewish. And she was also quite aware that Jews were usually not of a kindly disposition towards people from her area. As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t even use the same cutlery or drink from the same vessels. She was therefore puzzled by his request.

“How is it that you,” she countered his question, “a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan?”

The stranger merely looked at her and then made use of her curiosity to further the conversation.

He said, “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have been the one to ask Him, and He would have given you living water.”

She said to Him, “Sir, you have no rope-bucket, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Surely, you are not greater, are you, than our father Jacob who gave us this well and he himself drank from it, and so did his sons and his flocks.”

To the west of the woman, Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, stood. And to the northeast of Gerizim stood Ebal, the mountain of the curse.

And the stranger said to her, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will in no way be thirsty again forever, for that water which I shall give him will become in him a spring of water that keeps on bubbling up unto everlasting life.”

The woman, who had walked ten minutes in order to get to the well and who had to walk ten minutes down and back each day in order to satisfy her physical needs, immediately yearned for this water of which the stranger spoke.

“Sir, give me this water,” she pleaded, “that I may not get thirsty or have to keep on coming so far to draw water.”

The stranger responded, “Go, call your husband and come back here.”

Impressed by his friendliness, and by His interest in her life, the woman, who was usually avoided by the people of her town, responded. In offering the woman a few moment of His time, a moment which led to a taste of eternity, Jesus begins to quench her inner thirst. Spurgeon commented that Christ has different doors for entering into different people’s souls. Into some, He enters by the way of understanding; into many, by the way of the affections; to some, He comes by the way of fear; to others, by the way of hope; and to this woman He came by the way of her conscience.

All sorts of conversations to be had

After Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, He told His disciples that the fields were white with harvest. He intimates that there are numerous multitudes ready for them to meet. He declares that there are countless people ready to be spoken to, ready to be brought into the kingdom of God.

By knowing Him and by wearing the “so very useful” armor He gives us to wear, we also are able to meet with, speak to and listen to at least some of the host of villagers, innkeepers, musicians, businessmen, housewives, gender-lost and value-lost people we will meet on our way.

Jesus never saw the Samaritan woman again. Or did He?

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Outward appearance over against the heart

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20). When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30). ***** Over the centuries, there have been people who died selflessly for things they held dear – country, love, honor, faith – just to mention a few. Martyrs such as Polycarp, Latimer, and Stephen died for their faith. The American patriot Nathan Hale, who famously cried out prior to his death: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," died for his homeland. There is also another category of those who died, but by unintentionally putting their lives at risk for love of self, for vanity, and for pride. Good Queen Bess Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, became ill with what was first assumed to be a fever. It was not. It was the dreaded smallpox. At the time of this fever, this young daughter of Henry VIII was twenty-nine years old and she had been queen for only four short years. Adored by the British public, she was known to have a good-natured smile and a trim figure. Seen wearing intricate lace collars beneath a smooth, ivory complexion, the youthful monarch considered her looks somewhat of a status symbol. Her fiery red hair was usually dotted with expensive jewels – the jewels representing her chastity. While in bed with the fever, it was feared in the court and in the country that she would die. At the onset of her illness, Elizabeth refused to believe that she had contracted the dreaded disease. A Dr. Burcott was asked to diagnose and when he came up with the word “smallpox,” the word “fool” escaped Elizabeth's lips. A repeat visit from the man, who was quite courageous in returning to her side a second time, having been called a fool the first time, again identified the illness with these words: “Tis the pox,” whereupon Elizabeth, it is said, moaned: “God's pestilence! Which is better? To have the pox in the hand or in the face or in the heart and kill the whole body?” No such angry words came from the lips of Mary Sidney, Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting and friend, a loyal girl who selflessly nursed her sovereign for hours throughout the illness. Mary had caught the disease from her mistress for whom she was caring and, as a result of her devotion, the girl became very disfigured. Mary Sidney's husband, Sir Henry Sidney, wrote of his wife: "When I went to Newhaven I lefte her a full faire Ladye, in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I retorned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her..." Mary, though scarred, through her sacrificial devotion, was beautiful in the eyes of God. When Elizabeth gazed into her looking-glass after recovering her health, she was devastated to notice that the pox had left some visible scar tissue on her face. Having been celebrated by the populace for her looks, so she thought – the elaborate gowns, her lace kerchiefs and her white skin – she now felt a certain degree of insecurity. Seeking to regain her physical loveliness in the eyes of the public, she hunted about for an answer. She began using Venetian ceruse. Venetian ceruse was a cosmetic used as a skin whitener and it was a lead-based cosmetic. Sometimes mixed with manure for traction or with vinegar to thin out the consistency, it was popular among the rich. Because its main ingredient was lead, however, it was a potential killer. Because of her vanity and insecurity, Elizabeth began covering her facial pockmarks with this heavy, white makeup. She did not know that symptoms of lead poisoning could include abdominal pain, aggressive behavior, constipation, sleep problems, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of teeth, fatigue and high blood pressure. Some scholars believe that Elizabeth’s eventual death was due to blood poisoning from lead. Having access to the Bible, and having read it, the young queen should have known that security was to be sought in God, not in cosmetics. Although Elizabeth's sad lack of knowledge about the danger of Venetian ceruse is to be decried, it was a far worse matter that Elizabeth put her trust and confidence in her outward appearance. Rouged and poisoned There is another story. A century and a bit after Elizabeth I's reign of forty-five years, in 1733 to be exact, a young girl was born in Cambridgeshire, East England. The girl's name was Maria Gunning and she was the eldest child of six. Her father was from Castle Coote, County Roscommon in Ireland and her mother, Bridget Bourke, was the daughter of Theobald Bourke, 6th Viscount Mayo. The Gunnings were not wealthy. On the contrary, they lived in relative poverty on father Gunning's home of Castle Coote. Considering the fact that there were six children to support, mother Bridget decided to become enterprising. When her two oldest girls were barely teens, she decreed they should take up acting. Maria and Elizabeth were both extraordinarily pretty and acting, although not a respectable occupation, could open the doors to wealthy patronage. Actually, the word “pretty” for the two daughters was mild. They were very beautiful. So, shuttled off by their mother, they traveled down to Dublin and joined the theater. In Dublin, the sisters soon became well-known – well-known for their handsomeness. When they were but in their early teens, they were both present at a ball in Dublin Castle wearing gowns borrowed from their theater group. At this ball, Maria was introduced to the Earl of Harrington, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The man was so impressed with the shapely girl, that he granted mother Bridget a pension. With ready money in hand, Bridget immediately took her two daughters to England. Attending parties and dances in Maria's birthplace of Cambridgeshire, the sisters soon became acclaimed personages. Invited to attend the court of St. James, the official royal court of the king of England, they charmed him. Followed by celebrity-seeking crowds wherever they went, their popularity rose to the point where Maria was mobbed one night in Hyde Park. King George II, consequently, gave Maria a guard to protect her and, from then on, she walked in the park with two sergeants of the guard before her and twelve soldiers following her. The girls had achieved fame and notoriety. Within the small space of two years both girls were married – Elizabeth to a duke, and Maria to an earl, thus achieving the rank of Countess. Maria's earl, the 6th Earl of Coventry, took his bride to Paris for a honeymoon. Feeling pressured to preserve the beauty which she felt sure had brought her this far up the social ladder, Maria began using rouge. Rouge was the rage at the French court, and Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV, had set a fashion of pale white skin with red rouged cheeks. The base ingredient of this makeup, as of Venetian ceruse, was lead. Although her husband did not approve of makeup, even wiping it off her face publicly with his handkerchief, Maria continued to apply thick layers onto her skin. But the end of the matter was this – at the tender age of 27, having borne four children, Maria was diagnosed with consumption. It is reported that she retreated to a darkened bedroom in the weeks prior to her death, refusing to receive any visitors. It is also said that her early death was a “death by vanity,” because lead poisoning from her excessive use of makeup probably contributed to her demise. Maria Gunning, or Countess Maria of Coventry, was the owner of a 7-foot mirror and countless jars of rouge. The mirror caused her mental anguish when she gazed into it prior to her death. The rouge caused her physical discomfort and, in the long run, death. Maria had not the spiritual comfort of being beautiful and secure in the eyes of God. She had existed a decade of being feted and admired by the world. But what is that, compared to an eternity?! Not limited to the past We can travel further down in history. In 1867, there was an advertisement placed in a local newspaper in Montreal. The ad praised Dr. Campbell's safe arsenic complexion wafers, as well as acclaiming Dr. Fould's medicated arsenic complexion soap. Both were touted to be wonderful for removing freckles, blackheads, pimples, vulgar redness, rough yellow or muddy skins and all other disfigurements whether on the face, neck, arms or body. The promotion went on to say that if you desired a transparent and clear complexion free from coarseness or blotches, these medications should be tried, by men as well as women, and could be mailed to your address or bought at your local pharmacist. We know, without a doubt, that taking arsenic is bad. Although arsenic destroys red blood cells, which does lead to pale, desired skin, it will eventually kill you. Today as well, harmful ingredients can hide in lipstick, mascara and rouge – ingredients which can wreak havoc with your body. It is a fact that the chemical lead can poison. It hides in many industrial sources, foods, and spices, as well as in everyday cosmetics. Lead, it is said, makes cosmetic colors pop and helps products resist moisture. Many countries have developed strict controls of lead in cosmetics. Sixty-five countries have even banned it outright. But it is still an ingredient among cosmetics in many low- and middle-income countries. There are other health matters which a Christian might keep in mind as he or she considers their appearance. For the woman, there is a shoe choice to be made every day. Granted, we are not all Imelda Marcos material (Imelda was the wife of the former Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and infamously owned 3,000 pairs of shoes), but we do choose our footwear each day. Some women choose very high heels. Wearing stiletto, or any kind of heels, can certainly cause unpleasant side effects – these side effects can include lower back pain, sore calf muscles, protruding veins and constricted blood vessels. All these side effects taken together can sooner or later result in an ugly deformity of the foot called “hammer toe.” Then there is the issue of tight clothing. Wearing close-fitting outfits, often chosen in a desire to be more attractive to the opposite sex, is not only morally unhealthy and not according to Scripture, but also physically unwise. Making a tight garment choice can lead to yeast infections, cause difficulty in breathing and bring on abdominal pain. Tight pants can cause tingling thigh syndrome and “low waist” tight jeans can cause digestive issues and will lead to back pain. It is judicious to wear apparel which keeps circulation flowing. Indeed, it is wise and pleasing in God's eyes to be modest and discreet in dress. Conclusion It is no sin for a woman to want to look pretty. It is no sin to dress attractively and it is no sin to rejoice in the body God has given you. But to depend on physical appearance, to seek security in outward looks, to rely on your exterior for your relationship with others or for your assurance and self-esteem, is not what the Bible teaches. Neither are we to judge others on their outward appearance, but rather we are to evaluate people on their confession of faith and on the fruits of the Spirit they display. We are to be merciful in judgment and we are always to remember that God, and God only, sees the heart. Being beautiful for God can actually cause pain. Living and humbling yourself before others, can cause hurt and hardship. So, indeed, our Lord and Savior found it to be. For it is said of Him in Isaiah 53 that: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Jesus did not eschew a marred countenance; He did not try to cover His wounds for the sake of resembling a more pleasing impression in the eyes of those beholding Him. In fact, His wounds are what make Him beautiful. We do well to remember throughout our earthly life that Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). Knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us beauty of countenance; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us assurance in life; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us a reason to live. Have a blessed 2024!...