Father, Forgive Me

Holy Saturday. My contemplative day. The day of limbo. The day of reflection, of sadness. The world has just finished murdering Jesus. He has not yet risen. The day that he is absent from the world because of the world. The day I wonder whether He is absent from me because of me.

It is easy to read the story of the crucifixion and blame those involved. How could Judas who walked with Jesus betray him? How could Pontius Pilate, who knew it was wrong, allow it to happen? How could Peter, who Jesus chose to build His church upon, who had followed Jesus for three years, deny Him? How could the people choose a murderer over Jesus? How could the soldiers and people along the way mock Him and chant things like: “he saved others; he cannot save himself.” “Let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him.” “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him.”

I used to look down on all of these folks. I would surely do better. I would not be so stupid. And yet the story of the crucifixion is the story of all of our sins.

Judas knew Jesus for three years, I have known Him my whole life. And yet, I too choose silver, screens, and other earthly “treasures” over Jesus at times (more times than I would like to admit). I too provide lip service at times, providing a kiss in public, but betraying Jesus behind closed doors.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

Pilate knew that crucifying Jesus was wrong, but he didn’t want to get involved. He didn’t want to go against the crowd. If I had the power to save Jesus from the pain and torture, would I have? I would like to think so, and yet my sin contributes to His pain. I, too, have followed the crowd. I have decided not to get involved when I knew wrong was occurring, because it was easier for me.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

What I wouldn’t give to be Peter. To be able to sit with Jesus, talk with Jesus, learn from Jesus, embrace Jesus. He had it all! And yet he denied Him three times. I always blame Peter the most. Maybe that is why I sometimes struggle with the Church, with the priests and bishops, who have it all and still seem to turn so far away. Surely, I will not deny Jesus. Though others may have their faith shaken, mine will never be… And yet… it is. Peter had three years. I have had my entire life. Peter may have been with Jesus in the flesh. But I have weekly and daily communion available to me. Peter did not know or understand the resurrection. I know about the resurrection. I know the Truth. I can read the written gospels and have the benefit of two thousand years of church teaching. Why do I still deny? Why do I still hide my faith? Peter was afraid. Despite all that I know, I too am sometimes afraid, even though Jesus tells me not to be. Even though I know everything on earth is temporary, even though I know that if I have faith, I have nothing to fear.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

I am no different from the villains in Jesus’ story. I have betrayed Him, ignored Him, denied Him and turned my back on Him. I have mocked or doubted and I have been afraid. I may not physically nail Him to a cross, but my sins are just as painful. My rejection of His love is just as hurtful as those mocking him on the road. Father, forgive me!

I know it is easy to be remorseful as we are painfully reminded of the Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday and as we sit today and are assured of the resurrection tomorrow.

Lord, help my heart and mind and spirit be resurrected this Easter. I want to always turn to you. Help me turn away from silver and the fake “treasures” that this world tries to offer. Help me to be strong in my faith. Help me not be turned by the will of the crowd. Help me to lead, not to follow. Help me to share your love and your word. As I look around, I see a world that is run by fear. I know that when I am focused on you, I have no fear. When my faith is strong, I have no fear. Lord, I know that in your hands, I am safe. I know that safe does not mean free from suffering, but that there is a resurrection promised. Lord, give me the strength and faith that I need. I do not want to turn away any more. I don’t want to contribute any further nails, I don’t want to be distracted by silver, I don’t want to live by fear and have my faith shaken. I know that I cannot promise, like Peter tried, that my faith won’t be shaken. I know that I am not strong enough to overcome fear on my own. And I know that I am a sinner and will continue to cause you pain. But I know that Your love is stronger than all things, including nails, silver and fear. Help me Father to always turn to you, to always return to you. Help me to remember you passion for me every day not just during the Easter season. Help me to follow you and not the crowd. Help me to love, as you do. Forgive me when I fail.

A Confession of Sins

We complain. A lot. Turn on the news (any channel) and it is filled with complaints. Everybody is doing something wrong. No one is satisfied. No one is getting along. Even the weather is not as perfect as we would like. Think of your own conversations. How many are filled with complaints. This person was rude and not fully focused on our issues. That person cut us off. This food didn’t taste as good as we had hoped. The store didn’t have exactly what we wanted, or was too crowded or took too much time. The city, the state, the country isn’t spending money and time on what we want. We fight over masks and vaccines. Drug use, depression, loneliness and inactivity are impacting all of us. Many are suffering alone, out of fear. We are not satisfied. We are not happy. We are angry. We are fearful.

Today, the Bible opened to Psalm 106. The Psalm recounts a number of times where God saved the Israelites, only for them to quickly forget his works and crave the things of the world, turning away from him. Hmmm. Sound familiar? We were one of the richest nations, but we were not satisfied. We were founded by individuals looking to avoid persecution for their religious beliefs. Our declaration of independence refers to the rights provided to us by God and our divine providence. But it didn’t take long for us to turn away. The Psalm ends in this fashion:

Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes, and were brought low through their inequity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress, when he heard their cry. He remembered for their sake his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his mercy.

He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive.

Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say “Amen!” Praise the Lord!

Psalm 106: 43-48

We are wasting our time and breath (and health) with our complaints. Our worry and fear is powerless and harming us and those around us. God hears us when we cry to Him, when we turn to Him. His mercy and His love is never ending. We need to stop looking to the things of the world to satisfy us or to make us happy. We need to stop thinking (and being disappointed) when the people of the world are incapable of solving our issues. God is our only savior. God is the only answer!

The most common and frequent commandment in the bible is “do not be afraid” or “fear not” — why? Because God is with us… if we allow Him to be.

Save us, O Lord our God! We give thanks to you and praise you. You are good! Your mercy endures forever. Open my eyes, Lord. Open my heart. Open my ears to your word. I am tired and angry and afraid when I look at the world. Help me to turn my eyes to you instead. We are sinners, individually and as a nation. We have turned away like the Israelites so many times before us. Hear our prayer! Heal our land! Heal our hearts! Turn us back to you! I have seen the great works that you do. I have seen your healing and your power. Lord, you are great indeed! Forgive me for getting lazy, forgive me for forgetting to put your first, forgive me for forgetting you and letting the world take over. Create in me a clean heart and fresh start. I want to do better!

My Prayer for 2021

Today I opened the bible to this psalm, a prayer from thousands of years ago that seems particularly relevant today:

Why, LORD, do you stand afar and pay no heed in times of trouble? Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor; they trap them by their cunning schemes. The wicked even boast of their greed; these robbers curse and scorn the LORD. In their insolence the wicked boast: “God does not care; there is no God.” Yet their affairs always succeed; they ignore your judgment on high; they sneer at all who oppose them. They say in their hearts, “We will never fall; never will we see misfortune.” Their mouths are full of oaths, violence, and lies; discord and evil are under their tongues. they wait in ambush near towns; their eyes watch for the helpless to murder the innocent in secret. They lurk in ambush like lions in a thicket, hide there to trap the poor, snare them and close the net. The helpless are crushed, laid low; they fall into the power of the wicked, Who say in their hearts, “God has forgotten, shows no concern, never bothers to look.” Rise up, LORD! God, lift up your hand! Do not forget the poor! Why should the wicked scorn God, say in their hearts, “God does not care”? But you do see; you take note of misery and sorrow; you take the matter in hand. To you the helpless can entrust their cause; you are the defender of orphans. Break the arm of the wicked and depraved; make them account for their crimes; let none of them survive. The LORD is king forever; the nations have vanished from his land. You listen, LORD, to the needs of the poor; you strengthen their heart and incline your ear. You win justice for the orphaned and oppressed; no one on earth will cause terror again.

Psalm 10

I cannot help but see the parallels in today’s world. We trap the poor into dependence on government aid. Cunning schemes convince those who are down trodden that God is not their savior, but man or money or a political party is. The wicked boast of their greed and power, they put down and oppress those who believe in God. They attempt to undermine our trust in God. We see oaths, violence and lies in every direction. The helpless murder the innocent in secret, abortions killing more than twice as many per year as COVID. We need to call on God to Rise Up! He strengthens the hearts of those who incline their ear to Him. We need to allow Him to rise up in us.

Lord,

I pray that I am not an arrogant scoundrel and that I don’t get trapped by their cunning schemes. Sometimes it can appear that they succeed, but I trust in your plan and your promises. I know that you care and that without you everything else fails and eventually falls. I worry that our country is about to see that too. I ask you to incline my ear to you, Lord. Strengthen my heart. Do not let me be fooled by oaths and violence and lies. You alone are my God. In you alone I place my trust. There is nothing on earth that can take the place of you. Help me to spread your word and love to others so that they can know the truth and avoid the traps and snares that surround us.

2020: So much to be thankful for

A Thanksgiving like no other. A year like no other. Nothing is the same this year. We have learned that we cannot count on anything. Thanksgiving is different. Football is different. School is different. Work is different. Politics is different. Even Black Friday is different. Only one thing remains the same . . .

And as important as family is, its not family. Even family looks different this year. We may be spending more time with some and less time with others. Anxiety and depression may be impacting our relations. We may be forced to distance from some by law or guilt or shame. And we may have lost members due to the pandemic, or violence or any number of other reasons.

And as important as church is, its not church. Churches have shut their doors, limited their praise and worship, become divided, and distanced themselves from their purpose. Some have become mired in scandal and corruption.

2020 has spared no one and no thing. Basketball legends, rock and roll stars, television stars have passed away. Political leaders, historical figures, saints and popes have been called into question. The environment has been ravaged by Australian bush fires, wild fires, and hurricane after hurricane.

We cannot even rely on the local grocery store having toilet paper.

Nothing remains the same. No one has not been impacted. What is left for us to rely on when the government, the economy, the healthcare system, the retailers, and even the churches let us down?

God. God hasn’t changed. God hasn’t shut down. God hasn’t socially distanced. In a year when we cannot count on anything to be the same, including family gatherings, we can still count on God.

Perhaps this is why, Jesus tells that we must renounce all things in order to be His disciple:

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:26-33

As hard as 2020 has seemed, I see it as a gift. A gift of vision and wisdom which I am incredibly thankful for. Its hard to do what Jesus tells us we must do in order to follow Him. But 2020 has made it a little easier. We have had many things taken away: family gatherings, fancy weddings, graduation parties, sporting events, movie theaters, restaurants and even toilet paper. Our health has been jeopardized and the entire world is paralyzed. And yet, it may be the most glorious year. I have discovered I don’t need television and movies (my two favorite past times). I don’t need my favorite football or baseball team. I don’t need celebrities, politicians, business leaders or church leaders. I don’t need holidays or family gatherings. I don’t need church buildings or services. I just need God, the only true constant, the only one we can truly rely upon. Everything else, everyone else, is secondary. Like the builder and the king, I have a better sense of the cost and the value. I know I am capable of finishing the work and taking on the battle. And because I have taken advantage of some of the isolation and down time to draw closer to God, I know it is worth it. Of course, this is easier when there is nothing else to do. There is still work to be done to gird myself for this battle, when other options try to distract me or encourage me to give up my cross for the supposed luxuries of today. I still need to choose every day to put God first, but 2020 has given me hope.

Dear God,

Thank you for the gift of 2020. Thank you for taking away so many distractions and opening up my eyes and ears and heart to you. I renounce everything that is of this world, in order to put you first in my life. I pray for the strength to continue on this journey even when the distractions return. You alone are my Lord and my savior. With you I know I need want for nothing more.

Battle On!

I feel that we are on the precipice of a battle.  And I am not talking about politics, or race, or even the coronavirus.  We are on the precipice of a battle for God.  We are on the precipice of a battle for our souls.  We have practically shut down the country for six months, changed the way we do everything, and added masks to cover our face (and our smiles), all because of fear.  Fear of death.  But what we seem to be missing, is fear of God.  God tells us over and over in the bible, do not be afraid.  The only thing we have to fear is God, not being with God — in essence hell.

Our nation’s faith in and reverence of God has been faltering.  We are seeing a growing population of atheists, agnostics and others who simply don’t believe, or care to believe, in God.  And even those of us who claim to be Christians, seem to have an easy time hiding our beliefs in order to get along with others, in order to be politically correct, in order to avoid a conflict.  In effect, we deny Christ in our lives except when its convenient — and with the close of so many churches because of fear, the convenience has gone away.

Today, I read the first book of Maccabees, completing my review of the historical books of the bible.  As I finished this book,  I was struck by how so much of the old testament is filled with battles and wars.  The Israelites were in constant battle to preserve the commandments and laws of God and to protect their people from those who did not believe, those who wanted to destroy their temples and religious practices.  As much as it feels like these times are different, we are still in those same battles.  The question is, will we be seen as a people who stood up and fought for God, or one that cowered to the will of others and let our beliefs become overcome by secularism?  I often think, but what can I do — the growing masses against us, against God, are bigger and more powerful than me.  Today, Maccabees had the answer:

But when they saw the army coming against them, they said to Judas: “How can we, few as we are, fight such a strong host as this? Besides, we are weak since we have not eaten today.”
But Judas said: “Many are easily hemmed in by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.  With great presumption and lawlessness they come against us to destroy us and our wives and children and to despoil us; but we are fighting for our lives and our laws. He will crush them before us; so do not fear them.”
1 Maccabees 3:17-22

Our victory does not depend on our strength or size, but on the strength that comes from heaven (if we ask for it).  One thing I have recently come to realize is that God really meant it when he gave us free will.  He is not a helicopter parent who will interfere when we don’t want it, but if we ask, if we turn to Him, if we seek Him, He is always there.

What if instead of just focusing on masks, instead of our leaders preaching this, and billboards and commercials harping on this, that same focus was put on praying?  And praying in loud voices. What if instead of just focusing on social distancing we focused on drawing closer to God?

We have spent or lost billions (maybe even trillions) of dollars because of the fear of death.  Imagine, if we put that same energy, focus and resources into following God.   Not worrying about death — which is inevitable, but focusing on building that relationship with God, so that we can share eternal life with Him.  (Death is only scary if we are not in communion with God.)  Our strength comes from Him — Let’s gird up for battle!

Lord,

Help me not to fear the battle here on earth or hide from you or my faith in you.  Give me the strength to be a witness of you, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter the strength of those around me.  I know that when we turn to you, when we walk in your love, there is nothing to fear.  With everything going on in our world, it is sometimes easy to forget this.  Be with me God, be with our nation.  Give us strength.  Help us all increase our faith.

 

In God We Trust: Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad

Today, I needed a break. So I got up from my new home-office desk, formerly known as the dining room table, and decided to take a walk outside. It was beautiful. The morning air still had a crispness to it. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the green leaves still had enough dew on them to sparkle in the sunlight. Beautiful. And as I walked and continued to be struck by the beauty in God’s creation, a peace settled over me. And I found myself crying out to God: Help Me! The world you have created is so beautiful. Help me to find the beauty and stop getting caught up in the negativity.

I have noticed that I am becoming caught in the negativity that is plaguing our country. I am beginning to feel more anger and even hate towards “the other side” on whatever the issue may be. As I walked, I asked God to take this away from me, let me focus back on His world, not the mess that we have created. And I began to resolve to stop looking at Facebook, to stop watching the media and to pray more.

And then I came across Sharlene, an older lady who was also taking a walk (a short walk just two driveways down from her house). We said good morning and commented on what a beautiful day it was. And instead of continuing on my walk I paused for a moment to enjoy the beauty with her. And Sharlene, who I had never met or spoken to before, told me that she starts every day by reading the bible. And today she read:

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.

Psalm 118:24

My entire being rejoiced as she spoke, because the words she was saying resonated with exactly what I had just been thinking and praying to God. I was uplifted and filled with joy by this chance encounter. We chatted for a while longer and then continued in our opposite directions.

And when I arrived back home to my desk/dining room table, I opened the Bible to read the rest of Psalm 118.  And what a clear answer to my prayer it is:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

Let Israel say:

his mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Aaron say,

his mercy endures forever.

Let those who fear the LORD say,

his mercy endures forever.

In danger I called on the LORD;

the LORD answered me and set me free.

The LORD is with me; I am not afraid;

what can mortals do against me?

The LORD is with me as my helper;

I shall look in triumph on my foes.

Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in mortals.

Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in princes.

All the nations surrounded me;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me on every side;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me like bees; they burned up like fire among thorns;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

I was hard pressed and falling,

but the LORD came to my help.

 

The LORD, my strength and might, has become my savior.

The joyful shout of deliverance is heard in the tents of the righteous:

“The LORD’s right hand works valiantly; the LORD’s right hand is raised;

the LORD’s right hand works valiantly.”

I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the LORD.

The LORD chastised me harshly, but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness;

I will enter and thank the LORD.

This is the LORD’s own gate, through it the righteous enter.

I thank you for you answered me;

you have been my savior.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

By the LORD has this been done;

it is wonderful in our eyes.

 

This is the day the LORD has made;

let us rejoice in it and be glad.

LORD, grant salvation!

LORD, grant good fortune!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.

We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God and has enlightened us.

Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, I give you thanks;

my God, I offer you praise. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

 

Psalm 118

 

“In danger I called on the Lord.”  I have been in danger.  In danger from the world around me.  Not so much the physical danger, as much as my soul has been in danger.  And no mask can protect me or others from that.  But the Lord is with me and has answered me!  How great is our God!!  He has set me free!

The words in this psalm are so powerful!  “What can mortals do against me?”  Nothing.  Nothing if I am right with God. “Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in mortals.  Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in princes.”  No politician can save us.  We need to put our trust and hope in God, not any politician, democrat or republican.  In God we trust!  If only our country would turn back to this.   I cannot control the country, but I can control me: In God I trust!  I can resist the negative temptations of the world:

All the nations surrounded me;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me on every side;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me like bees; they burned up like fire among thorns;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

This is truly the day the Lord has made.  The beauty that surrounds us is all created by God.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Let us stop looking for sorrow and anger.  Let us stop focusing on the negativity.  God is great!  His mercy endures forever!  Thank God for that because our own mercy towards each other is short tempered and short lived!

God,

You are amazing!  Thank you for this beautiful day!  Thank you for opening my eyes and answering my prayers.  You alone are my God.  In you alone I put my trust!  Help me to keep my eyes focused on you!  There is so much to rejoice about with you, so much to be thankful for!

 

One Team — God’s team

I am an athlete. I love competition. If I am on a team, I am loyal to that team and instantly an “enemy” to anyone not on my team. This works well in athletics. Not so well in life.

But it seems lately that the world is dividing up into teams, We are drawing sides. We are becoming enemies to those not on our team. Everything seems divisive. I do not agree with everything that the media reports or others say. But I have become afraid to speak. Afraid to create enemies. I don’t know what team I am on and don’t really want to be on any of the teams forming. It is all too divisive. We have lost our focus. We are focused on the past rather than the future. We are focused on the sins of a few rather than the gifts of many. We categorize whole groups of people based on the acts of a few. We focus on categories and teams of people rather than individuals, making everything a race issue, a sex issue, a political issue. We focus on the things of the world rather than God. And as a result we are failing! As a nation, as a people, as God’s children.

We are in fact one team. God’s team. We are all God’s children. Sisters and brothers. If we stop and focus on God. Focus on our real purpose on earth. Stop listening to the media and Facebook, and Twitter. Listen to God. Listen to each other as individuals, as fellow children of God — not members of any other team or race, or political party, we will change the world.

In Galatians, St. Paul told the people, 2000 years ago:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Today, we should read this as: There is neither Black nor White, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I pray that we can put away our labels. Put away our teams. Put away the division. We are not enemies or foes. We are all children of God. One team. Let’s focus on God together and pray.

Dear Lord,

We are hurting. We are lost. We have taken our eyes off of you and forgotten that we are all one in your eyes. We are all created for your good. We are all your children, sisters and brothers. Lord, help me and all of my sisters and brothers to focus our attention back on you. Help us to put away the pettiness, to put away the hate, to put away the things that separate us and instead focus on the one thing that unites us. The one truth in all of our lives: You!

Lord, we need you. Please help me and everyone in this great country that was founded on a faith in you, to find you once again. Bring us together in the peace that can only be found through you. You are my God. You are great indeed. Help us to stop lauding historical figures, politicians and others. You alone are worthy of praise.

You Shall Not Fear

I am currently reading the books of Kings, about how those in power quickly and repeatedly fell away from the Lord.  Shortly after I read Psalm 9 yesterday, I turned to the second book of Kings, and it seemed to reinforce and build upon what I had heard in the psalm.  The second book of Kings explained why Israel had fallen on hard times, yet again:

They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the ordinances or the law or the commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel.  The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them; but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.  And the statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do.  You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you.  You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.”  However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

2 Kings 17: 34-40

In another translation of the Bible, the word fear is replaced with venerate.  At the time this was written, their were Egyptian gods and other gods that the people fell to worshiping, venerating or fearing.   They made statutes of them, including the well-known golden calf.  I have long thought my faith superior to these early Israelites because I know there is only one God and I don’t worship any other…  or do I?

I certainly don’t go to a church for another god.  I certainly don’t proclaim that there is another god.  But as I look around the world and self-reflect, I must confess: I bend to the will of lots of people, that are not my God.  I serve and spend my time on lots of things, that are not for my God.  I fear lots of things, that are not my God. Three times in just six verses, we are told, you shall not fear other gods.  Many times throughout the bible we are told do not be afraid.  There really is only one thing to be afraid of — not having a relationship with God.  If we are with God, what is there to be afraid of?  No virus, no social media post, no politician, no group that does not share our beliefs, has any power over us if we are with God.  No struggle here on earth, no pain or suffering has any meaning or hold on us and is not worthy of our fear, if we are with God.

Our country is currently spending a lot of time fighting.  Fighting about the control of the virus, fighting about which political party is better, fighting about whether historical statutes should be toppled, fighting about when to kneel and when to wear masks, fighting about the names of sports teams and which people are good enough to have their names on buildings.  We are fighting over false gods.  We fear the backlash of society if we were to gather in groups and just pray rather than march in the latest politically sanctioned protest.  We fear false gods.  We look for the approval of society, the likes on Facebook, when we blast whatever group is against us.  We venerate false gods.

We have become a society riddled with fear, which leads to anxiety, depression and hate.  But the fear is man made, due to the man-made gods that we revere, venerate and serve.  We care more about what others think than what God does.  We care more about what happens in this temporary world than the everlasting life that God promises.  We care more about being on the right political team, rooting for the right sports team and raising our kids in the right social groups than we do about being on God’s team.  Trying to find approval on earth is hard — because everyone has their own interests at heart.  Finding approval with God is actually fairly easy.  He just calls us to love.  He asks us to love him with our whole heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself.

God offers us an outstretched arm to deliver us from all that is wrong with the world, if only we would take hold of it.  The Israelites failed to do so thousands of years ago and so spent years in exile and hardship.  Their temple was destroyed.  It is easy to believe that the same may be happening here as we allow fear to overtake us — fear not of God, but of other things.   Rather than turning toward God, we turn away.  We allow our churches to be closed.  We allow ourselves to be swept up in division rather than love.  We look to blame rather than to seek.  We fail to seek the true answer to our problems, we fail to seek God.  We fear false gods, we serve false gods, we venerate false gods, and we don’t even pay attention enough to know we are doing it.

God,

You are my one true God.  I want to place you above all things.  But I sometimes fail.  I fear not having a relationship with you.  I fear not sharing in your eternal exchange of love.  But I sometimes am distracted by the every day fears on earth.  I lose my focus and, when I do, I sometime lose my faith and trust in you.  If I focus, I know that there is nothing else to fear.  I trust in you.  Please help our country focus on you.  Please help us stop fighting over false gods.  Please help us turn back to you.  Help us see that you alone are what we need and what we long for.   Help us to heal rather than divide, to praise you rather than to blame others.  Help us to seek and grab your outstretched arm, which you never stop extending.

My Stronghold in Times of Trouble

I prayed before I opened the Bible today:  “Lord, what do you want me to hear.  What do you want me to share.”

The Bible opened to Psalm 9:

I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will delight and rejoice in you; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High.

When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before you. For you upheld my right and my cause, seated on your throne, judging justly.

You rebuked the nations, you destroyed the wicked; their name you blotted out for all time.

***

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you; you never forsake those who seek you, LORD.

Sing hymns to the LORD enthroned on Zion; proclaim his deeds among the nations!  For the avenger of bloodshed remembers, does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, LORD; see how my foes afflict me!  You alone can raise me from the gates of death. Then I will declare all your praises, sing joyously of your salvation in the gates of daughter Zion.

The nations fall into the pit they dig; in the snare they hide, their own foot is caught.

The LORD is revealed in making judgments: by the deeds they do the wicked are trapped.  To Sheol the wicked will depart, all the nations that forget God.

For the needy will never be forgotten, nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.

Arise, LORD, let no mortal prevail; let the nations be judged in your presence.  Strike them with terror, LORD; show the nations they are only human.

Psalm 9

My God, you are great indeed!  You know what I need to hear.  You know the reminder that I need, that likely many of us need.  The last few months have been hard.  I feel persecuted against.  I feel like my faith is being challenged by the outside world.  I feel like we have lost our way as a nation and as a people of God.

The Lord is our stronghold.  No matter what the sins of the world around us.  No matter the sins within ourselves.  The Lord is our stronghold.

I am frustrated by much of what I see in the world and see in our country.  Frustrated by the hate and division.  Frustrated by what appears to be a lack of common sense.  Frustrated by the fear and the encouragement of fear by many.  Frustrated by the lack of faith.  Frustrated by the lack of acceptance of faith.  Frustrated by the attitude that everyone can make their own rules.  Frustrated by society’s attempts to push God out of our lives and the apparent willingness of many to accept this.

This line written thousands of years ago strikes a chord just as strongly today:

“The nations fall into the pit they dig; in the snare they hide, their own foot is caught.”

In a culture in which we love to cast blame, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We have dug a pit.  We have hidden a snare.  We have made our bed.  Perhaps we need to be struck with terror.  Perhaps we need to see the bottom of the pit we have dug.  Perhaps we need to feel the snare crushing our foot, trapping us from what we think we want to do and where we want to go.

We need this so we will know where our help comes from.  Science has proven to be powerless.  The government has proven to be powerless.  Billionaires have proven to be powerless.

Only God has true power.  Only God can save us.  Instead of fighting over whether the government should do more or whether people should wear masks, we need to turn our attention to the Lord.  “For the needy will never be forgotten, nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.”  God alone can raise us from the gates of death.  God alone can ease our suffering.  And despite what we may argue are desperate times, He never forsakes those who seek Him.  Instead of calls for what politician we need or what political orders we need.  We need calls for prayer.  Calls for the country to seek God.  Calls for the country to know that our stronghold is and always will be in God alone.  We are one nation under God and when we return to that belief we will be stronger together again.

My God,

I do not have the words to praise you with all of the praise that you deserve.  You alone are righteous.  You alone are powerful.  You alone know the true meaning of love.  You alone are my savior and my stronghold.  I fall on my knees before you.  I have helped dig a pit.  I have helped set snares for others, and I have fallen as a result.  I have feared standing up for you in every way that I should.  But I seek you now.  With all my heart, I seek you.  I need you Lord.  My family needs you, my community needs you, my country needs you, this world needs you.  We have allowed ourselves to believe too much in ourselves and all of the marvels that we believe we create, and have forgotten that we are only human.  We are flawed and ultimately powerless.  Everything that we create is temporary.  Only you create the eternal.  Be gracious to us O Lord.  We do not deserve it.  But we pray for it.  We need you and you alone.  We seek you and you alone.  We hope for you and you alone.  Have mercy on us and our nation.  Help us all to seek you with our full hearts.

Wait for it

Is anyone else tired of it?  Tired of the constant fighting?  The discord across the country?  The blaming and name calling?  The media highlighting the bad instead of the good?  I want to scream when I watch the news and often find myself walking out of the room.  Where is God in any of it?  Where is God in our lives?

Tonight the Bible opened to the Book of Habakkuk, with the prophet complaining to God, echoing some of my own sentiment:

How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!” and you do not intervene?

Why do you let me see iniquity? why do you simply gaze at evil?

Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord.

This is why the law is numb and justice never comes,

For the wicked surround the just; this is why justice comes forth perverted.

Habakkuk 1: 2-4

Habakkuk is a short book, so I read it all.  I must confess, I did not understand all of it, but the part that jumped out to me was God’s response:

Then the LORD answered me and said:

Write down the vision; Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run.

For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.

If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.

See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.

Habbakkuk 2:2-4

Wait for it.  It will surely come, it will not be late.  Wait for it.  The rash have no integrity. Wait for it.  For the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.  Wait for it.

Patience is not my strength.  I read these lines over and over hoping they would lead me to some further insight.  But it still came back to these three words: wait for it.  Why can’t I know everything now?

I know the answer.  I don’t always like the answer, but I know the answer.  Because it is not my plan, not my timetable, not my vision.  I know God has a plan and I know that this year of 2020, will result in better vision for all of us.  We need faith.  We need patience.  We need to not let ourselves become victim to the ideas of the world around us.  The vision is coming.  Wait for it.  Wait for it with patience and integrity and faith.  It will  come at the appointed time.  We may think it is delayed, but it will not be late.  And when that vision comes, and it will, we need to write it down.  We need to share it.  It will not disappoint.

God,

You are mightier than anything 2020 can throw at us.  I know you have a plan and a timetable that I do not understand.  I have faith, even when the world seems to be crumbling around me, that your plan and your vision is greater than all of this.  Sometimes I just need reminding.  I just need to slow down and not be rash.  Help me to be a witness to your vision.  Help me to see the good when the world focuses on the bad.  Help me to “wait for it” with faith and integrity.