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!

 

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.

Struggling …

I am struggling. Struggling with churches closing their doors.  Struggling with an individual kneeling on a man’s neck.  Struggling with burning a business  in “protest.”  Struggling.

There seems to be so much wrong in the world.  I don’t want to be on a “side.”  I try not to judge others.  I don’t always succeed.  I try not to group people or assume things about them because of any group, whether it be race, or gender or occupation.  I don’t always succeed.  I was outraged after George Floyd’s death.  Outraged by the actions of the officer, outraged by the response of others, and I must admit outraged by the implication that this was race-based and the immediate attacks on both sides of this.  As a white person, I do not associate myself with the actions of the officer.  I know, I would never do that.  So initially I disassociated from the whole thing.  This was just another racial dispute that I wanted no part in.  I am above that, I thought.  And then a few days ago, I watched the video.   What shook me to the core was not the officer who kneeled on Mr. Floyd (which was absolutely horrible — but again, I can disassociate from that, because I would not do that).  What shook me was the people, the other officers and to some extent even the bystanders, who stood by.  I could not disassociate from that.  I could not disassociate from that because I know that could be me.  How many times have I stood by and done nothing when I see evil in the world, when I see injustice, when I see hurt.

It is easy to judge from a distance.  It is easy to clamor on social media or in after the fact rallies and protests.  But what do we do in the every day moments?  The little moments when we hear someone say or do something that is hurtful.  Do we laugh along because it is easier than standing up for someone.  When we know someone is not doing what is right, do we stay silent because we don’t want to rock the boat?  This isn’t a race issue, it is a people issue.  We have let morality fall to the side because it is not cool or not politically correct.  We stay silent far too often.

For the last several months, I have worn a band on my arm that says “God Strong” referring to Ephesians 6:10-11.  But it only really connected to me, when I re-read this shortly after I watched the video:

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.  Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.

Ephesians 6:10-20

We are trying to draw too much strength from rallies and protests and people.  (If only the same numbers would show up to church on Sundays).  We need to return to drawing our strength from God.  We need to dress each morning in God’s armor, His truth, His righteousness, His peace.  Our faith is a shield and His word, His Spirit is our sword.  We don’t need to burn down buildings, we don’t need to arm ourselves with firearms, we don’t need to engage in social media warfare.  His word is our sword.  Our faith is our shield.  Armored in God’s truth, we can stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  We can stand strong in the face of evil.  We can have courage to speak, as we must, to share the word of God, to open our mouths and make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.  I have been weak.

As I read this description about the armor of God, I realize just how much a battle this is.  A battle against evil.  And although the verse speaks in terms of warfare and describes armor, and shields and swords, the weapons are not human weapons.  We are not fighting humans — indeed, we need to stop fighting each other — we are fighting the devil, the darkness that surrounds us.  And like any battle, we cannot expect to be able to just roll out of bed and be strong — we need to prepare so that we are ready when we are in a situation of injustice that we can stand up, stand firm and speak God’s truth.  We need to pray with all supplication (I had to look that up –asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly).  It is God’s armor we seek.  We need to shod our feet in readiness for the gospel of peace.  We need to pray and have faith and read God’s word.  This is how we prepare for battle, and we must prepare for battle.

Dear God,

Too often I have stood by silent.  I have let others denigrate You and Your creation.  I have been politically correct and tried to please this world, even though I know how messed up it can be, even though Your world is where I want to be. Help me to put on Your armor.  I want to stand firm against injustice.  I want to stand strong against evil.  I want to speak Your words in the face of hurt.  I don’t want to be a bystander in this world anymore. Please give me the courage to speak your word, even when it may not be popular.  Help me to open my mouth and make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.  Give me the words to fight injustice, to respond to evil and most importantly to help my friends and neighbors and even enemies, know your love.

 

The Coronavirus Gift; An Easter Awakening

We have been given a gift, perhaps in an unusual way, but nonetheless a gift.  A gift of time.  But what are we doing with it.  We have been freed from our routines, freed from traffic and daily grinds.  But what have we done with our freedom.  I heard on the news this morning that despite the added time on our hands, most of us are working out less, most of us are falling into poor eating habits and most of us are adding more screen time into our lives.  If the coronavirus doesn’t get us,  our own sloth and gluttony certainly might.

Most churches have closed.  What have we done to stay connected to God?  Have we opened the Bible?  Have we taken time to pray?  What are we doing to stay close to God when it is not offered to us on a silver platter? What are we doing to praise Him?  To thank Him for all of the abundance that we still have even if we are currently suffering?

Today I opened up the Bible to the book of Samuel and I read these words:

If you fear and serve the LORD, if you listen to the voice of the LORD and do not rebel against the LORD’s command, if both you and the king, who rules over you, follow the LORD your God—well and good.  But if you do not listen to the voice of the LORD and if you rebel against the LORD’s command, the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king.

1 Samuel 12: 14-15

Each of us fails at times, sometimes more than others, to listen to the voice of the Lord.  The Lord woke me up the other morning urging me, actually shouting to me, to SPEAK and yet I let work, TV and my cell phone distract me.  I look at our country currently, with many churches closed, with governors threatening to quarantine anyone who dares to gather in worship of the Lord, and with abortion clinics being deemed “essential businesses” and I question whether we are listening.

Samuel goes on to say:

“Do not fear,” Samuel answered them. “You have indeed committed all this evil! Yet do not turn from the LORD, but serve him with your whole heart.  Do not turn aside to gods who are nothing, who cannot act and deliver. They are nothing.  For the sake of his own great name the LORD will not abandon his people, since the LORD has decided to make you his people.  As for me, far be it from me to sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you and to teach you the good and right way.  But you must fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart, for you have seen the great things the LORD has done among you.

1 Samuel 12: 20-24

I am reminded of a similar verse later, when God tells Solomon:

The LORD appeared to Solomon during the night and said to him: I have heard your prayer, and I have chosen this place for my house of sacrifice.  If I close heaven so that there is no rain, if I command the locust to devour the land, if I send pestilence among my people, if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7: 12-14

Indeed, I was napping after reading Samuel and again I felt God stir me with these words: “if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.”

If we look to the governors, and Congress, the CDC and the president, we continue to look in the wrong place.  If we focus on the news and social media, we are focusing in the wrong place.  If you have listened to them at all, you know… they do not know anything about this virus or how to control it.  They have changed their opinions about what to do multiple times.  Why do we keep looking to them to save us?

God has told us what we need to do:

“serve the Lord”

“listen to the voice of the Lord”

“Do not fear . . . . You have indeed committed all this evil! Yet do not turn from the LORD, but serve him with your whole heart.  Do not turn aside to gods who are nothing, who cannot act and deliver. They are nothing. ”

“serve him faithfully with all your heart”

“humble [your]selves and pray, and seek [God’s] face and turn from [your] evil ways”

And God will hear us from heaven and pardon our sins and heal our land.

On this Easter weekend, may we all arise from the dead in our hearts, may we all break free from the tombs that encase us, may we all witness God’s love, and may we humble ourselves and pray.  We are not the solution.  Neither Republicans nor Democrats, neither science nor the media, neither anger nor fear is the answer.  God is, and always was, the only answer.  How quickly we forget when things go well and how quickly we blame when things go bad.  May we praise God this Easter and every day with our voices raised wherever we are.  We don’t need the church building, we just need to open our hearts, listen to God’s word , and humble ourselves and pray.

Dear God,

You sent your only son into this world because we could not undo the harm that we caused.  Redeem us once again.  We who have let this world envelope us with material goods.  We have allowed “leaders” to cut you out of our lives.  And we have chosen gods, including facebook, and cell phones,  above you.  Awaken us this Easter.  We need you.  We need you in our lives everyday.  Allow us to be reborn.  Send forth your Spirit upon us and renew the face of the earth.

We know that we can not cure what is wrong in the world.  We need you, Lord.  Lord, we pray that you heal our land.  And more importantly that you heal our hearts.

Help me to listen more, to serve you more, to not turn to gods who are nothing.  You alone are my strength.  You alone are my salvation.  Heal us Lord, from the inside out.

2020: The year of Clear Vision (not Coronavirus)

It may feel like “our” world is falling down all around us.  The coronavirus/COVID-19 has created a worldwide crisis and panic, the likes of which most of us have never seen.

We can bemoan the lack of toilet paper, the closed restaurants and activities, the impact on our wallet…   But what an opportunity for awakening it provides!

It seems like everything is closing.  We are being told to distance ourselves from others, to self isolate.  Our sources of entertainment, bars, restaurants, schools, and activities are closing.  I was saddened this weekend when I heard that so many churches were also closing.  I found myself asking, “What is the plan, Lord?  Help me make sense of this.”

And then it hit me — what a blessing all of this is.  A chance to slow down.  A chance to be quiet.  A chance to be alone… with God.  Even in church, I sometimes find myself just checking a box, distracted by those around me, rather than in a conversation with God.  There are so many distractions in our daily life — now many of those are being closed or isolated from us.  No excuse not to spend some quiet time with God.

What an opportunity to make 2020 not the year of the coronavirus, but the year when we open our eyes and ears — the year when we get clearer vision — 20/20 vision on what’s important.

Let’s take the time that we have been given, the social distancing that we are supposed to be observing, to remove the distance between ourselves and God.  Let’s fill the six foot space around us with God . . . His love . . . His arms . . . His wisdom . . . His plan.  He never asks us to distance ourselves from Him — we seem to do that all on our own.  What a great time to recapture that space with Him.

May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Ephesians 1: 18-21

Lord,

Open our eyes.  Help us to see more clearly.  Open my eyes to see the wonders of your law and of your love. I want to focus on you.  I want to use this year of 2020, to make my vision 20/20.  Guide me in your ways.  Help me to see and utilize the opportunity that the current situation presents.  Help me to focus on your world not what we get distracted by in our world.  Our world is temporary — yours is eternal.

Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see more clearly.

 

Strong Faith, Big Heart, Can’t Lose

The snow fell today — like the dewfall — silently coating the world in a white soft blanket.  Like a baptismal gown or a white funeral pall covering the casket, the snow seemed to wipe away the gray and darkness of the winter skies.  Beautiful, silent, purifying and slowing down the world.

The perfect backdrop for a funeral.  God wiped the world clean with snow as he welcomed home his son today.  And while there were tears for the human loss, there was glory in the hope and love of God.  And we were reminded of our call to love.  The priest’s words still resonate in my ears and in my heart.  As he praised the love and big heart of the man we lost, he encouraged the rest of us to “pray to have a big heart.”  The priest went on to state that those who have a strong faith, can’t help but love.  You cannot have one without the other.  Something I had never thought about before, but as I thought about the people in my life who have a strong faith, their lives do brim with love.  Love for God, love for their families and love for strangers.  They have big hearts and they show it.  It is not enough to simply claim faith, to simply claim to love God.  When I opened the Bible this evening, it opened to Galatians:

For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14

We are all called to love.  Faith requires love.   It is easy to love God.  He is all powerful, He has given us everything, He is our salvation.  It is harder to love our fellow man — what have they done for us?  But true faith requires true love.  God’s love.  Love even when someone might not deserve it.  Love even when someone hurts us. Love even when someone doesn’t show it back. Love in the good times and the bad.  True love.  Not just words.  But actions.  Indeed, the priest today reiterated that we must pray for that big heart — and then act upon it.  It is not enough to simply say it.  It is not enough to simply have a big heart.  It is not enough to just have faith.  We must act upon it.   We are called to make Christ visible.  To share His love.

As I read further in Galatians, it again echoed the message from today’s funeral:

Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit.  Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.  So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faith.

Galatains 6:7-10

We reap what we sow.  Let us sow love.  Let us act upon that love.  While we have the opportunity (and today’s funeral is a reminder that we never know how long that opportunity will be), “let us do good to all,” especially those in our faith family.

Our friend is ready to reap his harvest.  God’s white blanket of snow, purifying the earth before his body entered it,  tells me that his harvest is good.  I hope to one day be ready to reap mine.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for all of the people that you have blessed me with.  I see your heart in so many of them.  Through them I see how powerful and pure your love is.  I am inspired and contrite.  Lord, I pray for a big heart.  Help me to love like you do.  Help me to share your love with others.  Help me to get out of my self and my own wants and needs, fears and desires, and live for others.  Help me to act in love and faith with everyone I encounter.  Help me to make your son visible to others.  Thank you for renewing my spirit today, and wiping the world pure in snow.

O Lord, Create in me a pure heart and renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Just Keep Praying

It is Groundhog Day!  One of my favorite days of the year.  Remember the movie about Groundhog Day where the day just keeps repeating itself?  I thought about that as I left church this morning.

Lately, I have been frustrated because I feel like I am stuck in an endless cycle.  I have been repeatedly praying for God’s help with a situation and it does not seem to be improving.  Indeed, I was starting to think of giving up.  As I thought about this and Groundhog Day, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable:

Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

And then I thought of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

(This also made me think of Dory in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”)

And then I suddenly realized how silly it was for me to get frustrated with things not moving forward as quickly as I would like.  I am grateful that God is more patient than me.  He too may think that our relationship often feels like Groundhog Day, as He watches me commit the same sins and make the same mistakes over and over again.  (One of those sins is not being as forgiving of others.)  Thankfully, God does not tire of forgiving me.  Thankfully, God does not tire of my impatience.  Thankfully God, is much more patient than me.

And then I thought about the shadow that the groundhog sees.  Sometimes we get stuck in our own shadow.  Sometimes, we only see the dark side of what is going on.  But there is no shadow too dark for God.  And regardless of whether we see our shadow (just like regardless of whether the groundhog sees its shadow), Spring is coming, renewal is coming.  Sometimes it just may take a little longer.  In the meantime, we need to just keep praying, just keep praying.

Lord,

Thank you for being there even when I am lost in the shadows.  Thank you for your patience when I fail again and again.  I know that you hear my prayers.  I know that you will what is good for me.  I know that your plans are better than mine.  I have faith in you.  I will keep rejoicing in you and praying in thanksgiving.  Lord, I want to be a light, not a shadow on the world.   I pray for renewal for me and those around me.  We are ready for Spring.  Shine your light upon us.  Break through the cold hearts.  Fill us with love.  Build your kingdom here!  Help us to just keep praying.  I trust that you will answer in your time, in your way.   Help me to listen and follow and never give up.