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.

 

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.

 

A New Year Renewal

The New Year is coming.  A time to make resolutions.  To promise to do better.  What resolutions will you make? Eat better?  Eat less?  Exercise more? Quit smoking? Quit drugs? Go to church more?  Pray more? Be kinder to those around you?  It takes 60 seconds for the ball to drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  Most years, it takes about the same amount of time for me to drop my new year’s resolution.

Tonight the Bible opened to Ephesians:

So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.  That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Ephesians 4:17-24

Paul tells us the New Year’s resolution we need to make: you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

We all go through periods where we drown in the futility of our own minds and our own desires.  Our understanding is darkened.  Perhaps we sink into a depression.  We are alienated from God and from light. And we give in to all of the vices (that we then seek to change with our new year resolutions).

The truth that we need is in Jesus. This New Year let’s renew ourselves in Jesus.  Let’s put away our old selves, our deceitful desires and all of the things that take us away from God — all of the things that we think make us happy, that never really seem to do the trick.  Let’s put away all of our sorrows, all of our sins, all of our mistakes and all of our regrets from the past year (or past years).  And allow God’s spirit to renew us.  And then let’s put on a new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.  Let’s empty ourselves so that God can fill us.

Dear God,

Renew my spirit.  Create in me a clean heart.  Make me steadfast in your way.  Help me to cast off my old ways and all of my deceitful desires and to cloak myself in you.

Pumpkins and Paramedics

Every day brings a new challenge, a new struggle. Some days the challenges are easy.  Today’s challenge was to carve a pumpkin and not embarrass my 16 year old son too much when he brought a new girl to the house.  I can manage that (for the most part).  But just a few days ago, the challenge involved the same son being strapped to a backboard after a high school soccer game, with his neck immobilized, and loaded into the back of a life squad.  Not as easy of a challenge to manage.

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.

Ephesians 6:10-17

The life squad excursion ended up being precautionary and other than a sore neck and headache, my son is fine.  A temporary challenge.  As I read this passage, I thought of my son laying on the ground with the trainer holding his neck still until the life squad arrived.  His body was exhausted from a game that had gone into double over time.  He had done everything he could but his body wouldn’t let him do any more.  The paramedics slid a back board under his body, and began strapping the gold straps across his chest.  They crossed around the center of his body.  Then they crossed his arms across his chest and wrapped a blanket around him.  With the gold straps crossed around him — he looked protected.  An armor of sorts.

Our strength comes from God.    Like my son, there will be days when we are exhausted, when we have done everything we can.  But we do not have the strength or ability to do it alone.  We need the armor of God strapped around us, crossing our chest, our heart.  The strength we need comes from God’s truth, His righteousness and our readiness for the gospel.  Our faith is our shield and God’s word is our sword, it clears our path to victory.

I watched the paramedics slide a neck brace around my son’s neck without moving his head or neck even an inch.  Just as effortlessly we can take on the helmet of salvation.  God offers it to us, and like my son, sometimes we just need to lay still, and not turn our heads away.

God,

Help me to stand fast, with my feet deeply planted in your gospel.  Fill my hidden most parts with your truth.  Allow me to show your righteousness to the world, engraving it across my chest.  Make my faith strong so that its shield can protect me from all evil that may come my way.  Lead me with your word and your sword.  I draw my strength from you.

Thank you for taking care of my son.

Battle against Evil

There are many battles in life.  We hear about them all the time.  Military battles like the battle at Yorktown, the battle of the Alamo, the battle at Gettysburg.  Court battles like Marbury vs. Madison, Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe vs. Wade.  Sports battles or rivalries like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Cowboys and the Redskins, the Bengals and the Steelers. Everyday battles like the battles with our children over bedtime or eating vegetables.  We have all heard the saying, you have to pick your battle.  In other words, if we are going to spend energy and resources fighting something, we want to make sure it is worth it.

There really is only one battle worth fighting.  The battle against evil.  And we need to fight it every day.  Sometimes we may try to take the easy way and hide from it.  Sometimes we forget how to fight it.  In tonight’s bible verse, God tells us how to fight the battle:

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.

Ephesians 6:10-17

When our favorite sports team is playing we put on the team jersey, we may wave a team flag or scarf or foam finger, we chant the team name or sing the team song.  All for a battle that is (ultimately) meaningless.  For the most important battle of our life — what do we put on?  Are we wearing God’s jersey?  Are we waving His flag? Are we chanting His name or singing his word?

We know how to fight battles.  Let’s fight this one together!  Put on God’s armor! Hold faith as a shield!  When our faith is strong, what can penetrate it?  Take the helmet of salvation!  God’s salvation — our protection.  Take the sword of the Spirit!  The word of God is powerful like a sword — it pierces to the heart.  It destroys evil.  It is the offensive weapon.  Our faith is our defense — our shield to protect us when evil strikes.

Our struggle is not with flesh and blood.  The struggle goes much deeper.  But we can draw strength from God for every battle.  Our prayers are our victory chants.

God,

You are great!  I want to be on your team!

Let’s Go with God!

Let’s Go with God!

Let’s Go with God!

L-E-T-S-G-O! Let’s go!