Religious Opposition to Vaccines

There are many who do not believe that anyone can have a religious objection to the COVID-19 vaccine. They call these claims BS. The major religions do not support this belief so how can it be true. They attack those who dare to say otherwise. The days of religious freedom in this country are being called into question. I believe that my relationship with God is personal. I try to work on that relationship every day. Sometimes the church helps me in that endeavor, but ultimately it is my personal relationship with God, my faith in Him and my submission to His will, that is of utmost importance in my life. And to do that, I must trust in Him, nothing else. (Some days I do better at this than others).

Perhaps close to a hundred thousand or more across the country are claiming religious objections to the vaccine. “My body is my temple.” “I am opposed to the use of aborted fetal cells.” “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than trust in man.” Has COVID created a Great Conversion of faith?! I hope so. But, like many, I suspect that some of those touting religious beliefs may not truly have this conviction.

Or maybe this is the spark they need to dive deeper into their faith. I believe that one should not use the Lord’s name in vain. One should not use God as an excuse. BUT I believe that everyday every one of us, whether close to God or not, whether full of faith or full of doubt, has the opportunity to draw closer to God. Perhaps you are afraid of the vaccine. Perhaps you are afraid in general. You are right to turn to the bible. You are right to turn to God. Our bodies are our temples to God. If you espouse these beliefs, even if initially without true belief, I encourage you to dive into them further. Because it truly is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. Although God has given us the intelligence and ability to do many things, no one among us, no scientist, no doctor, no president, is greater than God. If you have fear, if you have doubt, you can take refuge in the Lord… even if you have been absent from Him.

In Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are called to be holy, to avoid immorality, to protect our bodies from evil because our bodies are temples created by God:

“Everything is lawful for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful for me,” but I will not let myself be dominated by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” but God will do away with both the one and the other. The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! [Or] do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.” But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Our bodies are a host to the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are made in God’s image. We can do many things — we have free will — but not everything we can do is right. Our bodies are meant to glorify God. Our bodies are members of Christ. Would you allow Christ’s body, the temple of the Holy Spirit to be defiled with lustful, immoral activity? Would you allow Christ’s body to “benefit” from or take advantage of aborted fetal cells? Would you use your body to indulge in gluttony with food or drugs or alcohol for momentary pleasure? Unfortunately, we may have done all of these. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot do better. That we cannot reassess how we treat God’s temple. That we cannot begin to worship God with our bodies. That we cannot use our bodies to show love rather than lust. That we cannot take better care of God’s temple and prevent harmful substances from entering it. That we cannot reject immorality, greed, lust, gluttony and pride (believing that we know better than God).

I believe in science. But I believe in God more. If we have learned nothing these last two years, it is that we do not know everything. We have been largely powerless against COVID-19. Even the vaccine which the media seems to hail as the savior to the pandemic does not prevent the vaccinated from continuing to spread it. Even highly vaccinated areas are seeing huge spikes in the virus. We need God. We can be prideful and boastful. But we are foolish if we do not turn to God. We are foolish if we rely on man rather than trusting in God. For too many years we have been pushing God out of our lives. The bible is filled with plagues — do we think we are any better? Do we not see the parallels in today’s times. Whether or not you receive the vaccine, we need to turn our hearts, our minds, and our bodies back to God.

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.

Psalm 118:5-9

I understand the fear surrounding COVID-19. I understand the fear surrounding the vaccine. Fear is found where faith is not. Have faith in God. Trust in the Lord. Nothing is more effective in driving out fear. I believe and pray that religious freedom in this country will continue to be honored. And I hope and pray that those who are claiming it continue to turn to God.

Lord, I pray that all of those who use you to rally against the vaccine, find you. I pray that we as a nation turn back to you. I pray that those who persecute religious objections have open minds to what they cannot see and experience your love.

Another in the Fire

One of my favorite songs at the moment is Hillsong United’s Another in the Fire. Lately, I feel that I am under attack for my beliefs. I feel that I am under fire. My beliefs are being challenged. Indeed, it feels as though Christianity is under attack in this country. The words in Hillsong’s song have been speaking to me:

There’s a grace when the heart is under fire
Another way when the walls are closing in
And when I look at the space between
Where I used to be and this reckoning
I know I will never be alone
There was another in the fire
Standing next to me
There was another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
Of how I’ve been set free

There is a cross that bears the burden
Where another died for me.

Today, I learned the connection between this song and the book of Daniel. In chapter 3, we learn that King Nebuchadnezzar required everyone to bow down and worship a golden statute he had made. He decreed that “Whoever does not fall down and worship shall be instantly cast into a white-hot furnace.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship this false god. And when they were questioned, they responded:

“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:17-18

As a result, they were thrown into the fire. The faith and the strength that they showed when truly under fire in inspiring. While in the midst of the fire, these three responded by praising and worshipping God amidst the fire (and — spoiler alert — an angel of the Lord saved them from the flames so that not even the smell of smoke touched them). Their prayer is a powerful one and a good reminder in these days when we are under attack:

“Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, and glorious forever is your name. For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper. You have executed proper judgments in all that you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors. By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins; For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil. Your commandments we have not heeded or observed, nor have we done as you ordered us for our good. Therefore all you have brought upon us, all you have done to us, you have done by a proper judgment. You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels; to an unjust king, the worst in all the world. Now we cannot open our mouths; shame and reproach have come upon us, your servants, who revere you. For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or tens of thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today and find favor before you; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we seek your face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us in accord with your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord: Let all those be put to shame who inflict evils on your servants; Let them be shamed and powerless, and their strength broken; Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.”

Daniel 3:26-45

As I read this this morning, I saw so many similarities with today. We have departed from God as a country. We have done every kind of evil. We have removed God from almost everything. We attack those who stand against abortion. We worship lust over love. We riot instead of talk. We blame instead of seek to understand. We fear because we have no faith. We attack those whose religious beliefs preclude them from receiving a vaccine. We are called to worship a president, a vaccine, sex, athletes, media personalities…. everything but God. We cannot open our mouths. Those who speak out are ostracized. Shame and reproach come upon us. We have no prince, prophet or leader. Even our church leaders are cowering to political pressure. Our church gatherings have been reduced to zoom. WE ARE UNDER FIRE. God is being closed out of our lives. The fire is as hot and as evil as the fire that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into. We do not have the power. What can we do? Bow down to the false gods around us? NO! “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received.” For those who trust in the Lord cannot be put to shame. As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did — we must follow God with our whole heart. God is with us. We have to resist the temptation to bow to all that is around us, all that asks us to turn away from God. As the words in the song say: “There is a grace when our heart is under fire. [There is] another way when the walls are closing in” — our way is to turn and follow God with our whole heart… regardless of what the kings around us say.

Lord, may I be as strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. May I not falter and not bow to the gold statutes around me. I know you are with me. I know you alone can set me free. My heart is humble and contrite. I seek your mercy for my failings. You alone are my God. Deliver us in accord with your wonders. Let all those be put to shame who inflict evils on your servants; Let them be shamed and powerless, and their strength broken; Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.

Rest in A World of Unrest

The world is crazy. Do I need to say more? Whether its Afghanistan, COVID-19, Hurricane Ida, and all of the big and small things in between. The world is crazy. Watching the news makes me angry. There is plenty to disagree with. Plenty to get up in arms about. Plenty to fight about. Plenty to be upset about. Plenty to pit me against my brothers and sisters here on earth. It makes me anxious. It makes me afraid. It makes me angry. Because I cannot control what goes on in Afghanistan, I cannot control COVID-19, I cannot control Hurricane Ida, and I cannot control any of the politicians, whether or not I agree with them. I can only control myself….

And I can pray. This weekend the Lord, placed this Psalm on my heart. He has me. In this world of crazy, my God has me. I can rest in Him. He calls each of us to Him. If we allow Him, He has us. We don’t need to worry about the world and the craziness around us. Lord, thank you! This is my prayer.

LORD, my heart is not proud;

nor are my eyes haughty.

I do not busy myself with great matters,

with things too sublime for me.

Rather, I have stilled my soul,

Like a weaned child to its mother,

weaned is my soul.

Israel, hope in the LORD,

now and forever.

Psalm 131

Lord,

In you I find my peace. I rest in you. Help me to be still and focus on you not the chaos around me. The world is full of unrest, because we fail to trust in you. We fail to rest in you. I don’t have to solve the problems and I am proud and conceited to think I could. I just need to be still, rest and trust in you. I pray that others do too.

America, hope in the Lord!

Bring Me My Chariot of Fire

A friend suggested I should watch the movie Chariots of Fire. Although the music from it was the first, and only thing, I have ever learned to play on the piano, I had never seen the underlying film. I watched it this weekend. In the film, two runners, from two different religious backgrounds, make it to the Olympics in 1924. One is fighting prejudice because of his Jewish heritage and one is running to bring glory to God. When he is challenged as to whether he should be doing something more purposeful than running, he responds: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” But when the Olympic race is on a Sunday, the runner refuses to participate despite the pressure from those around him including the Prince of Wales. Instead he delivers a sermon at church that Sunday in which he quotes from Isaiah:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

So much to unpack from all of this, including following God’s purpose for us, using God’s gifts to us for His glory, standing up for our beliefs even in the face of prejudice or promises of personal gain, turning to and waiting upon the Lord for our strength and our renewal. But of course I wanted more. I was curious as to where the Chariots of Fire came into play. Chariots of Fire are mentioned twice in the second book of Kings. First a fiery chariot and fiery horses take Elijah up to heaven in 2 Kings 2:11. Then a few chapters later, the King of Aram sends his horses and chariots to take Elisha captive. They arrive by night and encircle the city where Elisha is:

Early the next morning, when the servant of the man of God arose and went out, he saw the force with its horses and chariots surrounding the city. “Alas!” he said to Elisha. “What shall we do, my lord?” Elisha answered, “Do not be afraid. Our side outnumbers theirs.” Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes, that he may see.” And the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw that the mountainside was filled with fiery chariots and horses around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17

It is easy to grow weary. It is easy to give in to the world around us. It is easy to fear and to allow that fear to consume us. But our side outnumbers theirs. When we are with God, our side always outnumbers theirs. When we are afraid, our eyes are blind to the truth: God is with us. God’s fiery chariots and horses surround us and protect us.

The title of the movie purportedly comes from a poem by William Blake, in which he states:

Bring me my bow of burning gold;

Bring me my arrows of desire;

Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold:

Bring me my Chariots of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In [America’s] green and pleasant land.

Lord,

Open my eyes, that I may see. Help me to turn from worldly promises and gain, for heavenly gain is all I truly seek. I will wait upon you to renew my strength. Help me to mount up with wings like eagles, help me to run and not grow weary. Bring me your Chariots of Fire, that I may see. Arm me with your bow and arrows and spear. Cloak me in your armor, O Lord. Help me to do your will on earth and fulfill the purpose you have planned. I need you Lord. Help me not to fear.

Why I am Not Vaccinated: The Truth

There is a lot of distrust flowing through our country. The government has made it clear that it is fully focused on pushing the vaccine. In its rush and push, the media and government make statements and take actions designed to encourage vaccination that are not always supported by the data, particularly as the new variants occur. Is it safe? Is it effective? How long is it effective? Is it better than natural immunity? Are there long-term effects? I don’t know. And unfortunately because everything is so new and the virus is changing so rapidly, neither does anyone else. We are still learning.

COVID-19 is scary. We have watched the world react with fear. Shutting down businesses. Pushing isolation. And now blaming the unvaccinated for the virus even though studies are beginning to show that the current variant spreads among the vaccinated too. As we have seen in recent years, the media and now government silence and attack anyone who disagrees with their agenda, leading to further distrust, isolation, and dissension.

As the hysteria around the virus spread (quicker than the virus itself), I turned to the only place where I knew I would get the truth. I turned to God. And I turned to the bible. And I continue to turn there now. In Chronicles, God tells us:

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 7:13-14

I don’t know if the vaccine will save us. But I do know that God will, if we turn to Him! Imagine if we pushed this as much as we pushed the vaccine? Imagine if those who have turned away, who are paying homage to other idols, to money, to fame, to technology, to kings and presidents and political parties, imagine if the same media pressure, asked them to return to God. Imagine if we united in His name. The vaccine may work for some, but it also does cause negative effects in others. The vaccine may reduce some risk, but no one thinks its 100% effective, and early studies are skeptical about how effective it will be on new variants. God is 100% effective. There are no negative side effects. There is no variant or mutation that He cannot handle. His truth is overpowering.

I believe that God is calling us to Him. I believe that if we have faith, and we turn back to Him, He will save us. I believe that He calls us not to live in fear, for when we live in fear, we turn away from God. He tells us repeatedly do not be afraid. If we have faith, there is nothing to fear. Fear is a reminder that we need to turn back and restore our faith.

I am not against science. And I am not against the vaccine. But for me personally right now, it is a question of faith. God is calling me to have faith and to turn to Him and Him alone.

God,

You have made us in your image. You have made us with intelligence and creativity. But sometimes we forget about you. We think we are capable of solving problems and forget that we always need your help. Lord, I know that I am not capable of solving the challenges in front of me without you. I am weak, confused and uncertain when I turn from you. I turn to you now. I am humble and ashamed of the times I think that I can do anything, without you. I ask you to protect me, to protect my family and to heal these lands. Please help us to turn back to you. To turn away from politics and division, to turn away from anything that is not of you.

Heal us O Lord that we may be healed. Save us, that we may be saved. For you are our praise.

Forgive the Church, Forgive me

I must confess.  I have been angry at the church this last year.  Angry that a church that proclaims that Jesus Christ is present each Sunday in the Eucharist, that guilts us into going each Sunday (and putting money in the offertory) to be with Him, closes its doors at the first sign of a pandemic.   Angry that a church replaces the real presence of Jesus with a streaming video of the priest continuing to enjoy His presence.  Angry that when the world needs God the most, the church locked its doors.  Angry that when we returned, holy water was replaced with antibacterial hand sanitizer. 

I blamed the church for my own sin, my own fear, my own distrust.

No more!  The Church is made up of humans, just like me.  And we fail.  All the time.  Jesus reached out to the sick, he touched the lepers. He doesn’t shy away from illness or close His doors or require us to wear a mask.  He welcomes us with open arms when we are sick and when we are well.  He kisses us, embraces us, and pulls us closer.  Jesus isn’t afraid of death because he has overcome it.  As much as our church proclaims this, our church is still full of humans who doubt, who fear, who are more afraid of a virus and death, than separation from our Lord.  No more! 

The Book of Revelation has always confused (and scared) me – but today it sheds some light:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

****

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27

There is no church building in heaven.  There is no need for one.  We fool ourselves into thinking that God is only in the building or that we can only pray and talk to Him there.  Or that we need priests or ministers.  We need God.  The church and its priests and ministers are helpful, because there is strength in numbers.  We need reminders of God’s presence.  We need help fighting off the distractions of every day life.  But our goal is not to be great in church. Our goal is not to have a great relationship with the church. Our goal is to have a great relationship with God.  Because the church closed its doors, I developed a closer relationship with God.  I discovered that although the church may be helpful, ultimately it is my personal relationship with God that is important, and He isn’t satisfied with a box being checked an hour a week, He doesn’t reward perfect attendance or hand out participation trophies.  He wants me all in.  He wants me to want to be with Him.  (Who would want to spend eternity with someone who didn’t want to be there.)

Lord, I want to be present with you for all eternity.  I want to be present with you every day here on earth as well.  Help me to focus on you whether I am in a church building, in my home or out in the world.  I want to embrace your presence wherever I go. I want the spring of your life-giving water to course through my veins. Lord, forgive the church and its leaders for being human, for having doubt, for being afraid, for cowering to the pressures of the world instead of standing steadfast in You and help me to forgive them too.  Father, forgive me for my own doubts and fear and the many times that I too cower to the pressures of the human world.  Forgive me for blaming the church when I am responsible for my relationship with you. Help me to remain steadfast in your love, your word and your glory.  Guide the church and me to do your will, not the will of those around us.  I know that your plan is far greater.  I know that I don’t need to be afraid.  I trust in you.

Say HIS name

A friend has challenged me to learn and memorize a bible verse every two weeks. Now, like many of you, I am extremely busy so I was looking for something short and simple that I could easily memorize, like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (I thought about just using that, but figured that may be cheating since that is the only one I already know by heart.) So I grabbed the bible and let it open where it may. The bible opened to Titus. I will admit I wasn’t initially thrilled because I couldn’t think of anything memorable from Titus. My eyes immediately fell on this: “Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” I immediately felt drawn to it — even though I must admit I had no idea what it was saying. I had to look up what exhort meant (for the few of you like me, who struggle with some of the vocabulary in the bible, it means: strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something). I read these three short sentences over and over, quickly memorizing and also feeling empowered by them — although I still didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to be saying or what I was supposed to be encouraging or correcting. I tried to resist, but was drawn to read the preceding verses, and I am so glad I did:

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

Titus 2:11-15

I have been struggling with the state of the world, struggling with the godless ways, struggling with all of the worldly desires and what the world says is good. This verse, which falls under the heading “Transformation of Life” has been transforming me ever since, and I cannot get it our of my head. As I read this, I wanted to shout from the rooftops: Thank God for His grace! How blessed are we that it just appears — it’s just there, waiting for us — saving all! Saving me — saving you! Saving all.

We live (just as they did in Jesus’ day) in a world filled with godless ways and worldly desires. But with God’s grace we can learn to live temperately, justly and devoutly. (which my google dictionary search says means: in a thoughtfully measured, regulated manner, according to what is morally right, and in a totally committed and sincere way). Not perfectly. God doesn’t call us, or expect us, to live perfectly (thank God!). What He wants us to learn is how to be thoughtful, regulated, moral and sincerely committed.

And then the 3 words that struck me the most in the verse: “in this age.” In other words, we are here in this age, God wants us to live in this age, to live in the world. God knows the world around us is not perfect. There are godless and worldly temptations around us. I sometimes want to be in a perfect world and lament why it is not, but maybe its not supposed to be. How would I ever understand God’s grace if the world were perfect? How would I ever truly understand His love and glory if I never saw the contrast with what is godless? God’s grace saves us and trains us to deal with the world that we live in, to live temperately, justly and devoutly — as we await the blessed hope — as we await the reunion with Him.

But wait — there’s more! We are reminded that Jesus gave himself for us to deliver us from lawlessness and to cleanse us from our own lawlessness and sinfulness so that we can be His own. Again we are not called to be perfect. We are not expected to be perfect. Even as Jesus gathers us as His own, it is not that we must do good — but that we are eager to do what is good. We may fail — but where is our heart and our intention — do we want to do good, are we sincere in our intentions, thoughtful and eager to do good, even though we may fall short. There is so much good news in this verse!

Now, I know what the next three short sentences mean that initially struck me. “Say these things! Exhort (encourage) and correct with all authority! Let no one look down on you.” We cannot hide this good news from others. We cannot worry about what others may think or how they may look at us. Say these things! Encourage with all authority!

Over the last few years there have been many chants and outcries to “say their names” in remembrance of the individuals whose lives have been tragically cut short by police brutality. The phrase is powerful and a cry of outrage, a call for action. But I cannot help but think as I read this verse from the Bible — and not to take away from any of these movements — but shouldn’t all of our cries be to say His name? To say these things? That God’s grace is there for us? To save us — all of us. That we are called to temperately, justly and devoutly await the blessed hope. That Jesus wants to bring us together as his own — and wants us to be eager to do good — not perfect, but eager. Say these things! Say Jesus’s name — call on God’s name and his great glory. Let this be our cry of outrage and our call to action. A cry that we can all meet in the middle to embrace, because Jesus calls us all as His own. Let us not be afraid of what others think or how others may look at us. Let us cry out with all authority and say His name and share His good news, because it truly is too good not to share.

Dear God,

I cry out to you! I am eager to do what is good. I am outraged by the world around me, but I know I am not perfect. Train me to live temperately, justly and devoutly. I trust in you and anxiously await the blessed hope. I am not worthy of your grace but I cry out to you in thanksgiving for I know your grace abounds. Give me the courage to say these things with authority that comes from you. Help us to come together in your name, as your people, and proclaim your name and your glory.

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.