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.

Battle On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord,

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

 

In God We Trust: Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad

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

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

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

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

Psalm 118:24

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

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

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

Let Israel say:

his mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Aaron say,

his mercy endures forever.

Let those who fear the LORD say,

his mercy endures forever.

In danger I called on the LORD;

the LORD answered me and set me free.

The LORD is with me; I am not afraid;

what can mortals do against me?

The LORD is with me as my helper;

I shall look in triumph on my foes.

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

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

All the nations surrounded me;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me on every side;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

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

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

I was hard pressed and falling,

but the LORD came to my help.

 

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

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

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

the LORD’s right hand works valiantly.”

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

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

Open the gates of righteousness;

I will enter and thank the LORD.

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

I thank you for you answered me;

you have been my savior.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

By the LORD has this been done;

it is wonderful in our eyes.

 

This is the day the LORD has made;

let us rejoice in it and be glad.

LORD, grant salvation!

LORD, grant good fortune!

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

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

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

You are my God, I give you thanks;

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

his mercy endures forever.

 

Psalm 118

 

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

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

All the nations surrounded me;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

They surrounded me on every side;

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

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

in the LORD’s name I cut them off.

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

God,

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

 

One Team — God’s team

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 3:28

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

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

Dear Lord,

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

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

You Shall Not Fear

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

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

2 Kings 17: 34-40

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

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

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

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

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

God,

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

My Stronghold in Times of Trouble

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

The Bible opened to Psalm 9:

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God,

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