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.

 

Are We in a Time of Persecution?

I remember, as a child, learning about the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith and nevertheless stood steadfast and strong in God.  I remember feeling jealous because the early Christians had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution.  Growing up Catholic in a Catholic community, at a time when stores and businesses were still closed on Sundays, when religion appeared to be a part of everyone’s life and the country still appeared to trust in God, I thought the days of Christians being persecuted were long gone.  How wrong I was.  I am no longer jealous of the early Christians  because they had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution (unfortunately, I think that opportunity is now more widely available), now I am jealous because the early Christians had the strength to remain strong in the face of persecution.

Tonight the Bible opened to Maccabees.  At the time, the Jews were being persecuted.  But one man, Mattathias stood strong:

The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them sacrifice.  Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons drew together.  Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kindred.  Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and Judeans and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and you and your sons shall be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that they forsake the religion of their ancestors and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors.  Heaven forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our religion in the slightest degree.”

1 Maccabees 2:15-22

Throughout the ages, humans have been persecuted for following God.  Upon his death, Mattathias told his sons:

And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.

Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.

Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be honored.

1 Maccabees 2:61-64

These words struck me: “Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.”   A little bit more powerful than the old sticks and stones saying.

If we believe in God…  If we hope in God and the promise of eternal life…  Why do we allow the words of sinners, or the pressure of their earthly glory to get to us?  When we do, we show our weakness, we show our doubt, we show our fear.  Do we doubt God’s promises?  Do we doubt God’s existence?  NO!  We can be strong knowing that no matter the persecution here on earth, no matter the hurtful words of sinners or earthly promises they may make, their glory is fleeting, and ends in corruption and worms.  Our glory is eternal (and worm-free).  Our glory is with God.

None who hope in heaven shall fail in strength.

God,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my faith in the face of persecution.  Help me to be strong in my faith.  Help me to be courageous and steadfast, whether I am surrounded by sinners or your faithful followers. Help me to cast my weakness, doubt and fear away, so that true knowledge can fill their place.  True knowledge of your love and your promise of everlasting life.

 

Hope in Heaven

Some messages stand the test of time:

When the time came for Mattathias to die, he said to his sons: “Arrogance and scorn have now grown strong; it is a time of disaster and violent wrath.  Therefore, my children, be zealous for the law and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.

“Remember the deeds that our ancestors did in their times, and you shall win great honor and an everlasting name. Was not Abraham found faithful in trial, and it was credited to him as righteousness?  Joseph, when in distress, kept the commandment, and he became master of Egypt.  Phinehas our ancestor, for his burning zeal, received the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.  Joshua, for executing his commission, became a judge in Israel.  Caleb, for bearing witness before the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. David, for his loyalty, received as a heritage a throne of eternal kingship. Elijah, for his burning zeal for the law, was taken up to heaven.  Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, for their faith, were saved from the fire. Daniel, for his innocence, was delivered from the mouths of lions. And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.

Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished. Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be honored.

1 Maccabees 2:49-64

Thousands of years later, the same advice is pertinent to me and my son.  “Arrogance and scorn have now grown strong; it is a time of disaster and violent wrath.”   No one can argue that these are our times too.

There are so many pitfalls in life.  So many people and things pulling you in different directions, and often pulling away from God.  Promises of glory and happiness and immediate gratification.  “Today exalted” but “tomorrow not to be found.”

It is easy to give in.  So hard to be courageous and strong in keeping God’s law.  As I read about the faithfulness, zeal, innocence, obedience and loyalty of some of the “greats” from the Bible, my eyes keep going back to the same line:  “And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.”

So many of the Bible’s teachings are really so simple — it is we who make them complicated.

Dear  God,

My hope is in you and in your salvation.  I ask you to help me here on earth.  Please provide me with sufficient grace.  Please provide me with sufficient faith, zeal, innocence, obedience, and loyalty.  Grant me the courage that I may be steadfast despite all of the pulls and promises of today.  It is my tomorrow that I want to focus on.  My hope in heaven.