Putting On the Armor of Light

You put on your armor when it is time to go to war. Soldiers preparing to deploy, or receiving the news that the enemy is approaching their camp, know a rush of adrenalin. There’s a sense of urgency. They check their equipment. They put on their body armor and helmets. Paul writes,

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy (Romans 13:11-13).”

As Christians, we fight the darkness. We fight most effectively when we fight like people who live in the day. This requires spiritual discipline. We conduct ourselves as Christians. We speak truth. We pay our bills. We honor and respect those who are owed that. We worship together to encourage one another. We don’t abuse one another physically or verbally. We pray, we study, we sing songs that reinforce values that affirm love for other people and for God. We put on the armor of light. So what is the armor of light? It is behavior and  relationships that strengthen our love for God and for one another. Passages like Ephesians 6:10-18 define that armor: truth, righteousness, readiness in the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer. When we maintain our equipment and know how to use it with love, we’re going to win our spiritual battle. We can’t do it alone. Quarreling and jealousy have to go away. They distract us from our mission; they cripple our love for one another. Our worship assemblies are our formations; at those meetings and classes we encourage one other and strengthen each other. In our world, we’re exposed to distractions that can hurt us both spiritually and physically as they draw us away from God and encourage us to hate one another. Our mission of love requires that we be trained and ready. Readiness requires prioritizing time and activities.  It also requires focus and perspective. When we try to obey and enforce God’s command from a sense of obligation more than from love, we calcify faith and distort it, damaging the reputation of Christ’s church.

  • Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version.

O God, help us to strip away activities and attitudes that distract us from loving you and one another. If others perceive us as hateful and arrogant, give us clear vision of ourselves when we peer into the mirror that is your message in the Bible. Give us courage as we evaluate ourselves before we consider judging others. Give us the sensitivity and patience to listen. If your armor seems too cumbersome and heavy, may we have the discipline so that through exercise in prayer and study of your word we may develop the spiritual musculature to wear it with ease. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Before you vote…

Check out @MiwasumSummers’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/MiwasumSummers/status/1057991232062939137?s=09

You read all the election appeals that crowded your mailbox. You checked recommendations from Christian groups. You may have talked to some of the candidates about their policy positions. Check my tweet for advice about the proper order for your next actions. Keep calling for fire, my friends

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A Prayer Against Abhorrent Evil and Lying

David prays a powerful indictment of epidemic lying and proponents of wickedness in Psalm 12. He aligns with God’s hatred for untruth. He pleads for the Lord to rescue, to save, to guard. He prays,

“Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart the speak” (Psalm 1:1-2).

In the last two weeks, three widely publicized events designed to take innocent life occurred in the United States. Bombs were mailed to politicians and news organizations, a man murdered two adults in a convenience store (apparently because of their race), and a man ruthlessly killed worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue. As we contemplate these events, we can only describe them as vile. We pray for those who grieve the deaths of loved ones, but we must also pray for the saving of a culture where this kind of violence takes place, perpetrated by people who believe they are doing the right thing. They may be mentally ill, but they appear to have believed a lie, whether they have fabricated it themselves or if they heard or read it elsewhere.

Like the Psalmist, we pray because the godly seem to have gone and, as he writes in verse eight, “on every side the wicked prowl.” We pray that leaders will speak truth. We pray that we may discern correctly what is true and what is false, that we may realize what is innocent and what is horribly evil. The “poor are plundered” and “the needy groan.” We pray that the Lord will arise and right wrongs. Where may we go for direction in confusing and angry times like our own? David states as he prays,

“The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever” (Psalm 12:6-7).

I pray that we will ally ourselves with David in our abhorrence of lying and our grieving over the taking of innocent life. May our hearts remain sensitive, so that we will be repelled by evil rather than tolerating it as just part of life.

  • Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
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Our Dance with God

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV).

Prayer is our dance with God. We converse, and as we do, at times in harmony, at times in dissonance, we reveal our love or our disdain for our God. We embrace him as we bare our souls to him, revealing intimate secrets we rarely confess to another. We pull away, expressing frustration in our grief or disappointment. Other suitors vie to disrupt our dance. They distract us as they seek to woo us away. We return in joy, holding faith as our arm around God, hugging but not impeding his movements. We may want to lead the dance, but when we try, we step on our feet (and perhaps his?) with every step. When we move in step with his Spirit, the rhythm of holiness captures our imagination as we surrender our thoughts to the Lover of our soul.

God, our Savior, Your music entrances us. Your word persuades us to follow, and not to dictate to you. The stories of other dancers with you reveal to us your mastery of the rhythms of our world. You warn us which steps will cause us to stumble. We ignore your instruction and your guidance at our own peril. Give us more grace, that we may move in step with you, and understand better the discipline of this dance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Praying for Peace when Life’s Storms Overwhelm

sunrise      Psalm 107 begins the fifth book of the Psalms with a song that remembers hardship. Consecutive sections of the Psalm recall different experiences of suffering and fear in which it seemed the Lord might be absent. Some wander in desert wastes, others are shackled in prisons after committing crime, others suffer affliction and illness because of foolish decisions, and still others have courage-melting experiences on the sea. In each case they suffer, they realize their desperate situation, they cry to the Lord, and he hears their prayer. The first section may look back to the Exodus, when Israel wandered for forty years in the desert.
The New Testament compares the spiritual experience of Christians to the Exodus in passages like Hebrews 11:13-16. We too wander through challenging times, when we may grumble and wonder where the Lord is. We suffer, often because we rebel against any authority. But when we, hungering and thirsty, realizing the spiritual void in our lives, turn to the Lord and obey him, he hears us, too. The Psalmist considers four groups of people in Psalm 107 who may believe that God has forsaken them. He describes their turning to God and crying for deliverance. Turning or repentance precedes biblical conversions. People like Saul of Tarsus realize their desperate need for God before they arise and are baptized, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
God rescues the hopeless. God redeems some really horrible people. Psalm 107 reminds us that God loves us reliably; God is there when we doubt his presence most. This Psalm begins with stirring words of praise:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lans, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Psalm 107:1-3).

Those words may originally have applied to Israelites returning from exile and captivity but they foreshadow the good news of Christ that gathers in the redeemed from all nationalities and adopts the redeemed into the family of God. The psalm ends with words that remind us how God reverses what we know and what we expect. The desert becomes fertile. The demagogue is punished. The poor are rewarded. The Psalmist exhorts us to remember what God had done for us, and if we have been redeemed, to make some noise about it. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Don’t be ashamed. Don’t keep it a secret. God loves you and has saved you.
God satisfies the hungry soul. He shatters the chains that we have forged to imprison ourselves. His word heals us from our cravings and our addictions. Hurricanes and tornadoes often remind us that our technologies do not overcome the power of God’s Creation. God delivers in our distress. He hushes our fear even as he stills the storm. God’s history with humanity is a story of reversal, God’s ability to rescue us from our greatest fears, addictions, and rebellion. God cares for the needy. He empowers the vulnerable. He redeems those that others call “God-forsaken.” His steadfast love and his grace empower us to be the people he created us to be. Will you be wise and pay attention to these truths?

  • Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible

O Lord, we give thanks to you. When it seems that no one cares, we remember that you do, and looking around, we discover the evidence of your love. Our desperation drives us to you, and crying to you, we plead for relief. You satisfy the hungry soul, the Psalmist tells us, and when we turn to you and submit to you, we experience that filling. Thank you for your love that stills the angry storms in our lives and gives us peace. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Keys to Confidence

concrete path

The apostle John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life”(1 John 5:13).  Those words breathe hope. The apostle tells that we can know that we have eternal life, salvation. Too many Christians aren’t sure. They feel as if they are suspended between heaven and hell, swinging between the two, knowing that they will land, but not sure in which of the two destinations they will land. John says that we can know. We can have confidence.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him”  (1 John 5:14).

In these verses, we learn the first of two key truths that give us confidence that we can trust in the concrete love of God. When we coordinate our will with God’s, we begin to see answers to our prayers.
Some prayers don’t consider God’s will. They are all about me, what I want. What does God want? How and for what did he design us? God hears us when we pray in accordance with his will. My uncle owned a construction company. Originally the company built houses, but he converted it to a concrete construction company – they poured foundations for houses and laid level, firm parking lots. People depend on the proper balance between water and concrete mix when foundations are laid. If there is not enough concrete, the foundation will not be secure. The house will collapse. If my prayer is about what I want, and not what God wants, I will not succeed. In operating his company, my uncle learned that he had to listen to his customers and he had to take care of his workers. He had to follow government regulations. In our relationship with God, it is not just about you and God, or me and God.

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrong doing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death” (1 John 5:15).

There is the second key to confidence in God’s concrete love: Praying for one another. We struggle at times, and like the man I mentioned earlier, wonder if God hears our prayers. We doubt if we have hope. We need the prayers of stronger, more faithful Christians whose vision is not clouded by our lusts or our addictions, our dangerous friendships or improper relationships. If we are praying in accordance with God’s will, we need to pray that other Christians will grow to be spiritual giants and that seemingly incorrigible sinners will realize that their only hope is in turning away from their idols that are destroying them and turning to obedience to God.

God our father, you provide secure paths on which we may  walk. You have given directions to guide us on our journey. As we travel through life, we navigate treacherous passageways. When we ignore your guidance, we find ourselves on trails that have not been maintained, where footing is not secure, and we risk falling into the abyss. We pray for others who travel, that they may keep their focus on you and your Son. We thank you for stronger disciples who spur us on toward safety with mentoring and prayers.  We have an anchor, and in his name, the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

  • All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
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My Lord and My God

What does one pray when he or she discovers faith and realizes that personal failure or sin has been exposed? The apostle Thomas had scoffed a week earlier at the suggestion that his teacher, Jesus, had arisen from the dead. Thomas had said that he would believe this incredible claim only if he physically could see and touch the wounds Jesus had received. Now, face to face with Jesus, clearly alive once more, he realized he did not need to touch the wounds in order to believe. Seeing and hearing the teacher’s voice humbled him, and as if ripping off a scab, unveiled the shame of his doubt. “My Lord and my God,” he breathed, an exclamation of faith, but a prayer for forgiveness and acceptance.
Moments of darkness and failure challenge our beliefs. The unexpected shakes our worldview. Then insight shines light on the obscure. In that moment when all becomes clear, we, like Thomas, can only whisper in awe,

“My Lord and my God!”

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