THE LORICA – St. Patrick’s Day

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. [Psalm 5:11 (NIV)]

Castle of SpiezA Latin word, lorica originally meant armor or breastplate. Because of an ancient practice of inscribing a prayer on the armor or shields of knights who then recited the prayer before combat, lorica came to mean a prayer of protection.

Although there are many such prayers, the most famous is the Lorica of St. Patrick (also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate). Legend has it that around 433 AD, St. Patrick wrote this prayer for protection. As the story goes, on Easter morning, Patrick led his fellow missionaries in a procession to the court of King Laoghhaire. Suspecting that they would be ambushed by the pagans on their journey, Patrick took his men through the woods while chanting this lorica. Rather than seeing the missionaries amid the trees, their enemies saw a mother deer followed by twenty fawns and let them pass. Having been brought safely through the ambush by God, Patrick and his companions marched into the king’s presence while chanting: “Let them that will, trust in chariots and horses, but we walk in the name of the Lord.”

Whether the story is fact, legend or, as I suspect, somewhere in-between, this beautiful hymn (also known as The Deer’s Cry) appears to be the first one ever written in Gaelic and quite likely by the beloved Patrick. In 1889, Cecil Alexander produced a metrical version of the prayer from an earlier English translation and the resulting hymn was set to traditional Irish tunes. Called “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” this beautiful old lorica can be found in the hymnals of many denominations.

Prayers for protection and deliverance are found throughout Scripture. Moses, David, Ezra, and Nehemiah all prayed for protection for themselves and others and Jesus prayed for the protection of His followers. We may not be facing Druids in the woods, but we enter into battle against evil every day. While we don’t wear armor or carry shields, we can proceed as did Patrick and his men: by wearing the armor of God, binding ourselves to Him in prayer, and walking in the name of the Lord.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. [Ephesians 6:13-15 (NIV)]

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three. …
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard. …
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
[St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Attributed to St. Patrick)]  

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NEVER THE EASY WAY

No one who is tempted should ever be confused and say that God is testing him. The One who created us is free from evil and can’t be tempted, so He doesn’t tempt anyone. [James 1:13 (VOICE)]

When the Apostle James tells us that God can’t be tempted by evil, we wonder how Jesus could be tempted to sin while in the wilderness. Christians agree that Jesus never sinned but some question whether He actually could. They hold the “impeccability” position: because Jesus was God, sin was impossible and He couldn’t have been tempted. Others hold the “peccability” position: because Jesus was a man, he could sin and was tempted. Still others, recognizing His dual nature, say that, as a man, Jesus could be tempted to sin but, as a divinity, He couldn’t.

Jesus was both God and man in one person. Rather than ceasing to be God while on earth, He added humanity to His being. At the same time, He was both divine and mortal, impeccable and peccable, immortal and mortal, infinite and finite. He didn’t have a multiple personality disorder with dueling personas; His fully divine nature was united in perfect harmony with his fully human one. While Jesus’ human nature was tempted by evil, His divine nature was not. Nevertheless, the temptation was real!

When in the wilderness, Satan tempted the hungry Jesus to make bread from stones. As the One who later fed a multitude with a boy’s lunch, we know Jesus could easily have done it; but He didn’t. Satan then tempted Jesus to prove himself by jumping off the highest point of the Temple. We know that the One who walked on water and passed unseen through an angry mob didn’t need angels to bring Him to safety. Jesus could have transported Himself safely to the ground effortlessly; but He didn’t. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him kingdoms and glory if only He’d worship the enemy. We know the One who returned the dead to life, healed the sick, and turned water into wine didn’t need Satan to give Him kingdoms and glory. With a snap of His fingers, the One who was there at creation was capable of performing such an extraordinary spectacle that all of Jerusalem would have knelt immediately in worship; but He didn’t. When I look at those temptations, I see Satan tempting the Jesus to use His divine power to take the easy way out of the struggle and suffering that lay in His future as a man.

Satan left Jesus after that but his departure was temporary. He lay in wait for the next opportunity and I suspect he frequently tempted Jesus to take the easy way. As God, Jesus could be anywhere He wanted but, as a man, He had to walk to get there. God never gets tired, hungry, or thirsty but Jesus the man did When we look at the miracles done by Jesus, there was a unique purpose to each one and, while they helped to establish His identity, none were done to make His life easier. He deliberately chose to meet the challenges of life as a vulnerable human not an invincible God. Jesus never took a shortcut as God!

Satan is merely a fallen angel and was no match for the divine nature of Jesus. Satan, however, can overpower man and it was as a man that Jesus had to defeat him! Satan wanted to prove that no man could be obedient to God’s will but, by living as a man and resisting temptation, Jesus did just that. Out of love for us, Jesus defeated Satan by living sinlessly as a man and by dying as a man at Calvary.

Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God; But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new; a servant in form and a man indeed. The very likeness of humanity, He humbled Himself, obedient to death—a merciless death on the cross! [Philippians 2:6-8 (VOICE)]

For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God. [Hebrews 4:15 (VOICE)]

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LENTEN FASTING 

You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? [Isaiah 58:5 (NLT)]

monarch butterflyTraditionally, Lent has been a time for Christians of all denominations to refocus their hearts and minds on God through prayer, fasting and giving. As a way of fasting, many people deny themselves small indulgences, such as soda, candy, or their daily latte at Starbucks, but Lenten fasting isn’t limited to food. Other ways to observe this season include not making any purchases that aren’t absolutely necessary; donating or throwing away forty things during Lent’s forty days; giving up guilty pleasures like People magazine or binge-watching Netflix; refraining from complaint or gossip; not eating out or ordering in; saying three nice things to one’s spouse and children daily; reading the four gospels; doing a weekly service project; setting aside loose change for a charity; or forty days of letter writing, acts of kindness, or phone calls to special people. Some of those, like refraining from gossip or complaint, saying nice things to the family, and Scripture reading shouldn’t be limited to just these forty days!

Last week’s Abundance assignment was to give up something for Lent. Pointing out that Jesus gave up everything for us, it simply asked what we could sacrifice for forty days as a sign of gratitude for His incredible gift. Since this is part of a mission to experience the abundance of the Christian life, I had to ask myself how having less would make me experience more. Of course, if we love Oreos, Five Guys, or Downton Abbey, we will appreciate them all the more when we can indulge in them once again, but there must be more to fasting than that.

Looking at fasting in Scripture, we find that it was never supposed to be mere ritual. Fasting and sacrifice were to be a sincere way of growing closer to God through prayer and repentance. Isaiah wrote of God’s anger at Israel’s superficial fasting that wasn’t accompanied by repentance and the blessing of others. Skipping dessert, abstaining from social media, or not playing FreeCell or Spider on our phones is meaningless if we don’t link our sacrifice with prayer, a change of heart, and the blessing of others. True fasting replaces selfishness with selflessness. Giving up something (be it food, habits, money, possessions or time) should cause us to take our eyes off the things of this world and humbly and joyfully focus them on God. It is only when we look to Jesus that we truly discover the abundance of the Christian life. Whether Christmas or Lent, let us prayerfully remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. [Isaiah 58:9b-10 NLT)]

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FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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DUST TO DUST – ASH WEDNESDAY

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. [Job 42:6 (NLT)]

Matterhorn Memorial - ZermattToday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. Marking the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning His ministry, Lent is a time many believers intentionally reflect on the life of Jesus: his ministry, sacrifice, death, and resurrection. For some Christians, today also starts a season of repentance, fasting, and self-examination.

Although many evangelical Christians do not observe Lent, it is one of the oldest traditions of the Church. A letter written by Irenaus of Lyons (c. 130-200) describes a pre-Easter fast that originated “in the time of our forefathers.” Originally lasting only a few days, in 325 AD the Council of Nicaea wrote about the occurrence of a 40-day season of fasting, penitence and self-examination. While it originally may have been a time for new Christians to prepare for Baptism, the whole Church soon joined in observing the Lenten season.

Although Lent is 40-days long, a look at the calendar tells us there are 46 days until Easter. Since those other six days are Sundays, they aren’t considered Lent. The disciples and most of the first followers of Jesus were Jews who had observed the seventh day (Saturday) as the Sabbath. Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, however, the early apostles changed their Sabbath day of rest and worship to the first day of the week as a continued celebration of His resurrection. When the early church began to observe the season of Lent, Sundays (being mini-celebrations of the risen Christ) were exempt from fasting and other forms of self-denial.

Most Roman Catholics and some Protestants will observe this day with the imposition of ashes on their foreheads. Made by burning palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and mixing the residue with anointing oil, the ashes are a visible reminder of mankind’s mortality—God made us by breathing life into dust and it is to dust that our bodies shall return. [Genesis 3:19] The ashes also represent penance. Putting dust or ashes on the head was an ancient gesture of mourning and penitence; when people repented of their sins, they would dress in uncomfortable sackcloth and cover themselves with ashes. Today, some worshipers may leave church with the ash cross still on their foreheads as a way of carrying the cross into the world while, in other churches, worshipers will wash off the smudge as a sign that they’ve been cleansed of their sins.

Neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent is Biblically ordained and whether we observe either is a matter between us and God. We must keep in mind that observing any religious ritual or rite is not a way to earn salvation; we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. Moreover, if we choose to observe Lent, Jesus made it clear that fasting and abstinence should be done humbly, sincerely, and discreetly. [Matthew 6:16-18] While it is okay to be seen fasting, it is not okay to fast so to be seen. Finally, let us remember that there is no specific season for repentance; we should repent of our sins all year long!

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. [Luke 5:32 (NLT)]

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. [Acts 3:19 (NLT)]

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YOU ARE LOVED – VALENTINE’S DAY 2020

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, and always stand your ground in defending him. … There are three things that remain—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love. [I Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (TLB)]

clouded sulphur butterfly on asterToday is Valentine’s Day and, contrary to popular belief, this holiday was not invented by Hallmark cards. Named for one of three Christian martyrs called Valentine, its real origins are in a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia. For an unofficial holiday of pagan origin, it packs an enormous economic impact with Americans spending about $20 billion on candy, cards, flowers, dining out, romantic get-aways, jewelry and clothing. $933 million of that money will be spent on cards and $886 million on pets! With the neighbor’s cat getting a gift, you might want to think about doing something special for the one you love! After all, over 50% of American women said they’d dump their boyfriends if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day. Besides, you married fellows don’t want to come home empty-handed and be met by a cold shoulder and hot tongue.

Although nine million marriage proposals are expected today, love has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or cards, candy, and candle-lit dinners. Giving or receiving a dozen roses, theater tickets, a back rub, perfume or even a diamond necklace doesn’t mean we love or are loved. While it is nice to have an excuse for a romantic evening or a day at the spa, let’s not allow this holiday to define our concept of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul does a far better job of that than any gift ever could. A good man or woman is hard to find so let’s not get our undies in a bunch over whether or not we received a $5 card or a $50 bouquet of red roses. Jesus called on us to love, not just on one day of the year, but every moment of every day and that kind of love has nothing to do with chocolate-covered strawberries or sexy lingerie.

Back in elementary school, valentines were sent to everyone in the class so that nobody’s feelings got hurt. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way. Even with 15 million e-cards being sent today, there still will be many who won’t receive Valentine’s Day greetings or gifts. Even if we have no one special in our lives, let’s not allow this holiday to make us feel unloved or unlovable. We don’t need a card or flowers to know we are cherished. Reading our Bibles, thinking of Jesus on the cross, or even opening our eyes to the beautiful world God gave us tells us that we are loved and special in His eyes! The Bible is God’s love letter to us and Jesus is His gift. God sent His only son instead of flowers, candy or a Hallmark card and His valentine to mankind was sacrificed for our salvation. God truly “cared enough to send the very best!”

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself. [Ephesians 3:17-19 (TLB)]

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