Veterans of WW IIOur fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:12 (ERV)]

This morning, I quietly read my Bible, some Billy Graham, and prayed. Over coffee, I looked through the newspaper and watched the news. I laughed at a political cartoon, read editorials that both praised and criticized our president, and heard politicians from opposite sides of the aisle disagree about taxes and health care. Once at my computer, I checked my calendar (Bible study tonight) and read about Tuesday’s election. In my email, along with news from friends and Christian devotions, I got an action alert from a local conservation group asking me to contact my representative about a proposed bill. I also received several Veteran’s Day advertisements.

Veteran’s Day wasn’t meant to be another reason to go shopping. Originating in 1919 as Armistice Day, it celebrated the end of World War I — said to be the “war to end all wars” until WW II proved that wrong. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day — and a day to honor all military veterans for their service, patriotism, and willingness to sacrifice for the good of our nation.

Within the first two hours of my day, I’d experienced an incredible amount of freedom, in large part because of those veterans we’ll honor this weekend. We are comfortable and secure in our homes, able to speak openly, vote, run for political office, read without restrictions, gather together freely, and worship openly. We can even safely complain both about and to the government. We can do all that and much more because of the men and women who took a stand against evil—not just with their votes, voices, prayers, or money—but with their service. In many cases, they returned home with scars both visible and hidden. In some cases, they returned in body bags.

I came of age in an era of anti-war/anti-military sentiment and I continue to abhor the thought of weapons and warfare. Nevertheless, time has taught me that sometimes fighting evil means real soldiers and an actual battlefield. As the character Ransom learned in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra, when reasoning fails to defeat Satan, one may have to resort to actual combat. The struggle against the enemy is not always a spiritual one; sometimes it is physical and the hands God uses belong to real men and women. Until the day when our weapons can be turned into agricultural tools, we will continue to need people who will put their lives on the line to fight evil. While we continue to pray for peace, may we also pray for the members of our armed forces (both past and present) and thank God for their service. Let’s remember to express our deep and lasting gratitude to them, as well.

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. [Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)]

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OUR BANNER (Rephidim – Part 2)

But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkFollowing the Israelites’ victory against the Amalekites at Rephidim, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Jehovah-Nissi, which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” Bearing the insignia of a country, opposing nations would fly their banners at the front line to rally and encourage their troops. The Amalekites were an army of fierce marauders with no fear of God. The Israelites, however, weren’t an army; they were weary travelers with women and children in their midst and they had no flag under which to rally. Moses’ staff was the closest thing they had to a banner. Naming the altar “Jehovah-Nissi” acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or even “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t battle strategy, military might or even his staff that defeated the Amalekites. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.

Jehovah-Nissi: the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, as the Israelites did on Moses’ staff, victory is ours. We have a banner of encouragement, courage, hope, power and might. Because of Jehovah-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. [Isaiah 11:10 (NLT)]

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What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? [Psalm 124:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly on lantanaI looked down at my wedding ring and asked myself, “What if?” What if an odd set of circumstances hadn’t occurred and I hadn’t met the man I married when I did? What if he hadn’t relentlessly pursued me? What if we hadn’t gotten married less than a year after meeting? Since my father’s death occurred only a few months after our wedding, had I not been married, I would have been left completely on my own at the unwise age of twenty. I don’t think the “What if?” scenario would have been very good. I do know it wouldn’t have been as wonderful as the scenario God gave me.

“Whew, that was close!” Surely, you’ve had times like that—occasions when you’re sure God’s hand delivered you: that split second that kept you from being a traffic fatality, the chance encounter that led you to the solution for which you’d been searching, being one of the 5% who beat the prognosis, or the time your toddler’s close encounter with a car was only that—close. “What if…?” we ask ourselves. What if He hadn’t saved me from my enemies? What if God hadn’t stopped me when He did? What if He hadn’t saved me from myself? While I’m not much for looking back and regretfully asking that question, when asking it reinforces our confidence in God’s deliverance, it’s a good question to ask.

Monuments and holidays help us remember God’s deliverance. Moses built an altar of stones at the foot of Mt. Sinai to commemorate God’s covenant with Israel and representatives from the twelve tribes gathered stones to build a memorial to remind the Israelites how the waters of the Jordan River stopped flowing for them. Our Jewish friends celebrate Purim as a reminder of their deliverance from Haman’s murderous plot and Passover as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter to remember what Jesus did for us with His birth and resurrection. We remember deliverance in other ways, too. A friend tattooed his sobriety date, his day of freedom from addiction, on his ankle. For over 75 years, my mother-in-law displayed four small faded Limoges plates. They were all that remained of her family’s china after their home exploded and burned in 1929; they reminded her of her family’s survival. Those plain plates now reside in my china cabinet to remind me that we can lose just about everything but, as long as we have God and family, we will have enough and can persevere.

We often forget what God has done for us. Worse, we often attribute it to good luck or to our own skill. David’s psalm asks the people of Israel to consider what might have happened if the Lord had not been on their side. He points out that the Egyptian solders and Israel’s enemies through the ages would have destroyed them. After reviewing God’s past deliverance, he declares his confidence in God’s future faithfulness.

While it’s not wise to dwell on the past, every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask ourselves, “What if?”

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:3-8 (NLT)]

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As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. [Matthew 26:26-28 (NLT)]

columbineThe celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion has been central to our Christian worship since the early church. If asked the meaning of the word eucharist, most of us would probably respond that it is the Christian sacrament that commemorates the Last Supper with bread and wine. While it has come to mean that and often refers to the consecrated elements, especially the bread, the word eucharist originally meant something else entirely. Coming from the Greek words eukharistos, meaning grateful, and kharizesthai, meaning to offer graciously, it is a translation of the Hebrew word berekah which means a blessing or benediction. Acknowledging God as the source of all good things, a berekah would be similar to the grace or table blessing we offer before or after a meal.

When Jesus spoke the traditional Passover meal berakahot that night in the upper room, he gave them new meaning when he added the words, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” In thanks, He raised the bread just as his body soon would be raised on the cross. He took the matzah that symbolized the suffering of Israel, thanked God for it, and broke it, knowing that his body would be broken in less than a day. As He passed it to the disciples, the bread that once symbolized Israel’s suffering became the bread that would symbolize His. The disciples may have thought he was simply offering a blessing for the Passover bread but Jesus was offering thanks for the body which soon would be defeated by thorns, whip, nails and cross. He then thanked God as he poured out the wine that symbolized Israel’s redemption from Egypt and passed it around. The disciples may have thought he was giving thanks for Israel’s redemption from Egypt but Jesus knew it was for their redemption from sin. For something to be redeemed, however, a price must be paid and Jesus knew that price would be his blood. While pouring out the wine, He knew his blood would soon pour from his body and yet he still gave thanks. Knowing full well the torment he would suffer, He graciously offered himself for us and gave thanks.

Last week, when the Words of Institution were spoken before Communion and the bread and wine were consecrated, I realized I hadn’t fully appreciated the circumstances in which those words originally were spoken. Jesus knew He’d be betrayed, disappointed and denied within hours. He knew the agony that would soon occur. Jesus knew he would be broken and bleed. He knew the real sacrifice was not the lamb on which they’d supped; He was the sacrificial Lamb of God and yet He acknowledged God as the source of all blessings and thanked Him! Blessed be the Lord; let us give thanks!

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings bread from the earth. … Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. [Jewish prayers over bread and wine] 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 (NLT)]

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And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

hummingbird moth - sphinx mothThe men from the church were enjoying their monthly breakfast at their favorite diner. The new minister, Pastor Tim, decided to join them. Wanting to get to know the men better, he asked who would like to offer grace before the meal. John, a retired farmer from Iowa volunteered. After taking off his cap, he stood and said loudly, “Lord, I sure do hate buttermilk!” The old farmer then added, “And, Lord, I don’t care much for lard.” Pastor Tim wasn’t sure how to react but decided to see where this prayer was leading. Then John continued with, “Tell the truth, white flour doesn’t taste like much either and baking powder sure is bitter.” Pastor Tim started to stand up and take over saying grace when, in his booming voice, John added, “But, Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I truly do love those fresh biscuits! Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon with which we are blessed this fine morning. Amen.”

Of course, this is just a bit of humorous and anonymous Internet fiction but it makes a good point. Lots of events will occur in our lifetimes that we’re not going to like very much. We won’t understand what God means by such difficult circumstances nor are we able to see how anything good can come out of such unpleasant, sometimes tragic, events. Even when things seem chaotic and inexplicable, we must remember that God is in control and He knows what He is doing. Just as John had to trust the biscuit baker, we must trust God for the end result. By themselves, challenges and difficulties can leave a bad taste in our mouths. After God is done mixing them all together, however, they can turn into something quite wonderful (and much better) than fresh buttermilk biscuits!

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen [Ephesians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

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Peacocks - albinoThey [the Levites] are to stand every morning and evening to thank and praise the Lord. [1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLV)]

Several years ago, when my daughter and grand visited, we had a fun-filled day with excursions to both the botanic gardens and a private animal preserve. When offering grace over dinner, we thanked God for our meal and the many plants and animals we’d seen that day. Later that evening, I realized it wasn’t just the abundance and beauty of God’s creation for which I was thankful. I was grateful for the look of amazement on my grand’s face while petting an iguana and feeding a zebra, for the volunteer workers who make places like botanic gardens and animal refuges possible and for the donors who fund their cause. I was thankful for the people who rescue mistreated and abandoned animals and the grocery stores that donate food to feed those animals. I was thankful for Legos and the talented artist who created the delightful Lego sculptures at the gardens, the GPS that led us to the remote refuge, seeing peacocks with their beautiful plumage, and our laughter as we played silly card games after dinner. As the list continued, I realized how incredibly blessed we were, not just that particular day, but every day. After all, every day with which we’re blessed becomes an extraordinary day! The Levites were required to give thanks at least twice a day but twice a day hardly seems enough.

Father, forgive us when we fail to properly thank you for the many blessings in our lives. A few words are never enough to express our appreciation for the way you make our ordinary days so very extraordinary.

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A. W. Tozer]

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and sing praises to Your name, O Most High. It is good to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning, and of how faithful You are at night, with harps, and with music of praise. For You have made me glad by what You have done, O Lord. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. [Psalm 92:1-4 (NLV)]

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