Tangled

My husband is a Christmas movie junkie – you know, those sappy Christmas love stories where the plot never changes. He was watching one this week (in August!) and the couple was decorating a tree for the holidays. I could tell it was make-believe because the girl pulled the strand of lights out of the box and they were tangle-free. How many hours have we spent trying to untangle strands of wires and bulbs? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights? More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating. Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free. I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possessed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary Magdalene who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now. Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

Get Ready!

I’m sure you’re familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18 and the Armor of God:

The Belt of Truth is a foundational garment that provides support and bears the weight of the Sword.

The Breastplate of Righteousness covers the heart – the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and affections.

The Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace enables us to take the Gospel with us everywhere we go – spreading it like holy seeds.

The Shield of Faith protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy – darts of doubt, temptation, fear, self-defeat, anger, bitterness, hatred, and animosity.

The Helmet of Salvation covers our minds where the enemy battles us most fiercely.

The Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – is the only defensive piece of the Armor.

And prayer which is our source of power, strength, and discernment.

My sister-in-love is always reminding me to “Pull those straps tight every morning!” And she’s right. But here’s something I had not noticed before now: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . .” (v. 13). Every day is a spiritual battle. Every day we face off against the devil. Every day he lobs his darts and tries to take us out. But there is a “day of evil” coming when the battle will be like nothing you or I have ever experienced. We have no way of knowing when that will be, so we must be prepared for it every day.

Do you remember the story of “David and Goliath?” When David told King Saul that he would take on Goliath, Saul dressed David in his own tunic, armor, and helmet. “David . . . tried walking around” and said, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them” (1 Sam 17:38-39). Fellow soldier, you and I have to get used to wearing the armor now, so that when that day comes, it is as natural to us as our favorite pair of jeans. We have to strengthen our arms to hold up that Shield and know how to use that Sword to its fullest advantage. We can’t be clunking into war in uncomfortable battle gear.

Beloved, the day is very near. Put your armor on. You need to get ready.

All Tangled Up

tangled Christmas lights - a photo on Flickriver

It’s almost that time! Thanksgiving is only two days away and many people are already decorating for Christmas.  In this year from . . . well you know – lots of folks are making ready for the holidays early to lift their spirits and bring some much-needed Joy to their homes. You know what that means, don’t you? The annual untangling of the Christmas lights. How many hours have we spent trying to turn that snarl of wires and bulbs into a smooth strand? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights?  More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating.  Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free.  I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary (probably) from Magdala who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now.  Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

I See What You Did There

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.       1 Corinthians 11:1

When my son was about 3 years old, he had a child-sized toy car, brightly colored and “foot-powered.” It was his favorite plaything.  If it had an odometer, I am sure he would have logged a thousand miles in it. My brother enjoyed watching my son ride around in his little car.  But what he loved the most was to call out, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!”  And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away.  My brother would be in hysterics, and my face would be red.  My son is grown now, and I pray he has learned more from me than how to slam a car door.

In our key verse, Paul is exhorting his fellow believers to follow his example, because he has committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Throughout the book of Acts and the Epistles, Paul is seen as a mentor in the faith.  He taught by words and he taught by actions.  He taught with his life, as he devoted himself to the person and cause of Christ. Paul poured himself out to train Silas, Timothy, Titus, and many others in the ways of Jesus.  And he was not the only godly mentor. Acts 18: 24-26 also tells us that a husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, took a young eager evangelist named Apollo, and taught him truth.  In the Old Testament, Moses mentored Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Elijah mentored Elisha.  Eli mentored Samuel, Samuel influenced David, and David inspired Solomon. I have spent 21 years trying to live the example of Godliness before my son, and have had the delight of mentoring young men and women in the faith through teaching the Bible and working in college ministry.  Mentoring is one of my deepest passions.

But I discovered in the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, that we can be mentors and examples and not realize it. Stephen was called “a man full of God’s grace and power… and did great wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 6:8).  But a group of Jewish leaders were threatened by him.  When they couldn’t silence him, brought Stephen before the Jewish high priest.  Acts 7 is Stephen’s profound defense; and his pointed accusation against the religious leaders for the murder of Jesus Christ.  The infuriated men “dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:58). Stephen died with his eyes fixed on his Savior as he declared “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God” (v. 56)

At the moment of Stephen’s death, a zealous and vengeful young man was watching.  Acts 7:58 finishes the account of Stephen’s stoning with this simple statement:  “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul…who was “giving approval to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1). Saul walked away from that event with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit.  Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible.  Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus.  The Christ-hating Saul became the Christ-proclaiming Paul and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful evangelists.  Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion?  I believe so.  Did Stephen look through the crowd and pick Saul out as his mentee?  No, but the power of the Holy Spirit in Stephen surely overflowed onto the young man who watched the scene so intently.

So it is with you and me.  In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us.  That is a sobering thought.  The little ones who hold our hand as they walk are watching us every day as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk notices your smile as she totals up your purchases.  My coworkers notice my attitude and my willingness (or, honestly, lack thereof) to go the extra mile.  Our neighbors, the receptionist at my Doctor’s office, your child’s friends, the stranger on the street, are all within our sphere of influence.   You did not expect to share a testimony about the kindness of your Savior, but when you told that pre-teen girl that she has a pretty smile, you spoke volumes.  I didn’t intend to give the homeless man on the corner the impression that my Jesus didn’t care about him, but when I looked away from him, my actions were louder than any Bible lesson I could teach.

Paul wrote an impassioned plea to his fellow believers in Corinth, “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). I do not want to be a stumbling block to someone who is new or immature in the faith, and especially not to someone who does not yet know Jesus.  I want the testimony of my life to show others the way to Jesus Christ, and how to walk in faithfulness and righteousness, even – and especially – when I think no one is watching.  Because someone always is.

What does the expression of our life say to others?  When my son was a little older, his teacher had the class write things about each member of their family.  His statement about me made my heart sing – “My Mom loves to study the Bible.”  Now that’s the kind of legacy I want to leave for my son and others to follow.

Jesus, You left us a perfect example to follow.  The world is watching.  Please help me to walk in the footprints You left behind, so that others will follow.  Amen.