Location: Grocery Store
Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)
"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" (Eph 6:14-16, NIV).
It was a lazy Saturday and my husband and I desperately needed creamer for our coffee (I can’t drink my morning coffee without my special flavors!). So, we headed to our neighborhood Kroger. As is custom during #Covid19, we put on our masks as we were about to enter the building, solemnly preparing ourselves to smell our own breath for the next twenty or so minutes and thinking note to self: put some essential oils in your bag next time to put on your mask…
As I walked down the aisles, I couldn’t help but notice all the people wearing masks around us. I started thinking about the purpose of the mask. The purpose of healthcare workers wearing a heavy duty mask like the N95 or surgical mask is so that you don’t receive the potentially deadly coronavirus from others (1). Similarly, when you wear even a simple cloth mask to the store, it helps you from spreading the virus to others (2). Masks can protect you and masks can protects others.
I couldn’t help but think this is what the armor of God does, too. When we put on the full armor of God we not only protect ourselves—we also protect others. Everything we do impacts those around us. We often tell ourselves the opposite to justify our behaviors thinking well if I do this I’m not hurting her or you know what, I’m actually saving him trouble by deceiving him…but the truth is, when we sin we hurt others and ourselves. If I’m wearing the belt of lies around my friends instead of the belt of truth, then I could potentially damage relationships I’m in, as well as damage myself because I’ve lost those relationships when the lie backfires. If I’m wearing the breastplate of unrighteousness at work, I could damage not only me and my reputation, but also my company, my boss, and my coworkers.
Therefore, when we put on the armor of God, we can stand firm knowing that we are protecting ourselves and others from the forces of evil. And this protection fits us to be ready for the gospel of peace—the promise of full restoration and reconciliation with God and others.
"...this protection fits us to be ready for the gospel of peace..."
You see, by wearing our masks to protect us and others from coronavirus, we are preparing to live again in community. However, we can only live together in community again—hugging and touching without masks—if we are well and whole. If there’s still a contagious virus going around, we cannot live together like we used to; therefore, we need the protection of our masks to make us ready to live in communion with one another.
This is what happens when we put on the armor of God. Through seeking truth and righteousness, we are journeying to wholeness and becoming more like Christ. We are slowly preparing for the Kingdom to come where we will live in perfect peace and communion with God and with our neighbor. So, why not start putting on that armor today?
Gracious God, thank you for giving us the living example of living in righteousness and truth through your son Jesus Christ. May we clothe ourselves with Christ everyday, seeking to protect ourselves and others from evil and preparing to live in the perfect peace to come. Amen.
Reflect: Practically speaking, what does it mean to wear the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness? What steps can you take today to ensure you are wearing them? How will this protect you and others?
(1) Mayo Clinic, "COVID-19: How much protection do face masks offer?" Accessed July 26, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-mask/art-20485449
Location: Craft Store
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?" (Job 38:4-5, NIV).
Now that I’ve graduated divinity school, I have a lot more free time on my hands. And by the kindness of both my parents and in-laws, I was given a bunch of paint supplies for graduation in order to continue painting during my newfound freedom. One of the paintings I had been dying to paint was of an orchid. This was not just any old orchid to me—it was an orchid that represented death and rebirth in an important relationship that seemed like a lost cause. This painting had very significant meaning for me.
I perused the aisles of the craft store to find the perfect size canvas for this important painting. At home, I chose just the right paints to match this orchid in real life. I even mixed a couple of paints to get just the right color of fuchsia this plant so vibrantly shows off. I spent hours doing layers upon layers of paint, highlighting and shadowing just the right places and blending until it looked the way I wanted it.
As I stepped back to look at it, I stood in awe of what I created. Not because I think I’m Picasso or anything, but because I know how much heart, soul, and time went into this painting. For those who don’t know what the orchid represents, they might say, “oh, that’s a nice orchid painting.” But for those who understand, they know that this painting represents how God resurrected even the most painful circumstances of my life and redeemed it for good.
This care and attention to detail in creation made me think of Job 38. We often read this passage and immediately think that God is telling Job how great God is and how insignificant Job is. We immediately interpret this as how dare you question me. I’ve always thought this was uncomfortable. I mean, Job lost everything! And now he’s losing his sense of worth and value?
And as I place myself in Job’s shoes as I read this passage, I wonder if I’m reading this passage through the lens of my own shame—that I’m not worthy enough to stand in God’s presence. But when I read this passage through the lens of redemptive love, I wonder: What if God was actually telling Job (and us) just how significant we are? How worthy and valued we are that God carefully marked off the dimensions of the earth (Job 38:5), that God shut up the sea behind doors so it would not overtake us (Job 38:8-11), that God has storehouses of snow in order to stop wars (Job 38:22-23). What if God is emphasizing how great God’s love is for us?
What if God is emphasizing how great God's love is for us?
Just like those who are not close to my situation may never fully understand my orchid painting, we may never fully understand the depths of God’s love and care for us. When trouble comes knocking at our door, we often wonder where God is in all of this. When we look around at our sickness, at our family’s division, at unfair systems, we may ask, “God, where are you? Are you just?”
When we’re down, it’s easy for us to hear God’s words as further condemning us. When we’re in the pit, it’s easy for us to feel we’re unworthy, like we’re never enough. Friend, I want to suggest that God tells you that you are beautifully and wonderfully made because you bear the image of God. You are so valued that the Creator became creation to save you. And there is no greater love than that.
Creator and Redeemer, thank you for loving us so much that you took so much care at creating us and the world we live in. Thank you for marking the dimensions of the land, the width of the forest, the height of the trees, and the depth of the sea. May we be reminded today and always just how high, long, deep, and wide is your love for us.
Newsom, Carol A. "Job." In Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd ed., edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jaqueline E. Lapsley, 208-215. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Location: My Grill
Exodus 17:8-16 (NIV)
"When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset…" (Exodus 17:12, NIV).
My husband and I just bought a new grill last week, so of course, we wanted to cook everything on our new grill. Our house smells super smoky right now. One evening we started up the grill and heard thunder in the distance. But the sky looked clear, my trusty weather app said there was no rain predicted for that night, so I thought, you know what, let’s just keep going, I’m sure it’s going to be fine. It’s not gonna rain here. But sure enough, the rains came apouring. All of a sudden, we were not worried with our safety or dryness as much as our new grill’s safety. We just bought it, so we didn’t want it sitting out in the rain hot with cold water on it. It might crack, it might get rusty. And the grill was too hot and smoky to put the cover on it. So, at first, my husband tried to position our huge patio table umbrella next to the grill so that the grill would stay dry in the rain. But the winds were too intense and it kept falling. So as my husband kept nursing the coals of the grill to finish our dinner, I stood next to the grill holding the patio table umbrella in place over the grill.
As the wind was blowing, the rain was coming down sideways, and I was holding that oversized patio umbrella upright, it reminded me of the precious moment of Moses, Aaron and Hur in Exodus. During the battle against the Amalekites, it was only when the staff of God was raised in Moses’ hands that the Israelites were winning. When Moses had his staff lowered, the enemy was winning. And when Moses’ arms got so tired from holding the staff, his right-hand men had to put a stone under him and held his hands up, one on each side (Ex 17:12).
I don’t know what tough time you are going through or what challenge you may be facing, but I do know that you can’t make it alone. And sometimes, we feel pressured to do it alone. Sometimes we feel like we can't bring our baggage to the church, to our family, or even to our friends, because we’re worried we’ll be judged if we don’t measure up. And some of us have felt the sting of rejection from confiding in people we thought would care about us. And if that’s happened to you, I am so sorry. Our experiences may have reinforced us to hide our challenges inside, resigning to the fact that we just have to deal with it all on our own. And haven’t we all tried to make it on our own at some point? We think if we can just try harder, work longer, read the right book, go cold turkey, we can stop our bad habits, our bad thoughts, or our pain for good. But every time we try to do something on our own, it fails. We go back to our coping mechanism, we keep spiraling in our unhealed wounds, and, like Moses, our arms get tired from carrying the weight of the world in our hands.
No, we can’t do it alone. We need help. Just like my husband needed me to hold the umbrella steady during the storm, we need help keeping ourselves steady in the storm. We need something to prop us up when we’re too tired to keep going. We need the power of God to lift us up, the sustaining power that the Holy Spirit gives. And sometimes, this power of God comes through the vehicle of others. Just like Aaron and Hur had to lift Moses’ hands up, sometimes God’s power works through the people who help lift us up: a timely word from a friend, encouragement from a partner, a discovery from a trusted counselor, and yes, sometimes, help from our medication (gasp!).
Sometimes, this power of God comes through the vehicle of others.
Friend, I want you to know if you think you’re in this battle all alone, you are not alone. You have a God who is present with you in every battle and in every storm and you have a God who can redeem every circumstance for good. And if asking for help from someone or talking about your challenges seems really scary, I totally get it. And I want to encourage you to have faith. Yes, you might be judged, you might be rejected, that’s possible, and you might be welcomed, you might be loved, and you might take your first step on the path towards healing.
Gracious God, who was with Moses in his battle and empowered him through his friends, give us the sustaining power of your Holy Spirit for our battles. Give us the courage to lean on those around us, to speak up about our challenges, and to lovingly welcome someone who confides their tough times with us. Help us to stand firm in our hope that you will redeem and restore everything for good. Amen.
Brueggemann, Walter. “Exodus” in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Volume 1, general editor Leander E. Keck, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Dozeman, Thomas D. “Exodus” in The Old Testament and Apocrypha Fortress Commentary on the Bible, edited by Gale A. Yee, Hugh R. Page Jr., and Matthew J. M. Coomber. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
Psalm 124 (NIV)
If the Lord had not been on our side--
let Israel say--
if the Lord had not been on our side...
My husband and I found ourselves at Lowe’s once again. The first time we went, it was to pick up some plants to put in our garden. But for a myriad of reasons over Easter weekend, including rain and freezing temperatures, we never planted them. We figured if we kept the plants on our deck in their original plastic pots, they’d be fine for a few days. I mean, they’re in soil already—what could be the problem?
Turns out, they all died except one. The interesting thing is none of the plants we already planted in our garden died, even though they were enduring the same temperatures. Only the plants in the plastic pots didn’t make it, save the one. This probably seems super logical to you (but it was news to me, a garden novice!): pots make plant soil much more volatile to weather and they can quickly heat up or cool down(1)—in our case it cooled down a little too much! The plants planted in the ground were more resilient and less affected by the weather because they had a steady temperature while in the ground.
The resiliency of my already planted plants reminded me of the resiliency of the Israelites in Psalm 124 who were planted firmly in God’s hand. Because the Lord was at their side, they were not swept away by the flood, the torrent, or the raging waters. They were not swallowed alive when attacked by angry enemies because they had help from the Maker of heaven and earth.
Like my plants in the ground that still endured the same harsh weather as the potted plants, this Psalm doesn’t promise that harshness doesn’t exist. The Israelites were still attacked, trapped, and in stormy waters, but the Psalm does proclaim that because the Lord was at their side, they were not overcome by their circumstances.
...because the Lord was at their side, they were not overcome by their circumstances.
We may never have had to run from angry enemies with scary teeth like in this Psalm (Ok, maybe they’re not talking about literal human teeth!) but some of us do know what it’s like to feel attacked by someone. Some of us know what it’s like to be flooded with bills we can’t pay or never ending demands at work that seem to engulf our every moment. Some of us know what it’s like to be trapped in unwanted trauma and systemic injustice or ensnared by our own sinfulness and addictions. But because we have help from the Maker of heaven and earth we have resiliency. And we have resiliency because we have hope. Hope that even our most tragic circumstances can be restored and we can be set free from the burden of them.
My favorite part about this Psalm is the repetition of the phrase, “if the Lord had not been on our side” (Psa 124:1-2, NIV). When anything is repeated in the Psalms, it’s worth taking a second look! Scholar William A. VanGemeren tells us, “The phrase, ‘had been on our side’ is the past tense of Immanuel (‘God with us’).”(2) Sound familiar?! The Israelites had hope and resilience because they remembered how God had been with them in the past—remembered how God had restored their lives and remembered how God had set them free.
We have the same hope and resilience as we look to Immanuel in the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. God always has, always is, and always will be with us because of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us.
No matter what raging storm might be at your door step right now, I hope you’ll hold on to the hope given to you through Immanuel. If hope seems hard to come by right now, take a page from the Israelites—remember how God has restored your experiences in the past. Let that memory hold you up as you proclaim with me: though the floods will come, they will not overtake us. Though the enemies may encircle us, they will not trap us. We will not be left to despair because we have hope that God is always at our side and we have help from the Maker of heaven and earth.
Gracious God, who breathed life into creation and who breathes new life into every hardship and circumstance we endure, thank you for giving us the hope that you are present with us in every storm and the resilience to lean on you. Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your Son, Jesus, Immanuel, to bring restoration and redemption to the whole world. Amen.
1) Wong, James. “Time to give up the pot: why it’s much better to plant in the ground,” The Guardian. 9 July 2017. Accessed 18 April 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/09/time-to-give-up-the-pot-why-its-much-better-to-plant-in-the-ground
2) VanGemeren, William A. in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2008, 902.
by Erica Smith
Nature noticer, contemplative wannabe, coffee drinker, wine taster, and novice painter.