A Practical Atheist Am I

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 17:32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”

33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”

34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.

37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”

“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”

O (Observation): So what moves David to take up his sling and face Goliath? He had seemingly no advantage. He was younger, smaller, ill-equipped, and had no combat training.

Yet two things stand out to me: 1.) Goliath insulted God; 2.) David acknowledges that the Lord was and is with David.

Those two things are all David needed to get going.

A (Application): So…what do you need to get going? What motivates you? God sustains us all in many and varied ways.

The evils I seem to face are not giant men wanting to kill me (though for some Christians around the globe that may be true). My enemies rarely have skin on them: depression, poor self-image for me or loved ones, consumerism, and more.

These are hard to overcome alone, nigh impossible!

So I pray. For some unknown reason, instead of starting there, I usually end up there. Kind of makes me a practical atheist. (I can handle this – kind of like David putting on Saul’s armor.)

Prayer is where this can all begin. Prayer – a reminder that God is listening and responding in ways I cannot fathom. I don’t face these struggles alone.

May we all know the transforming power of prayer to God, before, during, and after our struggles.

P (Prayer): Jesus, guide us into a relationship with God like only you can. Amen.

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The Enemy is Me?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 137
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

O (Observation): Wow! The raw nature of some of these psalms can be downright appalling. Dashing babies against rocks? That’s some harsh stuff.

The captors (God’s people) were sent into what is known as the Babylonian exile. They had fallen from serving God to serving earthly gods and as a result ended up being overtaken by the Babylonian empire. Not only overtaken, but the practice at that time was to take natives of the land one conquered and bring them back as servants in your land. So, these Israelites are enslaved in Babylon for the time being.

In certain cases, singers / musicians would be called upon by their captors to sing and play music. On this day, we hear certain musicians and their desire to be rid of these enemies. So angry, they wish happiness to those wishing to do harm to or even kill the children of these captors.

A (Application): I’ve been ticked off before at folks, but not enough to want to kill their babies!

The struggle continues to this day, though, over how to respond to one’s enemies.

Peter Rollins has some wonderful insights in this area. When we think about people we consider our enemies, quite often we are so focused on dealing with that enemy that we forget that we have our own junk to deal with.

What junk did that musician in the psalm need to deal with? Perhaps he was part of the movement away from God. Maybe not. But as a nation, this concept still applies: we would rather deal with our enemies than ourselves.

Finding enemies allows us to hide from our own misgivings. Naming an enemy allows me to then project my junk on someone else. Weird how that works, right?

Now, I’m no psychologist, but this philosophy still holds true. I’d much rather pick someone I don’t like and blame them for lots of things. Instead, perhaps my pursuit should be an internal one, asking God and trusted friends about these feelings of hatred and wonder about areas of my life in which I need to repent. I assume I will have something to learn from that experience.

Having a discussion with someone with which you disagree may very well be the thing you need the most. In doing so, you may unearth things with which you are struggling with internally. And seeking God in those moments – in humble repentance – is the best thing you can do.

Smashing babies? You may feel that way…but let’s talk about it. Let’s figure out where that anger is coming from…and let us pray that God’s will be done.

(Let me make a caveat here: this devotion does not cover situations of sexual misconduct or abuse of any kind. Those situations are serious enough to warrant legal steps and reconciliation in those situations will likely involve legal and counseling professionals…please see that I’m talking more about general disagreements with folks when malfeasance is not involved.)

P (Prayer): Lord, you cause us to see ourselves in the face of our enemies. Help us to see that you are inviting us to reflect on our own shortcomings and that you remain with us in our times of exile. Amen.

God Is Our Protection


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S (Scripture): Psalm 119: 89 Your word, Lord,
stands firm in heaven forever!
90 Your faithfulness extends from one generation to the next!
You set the earth firmly in place, and it is still there.
91 Your rules endure to this day
because everything serves you.
92 If your Instruction hadn’t been my delight,
I would have died because of my suffering.
93 I will never forget your precepts
because through them you gave me life again.
94 I’m yours—save me
because I’ve pursued your precepts!
95 The wicked wait for me,
wanting to kill me, but I’m studying your laws.
96 I’ve seen that everything,
no matter how perfect, has a limit,
but your commandment is boundless.

O (Observation) & A (Application): A precept is a rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.  The rules given to God’s people do have a limit.   That limit is that some will embrace and follow the precepts, and others won’t.  And even when those who like to follow the precepts will not follow them perfectly.  

But adopting these precepts is life-giving.   When a people embrace the same set of social parameters, folks can relax a little and see that embracing the precepts makes for longer, more fruitful life.  Survival is no longer the only goal.  In an agreed-upon set of parameters, life can thrive!!!   And trusting in God and one another builds community. 

God’s people start to realize this as they live with these precepts and rules.  

And yet when enemies don’t follow the rules, threats remain.  But our fate lies not with threats or enemies.  Our fate is secure in God’s mercy and justice.   Our lives are frail, but we are in God’s care.   In this, I have hope. 

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us through this weekend. Amen. 

Get Curious, Not Defensive


S (Scripture): 2 Kings 18:28 The chief adviser (to the king of Assyria) then stood there (before God’s people in Judah) and called out loudly in the Judahite dialect, “Listen to the message of the great king, the king of Assyria. 29 This is what the king says: ‘Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you, for he is not able to rescue you from my hand! 30 Don’t let Hezekiah talk you into trusting in the Lord when he says, “The Lord will certainly rescue us; this city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.”
…35 Who among all the gods of the lands has rescued their lands from my power? So how can the Lord rescue Jerusalem from my power?’”

O (Observation):  The kings of Israel and Judah were in cycles of doing good in the sight of the Lord and doing evil in the sight of the Lord.  Neighboring nations continually threatened to invade and take over the lush lands inhabited by God’s people.  

Here, the Assyrians are taking on Judah and its king, King Hezekiah.   The adviser to the king of Assyria is trying to cause Judah’s people to doubt the level of protection that their God can provide.   He is planting seeds of doubt, recalling other victories of the Assyrians.  

A (Application):   Facebook is my main source of doubt.  Cynicism is on a sharp increase of late, and it destroys the joy of social media.   I don’t like unfriending people and so I just end up scrolling through to read the next post down…from someone less cynical…or a post of a funny kid picture or a picture of someone’s pet.  

With folks being so divisive, I can start to see how we don’t feel like much hope exists.   The Enemy finds ways to cause us to say and do things that divide, rather than build up. (How do I know?  Because I’ve said things intentionally divisive, and I repent of those times in which I was too harsh.)

So, what builds up?  Perhaps curiosity, rather than defensiveness.  When someone writes a cynical post, I’ve started to get curious, rather than defensive.   That posture takes a lot of energy, though, I will admit.   If you don’t have the energy to keep that posture, perhaps you should keep scrolling…until you do have the energy.   Don’t let the cries of the Enemy win.  God wins.   God has won, already.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom to know when to move on and when to get curious.  Amen. 

Who’s the Real Enemy, Anyway?

  S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,  13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. 14 And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. 15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation):  The church in Colossae is having to work through issues of unity.   They seem to be focusing on winning in the eyes of the world, leaning on human understandings, rather than viewing one another through God’s eyes.  The church members see nationality, sex, and even religious affiliations as key.  Paul reminds them that all who are of Christ are no longer viewed this way.  

And instead of judging others, they are called to forgive one another, just as God has forgiven each of them. 

A (Application):  When we see the world, we still fall into the same trap of judging one another and treating one another with worldly judgment.   

Instead, Paul calls for peace and love, and exhortation.   Exhortation is different than judgment. 

Recently,  on social media, I’ve seen discussion of abortion same-sex / same-gender marriage.  I’ve been involved in some ways.   Rarely is the conversation constructive, but I have seen some healthy conversations, too.  

Speaking of these difficult issues…I can see Paul helping us to discern the difference between Exhortation and Judgment.   The key difference for me is that Judgment assumes the role of God, whereas Exhortation is a human command based in wisdom, and comes with a dose of humility. 

The online and in-person conversations that go sour tend to lack 2 things:  humility and an understanding that we are in this together. 

The devil loves nothing more than to cause us to fight with each other as believers.  It’s as if we have mistaken our brothers and sisters in Christ for the enemy!   This is wrong.  Evil / the devil is our enemy.   Can we exhort one another, as Paul has done?  Absolutely!  Should we write one another off, completely?  Never!  

God has not written off any of His children…and never will. 

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to keep in mind who the real enemy is: the devil.  Amen.   

Be Excellent To Each Other

  

S (Scripture):Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,

25:22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

O (Observation): Words of Wisdom today, in how to deal with our enemies.  The suggestion runs counter to conventional wisdom, which says: conquer your enemies, defeat them.  Instead, the author tells us to feed our enemies if they are hungry, and give them water if they are thirsty.  

Doing this means that your enemy is meeting no resistance.  Your enemy will wonder why you are not fighting back.  It will infuriate them, because their conscience will convict them that what they’re doing is wrong.  Or, at the worst, the Lord will reward you. 

This reminds us of Christ’s approach to the enemies of the world. ” Turn the other cheek” kind of stuff.  Maybe bad for our health, but good for the soul. 

A (Application):  I’ve encountered plenty of folks that want to challenge me.   My approach has usually been to be kind…though that kind of response can take a very conscious effort.  My heartbeat is elevated.  Sweat starts to break out.  For me, calm is the response, even if I’m feeling enraged.  The reason is that I tend to not be good at “comebacks.”  So that’s not a very holy response, I know : )

Perhaps my lack of “comebacks”, though, is a gift : ) Perhaps the fact that I really can’t be good in the heat of an argument is a blessing that God has bestowed upon me.   

What’s your default?  Fight or flight?  Is one a blessing and the other a curse?  Can both be effective?  Respond below.  

In sum, and in the words of Bill & Ted, “Be excellent to each other!”

P (Prayer):  Lord, you know that we can desire our way over yours.  Remind us that peace and patience are the way.  Help us to confuse our enemies, and help us to do well in your sight.  Amen.