HOLY WEEK at C.O.T.R.

A Personal Account of

HOLY WEEK

at

Church of the Resurrection

One of the best things about Church of the Resurrection is the way we celebrate Easter. For us, Holy Week means much more than just the end of Lent or the opportunity to visit with family and/or friends while the children hunt colored eggs. Yes, we enjoy those things. In fact, our celebration of Holy Week specifically contains those things. But it contains much more. While the whole week is sacred to us, we specifically observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Day. In addition, Easter is not just one day. Easter is the entire season from Resurrection Day until Pentecost. So, we not only celebrate Holy Week, but we have almost two months of the Season of Easter.

Palm Sunday

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The first thing we do is to meet about an hour before the service starts and make palm crosses. We carry these in a reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus fulfilled Scripture by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We march around the church waving palm fronds and our palm crosses. This procession signifies the special holy nature of the day. It is fun. It reminds us that being holy can be fun. We wave palm crosses and palm branches and sing praise to God as we march joyfully into the sanctuary. It is a wonderful way to begin Holy Week. (We keep our crosses until the following February, when the clergy burn them to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.)

Maundy Thursday

I was completely ‘blown away’ the first time I participated in a Church of the Resurrection Maundy Thursday service. Now I knew some things about Maundy Thursday, but I was not prepared for the end of the service. Maundy Thursday is the traditional day for observing the institution of the Last Supper, or Communion, or Eucharist. But it was most familiar to me as the day we observe a “Foot-Washing” ceremony. While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the institution of the Communion meal, The Gospel of John tells us about the foot washing event in Chapter 13.

We also get the name of this day from John 13:34. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you,” which, in Latin, is “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs‌” Shortly after he washed the Disciples’ feet he said, “A new commandment I give you, love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” Maundy means ‘command’ from the Latin ‌mandatum. (We get words like ‘mandate’ and ‘mandatory’ from this same word.) That is why we call this day ‘Maundy Thursday’. So now you know. Maundy Thursday is ‘Commandment Thursday’, the day of the new commandment.

But it’s much more than that. I had participated in many ‘foot washing’ services. That was what I was expecting. And we did do that. It is—well it can be—a humbling act to wash someone else’s feet.

The Bible does not always paint a picture for us. I suppose John never thought that he should explain why the foot washing made such an impression. Imagine how filthy your feet would be if you wore sandals on dirt roads. Imagine even more what the droppings of horses, cattle, donkeys would do to your feet. Imagine having to clean them! It was the job of the lowest servant. The one who washed your feet was the least in the household. It’s important to realize that the custom in Judah in those days was to recline at a low table to eat. The custom would put my feet near your head. You would want me to have clean feet. Now, imagine what the disciples thought when Jesus took up the basin and towel to wash their feet. You can read about it in the Gospel of John, chapter 13. And that is why Jesus gave them a new commandment and told them (and us) to love each other.

I tell you this to let you know that this is the spirit of the foot-washing ceremony at Church of the Resurrection. It truly helps to put servant-hood into perspective.

But it is what happens at the end of the service that is truly sacred. Remember that we have washed each other’s feet. Then, we have celebrated the Last Supper. Now, at the end of the service, the church changes its celebratory color to black. The clergy wash the altar with vinegar, the lights are dimmed, the cross is draped in black and a replica of the Gethsemane Garden is set up. We call this the “Altar of Repose” and from the end of the Maundy Thursday service until the beginning of the Good Friday service at least one member of our church is seated at the Altar of Repose, praying for one hour with Jesus.

Good Friday

And the next day Jesus is nailed to the cross. We observe the Crucifixion with a special “Stations of the Cross” event. We have markers depicting the ‘Stations of the Cross’ at The Gardens in West Asheville. So, at High Noon, we meet there to observe His Crucifixion. {Please see our website at cotres.org for more about The Gardens.}

(The following comments are mine. They may or may not be official statements of the CEC or Church of the Resurrection. I have partaken “The Lord’s Supper” in many churches over the years. The following is my opinion. I do hope the following comments will help you understand just how wonderful and spiritually fulfilling the observance of this Holy Sacrament can be, and, why our Good Friday service is so spiritually moving.)

Then, around 7:00pm, we observe Good Friday with a special Eucharist (Last Supper) service. It is the Good Friday service that we use to observe the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. This service makes the crucifixion of Jesus a real event, at least it does that for me. However, in order to explain our worship service, I need to explain certain things. I do this so that you will better understand what is really happening in our worship.

We in the CEC believe that the bread and wine, when blessed, do become, at some point, the body and blood of Jesus. We treat the elements of bread and wine as if they were truly the body of Jesus. For me this is a wonderful, spiritually fulfilling idea. We keep a small portion of the Blessed Elements in a “Tabernacle” on the wall behind the Altar. Some of us, when we enter the sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle, bow or nod to show respect to our King. I, personally, “see” the Throne of God where the Tabernacle is located. I practice the presence of God upon His Throne when I enter the Sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle. Now, I know, just as every member of our church knows, that God is omnipresent. We don’t limit the Presence of God to the Bread and Wine. But, because God is present everywhere, what, I ask you, prevents Him from being present in the Bread and the Wine?

As you probably know, Jesus died before sunset, was removed from the cross and his body was given into the custody of Joseph of Arimathea, who buried it in a nearby tomb. As there was not enough time to properly prepare the body for burial, some of the ladies made note of the exact location of the tomb so they could return there on Sunday to finish the burial process. A large stone was placed over the entrance to keep animals from desecrating the body.

Our Good Friday service takes this into account. The Altar of Repose is removed. We consume all of the Blessed Bread and Blessed Wine in the church building. So, at the end of the service, there is no Blessed Bread or Blessed Wine in the Tabernacle or anywhere else in the building.

While washing the Altar with vinegar and draping the cross with a black shroud is very moving, it is in the symbolism of the Absence of Christ, the remembrance of his burial, that is something one can feel. At the end of the service there is a difference in the “atmosphere” of the Sanctuary.

When we return on Saturday morning to decorate the Church for the Easter Vigil we notice this. The building feels empty. Even the first time that I participated in this, when I really did not understand the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I noticed a difference in the ambiance of the sanctuary on Saturday morning. This was made apparent to me, once again, just a few days ago. I had to stop by the church for a few moments. Upon entering, I could actually feel the presence of Christ, even though I was not thinking about that. And I have entered some sanctuaries, only to realize that there is no Tabernacle behind the Altar and thus no official ‘place’ to bow in reverence to My Lord. In those sanctuaries He seems, to me, to be less present.

I can’t say that this would ever be real for you. But the emptiness of the Sanctuary on Friday night and Saturday is one of the things that makes our Holy Week a real observance of the Passion of Christ for me. For others, it might be the extinguishing of the Christ Candle, putting out the light, that moves them. That’s important, but it’s that Absence of Christ that I feel.

Resurrection Day

First, an explanation of calendars and time keeping and such. If you know the following, that’s great. But if you have never understood this, I hope the following explanation will help you understand some things about how and why Christians do what they do.

We at Church of the Resurrection follow the tradition that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. We also understand that, in Jewish understanding, the day begins as sunset. In the West, the day begins at midnight. So, for example, Jesus’ birthday begins at sunset on the day we in the West call “Christmas Eve” and it ends at sunset on the day we call “Christmas Day”. For the Jews, Passover Day begins at sunset and ends at sunset. In addition, they counted days differently: If a wedding started on Monday at noon and ended on Wednesday at noon they would say that the wedding was three (3) days long. Therefore, if Jesus died and was buried on Good Friday before sunset and he was resurrected after sunset on the day we call Saturday, then he was dead, by their reckoning, three (3) days. In addition, Easter “sunrise” service would better be called “Son Rise” service. (The Bible is full of puns. It would be a Biblical tradition to make a pun here.)

Saturday evening, just before sunset, we gather in the church parking lot to begin our Easter Vigil and the Observance of the Resurrection of Our Lord. A fire is ignited at sunset and we light, once again, the candle that represents the ‘Light of Christ.’ Each person receives a small candle with which we ‘carry the Light of Christ’ into the darkened sanctuary. Our candles remain lit and the church lights are dimmed as we rehearse the history from the beginning of time.

When we reach to point where Christ is Risen, the lights are brightened and we sing out in celebration that Christ is Risen Indeed. Our little candles are extinguished. The Clergy bless new bread and new wine and we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and our God.

After the worship service, we move into the fellowship hall and have a party. Everyone brings something sweet or savory and we fellowship with each other. Lent is now over. Those of us who gave up some type of food for Lent can now enjoy that food again. If you have never done this, it is a worthwhile endeavor. When you partake of something after a fast, the eating takes on a new meaning.

On Easter Sunday we do have a “simple said service” for those who were unable to participate in the Easter Vigil. But this Sunday is a time to celebrate with family and friends. Some of us let the children hunt colored eggs. But that is a family, not a church, activity. Gathering with family and friends is, I think, a really great way to end Holy Week.

Now I am inviting you to come and celebrate Holy Week with us. I would like for you to look forward to Holy Week/Easter with as much anticipation as I do. Yes, Christmas is a wonderful holiday. We celebrate and enjoy that season. However, it has become a secular event, not simply a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Easter, thankfully, has not become a pagan festival. And the way we celebrate Easter makes it a true Holy Week.

The Armor of God–A Morning Prayer with commentary.

Good morning, Father! Good morning, Jesus! Good morning Holy Spirit!

Romans 12:1-2 Heavenly Father, according to your Word, I present my body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable in your sight. Let my behavior conform to your model, Jesus, and not to the world around me.

Isaiah 61:3 As I prepare to face the world Father, anoint my hair with the oil of your joy. Let me wear praise for my garment and, as a garland of beauty, a smile.

Ephesians 6:14-18 For strength to resist the devil’s tactics – to help me stand firm – I buckle the belt of truth around my waist and wear righteousness as my breastplate. My shoes are the readiness to spread the gospel of peace. My faith is my shield: with it I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation is my helmet; and for my defense I take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I am ready to pray in the Spirit for all occasions.

Isaiah 58:8 And according to your Word, the glory of the Lord is my rear guard. Father, I thank you for the armor you have provided for me to dress in this day. I am completely covered now, in the name of Jesus, according to your Word.

Galatians 5:22-25 Let me walk through this day keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Matthew 7:24 Upon Jesus I have built my life, my home, and my marriage and nothing shall prevail against these things.

Psalm 23:1 & You are my shepherd, I shall never be in spiritual want. For you have supplied all my

Philippians 4:13-19 needs according to your riches in glory and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 I cast down all imaginations and bring into captivity every evil thought.

1 Peter 5:7 I humble myself before you and cast all my cares upon you, for you care for me.

Psalm 103:3 & I praise you for walking in divine health, for you are my God who heals all my

Isaiah 53: 5 diseases and by your wounds I am healed.

3 John 1:2 I praise you and thank you for my prosperity and good health; even as my soul prospers.

Nehemiah 8:10 This day is holy to the Lord. I will not worry or weep but enjoy what I have and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Jeremiah 1:12 Father, I have prayed according to your Word and you have said you would watch over your Word to fulfill it.

Father, please live big within me today, for I am yours in the name of Jesus. Amen.

First, some historical and technical notes:

My wife and I were first introduced to this prayer at a Walk to Emmaus Weekend. After pondering and prayer I modified the original, specifically for our personal use. It never occurred to me to share it, as I am a layperson and have no real theological training. It was when our church did a Bible Study on the Armor of God that I realized it might be good to share this prayer with them. However, I was reluctant because I had changed some things. I finally realized that the Lord wanted me to share this prayer, with my comments about each section. So here are my comments.

The major change to the original prayer was the addition of Galatians 5:22-25, the “fruit of the Spirit” passage. I also made changes in the order, to make it flow properly. For example, I moved the Isaiah 61:3 passage because I thought it made more sense to put those items on before donning the armor. And I changed some of the wording to make it sound better to me. When I started writing these comments, I looked at the way a number of translations phrased the verse in question; I also looked at notes and other commentaries.

Greek and Hebrew words often have more than one meaning, as do English words. Phrases can be translated into English in a variety of ways. I have chosen a number of different translations in order to make the concept fit. For example, I chose the King James Version for Isaiah 61:1-3. Even so, we miss the word “garland” which some versions translate as “crown”. (The Jerusalem Bible uses “garland.”) I read in a note or comment that the word could be translated as “garland of beauty” or “crown of beauty” and so the idea of a smile came to me.

These comments are just comments. I do not claim any divine inspiration. If you find something that does not seem to fit the Bible, I apologize. I have tried very hard to make sure that every concept is grounded in solid Biblical truth.

A comment on the format:

The first page is the prayer, with the Bible verse it references on the left. For the commentary, each part of the prayer is in large bold non-serif type. The Bible verse is just below it in a smaller non-serif type. My comments are in serif type. Other Biblical quotes are marked.

Good morning, Father! Good morning, Jesus! Good morning Holy Spirit!

We begin by saying, “Good Morning” to the three persons of God. Our God is one deity of three persons, that is, God is Triune. We could think of these persons as aspects, or dimensions or forms, but our God is a living sentient being. We do best to think about Him by referring to His person. The book of Genesis (Chapter 1, verse 1 & also verse 26) informs us that God is plural: the first name we find for God is Elohim, a plural form of the word for God, El. Chapter One of Genesis also informs us that God is both creator and spirit; and implies that the two are somehow different. David, in Psalm 110 calls the Messiah, “My Lord” and Jesus, in Matthew 22:41-46 asks the Pharisees how this could be. Chapter 1, verse 1 of The Gospel of John describes The Word to us in terms of the deity of Jesus. The Bible contains many more references to the three distinct persons that we know as God.

The main point is that God is one, singular god, but God has revealed Himself to us as three persons. When I pray, sometimes I say something like, “Hello, Father God, Lord Jesus and Holy Spirit; Lord God I come to you in prayer…” I say this because I am using the name ‘Lord God’ to refer to all three persons. In some translations ‘Lord God’ refers to the combined use of Elohim and Yahweh. So the term refers to all of God. It is okay to pray to just the Holy Spirit, or to Jesus or to the Father (Jesus said to pray to the Father, we are told to ask the Holy Spirit and to pray in Jesus’ name). However, it seems proper to say “Good Morning” to all three persons of the Trinity.

Romans 12:1-2 Heavenly Father, according to your Word, I present my body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable in your sight. Let my behavior conform to your model, Jesus, and not to the world around me.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Imagine that God appeared to you as He appeared to Abraham, Isaiah and others in the Old Testament. What would you be likely to do? We are not told what Abraham did when God revealed Himself to Abraham the first time (see Genesis 12). In chapter 18 Abraham treats the manifestation of God as a very special guest; Isaiah (see Isaiah 6) cries in fear that he is ‘a man of unclean lips’ and thus ‘undone’ or ‘lost’.

When we first wake up and say “Hello” to God, does He not appear before us? Or—more precisely—do we not appear before Him, in His court? This is much more than a casual, “Hi, how you doing?” that we might say to a friend. We are truly standing (or kneeling or sitting respectfully – or possibly still laying in bed – ) before the King and Creator of the Universe. Wouldn’t you want to offer Him a gift? And what do you have that you could give to God?

St. Paul’s request that we worship God properly, offering ourselves as a holy sacrifice, is thus very appropriate here.

Now as we read the Bible, especially the description of the sort of animal that God allows to be a sacrifice, we become aware of our inability to fulfill the requirement. We know that we are not without blemish; therefore we are not pleasing to God. It is only through the sacrifice made in our behalf by Jesus the Messiah (who was without blemish) that we become acceptable to God. It does please the Lord God that we have accepted Jesus as our Messiah and repented of Sin. Your acceptance of the free gift of salvation makes you “without blemish” and thus acceptable to God.

Since we have already accepted God’s gift of salvation, this morning we need only to ask God for protection from temptation. We take this opportunity to ask Jesus to help us conform to the model He provided, and to ask that we be given assistance to resist the model of the world. How we can do that is described in the rest of our prayer.

Isaiah 61:3 As I prepare to face the world Father, anoint my hair with the oil of your joy. Let me wear praise for my garment and, as a garland of beauty, a smile.

1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound,

2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn,

3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:1-3 (KJV)

This morning we are going to need to dress properly. First we need to smell sweet. A bath helps, but we received a ‘bath’ when we were ‘washed in the blood’ of Jesus sacrifice. In addition we also were ‘bathed’ when we were baptized. No, what we need this morning is to remove the odor of mourning, fretting and whining.

We mourn for that which we imagine we have lost. This is not mourning for lost loved ones. We do mourn them. But that mourning is a necessary part of living. It is unbecoming not to mourn them.

No, this is the mourning for that which we imagine we have lost. It is an imaginary loss, focused on the ‘self’ and not on others. We mourn lost ball games. We mourn lost business opportunities. We mourn missing our favorite TV show. We mourn lost treasures. We mourn lost things. We also mourn the missed opportunity to witness Jesus to someone. And we mourn the missed moment with our children. We can begin our day with all these regrets, just as the Jews in Isaiah’s day mourned the loss of Jerusalem. Now the Jews that had been transported to Babylon did think they would never go back. But they had not read the scripture properly. If they had, they would have known God’s intentions. We, likewise, have not read the scriptures properly. So, we mourn for that which we perceive we have lost. And this mourning for material treasures produces a spiritual stench.

In addition, we cover ourselves with ashes, just as the ancient world did, when we are unhappy. Throughout the Old Testament we read of people, upon hearing bad news, who tore their clothes and covered themselves with ashes. We still do this. We force a wimpy smile; we greet people halfheartedly; we let others see the spiritual ashes we have poured over our heads by letting them see us fret and worry. Or, we are greeted with, “How’s it going?” and we reply with a fake smile and the lie, “Fabulous!” This adds to the spiritual stench; those around us feel our unhappiness.

Finally, we indulge in a spirit of heaviness or despair. While we don’t actually say, “Oh! Woe is me!” We do act as if, for example, the lost ball game is the end of the world. We can’t forgive the person who (we think) carelessly broke our treasure and we make sure they know it. We use the opportunity of disappointment as an excuse to give up. Pointing out the horrible thing that happened, “Why try?” we ask. Or, we place blame. We announce our displeasure with certain coaches or ball players concerning the loss of the game. Or we talk about the boss or a co-worker blaming our plight on them. Our whining actually becomes a spiritual stench that works like a bad odor on those around us.

In all of this our focus is on self. We mourn, we worry, we indulge in despair because we are thinking about “ME” and that is our problem.

When Jesus went to Nazareth, his hometown, he read Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue and told his brethren that the scripture was being fulfilled right in front of their eyes. It is interesting that Jesus stopped with verse 2, especially since he did not have verse numbers. The sentence continues through verse 3. The whole passage is chapters 60 through 62 of Isaiah. See Luke 4:16-30 for the account of Jesus in Nazareth.

So, this morning, we are going to ask Jesus to fulfill the two verses he read to the Jews in Nazareth and to complete the good news by fulfilling the third verse of chapter 61. We shall ask Him to replace the mourning, the ashes and the spirit of despair.

The first gift, to replace mourning, is Joy. One image of Joy is that of oil. Psalm 45 and Psalm 23 are two of many places to find the Oil of the Lord. So, this morning, we ask our Lord to anoint us with His Oil, the Oil of Joy. And what is the Oil of His Joy? It is the empty tomb. Have you ever meditated on the empty tomb? Consider John and Peter when they first saw the empty tomb. John tells us that when he saw the folded cloth he believed. (John 20:1-10) It does not say he laughed, but he must have felt an elation that went beyond smiling. Victory beyond any victory the disciples, or you or I could ever expect. Victory over Death. And Resurrection bringing Victory over Sin. Stunned incredulity. Mind boggling. A dead man got up and walked! How can you mourn all those perceived losses? A person can’t help but smile.

And that is our second gift. To replace the ashes we are given a garland of beauty, a smile. You can’t fret and worry when there is a smile on your face.

The third gift is underwear. Jesus will replace your spirit of heaviness, those feelings of despair, with an undergarment: Praise. We will need something soft and comfortable under the armor He is going to provide. Praise is that soft, comfortable garment. (In addition, some call Colossians 3:12 “God’s Underwear” and so I bring it to your attention. Most of the qualities listed are included in the Fruit of the Spirit, but you can add ‘compassion’ and ‘humility’ to the list of undergarments you are wearing under your armor. And you might add a garment of ‘encouragement’…we do praise God, but others we should encourage.)

Put on the garment of Praise. Praise God for anything and everything. “Rejoice in the Lord, always: and again I say Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) St. Paul is not being trite when he says this. He is thinking about the empty tomb and our resurrection in Heaven. When we remember the empty tomb and get anointed with the Oil of Joy we can’t help but smile. And, when we praise God, we can’t help but forget about “Me” and, instead, we will be thinking about Him and about the people we meet.

Put on the garment of Praise. Praise your brothers and sisters in Christ. Tell them that something they have done is a good thing. Sometimes our Christian brothers and sisters really irritate us. Siblings are good for that. Remember, Jesus has already forgiven them. You do likewise. Put on the garment of praise and see what happens to that spirit of heaviness. `

Put on the garment of praise. Praise your heathen acquaintances and pagan colleagues for the things they do that are good. Quit finding Fault! Ever feel like this: Yes, I’m guilty of not doing it right; but I know that: twenty people have already told me. Is there anything I’ve done that is even slightly adequate? It would be nice to have just one person tell you that you did something right. Well, could you be that one person for someone else? Imagine how everyone you know will feel when you treat them like they are actually human!

We are now ready for Jesus to dress us in His armor.

Ephesians 6:14-18 For strength to resist the devil’s tactics – to help me stand firm – I buckle the belt of truth around my waist and wear righteousness as my breastplate. My shoes are the readiness to spread the gospel of peace. My faith is my shield: with it I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation is my helmet; and for my defense I take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I am ready to pray in the Spirit for all occasions.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— Ephesians 6:14-18 (NKJV)

Soldiers are warriors. They wage war to expand their king’s territory. They fight to defend their king. Their goal is to defeat their enemy. In the performance of their duties they may be wounded, they may be killed. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior and king then you are a soldier in his army. This is the army of the rightful king (Jesus) working to overthrow the usurper (Satan). The battlefield is a spiritual battlefield. But it is a field of battle that we enter every day. The armor God provides will protect us and enable us to fight the enemy (Satan).

Ephesians 6:10-13

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

As a soldier, you need armor for protection in battle. St. Paul used the idea of a Roman soldier’s armor to illustrate how we could think about preparing for spiritual battle.

Most Christians have read Ephesians 6:14-17. There are all sorts of books on the “Armor of God” and most churches either recently finished a Bible study on the subject or they are having one now or they plan to in the near future. It’s a good idea to attend one of these Bible studies and/or read a book about the Armor of God. If you have never read about the Armor of God, or if you need a reminder, here is a quick summary:

This armor is composed of 1. The Belt of Truth. 2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. 3. Shoes to spread the Gospel of Peace. 4. The Shield of Faith. 5. The Helmet of Salvation. 6. The Sword of the Spirit. 7. Prayer.

Truth: This includes refraining from lying, but it is much more than that. You should refrain from lying because you want to obey God. Here we are referring to the foundation of the armor, the Belt that holds the armor in place. This is the Truth that Jesus and Pilate discussed at Jesus’ trial just before he was crucified, the Truth that forms the foundation of the world. When you buckle the Belt of Truth around your waist, you have for your support the eternal truth of God’s Word.

Integrity or Righteousness: Just as the Breastplate attaches to the Belt so righteousness attaches to truth. The word means both integrity and righteousness: integrity is integrated, consistent thought; righteousness is correct attitude based on the righteousness of God. The Greek word means to be as you are supposed to be; to be acceptable to God. Caution: righteousness is not the righteousness of good works. Righteousness is your humble obedience to God’s word. You are saved by Jesus because of your faith, not by your righteousness.

Spreading the Gospel of Peace: in verses 11, 13, & 14, Saint Paul tells us to “stand” and the proper footwear can help us to do that. The shoes a Roman soldier wore were similar to sandals. However, they had hobnails to help the soldier stand firm. In spreading the Gospel we need to stand firm and uphold The Truth. This verse incorporates a Greek word that the King James & other versions translate as “preparation”. The word also means “readiness”. It appears that St. Paul wants us to be prepared, to be ready. When temptation comes we need to be ready to stand firm. Also, when we meet others, we need to be prepared and ready to share the Gospel with them; remembering that it is the Gospel of Peace and so should produce Peace in those we meet.

Faith: The picture of Faith as a Shield is very instructive. The picture is of the demons shooting flaming arrows at us. The shield is designed to catch those arrows and let them burn out with no damage to ourselves. These darts of fire are such things as stray thoughts of doubt, despair and defeat. They are also the invitation to participate in gossip or engage in other activities that would compromise your witness. Faith is the shield that brings courage. It is built out of the same Truth that the Belt represents.

Salvation: The helmet protects the soldier’s head. In the same way, salvation protects the thought processes. The demons will always try to bring doubt and confusion. Knowing that you are saved protects you. When you know that you have confessed your sin, repented and then accepted the gift of forgiveness from Jesus, then you know you are saved, you know the Truth and there is no doubt.

The Word of God: This sword cuts to the bone. It can be painful to hear the word of God. The Old Testament prophets spoke the Word and were persecuted for doing it. No one wants to hear that God is not pleased with his or her actions. It is my understanding that the word for ‘sword’ in this passage is the Greek word for a short sword used for defense. As I read Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, etc. it seems to me that he quoted scripture in defense, not to attack them. When he was tempted by Satan, he used scripture in defense; he did not attack Satan with scripture. The Pharisees and Satan were the ones attacking him with scripture.

The Word of God is also a sword that brings peace. The sword of a “knight in shining armor” would vanquish foes and bring peace to damsels in distress. We are comforted by God’s Word. Hearing the 23rd. Psalm, for example, brings comfort and joy. We must be reminded that it is easy to pick up a sword and start swinging it. To use it properly we must know our sword, practice with it every day. When we consider the Word of God to be a sword we better understand how to employ it: we would not want to ram it down the throat of someone we wish to convert.

The supreme piece of your armor is prayer. The Roman soldier had no weapon or piece of armor equivalent to prayer, so St. Paul does not even make a comparison. He just tells us to pray in the Spirit. He also asks us to pray for all the saints. Prayer is our most important offensive and defensive weapon.

Isaiah 58:8 And according to your Word, the glory of the Lord is my rear guard. Father, I thank you for the armor you have provided for me to dress in this day. I am completely covered now, in the name of Jesus, according to your Word.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:8 (NIV)

The whole passage is Isaiah 58: 1-12

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself ? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

As you read Isaiah 58 consider the armor you have just donned. If your belt is Truth and your breastplate is Righteousness would you be involved in the activities expressed in verses 6 and 7? Jesus, according to Matthew 6:16, surely thought so. The promise in verse 8 is that if we do as God wants then He will be our rear guard. Now, since we have been commanded to “Love our neighbor as ourselves” then this is just a reminder of the promise. It sure is nice to know that God has said, “I got your back!” Now that we are properly dressed in our battle gear we can go out into the world.

Galatians 5:22-25 Let me walk through this day keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And we discover that the world is full of the ‘works of the flesh’ as St. Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-21. St. Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the Flesh. It seems obvious that they are mutually exclusive. Since we are wearing our armor we should be able to ignore the temptations of the world. But we are made of flesh and it is not that easy. So St. Paul offers us a goal. Instead of trying to ignore the world, we just concentrate on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ and move toward that goal.

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22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (Common English Bible

The following is mostly from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: (http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/strongs-exhaustive-concordance/)

Love is ‘Agapao’, the highest of the Greek words for love. In English, we use the word ‘Agape’ for the various Greek forms of this word. This is not brotherly love, but forgiving, charitable, merciful affection and good will. Ultimately, it is Jesus on the Cross.

Love’ is also a command: Matthew 22:37-39: 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The word for ‘love’ in this passage is ‘agapao’. The Lord Jesus has commanded us to the highest form of love in our dealings with other human beings.

Joy is ‘Chara’, which is Greek for joy. Joy is more than happiness. Happiness is a short-lived emotion. Joy is the elation of the empty tomb; the jubilation of knowing your sin is forgiven; the gladness of knowing that the Creator of the Universe cares about you. Joy can produce laughter in a person, but it most frequently produces a state of wonder and sense of harmony with God.

Peace is ‘Eirene’, Greek for peace. It can mean that a country is not at war, but it can also mean a state of personal amity or serenity. St. Paul is talking about the harmony and tranquility that result from knowing you are saved.

Patience is ‘Makrothumia’ or patience, endurance, perseverance, long-suffering. (Long-suffering should be understood in the sense of “suffer the little children to come unto me.” That is, “back off and let”.) Patience can be understood in personal terms, as in a person having the patience to endure the actions of other people. This sort of patience involves forgiveness. But it is also the ability to accept God’s timing, to persevere in doing right, to wait for God to answer a prayer.

Kindness is ‘Chrestotes’ or moral goodness, integrity, benignity, kindness. The King James Version translates this word as ‘gentleness’ which would be the ‘gentle’ that described a gentleman in those days. A true gentleman would be noble and kind. The word invokes the ideal of the ‘knight in shining armor’ ready to fight but tempered by the virtues.

Goodness is ‘Agathosune’ or uprightness of heart and life, goodness, kindness. More than integrity, this is the inner core of a person who has centered his/her life on God. Jesus told us that only God was ‘good’ when he was called, “good teacher” (Mark 10:17-18). Goodness is imitating Christ.

Faithfulness is ‘Pistis’ or the character of one who can be relied upon. Fidelity, faithfulness. Also, the conviction of the truth of anything, belief: especially in Jesus. If we are faithful, we can be relied upon. We are faithful because we rely upon Jesus. We are wearing the Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness that Jesus gave us. Jesus can rely on us to obey his commands. Jesus can depend on us to fight the good fight for him. In addition, other people can rely on us. As Christians, we should be known as ‘those who keep their word.’

Gentleness is ‘Praotes’ or mildness of disposition, meekness, gentleness of spirit. The King James translates this word as “meekness”. This is the idea Jesus proposes when he asks us to “turn the other cheek”. We trust God and depend on His strength rather than our own; understanding that God uses the evil done against us to remove sin and that He is the Good Shepherd who will rescue us. One model is Job, who did not understand why evil came his way, nevertheless, he did not sin against God. Another model is David, who did not harm King Saul when he had the chance (1 Samuel 24:1-12). In addition, we see this in the admonition to get angry and not sin. Sinful anger is the emotion that occurs when we have been wronged. Holy anger is the emotion that occurs when innocents have been wronged. When we are wronged we should be gentle instead of sinning in anger. In this there is the notion that we should be very strong in order to be that ‘knight in shining armor’ who comes to the aid of the innocent. When others see our strength and then see us display gentleness or meekness they should be able to see Christ. Gentleness/Meekness requires a strong form of self-restraint. I do not believe it is possible to exhibit this virtue without depending on the strength of The Lord.

Self-control is ‘Egkrateia’ or the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. Because of ‘The Fall’ our desires and sensual appetites are perverted. It may seem that “I was born this way” and so my desire for pleasure is natural and right. However, in order to protect us from the problems that result from such activity, the Lord has set boundaries for us. He has said, for example, that it is foolish to get drunk. Wine is a good thing. It preserves the goodness of the grape and provides pleasure. But we need to practice self-control and not get drunk—or addicted. I know people who are allergic to chocolate, others who are allergic to tomatoes. These people must have self-control and not eat those delicious foods. They can’t even have a taste. They were ‘born that way’ and so they have to practice self-control if they are going to avoid the problems that result from eating foods they should not eat.

What St. Paul was asking the Galatians (and us) to do is to meditate on these virtues instead of pondering the list of sins he mentions first. This list may be a picture of the “perfect Christian” and it may seem beyond your ability to achieve the virtues listed above. But you do not need to rely on your fleshly abilities. Instead you should rely on the Lord your God. I am nowhere near ‘perfect’ as my wife can tell you. But as the saying goes, “God is not finished with me yet!”

To put it another way, St. Paul understands that if he asks you, “Don’t think about red roses” you can’t help but think about them. So he is asking you to think about the virtues “against which there is no law.” By meditating on the fruit of the Spirit you will begin to display the fruit in your daily activities.

The remainder of our morning prayer is a short list of some of the promises God has made. These promises add strength to our armor.

Matthew 7:24 Upon Jesus I have built my life, my home, and my marriage and nothing shall prevail against these things.

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 (New American Standard)

Jesus told parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on sand. We now claim the promise that the things we hold most dear will survive any devastating storm.

Psalm 23:1 & You are my shepherd, I shall never be in spiritual

Philippians 4:13-19 want. For you have supplied all my

needs according to your riches in glory and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1. (KJV)

The promise is for those sheep that do not stray, and for those the shepherd has rescued. We can walk through a valley of deathly dangers without fear because He is our shepherd. But if we wander off, run away, we are no longer under His protection. He can rescue us, but we may be severely injured by the deadly dangers that are in the world.

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

St. Paul has been describing the gifts the Philippians have sent to him. Now he rephrases the promise of Malachi 3:10. God will supply all our needs, but He expects us to have a giving heart. It is, in essence, the same promise as Psalm 23. If we are, as Jesus said in St. John’s gospel, ‘abiding in Him’ then He is ‘abiding in us.’ (See John 15.)

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 I cast down all imaginations and bring into captivity every evil thought.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NKJV)

This is the promise that our armor is effective; especially the Helmet of Salvation. Every false argument, every evil thought, and the demons that are the source of these rebellious attitudes, will be brought into the obedience of Christ. This is where prayer is so very effective. When we talk to God, when we tell Him about our negative thoughts and fears, the doubts and false arguments that wander through our minds, He will protect us (Psalm 23) and supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).

1 Peter 5:7 I humble myself before you and cast all my cares upon you, for you care for me.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5: 6-7

In the next two verses, St. Peter warns us that our adversary is like a roaring lion and we must resist him. Then he prays that God will rescue us. Yes, again God restates Psalm 23, this time saying that we need to be humble, and not stray down a path of our own choosing. We have a hard time being humble. We want to exalt ourselves. But, we are warned throughout the Bible about pride. In this promise, God promises to repay our humble attitude with His exaltation when the time is right. He also restates His promise to take care of us.

Psalm 103:3 & I praise you for walking in divine health, for you are my God Isaiah 53: 5 who heals all my diseases and by your wounds I am healed.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases,

Who redeems your life from destruction,

Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,

Who satisfies your mouth with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5 (NKJV)

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

It seems to me that, while the Lord does heal physical diseases like the flu and cancer; the best healing He provides is spiritual healing. Isaiah seems to be very specific: it is by his stripes that our transgressions and iniquities are healed and we receive our peace from Him. In the next verse, he says that we are like sheep that have gone astray. In addition to this, in the Gospels Jesus tells everyone he heals that it is through their faith that they are healed. We tend to forget that healing is done for the glory of God. We want to be healed for our convenience. And the Lord is willing to heal us. Disease and Death are a result of Sin entering the world. God heals pagans and Christians all for His glory. All of us know that it is God who heals. And I believe that He heals us to remind us of who He is. However Sin is deadly; all have sinned; all will die. Yet we have the hope of resurrection through the empty tomb. He raised the dead, including Lazarus, and then He himself rose from death to prove who He was and to offer us resurrection through belief in Him.

3 John 1:2 I praise you and thank you for my prosperity and good health; even as my soul prospers.

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. 3 John 1: 2-4

John is writing to Gaius, an elder in the church. Because the Church was led by God to include this letter in Holy Scripture, we accept that it is to be interpreted as inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus is meant for us. And we are once again examining that Belt that God gave us as the foundation for our armor. He has no greater joy than to hear that we walk in Truth. Note also, that St. John qualifies his prayer for Gaius that he prosper and be in good health: “just as your soul prospers” is the condition. It is through spiritual prosperity that we receive physical prosperity and good health. (Yes, pagans get physical prosperity, but we do not know just what they would have if they had spiritual prosperity. All will learn on ‘The day of the Lord’.)

Nehemiah 8:10 This day is holy to the Lord. I will not worry or weep but enjoy what I have and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12

The wall had been built. The people gathered and Ezra read the Law from the Books Moses wrote. Then the people wept. Nehemiah and Ezra told them not to weep, for “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So they rejoiced and had a huge party. When they heard the Law, they knew they were sinful. Yet all they needed to hear was that they should give to those who have nothing and to rejoice for strength can be found in the joy of the LORD. We understand much better than they, just what that joy really is. We rejoice in the strength we get from the cross and the empty tomb. We want to share that joy with others, just as the people in Nehemiah’s day wanted to share the joy of The Law with those who had not heard it. And, like them, we are filled with JOY and want to celebrate. (That’s one reason God’s people have lots of meals together.)

Jeremiah 1:12 Father, I have prayed according to your Word and you have said you would watch over your Word to fulfill it.

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” Jeremiah 1:11-12 (NKJV)

The NIV translates verse 12 as:

The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled”

Jeremiah has just been commissioned by God to be His prophet. The Amplified Bible tells us that the almond tree was a symbol of alertness and activity. And immediately, God extends the vision to show Jeremiah how His word is going to be fulfilled. This morning we ask God to ‘watch over’ or ‘perform’ His words that we have just prayed.

We are now dressed in the Armor of God. We are anointed with the oil of Joy, wearing a smile and speaking praise to God and to those we meet. We are protected from the Adversary with the armor and weapons God has provided. We produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we walk with Him. We are building our life, our home and our marriage on the Rock of Jesus; standing on the Promises of God as we walk humbly with Him. We thank God for our prosperity and good health, praising Him for this day and for the strength we get from His Joy.

We end our prayer asking God to live within us and confessing that we are His.

Father, please live big within me today, for I am yours in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Shoeshine Mister?

Once, many years ago, I attended a United Methodist Men’s breakfast. Some of you may remember that, back in the Sixties and Seventies, we wore smooth leather shoes that needed polishing: today we wear sneakers. Modern sneakers are designed for all sorts of sports and casual wear. But back then sneakers were for the gym. Men wore leather shoes that needed to be polished. We wore them to work or school, shopping and, of course, to church. Now, in many grocery stores, shopping centers and other public places there was often a man who had a shoe shine stand. This was usually a Black man, especially in the South, which is where I lived. This shoe-shine man was in many ways a true ‘second class citizen’. If you could afford a servant, you would most certainly have him shine your shoes. If not, you did it yourself, or paid this shoe-shine man to shine them for you. Well, just outside the door to the room where the Men’s breakfast was being served was one of the men of our church, with a shoe shine kit. He was shining the shoes of every man who entered. When I saw this, I immediately understood the impact of Jesus’ washing the Disciples feet. I knew exactly why Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. I didn’t want this man to shine my shoes. And I had to humble myself to let him do this.

The Fear of the Lord

Some of the reading I have been doing lately mentions “The Fear Of The LORD” but never seems to be certain of exactly what it is to “fear the LORD”. I have an idea about it, but first, let’s take a look at a few verses from Scripture.

The NKJV has a number of Old Testament references to “The Fear of the LORD”, but only one New Testament verse. I used Bible Gateway to produce a list of 28 NKJV references with the exact words, “The Fear of the Lord”. A sample is reproduced here:


1 Samuel 11:7 So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.
2 Chronicles 14:14 Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them.
Psalm 34:11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord 
Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 
Isaiah 11:3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 
Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.


Do you see a progression in Jewish/Christian understanding as we proceed from Samuel to Acts? We start with terror and end delighted and walking with this specific fear. 
One concept comes to my mind. The ideas C. S. Lewis put into his
 Narnia series about the nature of Aslan. “He’s not tame, but He’s good” for example. The description of Lucy’s first approach to Aslan (in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) is exactly what I would call “The Fear of the LORD”. How would you approach a talking Lion? I think the answer would be, “With great respect and extreme care.”

Look at Exodus 9:19-21:


19 Therefore send now and gather your livestock and all that you have in the field, for the hail shall come down on every man and every animal which is found in the field and is not brought home; and they shall die.” ’ ”
20 He who feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. 21 But he who did not regard the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.


To me, this sounds like ‘respect’ is a synonym for ‘fear’. Just like approaching a Lion. One would probably be ‘trembling’. It seems that ‘respect’ and ‘fear’ both imply a certain understanding that the person who is respected/feared has power and can harm.


But there’s more to this than simple wariness. When we approach God, we should be wary; it is obvious that only a fool is not careful in approaching God. But we see something else in Lewis’ descriptions of Aslan: we can trust the Lion. The quote from Isaiah chapter 11 turns things upside down: this is the description of the reign of the Servant, Jesse’s Branch. We enjoy reading verses 6-9, the picture of a little child leading all the beasts, with the lion and the calf lying down together, eating straw.


So, in Acts 9, the churches walk in the Fear of the Lord and also in the Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Roman Emperor Nero, we can trust our King. There’s no capricious justice with Our Lord. Instead, we know that He is one of us. He died on the Cross for us. That’s because He loves us. Only a King who truly loves his subjects will do that which is best for them.

True, God is like a great talking Lion, capable of destroying both the body and the soul. And so we do fear Him. We would be foolish not to fear such power. However, it seems to me that He likes it when we snuggle up to Him and play with His mane.

Boy Runs In Fear Clip Art Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Lion Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

Commercialized Christmas: It’s not what you think!

Santa with Elves

Every year, as soon as the stores begin to display Christmas themed products, some people begin to whine about how Christmas has been commercialized. Why, they seem to be asking, can’t we just celebrate the birth of Jesus without all the ‘pagan nonsense’?

And, if we search history, we can find some answers. In addition, I think we will also find some help from Holy Scripture. But I suspect, that if you are one to moan and groan about how we’ve ‘destroyed Christmas’ then you won’t like what I’m about to tell you. Because, you see, I think the way we celebrate Christmas is God’s plan. Like many, I used to think we had let our sinful natures destroy this beautiful Holy Day. Now, I think otherwise.

My first encounter with this argument occurred many years ago when there was a huge outcry about people using “Xmas” or “X-Mass” instead of “Christmas”. I was amused to learn that the “X” was a traditional Christian way of writing “Christ”. That’s because the ‘X’ stands for the Cross. So, “X-mas” means more than just ‘Christmas’, it incorporates the concept of the Cross. This gave me much amusement, because I love to burst the balloons of people who issue much ‘hot air’ concerning topics of which they know very little. (I think Jesus did the same thing…if so, then He is a good role model…I just hope I’m not spouting ‘hot air’ when I know very little!)

Therefore, I was very interested to read somewhere about how the Reformation Protestants inadvertently set up the commercialization of X-mas. (I’m not sure where, because I did not record the reference.) It seemed to me that it was the descendants of the Reformation Protestants who were bellyaching about how Christmas was being destroyed by commercial enterprise. It would be fun, I thought, to pop their balloon. And, at the same time, I also thought I could propose a strategy to make Christmas a Christian holy day once again… But God popped my balloon!

The tale I read somewhere was that it was a longstanding tradition for Christians to exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day. Then, when the Reformation came along, the reformers tossed out all that they deemed ‘Catholic’. This included saints’ days. The Roman Church celebrated St. Nicholas on the 6th of December by exchanging gifts, among other traditional activities. With the tossing out of the saints’ days the celebration (and the exchange of gifts) on St. Nicholas’ Day was no longer permissible for the Protestants.

Imagine telling your 8 year old this, “Well, last year we were Catholic, but this year we are Presbyterian and we no longer do Catholic things.” Therefore, according to the tale I read, the Protestant leaders agreed to move the gift giving to Christmas Day. And then the merchants and the media took over. So we have all the commercialization associated with Christ instead of St. Nicholas. Oh, yeah, we still have St. Nicholas. Only we know him by his mispronounced name “Santa Claus” (‘Saint’ becomes ‘Sant’, the ‘Ni’ becomes an ‘a’ and ‘cholas’ becomes ‘claus’.). And he got moved from Asia Minor to the North Pole…

Well, I’ve been doing some research. It is confusing. No one actually knows why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25th of December. One reference will claim that it has something to do with Saturnalia. Another reference seems to think that it was a tradition in a few churches back in the first or second century AD. What’s important is that we do have some date, accurate or not, for Jesus’ birth.

Magi Christmas Card

As for Santa Claus, well, that seems to have been a result of New Yorkers trying to promote their city in the early 1800’s. They revived a Dutch tradition about St. Nicholas. That’s one story, anyway. Has to do with the Knickerbockers and even Washington Irving. But I didn’t record that because I wasn’t engaged in formal research. I just read it somewhere and vaguely remember it. What is important is that, over the centuries, many Christians began to exchange gifts on Jesus’ birthday and somehow St. Nicholas was incorporated in the festivities.

Perhaps, with some diligent research, combined with accurate reference notes, I could make a definitive statement. But I think I’ll look to the Bible for the answer. And I find it in Philippians, chapter one. St. Paul is discussing how some are preaching the Gospel in an attempt to make things more difficult for him. His response to this is that he is happy for Christ to be preached.

Now, suppose that we did exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day? The commercialization of that day would really promote ‘Santa Claus’ and there would be little cultural recognition of Christmas. It would probably be a Christian Holy Day on par with Pentecost. As a culture, we would celebrate “Santa Claus Day” and not “Christmas”. No one could say, “The reason for the season” and mean Jesus. No one would put on fancy light displays with a Nativity Scene and a Santa Claus with reindeer. It would be the Santa Claus, the reindeer, maybe Frosty the Snowman, and the “Grinch”–only he would have kidnapped Santa or Rudolph. We would sing about a ‘White Santa Day’. No manger, no shepherds, no Magi, no Christmas.  

I think God wanted us to have Scrooge and the Grinch. He wanted us to have Clement Moore’s poem and Rudolph. He wanted us to have Charlie Brown’s tree and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. They help to spread the Joy. Because it will always be called “Christmas” and the story of God becoming one of us will always be told. I think St. Paul was right in his assessment. So, as a Christian I am grateful to any and all who assisted in making Christmas what it is today. I think it is proof that God really and truly does know what He is doing.

Looks like we have a choice: we can be modern-day Pharisees and denounce people for not obeying our laws…or…we can decorate a tree and hang up colored lights and wrap presents and do our very best to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

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