Battle Lines We Must Not Forget

What do we love about The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien? Each of us might respond with a slightly different answer if we are fans of the books and the films. But perhaps key to the answer is our desire to see light overcome darkness, good prevail over evil, and the lust for power brought into subjection. Maybe we recognize that in the current time and our everyday lives we still live out that theme in the present, and we are all caught up in the story that began long ago.

One of the vital things we must remember as the battle lines are drawn is that evil is not always initially obvious. It never has been and that is why it can take territory before we even recognize it is happening. Doubt is put down to cause us to give pause to words that we hear, and never before have we had so many opportunities to be drawn off the path of righteousness as words bombard us from every direction, and possibly thought about less before they are spoken or written than ever before.

“With the great emphasis on words, you might think they are studied and valued and understood more than ever before. But that is where the odd thing appears. They are not. They are used badly, sloppily, carelessly. They are wasted away. It turns out that words themselves are not nearly as important as what they can do, and when they have done their work, they are tossed aside like Kleenex. Words are used in order to influence, to sell a car or a candidate, to seduce, to persuade, to win for propaganda or for advertisement. The skill of our times is not using words as words but using them as weapons, as tools.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

In the midst of all the words meant to influence and seduce us we are faced with the dilemma of trying to sort out what is true if we are even recognizing that not every word we read or hear is true. Because we live in a swirling world of lies, we can get lost in the bombardment and the keenest of discernment can fail us if the words chosen are ones we long to hear. And that points to the unseen challenge of how much truth we know and how much it permeates our thoughts, heart, and behavior. We would like to think we are lovers of truth but whether that is truth is not something we should so quickly determine. Truth is not easy to hear oftentimes, and it is not easy to speak at times as well. It reminds us of the DNA we inherited in the Garden of Eden and even as “good” people and as believers it is not painless for us.

“One of the large and persistent tasks of living the Christian life is learning to tell the truth. The opposite of telling the truth is telling lies. We lie a lot. Most of us lie a lot. We lie more than we are aware of. We lie even when we think we are telling the truth. The reason we do so is quite clear; we want to be at the center of attention; we want to subordinate all reality, persons, things, and events to our willfulness. We want to control people’s responses and manipulate their perceptions. In order to do that, we arrange the data, filter the facts, and shape the information so that we can influence the way things will be heard and seen, so that the response will be congenial to us.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

OUCH!! The words of Eugene Peterson in his powerful book, This Hallelujah Banquet, that looks at the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation in the Bible, are piercing. The chapter on “The Test of Our Truth” focuses on the letter to the church at Pergamum and pulls off the masks and attempts to deny the facts we frequently do not want to face. Too often they are easier to ignore because we fail in loving well enough to share truth and hold ourselves and others accountable to it. We forget that Jesus IS Truth!

“Lies are not usually blatant falsehoods. In order to be successful, they have to be mostly the truth.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

And that is what makes it so easy to fall prey to in each of our lives and a truth we must recognize if we are to challenge this in our own lives. One thing that can help is how much of the Word is in us, not just what we can quote.

The author of lies, Lucifer, was skilled in the Garden of Eden when he used words to seduce Adam and Eve. He is skilled today as well. Not unlike our ancient relatives, we are prone to want to hide when lies are revealed.

“It is no part of the Christian duty to run away from a difficult or dangerous situation. The Christian aim is not to escape from a situation, but conquest of a situation.”

William Barclay in Letters to the Seven Churches

What is the lie that deceives us?

“To separate what we say from the way we live. To make a division between our confession in worship and our conduct at work. Truth is lived truth. Truth is not simply what we say but what we live.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

So, how do we test for truth and pass the test?

“The truth test asks not What do you think? but Who are you? Not What is your opinion? but What is your decision?

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

We must accurately discern the battle lines if we are to pass the truth test.

“The battle is not between good and evil but between truth and error. To fight it well means to throw one’s life on the side of truth, to discern between what is right and what is spurious.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

To Be a Lighthouse


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Before the first lighthouse was built, beacon fires were lit as we see in the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as in the stories and movies for “The Lord of the Rings”. It would be in Alexandria that the first lighthouse would be built. Known as Pharos of Alexandria, this first lighthouse stood 350 feet high.

The Romans would go on to build many more as their empire expanded far beyond Rome. A fragment of a Roman lighthouse still exists in Dover, England.


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Century by century modernization of lighthouses occurred to the present day, lighting the way for those out to sea, serving a vital purpose.

Long before GPS guided navigation, these sentinels stood at the place where the land and the sea meet, never wavering in their service with the faithful men and women who kept the beacons lit.

I have visited lighthouses along the east coast of the United States while on various vacations. Some of my favorites mark the beautiful coast of Maine. Each lighthouse appears unique in its design and the terrain on which it stands. My favorites include Bass Harbor Lighthouse, the Cape Neddick Light, and Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Maine.

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If all the stories linked to each lighthouse were compiled into books, I wonder how many volumes there would be and how many shelves would be needed to hold them.

Reading in Lisa Wingate’s marvelous book, The Prayer Box, set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina brought back memories of lighthouses we visited there and reminded me once again that we, you and I, are called to be light (perhaps lighthouses) for those lost at sea.

The description Lisa Wingate pens in The Prayer Box reminds me of important truths:

“What does a lighthouse do? I ask myself. It never moves. It cannot hike up its rocky skirt and dash into the ocean to rescue a foundering ship. It cannot calm the waters or clear the shoals. It can only cast light into the darkness. It can only point the way. Yet, through one lighthouse, you guide many ships.”

What clarity these words bring to those we find in Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV):

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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The lighthouse isn’t rushing about from one place to another. It stands consistently where its designer places it and its light points the way. Those at sea are the ones that must move to avoid disaster and destruction.

To be a lighthouse is to keep the light burning even if we do not see beyond the place we stand. To be a lighthouse is to know the singular call to provide light when darkness, dense fog, and storms would seek to shroud the light. To be a lighthouse is to draw attention to the light within it rather than the lighthouse.

How simply these truths remind us of what it means to be called by Jesus to be light, but how clearly they also underscore the need for light to be ever emanating from our lives. We never know when someone lost in darkness may be hoping to glimpse even the smallest light to give direction and hope.

Near the end of his earthly ministry Jesus told his disciples a parable about how vital it is to keep the light (the oil) in our lamp from running out, from going dark. The parable in Matthew 25 speaks of wise virgins whose lamps are filled and lit, but also warns of foolish virgins whose lamps have gone dark.

Tending the light within us is not a casual admonition.

Let us not forget that even though we may not see those who are searching for a light, we are called to be a lighthouse consistently allowing HIS  light to shine so He can be seen.

“Yet, through one lighthouse, you guide many ships.”

Lisa Wingate


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The Most Expensive Rescue

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We grow up loving the stories of heroic tales where a rescue is involved. We first hear such stories in the fairy tales popular for hundreds of years that may soon be forgotten in this high-tech world unless we keep telling and reading them. We have an innate desire to see good triumph over evil so when the villain is defeated, we cheer. That was likely the appeal of the westerns that populated TV screens in the 50’s and 60’s.

We rarely take as much time to consider the cost to the rescuer or their families when such a risk is taken. We may pause when there is a reminder of military lives lost or fire fighters whose lives are snuffed out trying to save persons and property and yet we pass these people and their workplaces almost daily with not much thought about that. Those who seek to protect us are the unsung heroes of the day. They come when we call whether we are in a predicament of our own making or that of someone else or nature. Too often our own focus tempts us to look at how long they took, whether they did it the way we thought they should, and more. In hindsight we can be tempted to be judgmental and fail to put ourselves in their shoes while knowing our own frailty in one area or another.

And it’s not just in all those professions and jobs we have come to mind that reveals how shallow our understanding might be.

Salvation was the biggest and most costly rescue ever provided. It was the action of God to save fallen humanity from a poor choice in Eden that opened us all to a life far different than He planned or wanted for us. Even if we have known the rescue and knew we needed it, have we understood all the dimensions of it? Eugene Peterson reminded me of that while reading Reversed Thunder.

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“…salvation is the action of God. It is always more than we think it is, far more than we are experiencing at any one time. We are forever stopping short and defining it in terms that we understand right now. But such understandings are always premature, and therefore reduce this large action that we have so much more to learn in, so much more, by God’s grace, to get in on.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

We are regularly reminded of the cross. It is a symbol found in our places of worship and even jewelry we may wear around our necks. Every time we participate in the eucharistic meal we are reminded of the death of the One who came to rescue us but look a bit deeper.

“Salvation is the intimacies and festivities of marriage; salvation is aggressive battle and the defeat of evil. Salvation is neither of these things by itself. It is the two energies, the embrace of love and the assault on evil, in polar tension, each defined by the other, each feeding on the other.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

It can slip from our reflections that what is not seen in those Easter dramas we know or movies about the horrors of the cross that a great war was going on unseen behind all these pivotal events we know and recall. We can forget that salvation came for the children of Israel when Moses led them into battle against the Amalekites. We can forget that Joshua led the children of those same children into battle against the Philistines. Repeatedly the biblical story depicts feasts and celebrations and great battles. And the story tells us of a final great battle where all the territory lost to the invasion of evil upon the earth will be won.

The apostle Paul reminds his readers often of the battle for our minds, souls, and hearts and how we are to stand and war against those things that would seek to defeat us in the greater battles, the unseen ones that have the power to take more than our earthly lives.

3″ For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV)
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The scenes in the Narnia movie of in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan teaches Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund give us a powerful example of what the war for the salvation of Narnia looks like when Aslan presents himself at the stone table to give up his life so the endless winter and evil that has taken over Narnia can be defeated. We see a metaphor of the cross and beyond that to the battle ahead that will free the entire world of the cost of sin. Aslan reminds us all (as he did the children) that we are called to be warriors.

You may protest and declare that you are not a warrior, and you fear the idea of battle. It is beyond your imagination to see yourself taking such a risk as riding into battle. During the eucharist meal there is not much awareness of what you are called to.

“The meal is leisured and joyful. The war is strenuous and determined. The meal deals with the ordinary, the war with the extraordinary. Salvation is both. We cannot choose one over the other. If we are going to be with our saving Lord, we must regularly and often sup with him; and we must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to enter the fight with him.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
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A Praying Life

If you regularly follow my posts here, you have seen a fair number of quotes by Paul Miller recently and likely you will see more. I have been immersed in A Praying Life by him. It is not a new book, but it is new to me as a result of a dear friend who kept sharing about it. This sister and I share at significant levels and often whatever book either of us is reading gets shared in our conversations and then the other reads it.

To be honest, I did not pick up this title when she first talked about it. I have read a fair number of books on prayer over my lifetime, and they are generally good but tell me more about “how to” and types of prayers. All have been similar or talked about our need to pray more than most of us really do. All good information but something was missing in them for me.

The impact of the book on my friend nudged me to pick up the book and I have been very slowly savoring how Paul Miller shows us that prayer is so much more than those things and focuses on our relationship with Him because He wants intimacy with us. Amazing, right?

“When Jesus describes the intimacy he wants with us, he talks about joining us for dinner…

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God.”

Paul Miller

YES! Amen, to that. This quote from the very beginning of the book made it clear that whatever else might be said on prayer that Paul Miller wasn’t writing a book on prayers or formulaic recommendations. I was sold! My prayers occur many times during the day but intimately in my journal during my quiet time. What you find in my journal is not a prayer list but a conversation about what and who is on my heart and the condition of my own heart.

Maybe what happens too often is that we are not as excited about intimacy with the Lord as we would like to think. It’s one thing to get goose bumps singing and worshipping corporately in church on Sundays but quite different when we are one-on-one with Him in our messy condition. Or maybe we are so preoccupied with ourselves prayer can be like picking up a phone call and dumping out everything to the listener and then hanging up without giving the other person a chance to respond. (And He does want to respond.)

“When Jesus is with someone, that person is the only person in the room. Jesus slows down and concentrates on one person at a time. The way he loves people is identical to the way he prays to his Father.”

Paul Miller

Reading about Jesus in the New Testament you see this all the time in his interactions: the lame man by the pool, the woman with the issue of blood, Zacchaeus up in a tree. The examples are there on every page.

Too often our prayers get relegated to lists about sickness, joblessness, crises, missionaries, and the like. Those are good and needed but how much more Jesus longs for with us. If we stay with that kind of praying, it’s almost like giving Santa Claus a list of what we want for Christmas.

Over and over again, page by page, Paul Miller invites us to taste prayer relationally with God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, through his Spirit.

“A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.”

Paul Miller

If you have never read this book or you have read it but not in some time, I encourage you to put it beside your journal and Bible and discover or rediscover what can change your prayer life and draw you closer to the One you are praying to.

Let me leave you with a few final words of Paul Miller’s heart for prayer:

“I do not understand prayer. Prayer is deeply personal and deeply mysterious. Adults try to figure out our causation. Little children don’t. They just ask. If you slow down and reflect, you’ll begin to see whole areas of your life where you’ve been prayerless.”

What Is Etched in Your Memory?

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Etching is a fascinating process to observe. In my undergraduate degree in elementary education my course outline included an industrial arts class that gave us instruction in a variety of media and tools. To be honest, I cannot imagine the purpose for an elementary teacher taking the course but as a student, I followed the requirements. I am not skilled in using tools or creating things of any substance but in the class, I made clay sculptures as best I could that were fired in a kiln after a color and glaze was put on them (nothing very pretty). I learned to use a wood lathe and made a rolling pin with a little help from my fiancé and dad, did a little enameling, and learned about etching and several other things. I think I had to submit 5 projects, each a different medium, to meet the course requirements.

I reflect on that class and think I might enjoy and appreciate it more now (especially if I were not graded) and how each art form produces useful or beautiful things. As I reflect on that it occurs to me that God uses tools that do similar things to shape us and transform our character. Some things require harder tools to remove more of what is not wanted and others require a fine hand to embed things into our hearts, minds, and spirits that identify us as his children.

The Apostle Paul gives us a visual image of what that looks like.

“You show that you are a letter from Christ sent through us. This letter is not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. It is not written on stone tablets but on human hearts.”

2 Corinthians 3:3 (NCV)

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Our thoughts may quickly go to the Exodus story of the Ten Commandments being written by God on stone for Moses to share with the people of Israel after they left Egypt. But what are the things the Spirit uses to imprint on our hearts? I would think there are more things than we might be able to name. Etching comes to my mind since it imprints on a substance an image or impression.

Music must certainly be one thing. Few worship services of any part of God’s people are without music of some kind or another. The music may be songs, choruses, hymns, or lyrical chants. They activate all of our senses, so they become etched into our memories. Music is created by lyrics and a diverse choice of instruments from pipe organs and full orchestra to guitars and drums. Sometimes the human voice alone is the instrument with no other used.

As I drive from one place to another one of my favorite CD’s is one of hymns with no lyrics being used, just piano and orchestra. Some of the hymns are still used in part or full in our current church mixed with more current worship and praise songs but some are ones I have not sung since my childhood. These older hymns still bring to mind many of the words despite some with multiple verses. The words just come into my heart and mind as if I sang them yesterday.

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I can easily have memories of sitting as a family and the voices of those around me and it’s as though I am back there in the now. It also reminds me of how much those same hymns were etched into the memory of my brother. Despite his developmental and mental disabilities, he could recall the words of those hymns if they began to play, and he sang them with gusto even if he could not read the words or musical notes.

What makes the many words found in verse after verse of a hymn so easy to recall decades later? I cannot give a definitive answer but maybe it comes in part from how personal so many appeared to be. Some sounded like prayers such as Be Thou My Vision, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Just as I Am, or Abide with Me. Others appear as testimony of our relationship with God such as He Keeps Me Singing, Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, or Since Jesus Came into My Heart. The list is long and the histories behind the writers of the hymns reflect the words they penned, their own testimonies, prayers, praises, and hopes through lives that were often marked by hardship, loss, and challenges of all kinds.

Perhaps they resonate with us because they connect to our own losses, prayers, hardships, and challenges and we gain fellowship with those who penned them. They often speak to the reality of walking out faith. They don’t sugar coat what the journey looks like.

“When we stop being ourselves with God, we are no longer in real conversation with God.”

Paul Miller

One thing is certain, music has been used to etch many memories on my heart and in my mind. They are as varied as always standing for Handel’s immortal Hallelujah Chorus, going through my 572-page hymnal, or standing with arms raised singing Graves into Gardens. All of them are tools in the hands of the artisan, Creator God, who created the music and lyrics for our pleasure and joy and to bring his relationship to a place that can be written on our hearts.

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