Christ Before Me, Christ Behind Me


Christ before me,
Christ behind me…

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Christ is with us indeed, but not only as an abstract object of faith or a historical figure we remember learning about in Sunday School. Jesus, the Christ, is the Word Made Flesh, the Living Word of God who speaks all things into existence. The Word was there in the beginning and the Word is already present at the end of days. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Christ has been with you on every step of your journey and Christ has already walked the path ahead.

Christ before me. This is what I mean when I say Christ has already walked the path ahead. This is what we mean when we say Christ is the Omega, the end, the consummation of all things. Christ before us cuts much deeper than the old cliche preachers use when they shout, “I’ve read the back of the book and we win.” It’s not just about some final victory in heaven. Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, but Christ before us is also much more immediate.

Sometimes it feels like we are playing follow the leader with Jesus through the gospels, trying desperately to keep up with all he is trying to teach us, and then all of the sudden we hit the beginning of Acts and whoosh, he’s off in the clouds like Mary Poppins when the wind changes. Of course we know that is not the end of the story. God continues to be present with the disciples and later with the church through the Holy Spirit, but if we’re honest, most of us would prefer a “Jesus with skin on.” We’ll come back to that Holy Spirit issue in the next line of our prayer, but for now, how do we follow Christ up into those clouds?

Answer: We don’t. At least not yet. This is the problem we find in Acts 1:10-11 when the angels find the disciples staring dumbfounded into the sky when Jesus clearly told them to go and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s power and then to go into all the earth to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom on earth.

This is where the “Christ behind me” part comes in. There are days when it seems like Christ has gotten just a little too far ahead. We were following along just fine and then we hit a fork in the road and we’re not sure which way he turned. We choose a path and after awhile we have made so many turns we don’t even know if we’re still going the same direction.

Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us and in one sense, Christ is so far ahead we cannot see clearly the trail he has blazed. But just when it seems all hope is lost, we turn around and look back to discover that the very Christ we were chasing aimlessly through the wilderness of life is standing right behind us. We look back over our journey and realize he was with us every step of the way and we didn’t even know it. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we ask, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us along the road and explained the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). Something deep within us knew we could not possibly have been alone. Jesus would not have abandoned us. And yet we felt alone and abandoned. We didn’t know which way to go and we felt lost and afraid.

Maybe you’re in that place right now, feeling lost, alone and afraid. You know Christ has gone ahead of you and is calling you to something greater, but you have no idea what. This is a far more common experience than we would like. Running ahead in a state of panic rarely gets us where we need to go. It only creates more panic. Maybe we need to stop, take a breath, and turn around. We’re not turning around to go back to the way things were or to wallow in the nostalgia of the good old days when everything seemed more clear. No, we’re simply glancing back to get our bearings, to see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

And there we will see Christ, who has been right behind us the whole time encouraging us along the way. We will realize we were never alone and we were never really lost.

Christ before us. Christ behind us. It’s always both. He is never too far away.


1. Reflect on a time when you felt lost and couldn’t see the path God had for you. How did you feel and how did you respond?

2. Reflect on a time when you turned back to see the ways Christ had been present all along.

3. Where do you most need to see Christ right now, before you or behind you, and why?

Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

Christ in me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Finding Our Place



Sunday, October 13, 2019
Ruth 1:1-17, Mark 3:33-35

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Ruth 1:16

“During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). The days when the judges ruled are days repeatedly characterized by the common refrain, “In those days there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

This season in Israel’s life is what I am identifying as a shift into adolescence. They have learned the basics of what it means to be God’s people. They have been set free from slavery in Egypt. They received the law at Mt. Sinai. They struggled through the wilderness and eventually settled in the land God promised to them. Like a 5th grader who has navigated all of elementary school and feels like they are the king of the mountain, so Israel has now become a big fish in a small pond. They have conquered. They are in control. But for all they think they know, they are not very good at using their power and privilege responsibly. The book of Judges shows us time and time again how far Israel strays from the lessons they learned in their childhood. As they shift into adolescence, they are not yet a fully developed nation. There is no king and they struggle to fully recognize the authority of God as their king. Just like children at this age think they have outgrown their parents, so Israel thinks they are ready to handle things on their own. By the time we get to the end of Judges, it is clear, they haven’t learned much at all.

During this time, we read, there was a great famine in the land. The crisis had gotten so bad that families some families had to leave their inherited land behind and move to Moab, a pagan land that had often been at war with Israel. And yet it is here among foreigners that we find one woman who shows us what it truly means to live as a child in God’s household. She, her sister-in-law, and her mother-in-law are all left as widows. She has nothing left. Her sister-in-law Orpah makes the sensible decision to go back to her mother’s household but Ruth refuses to return home. In one of the greatest statements of family solidarity in scripture, Ruth declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that she will stay with her no matter what. “Your people will be my people,” she says, “and your God will be my God.”

There was no obligation on her part to make such a commitment and no guarantees that they would even survive, let alone thrive as a family of widows in the wilderness. Through this act of faith and loyalty, God not only redeems Naomi and Ruth, but through her, God raises up a son named Jesse and a grandson named David. The rest is history. When God’s children had gotten so low they were forced to abandon their land and find refuge among the foreigners, God raised up a foreigner to show them once again what it meant to be part of God’s family, and through her and the line of her grandson David, the doors of our Father’s household were opened to every tribe, tongue and nation for all time. We were all foreigners and strangers, gleaning and struggling to survive on the margins of God’s household, but God sent his firstborn son out into the fields like Boaz to invite us into a home we never knew.

Credit for the excerpt on Ruth goes to Dr. Sandra Richter. You can watch her extended video on Redemption here:

Christ With Me


Christ with me…

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Christ with me…

Today we come to the most famous stanza of the Breastplate Prayer. These 15 lines are often used by themselves and they offer a powerful reminder of God’s continual presence in our lives. Let us take a moment to pray this segment together, slowly, line by line, breathing deeply between each line.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

How do you feel?

For some, this may be a comforting prayer knowing that Christ is truly present in us and around us at every turn. For others, it may be a bit unsettling. We don’t mind going to God’s house for a weekly visit, but do we really want God hanging out in our house? It’s one thing to clean things up for an occasional guest, but we can’t keep everything straight all the time. What if Jesus sees how I really live? What will he say about the mess in the house of my life?

“Christ with me…”

Honestly, this is a summary of the next 14 lines. We could simply pray, “Christ with me” and everything that follows would already be implied. But there is a reason the writer broke it out in such detail. So rather than glossing over these feelings, whether comforting or worrisome, let’s take some time to really unpack each line and what it looks like for Christ to be present in all these ways.

It’s such a small and seemingly insignificant preposition, easy to read past without much thought. We see the word “with” and we immediately know there is a connection between two or more things or people. “I would like mashed potatoes with gravy” or “She is with her mom”. We wouldn’t bother taking time to analyze the meaning of such statements. It simply means that the two things or two people are together. We get it. Move on.

But what does it really mean for you to be “with” someone?

Am I “with” my daughter when she is watching a favorite show while I am on the couch reading? Well, yes… sort of. Are we “with” our friends when we are all sitting around the table at a restaurant on our phones while barely speaking to one another? Again, yes… sort of.

Technically we are with each other because we are “together” in the same place. If someone asked where I was, I would say I was in the living room with my daughter. If asked what we did last night, we might say we were out with some friends. And these would be honest answers.

But were we really “with” them? Physically, yes. But being together physically in the same space is not the same as being present with one another. In our world of constant distractions, being fully present in any moment is not easy. There are a million concerns that turn our thoughts away from whatever we are doing and whoever we are with in a given moment. We are not even good at being present in conversations because we tend to think more about what we are going to say or do next than about what the other person is actually saying.

And so when we pray, “Christ with me”, here is the question?

Are we simply aware that Christ is with us because, as the Psalmist writes, there is nowhere we can hide from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7-12)? Do we just live our lives with the Spirit hanging out in the same room without acknowledging Christ’s presence or do we live fully present “with” Christ who by the Spirit, chooses to be fully present “with” us?


  1. Is the thought of Christ being “with you” more comforting or discomforting and why? Is the feeling different in different times, places or situations? Are there some places in your life you would rather Christ was not “with” you?

  2. Reflect on a time when you knew God was “with you” but you were not fully present “with” God.

  3. What steps will you take this week to be fully present “with” Christ?

Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

Christ before me,
Christ behind me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

First Things First



First Things First
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Deuteronomy 4:1-40, 5:1-21, 6:4-9, Mark 12:28-31

The Lord said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 5:6

It never ceases to amaze me how much attention the Ten Commandments get in the media today, particularly from Christians who are determined to have them posted in every public space they can, as if the mere presence of these ancient laws will somehow inspire to world to repent of their sins and live good moral lives. It is ironic that many who make such arguments about the importance of the Ten Commandments are also the same people who resist the passage of laws on issues like gun control because “criminals don’t obey the laws anyway.” I’m not making any political arguments here. Rather, I simply want to draw our attention to the inconsistency when on one hand we claim “laws don’t work because the problem is in the hearts of the people” but on the other hand we demand laws to be posted which enforce our particular religious and moral code.

It is true that the Ten Commandments form the basis for many of our nation’s laws and indeed many law codes around the world. Restrictions against murder, adultery, stealing, false witness and coveting are valuable in any society as a means of keeping order and minimizing violence and harm toward one another.

The first few commandments, however, are not quite so broad. They are specific to those who have been set free from slavery by God. Look at the prologue in Deuteronomy 5:6 (or Exodus 20:1).

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Apart from this act of unmerited grace on God’s part, the laws which follow have no weight. We cannot expect those who have not entered into a covenant with God to obey such commands anymore than we as American citizens could be expected to obey a British law about driving on the left hand side of the road. It just doesn’t make sense in our context. For someone who does not know God and has not been set free from the slavery of sin, laws against idolatry, using God’s name in vain, or even keeping the Sabbath make no sense.

These first several commands are primarily about establishing our identity as God’s chosen people. We get into trouble with this language when we view our “chosen status” or our “salvation” as a mark of privilege that somehow makes us better than those who do not follow God or those who may not even know God. God’s choosing of Israel and of the church does not elevate us above the world or make us judges of the world, but rather God called out a particular people in order to bless all nations by demonstrating the joy, peace and freedom of living in the ways God has modeled for us, not only in the commandments, but through the earthly life of Christ.

The next time we get angry about the challenge to some public display of ancient laws on a plaque, perhaps we should first ask ourselves if these laws actually make a difference in our lives.

  • Do we live as people who God has set free from the house of slavery?

  • Do we put God ahead of everything and everyone else in our lives?

  • Have we bowed down to the idols or even created idols of our own… money, politics, success, comfort, security, maybe even the Bible itself as the words on the page become more important than the living God whom the words point us to?

  • Do we honor the Sabbath, recognizing that God is enough and that we do not depend on our own efforts to provide manna for our families 7 days a week?

Let’s keep first things first. God brought us out of slavery and we didn’t do a think to deserve it.

How then shall we live in response to such amazing grace?

Poison, Burning, Drowning, Wounding...


Christ to shield me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward....

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

The Breastplate prayer, while often used in the mornings as a way of arising each day in the light of Christ’s glory, is also and perhaps primarily a prayer of protection. In the previous section we asked God to protect us from the invisible powers of evil. Now we turn to far more tangible concerns; poison, burning, drowning, and wounding.

We must admit to some cultural barriers in fully applying this prayer, as things like poison and burning do not generally pose a threat to us. On the other hand, there are perhaps ways that each of these threats still show up in our supposedly “more civilized culture.” Let us look for a moment at each of the four specific threats and what they might mean for us today.

Against poison…

While most of us do not need a royal food taster to make sure we are not poisoned by our enemies, the truth is we still face poison in many forms today. People struggle with the more obvious poisons of alcohol or drugs, especially given the present crisis of opioid abuse in our culture. In truth, any addictive behavior can become like a poison to our bodies and souls. Sin, in any form, functions like a poison that destroys us from the inside out. I was once part of an accountability group where we regularly prayed, “Lord, make my sin taste like the poison it truly is.” It was a way of remembering that even those seemingly small or insignificant acts of selfish desire would eat away at our souls perhaps even more than some major moral failing.

Against burning…

Burning is a little tougher. There is not a clear spiritual parallel and though some families lose everything in house fires and other similar disasters, I don’t know anyone who faces the threat of being intentionally burned at the stake. In some ways, however, our corporate sin of greed and selfishness is “burning the earth” as we continue to burn fossil fuels and do harm to our environment and to future generations who will suffer the increasing effects. This is not the place for a political argument about climate change, but suffice it to say that caring for God’s creation is first a social, a moral, and a spiritual issue. Politics only distract us from our God-given responsibilities as stewards and caregivers of the earth. The “burning of the earth” through global warming due to our own neglect, apathy and even abuse of natural resources inordinately impacts the poor and those who are unable to escape or do not have the infrastructure to withstand the “natural disasters” that are increasing in frequency and intensity at an alarming rate. At the end of this reflection I will offer a few resources if you are interested in digging deeper into the moral dimensions of climate change and what we can do about it.

Against drowning…

There are certainly parallels between drowning and the climate change issued I mentioned above. Science has shown without question that as glaciers melt, sea levels continue to rise and coastal regions throughout the world are suffering disastrous consequences even now. There are of course spiritual dimensions to this danger as well. The Good News Translation of Psalm 38:4 says, “I am drowning in the flood of my sins; they are a burden too heavy to bear.” We do not need a cataclysmic weather event like Noah’s flood to take seriously the ways our sin, both individual and as a society, can easily overwhelm us.

Against wounding…

Wounding comes in all forms. We may pray for protection against physical harm, but we must also take seriously the ways our hearts our wounded. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.” In other words, if we do not deal with our own wounds or hurt, whether emotional, physical, spiritual, mental or in any other form, we will inevitably wound or hurt others out of a sense of self-preservation. Many of those we condemn for doing harm to others have been so deeply wounded themselves that they react violently out of utter desperation and hopelessness. We must consistently pray to protect our hearts and souls from being wounded and perhaps even more, we must pray against the ways we wound or inflict harm upon others, no matter how unintentional.


  1. Of the four specific dangers mentioned in this passage, which one resonates the most with you and why?

  2. What other ways can you see these dangers impacting your life?

  3. Beyond the reward of eternal life, what rewards might you experience in your everyday life by praying against and overcoming these dangers to your mind, body and soul?

Here are a few great resources regarding the moral dimensions of climate change:

Christianity Today - “Climate change: The moral case for Christian action”

Ted Talk with Katharine Hayhoe - “What if climate change is real?”

Ted Talk with Katharine Hayhoe - “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it.”

Katharine Hayhoe on CBS This Morning - “Why we need to talk about climate change”

Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

Christ with me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

In Over Our Heads



In Over Our Heads
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Exodus 1:8-14

Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph

Exodus 1:8

It’s easy to look at Israel’s slavery in Egypt and see ourselves through the eyes of their eyes as victims of oppression. We too are “God’s people” and so we have a long history of seeing ourselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Societies and governments do not typically bend toward a “Christian worldview” and in most places throughout history, God’s people have found themselves in the minority.

Over the last century in America, however, we have been living in what Gil Rendle calls “an aberrant time” (Rendle, Quietly Courageous). This period of Christian prosperity was not typical in light of the overall history of God’s people. Though that time is rapidly ending, most people over the age of 30 at least have a strong memory of a time when what we considered “Christian moral values” ruled the day. God’s people were thriving, until they were not.

And so it was with the people of God in Joseph’s day. Joseph held the second highest office in the land and as a result, his brothers flourished under Pharaoh and increased in number as the twelve tribes of Israel expanded. By the time we get to Exodus, however, we find a new King in power who did not know Joseph.

“The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if ware breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”

- Exodus 1:8-10

It seems from this introduction that the enslaved Israelites are not the only ones “in over their heads.” In fact, the only reason they were enslaved to begin with is because the Egyptians felt threatened by the presence of so many foreigners in their land. The new Pharaoh inherited what he considered to be a serious immigration problem. His solution, put them in slavery for Egypt’s benefit and discard (i.e. kill) those who are no longer useful to us. What empires may view as a sign of political strength, scripture interprets as Pharaoh’s weakness and eventual downfall. Egypt was in over their heads in how to deal with the Israelites, not because God’s people posed a genuine threat, but because they were overwhelmed by fear of “the other.”

Yes, we must always empathize with those who like Israel, find themselves oppressed and enslaved. We must always stand with Moses who, by God’s guidance and strength, leads the people out of slavery to a land of promise.

Yet we must also be very careful, for history has a way not only of repeating itself, but also turning things on their heads. The oppressed, if not careful, may themselves become the oppressors. Later in Israel’s history we will see how they build armies of chariots, marry for the sake of political alliances, worship idols, and even enslave others. They would become the very people they once despised, and the consequences would be detrimental.

No matter how much we may want to see ourselves as the victim in need of God’s salvation through a religious and political hero like Moses, perhaps we must first consider why we feel that we are in over our heads. Are we truly being oppressed, or are we perhaps more like Pharaoh, overwhelmed by how much everything is changing around us and afraid of those who are different? If this is the case, perhaps our call is not to vengeance and war, but to humility and peace, lest we too inflict harm against the “sheep of other flocks” (John 10:16) whom God loves and ourselves become enemies of the very God we claim to love.

May we not become so arrogant in identifying ourselves among God’s chosen that we forget God’s promise to Israel’s enemies… to Egypt and to Assyria:

On that Day, there will be a place of worship to God in the center of Egypt and a monument to God at its border. It will show how the God-of-the-Angel-Armies has helped the Egyptians. When they cry out in prayer to God because of oppressors, he’ll send them help, a savior who will keep them safe and take care of them. God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day. They’ll worship him seriously with sacrifices and burnt offerings. They’ll make vows and keep them. God will wound Egypt, first hit and then heal. Egypt will come back to God, and God will listen to their prayers and heal them, heal them from head to toe.

On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians!

On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! . . . Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands! . . . Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”

Isaiah 19:19-25 (The Message)

Against Every Knowledge that Corrupts


I summon today all these powers…
…Against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of pagandom,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

I must confess, at first glance I feel like I just stepped fully into the Middle Ages or stumbled onto Platform 9 3/4 into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Incantations, black laws, spells, and the like in our day tend to remain safely tucked away in fantasy novels, movies, or Renaissance Festivals. So why not just include these specific and seemingly outdated examples of evil in our previous section so we could gloss over them and move on with something more relevant?

Believe me, I thought about it.

In fact, making this separation ultimately resulted in a 41 day series rather than my intended 40 day journey. What concerns me, however, is that in reading any ancient work it is so easy to gloss over things that seem irrelevant, even in Scripture. And so I pause today with this difficult stanza to practice the discipline of discovering the timeless, Holy Spirit inspired truths within even the most distant writings of the Saints who have gone before us.

For me, the timeless word that strikes at the heart is “knowledge.” “…Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.”

All of these examples are forms of knowledge in Patrick’s world, even if they are what we might consider less than scientific or rational.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth,

By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1:26b-27

Just a few verses earlier in 1:18, he declares that “the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed.”

This issue of knowledge and evil creates a very fine line which we must walk in step with the Spirit. On one hand, we must be careful what kinds of knowledge we assume will corrupt us. Both Galileo and Copernicus were deemed heretics by the church and yet both are widely recognized with high regard today. We no longer condemn the belief that the earth revolves around the sun as a contradiction of Scripture. We recognize that the Biblical writers described creation in the best ways they could given their limited scientific knowledge. Christians today continue to hurt the church’s witness when we declare heretical things that are often simply matters of opinion or increased awareness and understandings of reality.

On the other hand, there are certainly heretical, idolatrous and pagan teachings which do corrupt our bodies and souls. Often these teachings find their way into the church in benign ways. Our theology of heaven or the return of Christ, for example, is often distorted in such a way that we fail to be good stewards of creation as God commanded because we assume it will all be destroyed anyway. Our understanding of God’s blessings and grace has led us to mistreat countless groups throughout history who we assume God has not blessed in the same way those of us who live with privilege understand blessings.

What if the greater danger today is not the knowledge of pagan ways, but the knowledge we think we have of God’s word that has been so distorted by our own cultural values that we are no longer recognizable as a “people of the Book.”

Let us not forget that those with the greatest religious knowledge in the gospels are condemned by Jesus as those who “strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:34). Knowledge is not inherently good or evil, pagan or holy, secular or sacred. All knowledge may be interpreted and used for good or for evil. Let us indeed weigh and evaluate carefully our sources of knowledge, but even more, let us be wise that we do not use our knowledge in ways that might corrupt our bodies and souls.


1. What first impressions did you have in reading the section of St. Patrick’s prayer?

2. In what ways do you see this admonition to summon God’s strength against these particular evils as relevant and applicable for you today?

3. How might God be inviting you to become more discerning in your sources and your application of knowledge?

Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

Christ to shield me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

When God Let's Us Win



When God Let’s Us Win
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Genesis 32:22-30

Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

Genesis 32:28

“You win some, you lose some.” That’s just the reality of life. Every one of us needs to learn how to be both a good loser and a good winner. Our ability to enjoy the game regardless of the outcome without crying or gloating all boils down to good sportsmanship.

Parents generally let their kids win at just about everything when they are young. It builds confidence and minimizes discouragement for children who do not yet have the emotional capacity to process failure. At a certain age, we start allowing them to lose. While building confidence is important, they must also learn to deal with the reality of defeat which will come far more often in life than any of us would like.

The same is true when it comes to behavior. When a child is simply learning what is right and wrong, mercy, understanding, and teaching should outweigh the consequences. At some point, however, they will “know better,” at which point consequences become more serious. We cannot and should not always protect them from the outcomes of their own poor decisions.

As God’s children, I believe we have a heavenly parent who trains us in much the same way. Jacob’s life is clearly filled with mistakes and poor choices, some out of immaturity and some out of blatant defiance. At some point Jacob’s struggle against the world and against his own nature turns into what seems like a physical wrestling match with God.

At this point we might think Jacob should know better. It’s time for Dad to put this spoiled kid in his place. He needs to learn that he can’t always manipulate others to get what he wants. For once in his life, Jacob needs to learn how to lose.

“Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

- Genesis 32:28

What? After all Jacob has done, God let’s him win. Granted, not without a limp from his torn thigh, not to mention a severely bruised ego. Nevertheless, Jacob wrestles with God and his life is spared. God’s blessing is greater than God’s punishment.

Maybe Jacob needed a different lesson that day. What if it wasn’t about winning or losing at all? What if it was simply a reminder that God’s love toward him had nothing to do with winning or losing? Jacob didn’t have to manipulate or control others in order to gain favor. He didn’t have to “win” in life in order to receive God’s blessing.

Maybe the lesson we all need right now is more than simply how to win and lose, but to learn to see ourselves as truly loved and blessed by God regardless of how much we win or lose in life. God’s blessing does not depend on our actions or accomplishments, only on grace, undeserved.

I summon today


I summon today...
all these powers between me and those evils,
against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul…

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

“I summon today…”

In this new stanza, the Breastplate Prayer moves us in part toward a summary or collection of everything we have prayed so far while also inviting us to personally claim “all these powers” as our own, that through all these means God would stand between us and every evil, cruel or merciless power that may oppose our bodies and souls.

What are “these powers” which we may summon or call upon so boldly? Such a small word, “these”, draws our attention back to the mighty strength of Triune God made manifest in countless ways.

Today we not only arise in, but we actively summon strength, obedience, service, hope, prayers, predictions, preaching, faith, innocence, righteous deeds, light, radiance, splendor, speed, swiftness, depth, stability, firmness, might, wisdom, God’s eye, God’s ear, God’s word, God’s hand, God’s shield, and God’s host.

Talk about calling down angel armies. In his discussion of our suffering and weakness in Romans 8, Paul writes,

So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?

- Romans 8:31-32 (CEB)

Indeed, if God freely gave up the life of his own son for our redemption, is there anything God would withhold? That is why we not only arise with an awareness of these truths, but also boldly summon these powers in prayer so that we might stand against the forces of evil in our world. We don’t simply believe that God will strengthen us, hear us, or protect us. We actively call upon God to step in and intervene in our lives with all these powers at God’s disposal.

This is not a “name it, claim it” kind of theology. We are not saying that in summoning these powers we will be spared from all pain or suffering in our lives. We are not claiming a guaranteed victory over all of the things that stand in our way. It may be, in fact, that some things which stand in our way are necessary for our own spiritual growth and humility.

All of these powers, however, do give us strength, hope and wisdom in the midst of whatever we may face in life. God also calls us to summon these powers on behalf of others who suffer oppression in many forms, that we may stand in the gap for them as Moses does when he pleads for the people of Israel (Exodus 32-33).

The remainder of this stanza unpacks the nature of the various evils which may oppose us, but for now, let us take some time to read back through the prayer and reflect on these gifts of strength and power which God so freely offers to us as we seek to live in obedience and faithfulness to our Creator.


1. As you reflect on the list of powers throughout this prayer, which one do you need to summon most today and why?

2. What, if any difference do you see between “arising” in these powers and actually “summoning” them to stand between you and evil?

3. Which of these powers may God be calling you to summon on behalf of someone else in your life and how will you do that this week?

Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I summon today all these powers…
…Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Just Getting Started



Just Getting Started
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Genesis 18:1-15

He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.

Genesis 18:2-3

A pastor once shared with me that he found his particular rural community unsafe for door to door evangelism. Unlike suburban or urban neighborhoods where people gather regularly in public spaces, out in their yards or on the streets, people in this community kept to themselves, hidden among acres upon acres of farmland that separated them from one another. He recalled several incidents when he pulled into someone’s long gravel or dirt driveways, and assuming the gate was actually open, drove up to the house only to be met with the click of a shotgun.

From locked gates to “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs to the blatant motion of a double barrel directing him to turn around, the message was clear. “Private property. Keep out.” In other words, “You are not welcome here.”

They did not know he was a pastor, but it did not matter. In fairness, I have personally experienced similar “welcomes” in urban areas as well. Our first time in Brooklyn, NY we could tell everyone on the block was closely watching our unfamiliar car with Kentucky tags as we parked in front of our friend’s building. When we called, she told us she was down the road at the store but also warned us to stay in the car for a minute until she got back. Once she arrived and the neighbors saw her welcome us, they knew we were OK. Now we belonged. Walking around that neighborhood the rest of the week, we never once felt unsafe.

Though God has spoken to Abraham on several occasions, the story of God’s people essentially begins with a group of three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, where Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. These strangers found Abraham, along with all the men of his household in a weakened state as they recovered from their circumcisions taken as a mark of their covenant with God. They were vulnerable and there is no early evidence as to the intentions of these three men.

Yet Abraham does something that would be unheard of in our modern culture of isolation and self-protective natures. He completely ignores his physical pain and the vulnerable state of his family and runs out to greet these strangers. He does not ask why they are there or question their motives. He does not call for help. He does not fear for his own safety. Instead, he invites them into his home as honored guests.

The writer goes out of his way to show the elaborate measures Abraham took to show hospitality to these strangers, and in this case, it turns out the strangers just happened to be the incarnate presence of the Triune God. At some point, Abraham clearly recognizes this truth, but there is no certain evidence that he knew this when they stood at a distance. The narrator, in hindsight, tells us that it was indeed the Lord who appeared to Abraham, but Abraham himself simply greets them as human beings. “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.” Servant here is likely not a recognition of their divinity, but rather a submissive posture taken by one who desires to serve them by showing hospitality, as was the custom of his day. Nevertheless, Abraham’s hospitality extends far beyond what mere custom demands.

Throughout this fall season, we will journey with the people of God called “Israel” from this surprising beginning in the promise of a son and we will grow with them as they learn what it means to be God’s children, as they rebel in their adolescence, and as they mature by examining their lives as adults. We too must follow such a pattern of growth in our own life as God’s beloved children.

It all begins with one question: “How will we welcome the presence of the Lord, whether we recognize it or not?”

The Lord has a way of showing up when we least expect it, often when we are vulnerable, and often through strangers. If we are too busy or self-absorbed, it is quite possible our journey of faith may never really begin at all.