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“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. . . . Take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:13,17).

I enjoy a solitary day at the mall, unless I’m searching for one item. Without friends, the fun-potential drains out of hat shopping. A sophisticated cloche or a wide-brimmed style might elevate my image, while a fez or wizard’s hat double us over in giggles. Regardless of sun protection or insulation features, the simple accessory I choose to top my cranium will speak volumes about my identity.

First century helmets offered double benefits to the wearers. With a bronze alloy to withstand crushing blows, armor craftsmen extended the forehead piece to block downward weapon strokes. The headgear extended to cover the neck and cheeks. With such thorough armor, distinguishing one soldier from another could present a challenge. Plumage served tactical and individuation purposes. While the crest added height to intimidate the enemy, it also expressed the soldier’s individuality. The style identified him as a Roman and as an individual.

As soon as we become Christians, the Lord crowns us with salvation. Our spiritual helmet distinguishes us as members of a glorious Kingdom while optimizing our individuality to its full potential. Marching alongside those with equal but unique headgear makes the journey more fun. Unless we take the protective features for granted and tuck that head-topper under one arm for a while.

Whoosh. Incoming doubt arrow. Jab of envy. Then, ooph, comes the axe hammer of fear. Resentment and selfishness poison the wounds. Before you know it, you’ve lost your head.

The helmet offers vital protection to one of the enemy’s favorite targets–our minds. We expose ourselves to unnecessary and serious risk if we fail to guard our thoughts with Christ’s gifts of redemption and abundant grace. Bible study, prayer, and guidance from seasoned soldiers can help us realign our focus. If we take time to meditate on the King suffering an excruciating death penalty in our place, we can no longer imagine a limit to His devotion. Since Jesus would take our place on death row, what do we think He won’t do for us? Mindfulness of our position in Jesus thwarts temptations to doubt, envy, or resent. Selfishness and fear cannot cut through the impenetrable alloy of Christ’s loving sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation secures who and Whose we are.

You have a unique purpose in our Kingdom. Your crest holds a special pattern, and I love how it becomes you. So, hold onto your hat, my friend. Others will need you. Your reminder might keep them from losing their heads.

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

As we visited Busch Gardens’ one day, I observed a toddler patting the glass of a wildlife enclosure. A lioness sprang toward him from the other side. Massive canines flashing, she pounced again and again. Huge paws engulfed the outline of the child’s hand. He grinned over his shoulder into the camera’s flash, as if playing pat-a-cake with the alpha predator.

If not for the glass shield, the lion would have devoured him like a cupcake.

With the exception of sunscreen, we tend to give little thought to shields these days. Few of us encounter large predators outside the zoo. Battles rage in distant lands, where armored vehicles and fortified bases matter far more to others than to us.

First century military officials knew the importance of defense equipment all too well. An effective shield could win or lose the war. If a soldier lost his scutum, as they were called, he became a walking target. Warriors often chained or strapped their ultimate means of protection onto their forearm, lest they lose their grip.

Roman shields remain legendary icons in military equipment design. Curved to deflect arrows and layered for strength, the scutum was large enough to cover a man and overlap the next shield in reptilian shell formation. Centurions also used shields as an offensive weapon to charge enemy lines.

With faith, we can break through enemy strongholds. Matthew 8 records examples of faith breaking through to the disenfranchised and excluded. The next chapter reveals how the faith of our friends can bring us out of hopelessness into the presence of Christ.

Faith deflects enemy arrows hurtling toward our souls each day. Lies, toxic attitudes, and insecurities glance off the surface when we hold up our faith against them. The King advises us to huddle together in formation so the enemy cannot find any spaces open for attack. Christ’s victory seals our triumph in the protection of our unified and mutually fortified trust in Him.

We must not let our guards slip and get caught playing pat-a-cake with this lion. So let’s strap on our trusty shields and snuggle in close, fellow soldiers. We’ll keep our faith out front and charge onward.

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .” (Ephesians 6:14)

Aim small, miss small. The tactical advice to aim for the chest cavity resounds across historical millenia like an ancient battle chant. Though a head injury ensures devastating results, an abundance of vital organs dwell in the soldier’s larger target–his core.

Experts in exacting fatal or torturous wounds, centurions knew the importance of guarding the chest and abdomen. Enemies could debilitate the heart’s life-sustaining flow or the liver’s toxin removal. Ancient Roman armor provided substantial protection with a breastplate of up to a thousand metal scales. Unlike full-body suits worn in later periods, this article only covered the torso’s front because a Roman soldier never turned his back on the enemy.

We all face constant attack from a strategic enemy. He aims to debilitate the vital areas of our spirits. An exposed heart leaves us vulnerable to devastation. The center of love, peace, hope, and joy  cannot stop its flow throughout our lives. We must also protect the ongoing confession of our soul to remove toxins from our lives.

“No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2).

Scripture underscores the importance of covering ourselves with righteousness, while illuminating how we remain devoid of it on our own. No matter how hard we strive for good behavior and perfect attitudes, we’ll never achieve holiness sufficient to protect our core. Jesus offers us what we cannot achieve–a perfect covering of His righteousness fit to protect us against all enemy attacks. We only need to accept this gracious gift and put it on each day.

Christian warriors wear Christ’s righteousness over the front of our spirits. Like the ancient Romans, we are called to stand firm and never turn our backs on the enemy for a moment. Yet, we have an additional level of protection for our backs–an army of breastplates. No Christian should face the daily attacks of the enemy alone. Our King designed us to stand together as a Kingdom of brothers and sisters, bearing one another’s burdens and covering one another’s backs. Scripture resonates across both Old and New Testaments with declarations of strength for those who unite in Him (See Ephesians 4, for one example).

Will you accept Christ’s breastplate and stand at the battlefront with me? Let the enemy find no more gaps between us than he can find in the scales of Jesus’ righteousness. Together with Jesus and one another, we are stronger.

 

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

“We have already charged that all . . . are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one'” (Romans 3:9-10).

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes\” (Nehemiah 4:13-14).

But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12).

 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

We landed in Manhattan in search of great Christmas cheer. We strode among holiday shoppers and dined beside neighborly locals. Our eyes sparkled in the brilliance of tree lights and glamorous storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, a shadow rolled across the city. In the midst of preparing for the celebration of a Savior, darkness mounted its forces.

In the days before our arrival, hate-mongers stirred protesters to steam through those icy streets. Fists raised, a rally cry rose for murder. Blood thirst escalated and snatched up souls dangling near its edges. A fatal stabbing hit the news. Two officers fell prey to an ambush. Assassinations culminated in paranoia and division. With a stench far weightier than smog, resentment poisoned the air.

Media didn’t notify us first. The impact touched us through personal stories as we met people. The woman who sat with us on the plane told us about her son’s overtime demands. Nine to twelve hour shifts with little sleep between them. She shared her worries over her son and daughter, NYPD officers. A young man in the airport told us his friend was stabbed to death over the weekend. The report on television brought him the sad news. We visited mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning, where the priest said he learned of the assassination from sorrow-laden officers during the previous night’s event. So many lives burned by evil.

Each word, touch, and gesture ripples out with influence on other lives around it. I’ll risk overstating the obvious with a new and much-needed declaration: We don’t need any more hatred. Our scarred and fear-riddled world needs an infusion of love. The night has raged far too long, and our shuddering souls ache for light.

Let’s invite the Light of the World to shine through and among us. Adopt rally cries of love and peace. Seek healing and unity instead of vengeance. Lower our fists and reach out to clasp hands. Pray for our neighbors until we see enemies as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Sound impossible? Only if we attempt it without God’s strength to make all things new.

The same Christ born into mad King Herod’s kingdom of paranoia and violence remains available to us today. He drew into one family the poor outcasts along with corrupt tax collectors. His teachings about love culminated in one equalizing point–the cross. He rent His body to make way for an otherwise impossible redemption, reconciling us with a holy God.

In Christ, we can reconcile with one another. No gap remains too wide for His outstretched arms to bridge. Even our modern “people walking in darkness” can see a great light. We who know the Light must step up and share it with others. Will you join me in reflecting the ultimate Star this Christmas?

“the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

Hedonism flooded our nation. It surged from the eastern and western shores, with cyber-rivulets stretching inland across the plains. The moral decay reeks more of death’s stench with each passing day. Its mire snares billions of citizens who sojourn through life with inadequate protection for their souls. Many have grown so accustomed to the devastation that their senses don’t recognize it as a disaster zone. 

A remnant crowd of disciples can still smell the rancor. We sift through the rubble, grieving over lost treasures. Sanctity of marriage, childhood innocence, religious freedom for Christians–the list of our tragic losses seems endless. A nation founded upon divine truths now worships pleasure. Some pause to leverage blame or question how such a thing could have happened. As if the tsunami crashed through overnight. 

These decades of apostasy began, as such things tend to do, with small concessions. A pathway of brick-sized allowances paved the way for our country to believe Hugh Heffner’s revolution offered freedom. Long before schools forbade prayer, we stood by and let other things distract us from the significance of God’s protection. Culture denies scientific evidence of cannabis-related brain damage and encourages us to legalize gambling in order to fund our schools.

“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said…” (Genesis 3:4).

Despite America’s widespread deception, hope remains. We can pray. Not as a last resort, or the one small effort available to us. Prayer offers access to world-changing power and stands alone as our wisest first response. America thirsts for darkness-shattering light and fear-conquering love, but these can only be obtained by reaching for the Light and Love Himself. In the midst of these ominous shadows, Christ is never far away.

We need not believe the slithering lie that God has forgotten us. Our Heavenly Father waits, with eager heart and searching eyes, to hear us call upon Him. The Lord longs to restore our relationship with Him, as has always been His nature. 

As the Lord advised His people long ago, our united prayers can affect transformation throughout the country. May each day become a national day of prayer. Will you join me to pray for America? 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land... my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15).

I’m liking the candy corn around me, deep azure skies above, and an extra hour of sleep on the horizon. I like autumn, but it’s not my favorite. Before passionate fall-enthusiasts take defensive aim, let me just honor your right to like whatever you choose. Perhaps your heart skips a beat when pumpkin pie shows up on the table. My eyes glisten at herald angels singing, but my kids wretch at the first carol on the radio. Though I wish they could enjoy my favorites with me, it isn’t a household rule. My family knows what they prefer, and it isn’t always aligned with my wish list.

 

We often bristle against our dissimilar preferences in the family of God. Professing what we like and what we don’t can turn into household rules edging out those who disagree. Options diversify and thereby beautify the world, but make poor legislators. Scripture doesn’t command us to like everything, nor does God insist we all like the same things.

You’re welcome to enjoy the old hymns while I prefer the electric guitar. Both obey the Biblical call to worship. Please serve the homeless, but allow me to encourage the abused. Both follow the call to care for those in need. As long as we follow the Word of God without changing it, we can show His love in the unique ways we like. The Lord created us with intentional differences in likes and perspectives. He knows what His children enjoy better than we know ourselves. 

So, whether you eat candy corn by the layer, by the handful, or never touch the stuff, notice how the varied colors offer beauty to the season. The same ingredients flavor each part, however. In God’s Kingdom, each unique hue carries the potential to deliver joy sweetened by the same Spirit of Love. When we join hands in love, God transforms us into a beautiful family which honors our unique brothers and sisters to more perfectly glorify the same Lord.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? …But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ …But God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

 

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With one hand on the shopping cart handle and the other linked to the smallest of three toddlers, a young mother scanned the busy parking lot from the curb.

“Hold your brother’s hand when you cross the street,” she said.

The four year-old wrinkled his nose at the younger boy to his left. Thrusting his chin upward, the elder child folded his arms and sprinted away from the curb. The three year old waddled in the opposite direction. Momma somehow caught a chunky arm from each boy and corralled them to the crosswalk. She set up an effective family safety plan, but her children didn’t understand their need to follow her directions.

I chuckled at the “eldest” child’s expression.  In a few years, he might have words to express his resistance.

“I don’t care if you are my Momma. No matter what you say, I am not holding that kid’s hand.”

God commands His children to hold hands. Unity with one another connects us to Him in a strong bond that protects us from evil. Pride tempts us to shrug off our siblings, as if our few years of seniority offer any significant maturity compared to God. The Lord’s grip is on the other hand of that wee sister, and she is our indirect connection to Him.

We often fail to understand why we need fellowship and remain oblivious to unseen perils. The Lord sees the traffic ahead and around us from a higher viewpoint. Sprinting off alone, we wouldn’t even see tragedy coming before it flattens us.

Whether young or old in Christ, cling in faith to His plan. We don’t have to understand why He commands us to hold hands, but it’s in our best interests to obey the source of infinite wisdom Who loves us more than we’ll ever know.

A wide bow, sparkling with polka dots adorns a package on my desk. I know its contents, since I opened it two weeks ago. Too pretty to resist, I rewrapped the gift box and set it near my monitor as an eye-tickler. I adore gift ribbon–wire-edged gossamers, thin curling strands, or smooth satins–any sort triggers delight. Anticipation heightens the impact of a present when it comes tied together in joyful bows.

No one can match the divine packaging of God’s most glorious gift. Eternal life descended on a beam of miraculous starlight and wrapped itself in the Christ child. At first glance, some might have been distracted by the rags or hay. But graver hindrances followed.

Soon after the nativity, horrors of mass infanticide overwhelmed the land. Grief pierced their hearts. God’s perfect gift lay right among them, but circumstances drew attention away from His presence.

Evil seeks to hamper the ability to recieve life.  Many fail to recognize priceless joy amid bleak circumstances. Despite pain and tragedy threatening to blind us, this gift of life  remains here for each and all, complete with radiant bows.

Jesus gathers the world together in love ribbons, the most beautiful binding agent ever designed. He planted Himself among the deepest pain and coldest hopelessness in humanity. Tendrils of life exploded from His heart, spilling over the earth to draw us together in Him and to our Father.

With this unfathomable gift, we dwell within the heart of our Sovereign Lord and connect with His beloved children as siblings. In the midst of our suffering, we unite through His suffering. Our love binds us to Him in divine strength and we conquer the dark plot of evil as we hold fast to one another in radiant bows.

 “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

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