Peer Pressure

I have a beautiful friend who does jail ministry. She visits women who have been incarcerated for many different reasons. My friend listens patiently and without judgment as the women pour out their hearts to her. These relationships last for years, as she serves as an email “pen pal” while they go in and out of the system and hopefully home.

Regardless of the charges against these prisoners, they all seem to have one thing in common: at some point in their lives they succumbed to peer pressure that led them to make poor decisions. Some were influenced by bad boyfriends and became trapped in a criminal lifestyle. Some got involved in a drug culture that led them to get caught buying and selling illegal substances. Some succumbed to the violence advocated by their gang buddies. Some were desperate to feed their children and stole things. Feeling helpless and without options, none of them stood alone and refused to participate in activities that others around them were doing. And then they got caught.

Today’s passage from Jeremiah highlights the importance of standing alone and not letting the crowd influence you. This is a hard path to take, but the end result is righteousness:

Jeremiah 15 (Common English Bible)

You understand, Lord!
    Remember me and act on my behalf.
Bring judgment on those who torment me.
    In your mercy, spare my life.
    Consider how I’m insulted on your account.
16 When your words turned up, I feasted on them;
    and they became my joy, the delight of my heart,
        because I belong to you,
        Lord God of heavenly forces.
17 I didn’t join the festive occasions;
    I took no delight in them.
    I sat alone
        because your hand was upon me
        and you had filled me with curses.

“I sat alone.” There may have been times in your life where your faith made you the object of ridicule. This happened to me in middle school when my new conversion and decision to wear a cross to school resulted in being mocked and called “holy.” It was meant as a put-down, but I later learned that the definition of the word “holy” is “set apart.”

I’ll take it.

18 Why am I always in pain?
    Why is my wound incurable,
        so far beyond healing?
You have become for me as unreliable
    as a spring gone dry!

19 Therefore, the Lord proclaims:
If you return to me, I will take you back
    and let you stand before me.
If you utter what is worthwhile,
        not what is worthless,
    you will be my spokesman.
They will turn to you,
    not you to them!

Proclaiming our faith can eventually result in others turning to us when they encounter hardships. When I got to high school, I met a few new friends who were curious about my faith, noticing that something about me was different. That opened up doors for me to share my story.

20 I will make you a sturdy bronze wall
    against these people.
They will attack you,
        but they won’t triumph,
    because I am with you
        to protect and rescue you,
            declares the Lord.
21 I will rescue you from the hand of the wicked;
    I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.

You might be struggling with co-workers, family, or friends who mock your faith. Never mind. God is here to protect and rescue you and assures you that when you are attacked for his sake, your attackers won’t triumph. You are a sturdy bronze wall!

Stand tall.

Standing Tall by Wende Pritchard (Wright Brothers Memorial)

Stand Firm

The images coming out of Afghanistan over the last several days are horrific. Twenty years in the making, this shockingly violent and swift take-over of the country by the Taliban is beyond imagination. Our hearts are broken and our fears are multiplied to see how quickly a country can topple to evil once the good has been removed.

This is not a political statement, but a spiritual one. It is no coincidence that today’s lectionary passage teaches us how to gird ourselves in the war against the Evil one. It comes to us on a day when we need to be reminded that when we walk in the armor of God, no tricks of the devil can harm us. Surely we have all experienced the forces of cosmic darkness at some point in our lives. Whether that has come at you in a full attack from someone doing the devil’s bidding, or more subtly in the form of temptation that works in your weakness, the spiritual forces of evil are alive and living in the hearts of humanity.

What can we do? How can we fight back?

Paul dealt with this issue when the church in Ephesus came under attack. The spiritual warfare that he fought involved a campaign of disunity between new Gentile converts and Jewish Christians. Satan brought his power to bear upon the new church when it was in its infancy state in an effort to stop it.

The fact that we are here demonstrates the power God has over ALL of his creation.

Paul counsels us to engage in a two-part plan. The first part is to be strengthened by the Lord:

Ephesians 6 (Common English Bible)

10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 

This is an invitation to join a spiritual boot camp where your faith muscles will be made stronger with every workout. You can’t put great armor on a weak body and hope to have military success. So first, we are to come into God’s presence daily and draw our strength from him.

Next, we are encouraged to suit up for the battle:

11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 

Paul reminds us that we aren’t fighting against flesh, but rather against the spiritual forces of wickedness. So we must protect and grow our own spirit in order to fight back. God provides both the strength and armor:

13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

The belt of TRUTH.

The breastplate of JUSTICE.

The shoes of PEACE.

The shield of FAITH.

The helmet of SALVATION.

The sword of GOD’S WORD.

As you prepare to go into battle today, look over this list. Do you see a weak spot? Do you need to readjust your armor? Do you need more time in God’s presence?

Stand your ground, and after you have done everything possible, STILL STAND.

May God be with us in our fight.

God’s Powerful Strength by Karen Warlitner

Projectors

A projector is an output device that can take images from a source and show them on a screen. Movie theaters use projectors at the rear of the theater to cast moving images on a giant wall screen in the front. Projectors are found in schools, businesses, training centers, etc.

And then there is another type of projecting. This is when someone has a grudge, grievance, anger issue, or mental instability, and projects that onto another person. It is a defense mechanism for coping with undesirable feelings and emotions. People project negative feelings onto others rather than admitting or dealing with the unwanted feelings. A husband constantly accusing his wife of cheating may be projecting his secret behavior onto her. A teenager, frustrated with his lack of accomplishment, may taunt and pick on a younger sibling rather than face his own feelings of inadequacy.

Bullying is a form of projecting. A middle school teacher and I were chatting last week and she talked about how much bullying takes place in school. She is working very hard and deliberately to have kids understand their own emotions and to take ownership of what they are processing internally, rather than project those feelings of anger and shame onto others by bullying. Sadly, many of them will grow up to be adult bullies and continue to project their unresolved issues onto others.

Bullies will probably always project. But that doesn’t mean you have to be their screen.

Luke 17 English Standard Version (ESV)

Temptations to Sin

17 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If your brother or sister sins, rebuke them. Jesus never called us to be doormats. We can stand strong in the full armor of God and stand up for ourselves in his might. When the money lenders were defiling the temple, Jesus didn’t capitulate. He threw them out. Turning the other cheek here doesn’t mean offering a bully a second chance to strike…it means turning your cheek away as you walk out the door, closing it behind you on the bully.

Ephesians 6:10-20 The Message (MSG)

A Fight to the Finish

10-12 God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.

God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

If you have someone who continues to project their misery onto you, walk away. Bury yourself deep in God’s word, and pray for strength. Put on the full armor against evil, and stand up for yourself. Projectors need screens, so as soon as you stop being one, the show will be over and you’ll still be on your feet. God is strong, and he wants you to be strong. Take every weapon he supplies, cover yourself in prayer, and STAND FIRM. You’ve got this, because God’s got you. Thanks be to God.

Peaceful Waters by Kathy Schumacher