Christian Life

Putting on the Armor of God: St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Revisited)

This article was originally published on October 2, 2018. It is fitting for St. Patrick’s Day.

Shortly after posting the recent article about the breastplate of righteousness, I began thinking about one of my favorite prayers: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

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Stained glass image of St. Patrick. By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

This is an ancient prayer for divine protection. Although some scholars think it is more recent, tradition claims that St. Patrick wrote this prayer in the fourth or fifth century. As he was preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, he knew he needed God’s protection. According to one legend, the soldiers of a hostile king sought to ambush St. Patrick and his companions while they traveled through a forest. The men of God were transformed into deer while they prayed the Breastplate, thereby passing the soldiers unnoticed. Yes, it is a far-fetched tale, and St. Patrick himself never mentions this event in his writings. Still, it is a great story.

Some people pray this prayer in the morning to claim Christ’s presence and God’s protection for the coming day. I know other people who may have no rote traditional prayer, but while they pray in the morning, they claim each part of the whole armor of God onto themselves during the day. However you go about it, do not start a day without seeking God’s presence and protection to follow you.

Here is a brief excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You can read it in its entirety at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-patricks-breastplate-poem:

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.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” traditionally attributed to St. Patrick, is in the public domain.

Categories: Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just for Today (Not a Whole Year)

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NASB1995).

Photo by Peter Janzen, published under a Creative Commons copyright.

As the New Year begins, many people have made resolutions. For the most part, they are good ideas: many are sincere efforts to adopt healthy lifestyles and habits or eliminate harmful behaviors.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I usually set periodic goals for myself. These may be around New Year’s Day, but other times of the year offer opportunities to make changes in one’s life. For Christians, Lent is an opportune time for self-reflection, repentance, and developing new habits.

Studies show that most people do not stick with their resolutions. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. Fitness centers will be crowded for about two weeks. After that, much of the New Year’s crowd will dwindle, and attendance will be back to last year’s levels by February 1. (Apparently, January 17 is an unofficial holiday—Ditch New Years Resolutions Day. This is the date that the average resolution is abandoned.)

There are perhaps several reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail. First, fulfilling plans for a long time demands endurance. It is easy to do things once or twice. It is harder to do it every day at the same time. Many people grow discouraged and give up when they fail to keep a habit going for a while. “I vowed to go to the gym every day. I was too tired on Thursday. I failed. I quit.”

A second reason is that we cannot see what will happen in the future. I have a pretty good idea about my schedule for tomorrow. There are other upcoming events that I am looking forward to in the coming weeks. However, I do not know what will happen in June or July. When our circumstances change, we may need to change our plans. Plans and promises we make in January may be completely unrealistic in June or July if our health, obligations, or finances change unexpectedly.

So, what is the solution? How can we attempt to make meaningful, lasting, positive changes in our lives while avoiding the risk of disappointment by failing to fulfill long-term promises? Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous recommend living one day at a time. A popular resource in such groups is “Just for Today,” which you can read in its entirety here. The basic premise is that you do not try to tackle every problem in your life at once; you simply face the coming day’s challenges and get through those. Many recovering alcoholics say things like, “I have 10 years of sobriety,” meaning that they have not had any alcohol in that time. A friend of mine, when preparing to celebrate his sobriety anniversary at AA, once said, “I only have one day of sobriety, but I have those ‘one days’ for 25 straight years.” He did not focus on never drinking again; he just focused on getting through the next day.

For some, one day may be too much. We need to just get through the next temptation: the next hour, the next fifteen minutes, etc. One day might seem overwhelming, let alone an entire year or the rest of your life.

Part of Matthew 6:34 painted under a bridge. Photo by Evelyn Simak, via Wikimedia Commons. Published under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Seize the next day. Redeem the time for the next 24 hours and use it to God’s glory. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, do not look too far ahead. The next 24 hours will bring enough problems. You do not know what crisis or temptation you will face in the future.

This does not mean we have to just wander impulsively through life without a plan or goals, but we need to realize that our goals should always be focused on the short term. Few authors write an entire book in one day. They plan ahead, set realistic short-term goals, and achieve them. Novelist Stephen King writes about 2000 words (about 8 page) per day. He recommends that novice authors aim for 1000 words per day; if that seems too daunting, they should aim for 300-500 words. That small commitment eventually adds up to a full-length novel.

Turn any long-term goals into short-term goals. Make them manageable for the next day. Write them down. Make the best use of your time to achieve them. If you can schedule a particularly important activity, write it in a calendar and make it a top priority for that period.

If you fail to achieve that goal, do not give up. Do not let discouragement or a fear of failure hold you back. Try again tomorrow. One day’s failure does not have to become a lifelong defeat.

Realize that your goals may need to change with your circumstances. Early in 2021, I planned to write at least one post per week on Darkened Glass Reflections; I hoped to aim for two or three posts per week when time allowed. However, my total output was only 47 articles—less than one per week, far below my original goal. Between a vacation in July, my mother’s illness and death from August through November, and other challenges to my time thereafter, my productivity dropped significantly during the last half of the year. There was no way I could plan for some of those obstacles one year ago. I had to adjust to new stresses and unexpected crises.

For 2022, my goal is to be faithful to God one day at a time. I might have an idea what that will look like over the next few weeks, but only God knows what the world and my life will look like much after that. However, He always knows the best path for our lives, and we can always look to Him for wisdom and guidance.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8, NASB1995).

What has worked for you when trying to change habits or behaviors? How do you accomplish personal goals most effectively? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2021 In Review: God Is In Control; I Am Not

2021 is coming to a close. Perhaps you are making New Year’s resolutions. I usually joke about them. On December 30, 2009, my Facebook status announced, “26 hours to accomplish the resolutions I made last New Year’s Day. I give up.” Another year, I made a New Year’s resolution to complete writing a book and have it published by the end of the year. It still has not happened. The best-laid plans of mice, men, and Michael often go awry. Often, the unexpected interrupts everything we planned to do.

Photo from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/745052. Creative Commons.

Nowadays, I usually just tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to avoid making New Year’s resolutions. That way, I can fail and succeed at the same time.

However, like most people, I usually approach the New Year with some hopes and goals, even if I do not call them “resolutions.” It seems like a good time to look back at the past year, see where you have been, and decide in which direction you want your life to go. We can always choose a time for self-reflection, to seek God’s direction for the future. For most people, January 1 seems like a good time to do this.

Many have not seen our hopes for 2021 fulfilled. We thought this would be the year that the COVID-19 pandemic would end so that life could return to normal. Many people thought the vaccines would end the pandemic. Instead, we are seeing record-breaking numbers of new cases emerge. Thank God, fewer people are dying, but people are still getting sick. Local and state governments are still issuing mask mandates. Nobody expected the omicron variant. Despite people’s best efforts, widespread availability of vaccines, and government mandates, the pandemic continues. There are some things that human ingenuity cannot control.

As 2020 ended, Darkened Glass Reflections was enjoying new records for the number of visits each month. Some time in mid-2020, I read a blog post or article that said that it might be worthwhile to collect ad revenue on a blog when it starts getting a few thousand “hits” per month. DGR started accumulating over 1000 hits every month in mid-2020, and the numbers kept growing. I expected this blog to continue to grow throughout the year, perhaps reaching that “next level.” All I had to do was keep writing, do what I could to share and promote the blog, and expect it to continue to grow.

Then life got in the way—or, should I say, death. I can usually find time to write during most of the year, with only a brief slowdown during the summer. My wife and I usually travel to Missouri, where we visit with my son and his family. For about two weeks, I focus on my family and do not have time to write. The weeks before and after do not allow much time for blogging either. Some years, I re-post favorite older articles for a month instead of writing new material.

However, this year, life did not return to “normal” after our July road trip. My son planned to bring the family to Florida to visit my mother shortly after our visit. However, as COVID numbers spiked in her area, she urged them not to come. So instead, they visited us in New York (my son’s first visit to New York since before his wedding, and the first visit for his wife and children). During that visit, Mom became ill and was rushed to the hospital. Kidney problems and other long-term issues had taken their toll on her.

So, between July and mid-November, my wife and I were either traveling to Missouri (once) or Florida (three times), hosting family from out of state, or preparing for one of those visits.

Despite every effort, Mom passed away in November, approximately 24 hours after beginning home hospice care.

Needless to say, this did not affect only my writing. Pretty much every aspect of my life (as well as the lives of my wife, siblings, their spouses, and other family members) was turned upside down. I mention the blog mainly because it was one “measurable” part of my life that suffered.

Perhaps the big lesson from 2021 is that many things are beyond our control. We like to think we can solve our problems. Sometimes, we cannot. Humanity is powerless to stop a microscopic organism from causing havoc on our world. We are all essentially powerless over life and death. We are barely able to maintain control over how we manage our time. Life and problems—some mere annoyances, some life-altering crises—affect us all.

So, if 2021 has taught me anything, it is that we are not in control. However, God is. Perhaps, if I must make a 2022 New Year’s resolution, it is to let God be God and trust Him in all things. I cannot control the circumstances life will throw at me. I can only choose to be obedient to Him and allow Him to decide what “success” looks like.

It may not be a measurable goal like “publish one book,” “lose 20 pounds,” or “exercise for one hour three times each week.” However, this open-ended commitment is the only one any of us can truly make. Circumstances may force us to change our plans day by day, but we can always choose to remain faithful to God.

What lessons have you learned about God and life in 2021 that will shape 2022? Please share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advent: Prepare the Way (Luke 3:3-6)

And {John the Baptist} came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:3-6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A dirt road in Tibet that looks like it would benefit from some preparation. Photo by Tenace10, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A new year begins on the church calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season that culminates with Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation. However, Christians should not prepare for Christmas in the same way that the world does.

The world begins its version of “the Christmas season” with Black Friday. The focus is on sales, great deals, and buying presents: Commercialism is the name of the game. God calls us to preparation through repentance.

Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He did not offer great bargains, two for the price of one, or free shipping. His entire lifestyle rejected the things we value today. He wore a simple wardrobe, ate a simple (and rather repulsive) diet of locusts and honey, and preached a radical message of repentance. It was not a generic message like many preachers share today; he gave specific examples of how people should live, not leaving room for doubt.

When describing John the Baptist, Luke cited the prophet Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God.” The King was coming. The road had to be ready for His arrival. If you wanted to welcome the King, you prepared a safe road for his entourage. You would fill in the ditches and clear obstacles so that his horse could trot safely into town.

We still prepare roads like this. When we drive our cars, we do not want obstacles like garbage or other debris in the path. We expect the highway department to fill in the potholes.

Meadowbrook State Parkway on Long Island, NY. Trees line both sides of the road. Similar trees had to be cleared before the road could be built. Photo by Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our roads required thorough preparation before they could be paved. Here on Long Island, we have several major roads that are frequently flanked by trees. At one time, the trees also stood where cars now drive. Trees and other obstacles had to be removed before construction crews could pave the road.

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is a stretch where they could not remove all of the obstacles. Several mountains blocked the path. So, they blasted tunnels through the mountains to clear a path for cars to travel.

In Pennsylvania, they could not remove the mountains so they cleared tunnels through four of the mountains along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This tunnel goes through Tuscarora Mountain. Photo by Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

It all seems a little drastic when you think about it. People needed a road. It required thorough preparation. Ruthless removal of obstacles was a vital part of the preparation process.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ. He came into the world 2000 years ago. For many readers of this article, He came into your life at some time in the past. Someday, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end” (The Nicene Creed). Advent and Christmas look back to His first coming into the world so we can more clearly look forward and prepare for that second coming.

Are we ready? Have we prepared a path for Him? Are there obstacles in our lives that block the path between our hearts and His Spirit? Are there potholes in our spiritual path? Are there twists and turns in our lives that need to be made straight?

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added).

There may be sinful attitudes, actions, or habits in your life that are hindering your relationship with Christ. There may be encumbrances (other Bible translations say “weight,” “obstacle,” or something similar) that may be holding us back. They might not be bad in themselves, but they have become a hindrance to your walk with Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you in the coming weeks and months. Acknowledge them. Confess them to Him. Lay them down before Him and leave them at the foot of Jesus. Walk away and start anew on a clear path.

May the forthcoming year be a time of restoration as you walk on a newly cleared, restored, repaved, and straightened path in your journey with Jesus Christ.

What are some of the encumbrances you encounter in your walk with Christ? What steps can you take, or have you taken in the past, to clear a path to a closer walk with Jesus? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

“Love One Another” (John 13:34-35)

I dedicate this post to the memory of my mother, Rosemarie Lynch, who went to her eternal rest on November 6. Mom overcame many challenges in her life, but still found ways to be a blessing to others.

Photo by Wingchi Poon, under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Jesus told His disciples that the mark of a true disciple would be love for others. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”: not if you have great theology, preach to a lot of people, can quote the Bible in your sleep, listen to gospel music, etc. Love for other people, especially other Christians, proves our love for Jesus. (A sad indictment of many Christians is their eagerness to say “They’re not real Christians” about people they disagree with.)

Romans 12:10 says the following:

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor….”

Genuine Christian love places the needs of others above oneself, particularly above one’s wants and convenience.

Christian love is sacrificial. Jesus said we should love one another as He has loved us. How did He love us? Most notably, by dying for our sins. He gave everything for us. Our need for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life superseded His desire for earthly comfort. We do not show our love just by enjoying the company of others when it is convenient. True Christian love demands that we go out on a limb, care for the needs of those who are hurting, even when it means we may have to forego some of our desires. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothing to the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. Are we answering His call with loving action, or do we just pray for these people, hoping God will send someone else to make real sacrifices?

Christian love upholds the dignity of others. Some people obsess about power, control, and authority in relationships. One person is “higher up” than another. Too often, sermons about family focus on a hierarchy: The husband is the head of the wife, the parents are over the children, and so on. The Bible justifies some of this. However, it is an incomplete perspective. Without love, it can be dangerous. Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands. Love your children; do not embitter them. Give preference to one another. Show compassion.

Love, respect, and dignity should guide our relationships, not control. Such guidelines should govern all of our relationships, whether in the family, the church, or elsewhere.

Christian love is not always easy. Jesus does not call us to love those who are easy to love; almost anybody can do that! We are called to imitate God and His Son, Jesus Christ. This calls us to love others as Jesus loved us: completely, sacrificially, imparting life and hope to others.

I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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