Holidays

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

Christ Meets Us in the Mundane (Micah 5:2)

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

“Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

God could operate from a position of power, but often He does not. He frequently finds a way to accomplish His goals by using the most insignificant, unlikely, unimpressive people and circumstances.

When the ancient Israelites requested a king, God initially chose Saul, a “nobody” from the most insignificant tribe in Israel.

When Saul disobeyed God, He replaced him with David—a ruddy “pretty-boy” shepherd from a small town in Judah. Once again, God chose a nobody to accomplish His goals.

When God became man, He could have chosen to be an earthly king. He had already promised to bless the nations of the world through the descendants of Abraham. So, instead of being born as an earthly emperor in Rome, God came to Judea—an insignificant nation within the Roman empire.

God did not even choose to be born to a prominent Jewish family. Sure, He was born into royal blood—as a descendant of David—but his family was a lesser branch of the royal family tree. Instead of noble power-brokers who rubbed shoulders with the elite in Jerusalem, Jesus’ mother and stepfather were poor folks who struggled to survive.

Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch at RXR Plaza, Uniondale, NY, December 17, 2016.

Perhaps this tells us something about what Jesus valued. He could have chosen to cling to any of His divine qualities. He could have decided to live a life of earthly power and authority that reflected His divine sovereignty. He could have chosen the life of a scribe or Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, flaunting earthly wisdom and education as a shadow of His divine omniscience (all-knowing).

Instead, if there was any divine attribute He chose to reflect for His earthly life, it was His role as Creator. He spent His first 30 earthly years as a carpenter: designing, building, and creating things.

At any rate, He did not choose the world’s ways to save humanity. He did not seek earthly power, prestige, or riches. He did not seek a comfortable life. He came to a tiny town, to an insignificant family, doing a job that gained neither wealth nor a chapter in the history books. While it was not the worldly way to influence people and change the world, though, it was His Father’s way to change the world.

On Christmas, we celebrate a King who was born in a stable, slept in a manger, spent almost His entire life in a country the size of New Jersey, and was brutally tortured and executed. This is not the way people would choose to change the world. We might try to use strength and power to change the world. Jesus chose love, humility, and obedience to His Father’s will.

He met us in the most mundane moments of life. This truth is lost in our Christmas celebration, with the flashing lights, shiny decorations, and feel-good television specials. We seek to find Him in the exciting moments, but He comes to meet us, and calls us to follow Him, in the ordinary moments of life. May this Christmas draw our hearts beyond the celebration and pageantry to the power of an ordinary life saturated with Christ’s presence.

May God bless you and those you love both during your Christmas celebration and throughout the coming year. May the love of God and presence of Jesus in your life bring joy and peace throughout the coming year.

Feel free to share your thoughts about Christ’s birth and Christmas by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, deity of Christ, Holidays | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Divine Name That Says a Lot (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

We wait expectantly. With Christmas less than a week away, children await the coming of Santa Claus. Older children and adults await the holiday celebrations, the presents, and the family gatherings. Some are just waiting for the intense activity to end. We are all looking forward to something.

The ancient Jews also waited expectantly. More than 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a Messiah who would save Israel. After centuries of exile, followed by domination by the global empires of Greece and Rome, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises and their hopes and dreams.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus fulfilled two prophetic names in chapters 7 and 9 of Isaiah. Isaiah 7:14 foretold the birth of a child known as “Immanuel,” meaning “God-with-us”:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Matthew 1:22-23 tells us that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He was born to His virgin mother, Mary. When Jesus was conceived in her womb, God joined us; Jesus was fully human, yet fully divine. God was with humanity in the flesh and, He lived His life as one of us.

Isaiah 9:6 gives another name for the coming Messianic king from the line of David: “Pele-joez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom,” translated as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” in the NASB. This long name says a lot. [“Abi-ad” can be translated either as “Eternal Father” or “my Father is (the) eternal (one).” This verse does not contradict the historic Christian belief that God the Father and God the Son are distinct Persons within the Trinity.]

This name describes the God we worship. This is the essence of Who Jesus is and what He means to us. Although no New Testament passage explicitly says that Isaiah 9:6-7 is about Jesus, chapters 1 and 2 of Luke mention several of these attributes when reporting His birth.

He is a Wonderful (marvelous, miraculous) Counselor or guide. We can come to Him with our doubts, fears, uncertainty, worries, etc. His wisdom is beyond our comprehension. He will lead and guide us.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

He is the Mighty God of infinite strength and power. He created all things. No problem or circumstance is beyond His control. Martin Luther translated this phrase as “Held,” or in English “hero.” Pick your favorite superhero: Superman, Captain Marvel, Spider-man, etc. Their superpowers are no match for the power of our Mighty God, Jesus Christ.

Our God is the Eternal Father. He has always been, and He will always be. He will always love and preserve us. Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will not leave; He will not quit; He will not cease to exist. He is alive forever, and He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Finally, Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Biblical peace—shalom in Hebrew—is not the absence of war or hardship. It is the presence of God amid hard times. No matter what comes, God is with us. Jesus brings His peace into our hearts and minds as we put our trust in Him.

God’s answer to the turmoil of ancient Israel and the oppression of first-century Jews was the birth of a child. The answer to all of mankind’s hopes and the Savior of humanity came as a child, died as a man, but lives as both God and man, as God with us always. He brings us His wonderful counsel, infinite power and might, everlasting Fatherly love, and His peace that surpasses all comprehension. I pray that you may experience His presence not just around Christmas but throughout the year.

Which prophetic name of Christ is most meaningful to you? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, deity of Christ, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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