STANDING FIRM

For many of us in the Baby Boomer generation, a good many of our battles are behind us.  We survived childhood, battling measles, chicken pox, mumps and the practices of drinking from the garden hose and riding in the back window of the car.  God was definitely sending His angels to watch over us.  My mother’s biggest fear for her children was polio and she made us take a nap every day during the summer (somehow summer was worse for polio).  I hated those naps; now I love them!  

We made it through our teenage years with no atomic bomb, but we had those drills to prepare us.  Although too many of us did not survive the Vietnam War, those of us who were fortunate were able to begin our adult lives.  Some of us went to college, some got jobs, and some got married and started families.  We survived those early years of adulthood, stretching our paychecks and saving our Green Stamps.  We had babies and managed to keep them alive (more angels!), we worked hard to raise them right and teach them about the Lord. Then they left us, becoming responsible adults, eventually with families of their own.  

We became grandparents and had to relearn everything about babies because we found out we didn’t know anything.  The rules changed!  Do they sleep on their backs or stomachs?  We struggled with complicated car seats and strollers.  I still have flashbacks to the parking lot at Dillard’s trying to figure out how to fold the stroller and get it back in the car while a toddler howled in her car seat.  

Many of us are now retired. We have completed are careers and are now finding new ways to be useful. In theory we have more time now, but the time whizzes by at breakneck speed! Some of us are now (gasp) great-grandparents and chuckle at our kids wrestling with car seats.  But one of my favorite pictures is of my daughter falling in love with her new baby granddaughter.  Pure love!  

So even though there are challenges ahead, we have completed the biggest part of our earthly assignments.  As I thought abut these things, this verse from my quiet time particularly resonated with me: …”and having done all, to stand firm,” Ephesians 6;13b. We still need to stand firm, and that might be our most important job right now.  

My Bible study group (https://www.communitybiblestudy.org) has been doing a study called Return to Jerusalem and currently we are looking at the life of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall.  In last week’s lesson the Jews completed building the wall (in only 52 days!) so Nehemiah’s next job was to make sure what they had accomplished was protected.  He needed to stand firm. He did this by appointing gatekeepers to control who came in and left the city and guards to patrol the walls and guard the houses. 

As I was reading these words I thought of my family and especially my grandchildren.  As parents and grandparents  we have done our jobs but we need guards at the gates and watchers on the walls.  I am so grateful that all my children and grandchildren have a saving relationship with the Lord, but that relationship must be carefully guarded because we have an enemy who would love to come in and confuse them and capture their hearts and minds. My job now is to be a watchman, to stand firm.

Although I don’t have as much daily influence as I did when my children were small, I have all of the armor of God that Ephesians 6 describes: the belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes that equip me to spread the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word).  And then verse 18 admonishes us to pray at all times, to keep alert with all perseverance, and to pray for all the saints.  I love how The Message version completes this verse:

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.

This is how I can guard the gates and keep watch on the walls.  I can pray.  Jerry and I have really ramped up our prayer lives this year.  And although many of my big battles are behind me, my job as a guard and watchman is not over.  This is how I stand firm.

BEING A WATCHMAN

One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study.  This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel.  Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people.  His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols.  That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?  

My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years.  They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them.  These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders.  Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard.  Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close.  If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger.  I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.

So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today?  I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us.  Those who will sound the alarm.  Modern day Paul Reveres.  From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols.  In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture.  Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society.  As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God.  “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.”  I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism.  I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me.  I don’t like it.

I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed.  I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it.  And the backlash against me was fierce!  I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong.  Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  The buckle of the Bible belt?   After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up.  “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.  

I don’t want to be a watchman.  I don’t like opposition.  I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough.  I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together.  I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates.  I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them.  However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen.  Because if we don’t watch, who will? 

All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me.  I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself.  “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!”  Wow!  As always, God is right.  I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own.  An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God.  My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues.  Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football.  I could create quite a list.  I guess even my family could become an idol.  

So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life.  I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, 

Prone to leave the God I love.”  

So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future.  As I said, it’s a full time job.  But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His.  I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing.  Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin.  A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin.  And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return.  The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman.  Nor should I want to.  It is an honor.