May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you…
Now this I know:
the LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20:1, 6-9
Any tendency to think the psalms are all about us vanishes quickly with this one’s opening line: ‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.’ This is a prayer for someone else. Who, exactly? The second half of the psalm tell us, if we didn’t already know: it’s the Lord’s ‘anointed… the king’.
The scenario is this: the king is going into battle against an enemy, and the people ask for God’s protection over him. They ground their appeal not only in God’s faithfulness to Zion, but in his promises of blessing going right back to Jacob himself. And they declare that they will rejoice and worship when triumph comes. God’s people are praying for the king because they know their destiny is wrapped up in his destiny. His defeat is their defeat; his victory is their victory. They are a people supporting the advance of a king.
Perhaps this psalm is about us after all.
Since our identity is bound up with the king’s identity, we can pray it for the king’s people, for Christian friends today on their frontlines: for the woman in her twenties struggling with chronic pain; for the children who don’t understand why Daddy has walked out on them; for the man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; for the friend struggling with an insufferable colleague; for the young family wondering how to make ends meet. May the Lord answer them when they are in distress.
Even more than the original poet, we pray with the confidence that our king has won the battle. For us, too, victory comes not through the paraphernalia of war, but through ‘trust in the name of the LORD our God’, all he is and has declared himself to be. Psalm 20 breathes a stance of faith before God, with prayer offered in the hope that victory will occur in the real world – the world of ‘horses’ and ‘chariots’, where we might be tempted to invest ourselves in their 21st-century equivalents.
Only the power of God can bring the salvation and victory we need. The Lord reigns, the anointed King of kings, the one who died and rose again, has defeated the powers of darkness and death forever.
‘Fake news’ has received much media attention lately. The spread of disinformation, propaganda, and fabrication of fact is hardly new: humans have been spreading mistruths through trusted sources for years. What has taken it to a new level, however, is the way it is now spread: social media.
Fake news items can pop up on our social media stream at any time and, being one of myriad other pieces of information passing before our eyes, they are easily read without care for checking the source. Add to this the fact that they are usually sensational in content, can be shared or liked in just one click, and you have the ingredients for gossip and lies on a global scale.
Some media organisations are taking measures to fight back by hiring companies to check facts or design algorithms to stop the spread of fake stories. Yet even the best software is never 100% successful. Human wisdom, or just basic common sense, will always need to be applied.
In this age of information overload and ‘like’ buttons, it can be so easy to accept things without proper thought, to forward or ‘like’ things that may be inaccurate or heavily biased. I know I’ve been guilty of this.
Even beyond social media, though, news has become increasingly concise, presented in bite-sized portions for us to easily digest as we rush from one task to another. The communication norms of our culture make it ever easier to share information, and even to relate, in a superficial way. Nuances and truths get lost in the sound-bites of news headlines and our personal updates.
So how are we to respond to this as Christians seeking to engage with contemporary culture? How do we maintain integrity, authenticity and honesty in our speech and relationships both online and offline? And what ‘false news’ might we be presenting about our own lives?
Switching off, both metaphorically and literally, is tempting and even necessary at times but cannot be a long-term solution. We’re called to be salt and light, to be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. When reading the news, whatever form that takes, how often do we check the source, find out what other news sites are saying, and critically weigh up agendas?
Looking at ourselves, it’s good to consider how much space we give to genuine, honest and open relationships in our own lives that go beyond the sound bite.
Siobhan O’Reilly Calthrop
Siobhan writes, blogs, and tutors in St Albans when she’s not walking the dog or feeding her family. You can find her blog at www.everyoneelseisnormal.com
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?… You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The term ‘expressive individualism’ was coined by the sociologist Robert Bellah, but given currency in the work of philosopher Charles Taylor. Understood as the free expression of an individual’s natural desires and inclinations – the freedom to ‘be yourself’ – it’s increasingly seen as a defining feature of our current age.
The biblical perspective is more realistic and far richer. True freedom does not involve living for ourselves, but living under the lordship of Jesus. Paradoxically, belonging to Christ marks not the end of slavery but the beginning of a new type of slavery. We’re set free from one master into the service of another, to be ‘slaves to righteousness’ and ‘slaves of God’.
This would have resonated powerfully with the first hearers of Paul’s letter in Rome. For some of them, slavery would be not just a metaphor but a way of life. There was a range and complexity in the social status of slaves in first-century Roman society. Much depended on what kind of master the slave belonged to.
So it is that Paul presses home the nature and consequences of two possible slaveries. The end result of one is sin and death. The end result of the other is holiness and life, now and in the age to come. Our release from slavery to sin brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of life, and a new outcome.
In practical terms, on our everyday frontlines, this means living and working, making decisions and relating to others, based on our first allegiance – to God himself. Then, in many workplaces and family contexts, we’re required to serve the interests of others. In doing so, we follow the pattern of Christ himself, who took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:7). We see it in the teacher reaching out to a difficult student, the business person drafting a deal that will bring genuine benefit to a local community, the parent apologising to the grumpy teenager.
And we do this not to earn points with God, as if he will owe us some sort of wage at the end of the day, but from the secure position of knowing we already have ‘eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’.
Picture the scene: sofa, laptop, snacks. Netflix has been streaming your favourite show non-stop for a couple of hours now. You’re fully immersed in the plot-line when, all of a sudden, the screen freezes and up pops this message:
‘Are you still watching?’
Yes, Netflix, I know I’ve watched six consecutive 40-minute episodes. Yes, Netflix, I probably should be engaging in meaningful interaction with other humans. Yes, Netflix, I am still in my pyjamas at 3pm. No, Netflix, I haven’t been outside yet today. But yes, Netflix, I am still watching. Please stop questioning my life choices and let me continue immersing myself in a world other than my own.
The first time this happened to me, my housemate and I were actively avoiding essay writing. Other times, I’ve been dodging chores, evading sleep, or just completely hooked on a really good bit of drama.
Based on statistics, though, I’m not alone. In fact, 61% of TV streamers regularly engage in binge-watching, which is viewing 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting.
Binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon, but one which is becoming ever more acceptable. And considering the perceived state of the world today, it’s pretty understandable. Because binge-watching is often about avoidance, isn’t it? TV is immersive, taking us out of our reality and into a new one where we have no responsibilities. We can watch the drama unfold in other people’s fictional lives whilst conveniently forgetting about our own stresses and strains.
It makes sense. But that doesn’t mean it’s good. Escapism is fine for a short time, and bonding with colleagues over the latest Netflix original series is great, but binging on TV isn’t the healthiest way to live. Avoiding your problems by ignoring the world around you doesn’t solve anything.
With all that’s going on at the moment, it’s easy to want to build a blanket fort, grab some snacks, and turn on your favourite series for some marathon viewing. Despair seems everywhere, and TV can often feel like the best and easiest escape route. But as Christians, we’re called to be lovingly present in the world. We’re called to model good disagreement, not active avoidance.
So, am I still watching? Yes, probably. But hopefully a little less often, for shorter lengths of time, and with a growing awareness of my tendency to evade responsibility. But I’ll still enjoy the latest season of The Good Wife, of course.
Nell is Culture Projects Leader at LICC.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Later on in this letter, Paul will move from the mercies we’ve received from God to the giving of our bodies as a living sacrifice (12:1). He anticipates that move here, using the same language of ‘offering’.
It’s bound up with the flow of the gospel, God’s work of salvation in Christ through his Spirit. Paul impresses on us that our obedience to the first Adam is now gone. We no longer need to be enslaved to the way of life which went with that allegiance, ‘for we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin’ (6:6). We have died and risen again in Christ. What is true of him is true of us, however much we might be tempted to think otherwise.
Since salvation involves a recovery of what it means to be truly human, it should come as no surprise that the body is bound up with that restoration. God has saved us – the whole of us. And ‘every part’ of us is offered back to him – hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongue, mouth, and brain. All that we are is put at the disposal of our new master.
It’s tempting to think that God’s interest in our bodies is necessarily restrictive, that God would want to limit our freedom of movement, slap ‘thou shalt not’ post-it notes on every pleasurable activity. And yes, there is a real challenge to note about ears that too quickly listen to the office gossip, eyes that are too easily drawn to images that are titillating at best and degrading at worst, tongues that too hastily put others down, hands that too readily get attached to smart phones and shut out our presence with family members.
But we live in an era of grace, Paul tells us, and we’re able to show a different way of living that flows from God’s generosity towards us. And we do so as embodied people, who have a particular family history, who talk a particular way, who occupy particular places in work and home and church. By God’s design, we live in a world of things we can see and hear, smell and taste. Watch out for the good ones today, and celebrate them as gifts from a gracious God.
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