An Exhortation and Prayer from Yesterday’s Worship Services (January 10, 2021)

A number of people reached out to me about the exhortation and prayer for our nation that I shared in services yesterday at Eastbrook Church. I have included it below. The exhortation was a slightly abbreviated and revised form of something I posted here on my blog on Friday. The prayer portion was a combination of my own work and suggested prayer points from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation.”


The last week has been one of the most chaotic for our nation in recent memory. The scenes in the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, were a striking contrast with the celebration of Epiphany for which that day is set aside on the church calendar. Epiphany literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The celebration offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group or nation, but people from around the globe. We also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

But Epiphany 2021 was a manifestation of a different sort, leaving all of us with various forms of pain, confusion, stress, and concern about what will come next. Divisiveness, violence, and misuse of power worked to derail governmental processes in a way that was shocking and unacceptable. As Christians, we may wonder, “Where do we go from here?”

First, bring our thoughts and feelings to God. One of the most important and difficult things to do in this present moment is to bring our thoughts and feelings to God. We are more than ready to bring them to social media, to our friends through texts, or family members through phone calls, but are we willing to first and foremost meet with God about our concerns? The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Second, we must intercede for those with authority. After offering our own needs to God, we should next step forward in prayer by interceding for our nation, specifically for those with authority. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that true repentance and humility would arrive, that safety and peace will reign, and that regardless of their political party all political leaders will be guided by God for the common good.

Third, we can cultivate peace and condemn violence. Jesus our Messiah is known as the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Where discord existed between God and humanity, as well as humans one to another, Jesus destroyed division by Himself becoming our peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). Because this is the way of Jesus, we as His followers must also be people of peace. We must let Christ’s peace rule in us because we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). We live in peace through love, turning aside from all that is contrary to peace and love, including hatred, dissension, prejudice, and violence.

Fourth, we can hold to truth and reject falsehood. We must discern falsehood no matter where it arises and name it as such so that we and others are not deceived. This requires us to be filled to overflowing with the truth of Scripture. If we meditate on talk radio, news websites (regardless of the source), or false narratives more than we meditate on God’s Word then we are sure to lose our way. If we want to flourish, then the word of God must be our constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). As followers of Jesus we must live in truth and name falsehood for what it is.

Fifth, we can maintain perspective. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).

Sixth, we can remain hopeful. Even amidst the ruin of the exile to Babylon the writer of Lamentations could write:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is even stronger for us as Christians who believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ our risen Lord.

Last, Christians must seek the glory of Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall and God is sovereign over them all, then we will begin to understand that our overriding goal as the people of God is bringing glory of Christ. We do that in word and deed. We do that by proclaiming and embodying the love of Jesus Christ in the city and in the world. More than our side “winning” or making strides forward on a particular issue in our national politics, we must be motivated by our desire for people to truly see and know Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

In light of that, let’s join together in prayer.

Lord, we lament the state of our nation.

Lord, we lament the divisions between us as people in our nation that we cannot seem to resolve.

Lord, we lament the pain, confusion, hatred, and violence that seems to reign in our personal and national life.

Lord, we lament the lack of leadership in our governmental that has in many ways led to the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves.

Lord, we lament the darkness in our own hearts that contributes to this situation.

Lord, we pray for those who perpetrated the attacks on the Capitol, and the broader attacks on our democracy, to be brought to justice and ultimately to repentance.[1]

Lord, we pray for truth to reign in our national conversations and our communities, as well as in our church.

Lord we pray for President Trump, during the final days of his administration, that he will fulfill his duties responsibly.

Lord, we pray for President-elect Biden, that he will have wisdom as he prepares to assume office on January 20.

Lord, we pray for all our elected officials in the Senate and House of Representatives to be led by Your grace and wisdom, whether they want to be or not.

Lord, we pray for protection of our nation from any adversaries who would seek to harm us during this perilous transitional period.

Lord, we remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), so we pray that You would protect us from all spiritual evil that seeks to bring devastation upon us.

Lord, we pray for healing of relationships between Americans who are deeply divided by partisanship, that they will seek to resolve their differences peacefully and cooperate where possible for the common good.

Lord, we pray for protection of those in other countries suffering persecution, who have seen the United States as a model of democracy, who may now be endangered as dictators are emboldened to commit further abuses.

Lord, we pray for all who follow the Prince of Peace, that we will humble ourselves before God and allow the light of Christ to shine through us into our dark and broken world.

And Lord, we pray for our own church that we might stand in Your truth, be filled with Your grace, live as one through Christ, and might boldly walk forward as witnesses to You and Your Kingdom, individually and corporately.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ, who with You and the Holy Spirit, are one God, both now and forever. Amen.


[1] Some of these prayer points are taken from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation,” https://www.nae.net/prayer-fasting-healing-nation/.

Looking Back at 2020 with Lament and Repentance

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Looking Back: Lament

Sometimes, however, when we look back over the year, particularly in this devastating last year, even while we’re trying to give thanks, we remember experiences, events, or relationships that we’d rather not have experienced. The options or more than we’d like to name: that diagnosis, that job loss, that divorce, that death, that financial hit, that relational rupture, that opportunity that disappeared…perhaps even all of 2020.

In times like this, our gratitude is mingled with sorrow. There is a space for this in the life with God that is exemplified in the psalms of lament. Lament offers us the space to express our sorrows and griefs in the presence of God.

Psalm 13 is one example of lament. The first few verses say:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
(Psalm 13:1-3a)

Lament is a valuable way to look back at the past year. Sometimes we need to name the painful areas of our lives in the presence of God without papering over them with false positivity or wishful thinking.

Writing about lament, Martin Luther said:

“What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…. And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.”[1]

I want to give permission to each of us to look back over our year with God and lament. We may need to name something in our life as a source of great sorrow or wounding, and also bring it to God from the depths of our souls.

Perhaps you may do this verbally or, as I often do, you may want to write out your own personal psalm of lament. There is something powerful about laying it out in words, and giving that to God in prayer.

Looking Back: Repent

But it is not just painful things that have happened to us that we must bring to God, but also the painful things we have done that we must bring to God. We do this so that we can name them, confess them, and turn from them. The biblical word for this is repentance.

Psalm 51 is an extended prayer of repentance that is well known. It references a time of deep crisis in the life of King David, when he has committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband, Uriah, killed, and then tries to cover it all up. Nathan the prophet confronts him about it. Psalm 51 is the repentance response that David offers in response to his failures.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Here is the naming of wrongs David has done. And it is followed by the request for forgiveness, cleansing, and turning away from sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

We all recognize that there are things in the past year that we have done to others and ourselves – ways that we have fallen short of God’s best for us. Let me suggest that it is not the best thing we can do to carry these things into the next year with us as a burden. It is important to lay them down in prayer with God, like burdens laid at the foot of the Cross.

Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Although I think this is a good practice daily, I also believe the end of the year is a good time to draw near to God and name our sins – our wrongs – before God, to ask for forgiveness and cleansing, and to turn from them in our hearts.

Something I’ve done in the past is to write certain sins on  notecard or piece of paper, and then (safely) burn them as a sign of these sins being forgiven and cast away by God.

We receive assurance in many places in Scripture that God is forgiving, most notably in 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


[1] Martin Luther, Word and Sacrament, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. E. T. Bachmann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 255 –56.

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


George Floyd gospel legacy“George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston” – Kate Shellnut at Christanity Today: “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a ‘person of peace’ ushering ministries into the area. Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called ‘Big Floyd’ and regarded as an ‘OG,’ a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.”


AND legacy“Statement from The AND Campaign on Racialized Violence in America” – “We mourn the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The grief of their loved ones is our grief and we share in their agony. The riots in Minneapolis are not to be glorified or romanticized, but we must realize that they are a product of a riotous and unjust system. The disorder began when a man’s rights were violated and his life was taken. American racism was rioting against the people long before they took to the streets. We must condemn and address the cause before we can appropriately address the broken reaction.”


DallasWillard-sm

“Becoming The Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do The Job” – Here is some wisdom from Dallas Willard published in 1999, later compiled into a chapter in Renewing the Christian Mind, that connects with the call to spiritual and moral leadership in this moment. “We had read all of Dallas’ books and been deeply impacted by them—not least by his latest, The Divine Conspiracy. But Brian had just finished presenting some thoughts on new models of leadership—leaders marked not so much by conquest and technique, but by spiritual goodness and wisdom. And so we sat there, slumped pensively in our chairs, until someone finally said, ‘Dallas…please talk to us about how we become those kind of people.’ So, during a break, Dallas began listing some of his thoughts on a whiteboard. And then in his gracious, careful way, he challenged us to become the kind of leaders this world so desperately needs. The following is some of what he told us.”


Grief Comes to Church“Letting Grief Come to Church” – Whether we know it or not, we are all grieving different losses that the pandemic has brought into our lives. What does it mean to allow space for grief in the church and how might that help us experience release and healing in our lives? Clarissa Moll writes about this for CT Pastors, sharing five ways we can welcome what may feel unwelcome once the doors reopen at our churches.


Supreme Court Church“Supreme Court, in 5-4 Decision, Rejects Church’s Challenge to Shutdown Order”New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. ‘Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,’ Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.”


balcony church“Balcony church gains popularity in Kenya amid pandemic” – I always enjoy creativity in how churches gather people or reach out to people. Here is one that I have never heard of that seems well-suited for this time of the pandemic, flowing from a children’s outreach in Nairobi, Kenya. “Machira has taken his ‘Balcony to Balcony’ service on the road since Kenya’s first case was found in mid-March. It has become quite popular, the preacher at the All Saints Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Kenya said.”


Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral Webcasts Sunday Mass Due To Coronavirus

“Seeking to Understand the Rise, Fall, and Loss of Young Pastors” –  Robert Stewart writes at Chuck DeGroat’s blog about a serious and hard topic. “At least (five) high profile young pastors of whom I’m aware have taken their lives during these past twelve months alone. As painful as this topic is to discuss I believe that we absolutely must force ourselves to do so if we’re ever understand what’s going on here. We shouldn’t be trying to address this crisis until we better understand all the cultural, characterological, spiritual, and biological issues which influence it. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster stunned the world in 1986 all shuttle flights were grounded until the underlying cause (defective “o-rings” in the right side solid rocket booster) could be understood and resolved. Seven astronauts died unnecessarily in that incident. Almost that many young pastors (or maybe more) have died in this past year. And, the many opinions about why don’t add up to any real comprehension which could guide us towards life saving solutions. It just seems unconscionable to continue on as usual amid the carnage. So, how might we begin the quest to understand and solve this crisis with an inquiry as focused and complete as the one which solved the riddle of the Challenger?”


 

Music: Common Hymnal (featuring Dee Wilson),Rose Petals,” from Common Hymnal

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Lamenting Our Losses: three vital parts of lament in the pandemic

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I was talking with a friend the other day about some of the changes we have experienced during the pandemic. Some of them were simple—activities we could no longer enjoy or places we could no longer visit—and others were more complex—missed milestones in our lives, friends and family members suffering with sickness, and concerns about the future.  Maybe you have had conversations like that recently as well. I certainly hope so because one of the most important things we can do in this time of the pandemic is to lament our losses. 

lamet 003Lament is commonly defined as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Within Scripture lament has the added significance of mingling our grief and sorrow with prayer as we bring it into the presence of God. Lament takes up a considerable amount of space in the Bible, from the psalms of lament to the Hebrew prophets to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane and more. I often distinguish between complaint and lament by saying that with complaint we practice the presence of our problems, but with lament we practice the presence of God while simultaneously bringing our problems to Him. Complaint lives in agony with the self. Lament lives in agony with God. Each and every one of us needs lament these days. Let me suggest three parts of lament that are vital during this time of the pandemic.

The first is to name our losses. At a spiritual retreat I attended not too long ago, participants were asked to write a list of losses we had experienced in the past year. It was illuminating for me to write down things, whether small or large, I perceived as losses. When I read the list later, I realized some things that seemed small initially had become larger over time, occupying a lot of my background attention in life. Until I named those losses it was difficult for me to deal with them or let them go. Consider the words of the psalmist in Psalm 73 where inner troubles stewed until a name was given to the real source of trouble, both internally and externally.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:2-3)

So, let me ask us: have we named our losses? Have we written them down, given a name to  them, or voiced them aloud as a loss to ourselves or others? We cannot lament without naming our losses.

The second vital aspect of lament is to grieve our losses. For some of us, this can be particularly difficult. My Scandinavian upbringing has taught me how to work hard and persevere in trials, but it has not always helped me to grieve things appropriately. Grieving was something that I had to learn how to do. Grieving is an essential part of lament. As mentioned above, lament gives space for passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Think about David grieving the disastrous death of Saul and Jonathan at the hands of the Philistines.

A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel.
How the mighty have fallen! (2 Samuel 1:19)

Here is the anointed of God, a mighty warrior, a man after God’s own heart, lifting up loud cries of grief over the loss of a dear friend and the untimely ruin of a ruler. What about us? What are our losses? Have we given expression through grief about these things? If not, our souls become a cesspool of hidden pain and difficulty often leading to bitterness and anger.

lament.002The third vital aspect of lament is to bring our losses to God. You may think this last point is obvious, but I have found over the years that this more difficult than we might expect. One the one hand, we find it easy to linger in our troubles. We readily practice the presence of our problems to the point that they become a sort of sick companion. But lament is not about lingering alone in our griefs. Psychology without acknowledgment of God often becomes narcissistic. On the other hand, those of us familiar with the church seem to find it easiest to be happy or joyful in the presence of God instead of giving voice to our griefs and angst. A quick search through the most popular worship songs today reveals very few songs of authentic angst and pain brought into God’s presence. Spirituality without space for lament quickly becomes superficial. Consider with me the book of Habakkuk, where the prophet meets with God again and again in his pain and complaint.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (Habakkuk 1:2; 2:1)

Habakkuk shows us what true lament looks like, when trouble and pain is named, grieved, and expressed in the presence of God.

Friends, I find it hard to express how important it is that we recover lament today. I am sure each that every one of us could fairly quickly make a long list if we tried to name our losses. However, I am less confident we are truly making space in life to grieve our losses and to do so in the presence of God. I worry for all of us that without lament the deep places of our souls will fill with bitterness and anger, and that such foul waters, undrained, will spring out into our lives and those around us when we least expect it causing great ruin. May God help us to lament!

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 22, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

 

In this video update I reference Lamentations 3. I am including a longer portion of the passage because I find these words so rich and powerful.

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

(Lamentations 3:19-26)