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/.

A Prayer for Stillness (with a word from Thomas à Kempis)

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
to love what I ought to love,
to praise what delights Thee most,
to value what is precious in Thy sight,
to hate what is offensive to Thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
but to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
and above all always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Thy will.

— Thomas à Kempis

Still me, my God.
Quiet me.

All the raging thoughts and twisted times.
Bring me back to You.
Reorient my soul to You.

All the confusion and misdirection—
May my hunger be for You.

My divided self and these divided days—
May my rest be in You.

Quiet me.
Still me, my God.

The Slippery Slope of Peacemaking: a resource for understanding conflict resolution by Ken Sande

As we walk through a series on unity, I was reminded of a message I gave several years ago about working through conflict in relationships. I utilized a resource developed by Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker and Resolving Everyday Conflict, called “the slippery slope of peacemaking.” I still find this to be a helpful resource, so I thought I’d share it again here.

There are a variety of ways we can respond to conflict in our lives. Sande highlights a spectrum of dealing with conflict and seeking peace. The the top of the slope is where we want to be in proactively dealing with conflict by making peace. The extremes are the tendencies we move toward as we slip off the path of pursuing peace in our conflicts.

slope

I summarized Sande’s “slippery slope” around three ideas:

1. Peace-faking by avoiding or escaping conflict. This is typified in the life of Jacob who steals his brother’s birthright, deceives his father and then flees from the conflict by hiding with his uncle, Laban (see Genesis 28). The problem with avoiding or escaping from conflict is that, except in extreme circumstances, it puts us into greater difficulties than before and we still have to deal with the conflict in the end.

2. Peace-breaking by attacking others in response to conflict. We find this in brunt reality when Cain is incensed by God’s favor toward his brother Abel. In rage, he kills his brother Abel instead of actually trying to work through the tensions with Abel or with God (see Genesis 4).

3. Peace-making by choosing a pathway toward resolving conflict and bringing deep peace. This happens when we live into the realities of the gospel of peace (see Ephesians 2) and make the statement of James our motto: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” ( (James 3:18).

You can read a much more detailed description of the slippery slope at Ken Sande’s web-site here.

Becoming One: the developing unity of the church as the community of Christ

As we continued our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I turned a corner from our focus on God’s part in bringing unity to our part in upholding unity. The first message in the series, “God is One,” explored how unity comes through the Triune God’s indwelling presence, and the second message, “Made One,” explored how Jesus brought unity with God and humanity at the Cross. Now we look at how we are becoming one as we choose to uphold unity through selfless love.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Philippians 2:5; 4:2)

The Philippian Challenge (Philippians 4:2)

  • We are one, but we don’t live like it
  • Even the mature suffer disunity and conflict

The Philippian Solution (Philippians 2:1-11; 2:12-13)

  • Choosing a different way (2:1-4)
  • Having the mindset as Christ Jesus (2:5-11)
    • pouring out (kenosis)
    • taking on servanthood
    • humble obedience
    • from humiliation to exaltation
  • Working out salvation with God’s power (2:12-13)

How Do We Uphold Unity in the Face of Conflict?

  • Live out of the overflow of life with God
  • Seek humility instead of vain conceit
  • Look to others’ interests instead of pursuing selfish ambition
  • Cultivate the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of the unity of our Triune God in one or more of the following ways:

The Weekend Wanderer: 7 November 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.


Brooks - happiness“Are We Trading Our Happiness for Modern Comforts?” – This article by Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic explores an important reality: “One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen….amid these advances in quality of life across the income scale, average happiness is decreasing in the U.S. The General Social Survey, which has been measuring social trends among Americans every one or two years since 1972, shows a long-term, gradual decline in happiness—and rise in unhappiness—from 1988 to the present. There are several possible explanations for this paradox: It could be that people are uninformed about all of this amazing progress, that we can’t perceive progress very well when it occurs over decades, or that we are measuring the wrong indicators of ‘quality of life.’ I suspect the answer is all three. The last idea, however, is especially important to understand in order to improve our own happiness.”


Li-Young LeeLi-Young Lee reads “Changing Places in the Fire” – I needed a break from politics this week, no matter how hard that was to find, so I turned to other things to fill my mind and heart, such as poeetry. Li-Young Lee is a powerful poet who I heard in person while I was an undergraduate student studying literature. This recent poem by Lee plays with the concept of the word/Word through a form of poetic conversation. “There are words, I say, / and there is The Word. / Every word is a fluctuating flame / to a wick that dies. / But The Word, The Word / is a ruling sum and drastic mean, / the standard that travels / without moving.”


iceberg“Spiritual Practices for Public Leadership”  – With his characteristic insight, Andy Crouch offers fine wisdom for spiritual leadership in the public sphere. “Being a public person—someone who is recognized by people who do not actually know us personally—can be a lot like being a cruise ship. We are rewarded for cultivating the parts of our lives that are visible: our talents, our opinions, our appearance. And while the most spectacular cruise ships on the public ocean may be the people we call celebrities, the unique reality of life in the age of social media is that we are almost all public now, publishing a version of our life to gain others’ attention and, we almost always hope, approval.  This kind of life carries with it grave threats to our health, and the safety of those around us. Without spiritual practices to guard against the unique temptations of public life, we will likely drift into narcissism and exploitation. Sooner or later we will hit an iceberg—and the testimony of maritime history is that when a cruise ship meets an iceberg, the iceberg wins.”


Jamie Smith - public art“Attention as Prayer: Public Art in the Pandemic” – “Simone Weil once said that ‘Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.'” Building from this idea, James K. A. Smith takes us along on his morning jog through Grand Rapids to help us recover attention to the beauty around us, specifically in the form of public art in the beauty-drained times of the pandemic.


church-groningen“New Bible translation goes back to capital letters to refer to Him” – Most English Bible translations no longer use capitalized pronouns for God, a move which reflects changes in language over time and perhaps also translation or editing challenges. However, a new Dutch translation of the Bible, while not attempting to become archaic, has reintroduced the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. “The Bible translation most commonly used in Protestant churches in the Netherlands, has been modernised but capital letters have returned to refer to God. The NVB21, which stands for the new Bible translation for the 21st century, has been altered in 12,000 places making it ‘better, sharper and more powerful’, the Dutch Bible association NBG said.”


unlearning“On Unlearning” – Here’s Kirsten Sanders at the Mere Orthodoxy blog: “The problem with Theology done at a critical remove is that we can become untethered from love of God and so untethered from the Other. It is then that we begin talking mostly about ourselves. Even ‘transcendence,’ often referred to, longingly, can be misappropriated as the erotic longing of the soul. This happens slowly, but it begins when the initial orienting love of God is forgotten. Anselm’s ‘where can I find you?’ is based in trust, but it can become a cry of despair.”


Music: Chris Lizotte, “Peace Be With You,” from Long Time Comin’

[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.]