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/.

7 Things We Can Do As Christians in Times Like This

The past 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, 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. Where do we go from here? Let me suggest seven specific ways as the minimum for how we can respond to these events as Christians.

  1. Bring our thoughts and feelings to God – One of the most 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). As we release our concerns, pain, and confusion to God in this situation, we are better able to engage with ourselves, others, and the world at large.
  2. 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. As believers, we know that God works through prayer (James 5:16) and that we are called to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation faces many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may seem insurmountable. We know and feel that there is tension and confusion in our government. 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.
  3. 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, and violence. Our response is not to become more violent in response to violence, but to move forward as agents of reconciliation for the goal of God’s true peace through love in Jesus Christ.
  4. Hold to truth and reject falsehood – We have lived in a post-truth era for quite some time, but the fruits of that reality are taking hold at every level. Christians are people of the truth because our Savior came from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Disciples of Jesus must live in the truth about ourselves and reality, setting aside deception and half-truths as inconsistent with our God. 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.
  5. Maintain perspective– Without downplaying the good or bad realities around us, we must also maintain perspective on our present moment. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rise and fall over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of more changes still to come in the future after his days were complete. 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).
  6. Remain hopeful – One of the most important Christians virtues is hope. Believers in Jesus Christ are people of hope fundamentally because of the reality of the resurrection. Death, sin, and evil are not the end and will not have the final say in our lives or in history. Jesus is King and His Kingdom is close at hand (Mark 1:14-15). We are filled with the Holy Spirit, who seals us as Christ’s own speaks of our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), and graced with the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). It was because of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness that even amidst the ruin of the exile the writer of Lamentations could write: “this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3:20-26). Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ.
  7. Seek the glory of Christ above all things – We can all sometimes lose our perspective on what matters most. No matter how important specific issues are to us, no issue, political party, or election should become more important to us than the glory of Christ. Without being simplistic about it, Christians must seek the glory of Jesus Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall, 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 seeing and knowing Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 November 2019

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.

92466“The Necessary Partnership of Truth and Charity” – When difficult issues arise within the faith, you may hear people say, “You need more grace!”, or, “We’ve lost the truth here!” Usually, there is some truth in both statements. However, grace and truth are not a polarity, but two aspects of the character of God that necessarily fit together. Often, we likely misunderstand somehow what grace and truth mean in a specific circumstance or particular issue. Tish Harrison Warren aptly writes here about the partnership of truth and charity.

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-15 at 9.53.06 AM“Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs Orwell” – Growing up, I heard often about George Orwell’s 1984, first from my older brother and then through my studies. When my own sons reached high school, it was one of the optional books for reading, and I remember more than a few conversations about the dark, post-apocalyptic world Orwell conjured into the imagination through that book. Neil Postman‘s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death makes the case that Orwell’s imaginary is less true to our current life than Aldous Huxley’s apparently more absurd Brave New World. I increasingly agree with that assessment. Here’s a comparative cartoon crash-course in both novels and what they say about our world.

 

Philip Jenkins“The 2010s: A Decade in Faith?Baylor professor of the history of religion and author of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins, reflects on the most meaningful issues or changes in the church in the 2010s. Referencing issues within the United States and world Christianity, Jenkins shares his insights launching off from the questions: “So what will future scholars of Christianity highlight when they write the history of the 2010s? What tremors reshaped the landscape of faith?” This is well worth the read.

 

AND Campaign 2020“The AND Campaign: 2020 Statement on the Presidential Campaign” – Someone from my congregation shared this resource for me and it caught my attention for several reasons. First, here is an effort to stand within historic Christianity that also grapples with various social issues that are at play within the United States. Second, it is an interesting engagement with the political issues of our faith, something we all are going to grapple with in the next two years. Third, it represents a multi-ethnic approach to these issues which is sadly missing in much church engagement with politics.

 

Sandra McCracken“Hymn-writer Sandra McCracken: Worship music should focus less on emotion, more on community” – When I first became a follower of Jesus, the Senior Pastor at my home church invited me to “lead worship” on piano at Sunday night services utilizing contemporary worship music and praise choruses. There wasn’t a lot to work with, but I pulled in songs from the Vineyard or Maranatha, as well as reworked versions of hymns. Now, there is more music than we know what to do with, sustaining an entire industry of worship music. Some of it is helpful, but there are huge gaps. Sandra McCracken highlights one of those gaps in this interview.

 

Music: Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” from Psalms.

[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.]

The Church is a Hospital for Sin-Sick Sinners: J. I. Packer from a Quest for Godliness

hospital room.jpg

This past weekend in my message, “Friend of Sinners,” I mentioned an article by J. I. Packer that I read many years ago in which he talks about the church as a hospital for sinners. In searching for it, I discovered that the article was actually an excerpt from Packer’s book, A Quest for Godliness. I found an excerpt that I am sharing below:

Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.

The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.

All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 September 2018

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.

 

pew-846021_640“Why Evangelicals Should Care More About Ecclesiology” – At the Mere Orthodoxy web-site, Tish Harrison Warren writes about the crisis in evangelical integrity and moral leadership highlighted by the current political divides and failures of pastoral leaders. What I appreciate about Warren’s article is the way in which she connects this failure with a tendency within evangelicalism to become enamored with celebrity leadership while simultaneously not paying attention to the “boring” institutional necessities that sustain the life of the church.

 

d4e13e1c5865740384133e7da6be19“The rising political power of Evangelicals in Latin America” – This is old news with a new twist as evangelicals continue to have rising influence within Latin America, including in the political sphere. “It would seem that the reach of these religious organisations in Latin America is not only expanding in terms of the number of followers but also in terms of their influence on government policy. The various Evangelical churches are seeing rising electoral support for their moral conservatism.”

 

macarthur.jpeg“The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” – John MacArthur has been at the center of a series of debates on social justice and the gospel culminating in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. More than 4,000 evangelicals have joined MacArthur, and others like Voddie Baucham and Douglas Wilson, in signing this statement, which equates the emphasis upon social justice within the evangelical church as a cultural distortion on theological and a misunderstanding of the gospel. This seem at least in part to be a reaction to the works of Tim Keller (see his Generous Justice), Matt Chandler, Thabiti Anyabwile and others within conservative evangelicalism who have been calling for engagement in justice and racial reconciliation as an overflow of living in the gospel. Underlying it all is a deep divide about the nature of the gospel and the life to which it calls us as a response. Jemar Tisby has a word of advice about how to respond to the ministries of those who signed this statement: “avoid them.” Ryan Burton King outlines why he cannot sign this statement, even though he was invited to do so.

 

02allen-superJumbo“The Biblical Guide to Reporting” – In an OpEd in The New York Times, Marshall Allen reflects on how his Christian faith has helped him become a better journalist. “The editor scowled and said, ‘So what makes you think that a Christian can be a good journalist?’ He emphasized ‘Christian’ as if it was some kind of slur. I liked that he spoke his mind, but I was taken aback. I explained what I saw as a natural progression from the ministry to muckraking, pointing out that both are valid ways of serving a higher cause. The Bible endorses telling the truth, without bias. So does journalism. The Bible commands honesty and integrity. In journalism, your reputation is your main calling card with sources and readers. Obviously, many people have succeeded as reporters without strong religious beliefs. But I told him my faith had made me a better, more determined journalist. He replied with a noncommittal grunt. But I got the job.” [Thanks to Makoto Fujimura for sharing this article.]

 

ct-aretha-franklin-funeral-eulogy-reaction-201-001“Old-school eulogy at Aretha Franklin’s funeral ignites social media backlash” – Aretha Franklin’s funeral received a lot of attention but it seems to have turned a little too “old school” than many desired when Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr., stepped up for the eulogy. Speaking for roughly 50 minutes, Rev. Williams’ statement that “black America has lost its soul” received intense backlash on social media and other outlets. While it seems as if a lot of people feel like America has last its soul these days, the real problem is that we don’t know what a soul is anymore and what to do with it if we discovered we actually had one.

 

Carl Jung“From Myers Briggs to the Love Languages: the renaissance of the personality test” – I know a lot of people who are obsessed with personality tests, as well as a whole range of other personal assessments. I have subjected myself to many of them over the years, sometimes finding aspects helpful, but oftentimes feeling like I don’t really want to be put in a box like that. If you think that is just an INTJ talking, then maybe you should read Sarah Manavis’ article about how personality tests, in some way, have a renewed attraction because they become a personal gospel by which we can justify the way in which we live our lives. [Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing this in the Daily Prufrock.]

 

the first testamentThe First Testament: A New Translation by John Goldingay” – Old Testament scholar John Goldingay brings us a new translation of the Hebrew Bible. “Most translations bend the text toward us. They make the rough places smooth, the odd bits more palatable to our modern sensibilities. In every translation something is gained and something lost. In The First Testament: A New Translation, John Goldingay interrupts our sleepy familiarity with the Old Testament. He sets our expectations off balance by inviting us to hear the strange accent of the Hebrew text. We encounter the sinewed cadences of the Hebrew Bible, its tics and its textures. Translating words consistently, word by word, allows us to hear resonances and see the subtle figures stitched into the textual carpet. In a day of white-bread renderings of the Bible, here is a nine-grain translation with no sugar or additives. In The First Testament the language of Zion comes to us unbaptized in pious religiosity. Familiar terms such as salvation, righteousness, and holiness are avoided. We cock our ears to listen more carefully, to catch the intonations and features we had not caught before.”

 

wessex“Medieval Tiles Unearthed at Bath Abbey” – “A team from Wessex Archaeology has uncovered brightly decorated 700-year-old floor tiles during excavations at Bath Abbey, according to a Somerset Live report. The abbey has been a religious center for well over 1,000 years, and the current Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul—completed in the seventeenth century—is a renowned example of gothic architecture. The tiles, however, provide a glimpse into an earlier Norman cathedral at the site that was constructed in the eleventh century but fell into decay in the late Middle Ages, and lay in ruins by 1500.”

 

C3PO-R2D2-header“The 100 Greatest Movie Robots of All Time” – Okay, this has little to do with anything other than fun. Why not traipse through the history of film searching for the greatest robots of them all? Sure, there are a lot of reasons not to spend your time on this article, but it might just be entertaining to see who else appears on the list, other than C-3PO, R2-D2, Hal, and the Borg.

[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.]