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/.

The Weekend Wanderer: 3 November 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.

181029081322-rabbi-myers-super-tease“A rabbi says he first thought gunfire was the sound of a fallen metal coat rack. Then he saw people running.” – Here are some comments from the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I grieve with the victims of this attack, as well as for their families and all others affected. May God bring true shalom into the midst of this situation, as well as our nation, and may we join God in bringing it. This continues to raise questions about gun control in the US and how religious institutions should respond to violence.

 

_104109439_mediaitem104109431“Asia Bibi: Pakistan acquits Christian woman on death row” – The BBC reports on a case that is relevant for discussions of religious freedom. While religious freedom is not only relevant for Christians, this case is, as the article indicates, a landmark ruling in Pakistan. “A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that has polarised the nation. Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.”

 

Email_FRutledge_20160105MM_0207“Ruminations: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone” – Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book The Crucifixion may eventually become even better. How? By her promise to include reflections on James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree as an afterword if there is ever a second edition. “Indeed, had I read Cone’s book while I was still writing The Crucifixion, I would have given significant space to the similarities of lynching and crucifixion because they give emphasis to the argument I have made that shame, humiliation, degradation, obscenity, and dehumanizing were an essential aspect of the way Jesus died. Cone has produced a work that is suffused with a sense of the shame and humiliation of black life in America (‘abused and trampled down’), while yet remaining triumphant over it.”

 

merlin_145504593_9adb15b8-15bb-4d26-af07-ed6521876393-superJumbo“‘God Is Going to Have to Forgive Me’: Young Evangelicals Speak Out” – This appeared in The New York Times on Thursday: “The role of evangelical Christianity in American politics has been a hotly discussed topic this year, intersecting with front-burner issues like immigration, the Supreme Court and social justice. Often the loudest evangelical voices are white, male and … not young. With just days left before the midterm elections — two years after President Trump won the White House with a record share of white, evangelical support — we asked young evangelicals to tell The Times about the relationship between their faith and their politics.”

 

84140“Jan Peterson: My Life as a Pastor’s Wife” – Eugene Peterson’s wife, Jan, reflects on what her life was like as a pastor’s wife. In the midst of her beautiful reflections, adapted from her new book Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, she writes: ” I’m well aware that being a pastor’s wife brings with it a lot of demands and a lot of time spent serving others. But the amazing thing about service is that it rarely returns void, even if we don’t see the end results ourselves….May we all have the desire to serve God in that spirit. Fiat mihi—may it be unto me. Amen.”

 

84155“James MacDonald Sues Critics After 2,000 Leave Harvest Bible Chapel” – I’ve heard of church divisions getting bad, but this definitely takes it to a higher level than anything I’ve encountered before. “Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a lawsuit this month against two ex-members and former Moody Radio host Julie Roys, accusing them of spreading false information about the Chicago-area megachurch’s financial health and leadership. The main targets of the church’s defamation complaint are Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, who together run the blog The Elephant’s Debt. The site has culled stories of alleged mismanagement at Harvest since 2012, including claims of as much as $70 million in mortgage debt and a lack of accountability from its elder board.”

 

white-evangelicals“Most White Evangelicals Say Immigration, Increasing Racial Diversity, Harms America” – Can somebody help me understand this better? “A little over a week before the 2018 midterm elections, the Public Religion Research Institute on Monday released its 9th annual American Values Survey. The research shows that white evangelical Protestants are at odds with all other identified religious groups on many questions relating to immigration, race, the #MeToo movement and President Donald Trump.”

 

czesaw-miosz“An Approval of Being” – Here’s an old treasure of an article, as Robert Faggen interviews Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz in Books and Culture in 1997. Milosz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, and was one of the outstanding literary voices of the 20th century. I couldn’t get over this statement: “I have lived in apocalyptic times, in an apocalyptic century. To live through the Nazi and Communist regimes in Poland was quite a task. And, indeed, there is a whole literature of the twentieth century that is deeply apocalyptic. My work to a large extent belongs to that stream of catastrophist literature that attempts to overcome despair.”

[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 Bramble King: Abimelek (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Bramble King,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This message continues our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at the life and demise of Abimelek in Judges 9.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Answer one of these two questions:
    • Who would you describe as one of the greatest leaders of the last 100 years, and why?
    • Who is someone that you know personally that you respect as a leader, and why?
  2. This week, as we continue our “Flawed Heroes” series, we look at one of the lowest points of the book of Judges with the character of Abimelek in Judges 9. There is a lot to learn here, so take a moment to prepare your heart, asking God to speak to you through His word. After that, read the entire passage out loud.
  3. The story of Abimelek is connected to the story of Gideon (also known as Jerub-baal) in Judges 6-8. What do we know about Abimelek, the end of his father’s life, and the attitudes of the tribes of Israel at this time (see especially Judges 8:22-35)?
  4. What happens in Judges 9:1-5? What does this tell us about Abimelek’s character and the character of the leading citizens within Shechem? (Note: the word translated ‘citizens’ of Shechem in the NIV has the sense of ‘lords’ or ‘leaders’; see the ESV, NASB and NLT.)
  5. Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, survives the massacre of his siblings and offers a prophetic message against Abimelek couched in a parable in 9:7-21. When he describes Abimelek as a thornbush seeking to shade the other trees, why is this both ridiculous and foolish?
  6. Have you ever sought to find refugee or help from an untrustworthy person or source? What happened? How might Jotham’s words guide us here?
  7. The uprising against Abimelek is guided by God (9:22-24). What does this tell us about both the power and character of God?
  8. The rebellion by Gaal son of Ebed (9:25-41) is short-lived and ends poorly for all involved. Why do you think the people of Shechem were drawn to Gaal?
  9. As Abimelek’s wrath is poured out on Gaal and his army, then the people of Shechem, and the neighboring town of Thebez, we see an ironic answer to Abimelek’s promise in 9:2. What does this tell us about appearances and empty promises?
  10. Abimelek’s death is a dishonorable finish to a dishonorable life. Judges 9:56-57 serve as a commentary on the life and wickedness of Abimelek and Shechem. There’s a saying that people get the leaders they deserve. What does Abimelek’s story tell us about true leadership? What are the spiritual issues underlying the disasters of this chapter?
  11. What is one thing that God is speaking to you through this study today? If you are on your own, take a moment to write it down, pray about it, and then commit to sharing that with one person this week. If you are with a small group, share your answers together and then pray for each other.

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The Bramble King: Abimelek

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App WideWhat happens when the leaders who present themselves to us offer false hope and peace?

This past weekend at Eastbrook I delved into that question as we continued our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges looking at the life of Abimelek in Judges 9. Abimelek, whose name means ‘son of the king’, is the illegitimate son of Gideon (also, Jerub-Baal), one of the most well-known of the judges. The hopeful beginnings of Gideon’s life and service as a judge leads to 40 years of peace for the land, but his final days lead back into the failures of idolatry and injustice (Judges 8:27). Abimelek leaps forth from this place of corruption into a misconstrued sense of leadership soaked with evil and violence. Abimelek’s life leads us to ponder the statement: be careful what sort of leader you look for…you just might get it.

You can watch the message here, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Incomplete (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Incomplete,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the first part of our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at Judges 1:1-2:5.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new series entitled “Flawed Heroes” on the Old Testament book of Judges. As we start the series, we will begin by studying Judges 1:1-2:5. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read the passage aloud.
  2. Background: The book of Judges follows the book of Joshua, recounting the victories and struggles of God’s people as they enter the Promised Land in fulfillment of God’s promises. The first two chapters present the central problem of the book, which is that the people have not fully obeyed God’s instructions about how to live in this new land (see Joshua 23). Because of the tension created by this incomplete obedience, God’s people are constantly facing pressure from surrounding people groups. Because of this God raises up deliverers (‘judges’) to set them free. The book is not arranged chronologically but serves as a thematic, historical bridge between the time of Moses and Joshua and the time of the kings, like Saul and David, thus serving as one part of the great history that runs from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings.
  3. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was apportioned areas of land by Joshua (see Joshua 13-21). Judges 1:1-19 chronicles the conquering work of the tribe of Judah, including a special story about Caleb and his family. Would you describe the work of Judah as successful or unsuccessful? Why?
  4. Now look at 1:20-36. How would you describe the efforts of the rest of the tribes (Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, Dan) as they seek to obey God’s call to enter the Promised Land?
  5. One of the great challenges of the book of Judges is the violence and death involved in the Israelites entering the Promised Land. Many have struggled with how a God who is good could ask the Israelites to drive out the other peoples of the land, even devoting them to destruction. This is a very difficult issue and we should wrestle with it. It is important to remember that God was patient with the Canaanites (Genesis 15:13,16), but as time progressed their abominable practices required judgment (Leviticus 18:25; Deuteronomy 9:4-5; 20:18). Throughout His work with Israel, God is transforming cultural norms within the world and introducing redemptive ethical standards (Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 106:7-8).
  6. Reread Judges 2:1-5. What was the work of God for the people according to verse 1? What was the instruction of God according to verse 2? What was the result according to verse 3? How did the people respond in verses 4-5?
  7. When have you experienced God’s addressing an area of disobedience or wrong in your life? How did you respond to Him in that place?
  8. As the book of Judges continues we will see that this revival at the beginning of chapter 2 is short-lived. The cycle of disobedience, decline, repentance, and restoration returns again and again throughout these chapters. Take some time on your own or with a group to pray that you and other believers may have hearts that are turned toward the Lord. Pray for true revival in our lives and in our land.

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