Tag Archives: God’s sovereignty

Pray For America Today

Dear Heavenly Father,

This world is a mess, but then you know that already. The USA is in a real mess, and you know that, too, but Jesus teaches us to come to you with our concerns. He taught us to know that you care about us and our concerns, even our petty concerns. Thank you for that reassurance.

Still, we don’t think the state of our nation is a petty concern. Please be patient with us as we lift up to you our worries.

We thank you for the courageous people who followed your guidance to start our nation in 1776, and we thank you for your blessing and guidance ever since. This country has blessed people all around the world, and we give you the glory for that fact. We know that when our nation has been obedient to you, we have been blessed, and when we have wandered, we have simply not been in the right place to be blessed. We see that recent developments are destructive and have taken us far from the center of your will. We see that the troubles which beset us clearly point us to the error of our ways.

We recognize that you gave us our Constitution for the blessing of peace and good order for the people who live here. We thank you for the preservation of peace and good order in our country. We are richly blessed, and many people around the world see this country as a shining light. On our worst days here, many people know that your guidance and care for us makes this place the best place in the world for humans to live.

Father, our contentious election process has stretched over the past 18 months like a vicious, never-ending storm. Please protect us from the pain of this campaign season and endow us with the wisdom to select a good president. We know well that no president can govern with righteousness except you lead him or her, and we ask that our president, now and hereafter, may hear your voice and obey. We pray that all citizens may see your blessing in the process of voting for the next president.

We also ask that regardless of the outcome, we will trust you above all earthly powers for our blessing and protection. We ask your guidance for the one who is selected. We ask your guidance for all who are and will be part of our government. We know that our government exists as your servant to keep peace and good order on earth, and we know that government is the servant of your authority, not a replacement for it. Hear our fervent prayers that you may guide the process of electing the next president, and that you may guide the winner according to your holy and eternal purposes. May all your children turn to you for comfort, not to the election, and may all citizens be able to make peace with the outcome and trust you for everything good.

Forgive us our fractious, embattled behavior, Lord. Forgive us for the sake of Jesus who died for all of us.

In his holy Name we pray,

Amen

For suggestions for further prayer, go to this week’s Prayer Guide.

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A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalChildren of the heavenly Father

By Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg 1855
hymn text in the public domain
text from http://www.hymnary.org

1 Children of the heavenly Father
safely in his bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge e’er was given.

2 God his own shall tend and nourish;
in his holy courts they flourish.
From all evil powers he spares them;
in his mighty arms he bears them.

3 Neither life nor death shall ever
from the Lord his children sever;
for to them his grace revealing,
he turns sorrow into healing.

4 God has given, he has taken,
but his children ne’er forsaken;
his the loving purpose solely
to preserve them pure and holy.

  • The author of this hymn saw her own father drown when she was only 26. What does this hymn reveal about her reaction to that tragedy?
  • The book of Psalms includes many hymns that, like this one, express a faith that God does not abandon his children, no matter how much they suffer. What is the difference between trusting God to make everything okay and trusting that whatever God does is for our blessing?
  • The author’s father drowned, and she was helpless to save him. How can she possibly say of God, “from all evil powers he spares them?”
  • What Bible person made a statement similar to “God has given, he has taken.” What was that person’s attitude toward God? (See Job 1)
  • Every person who has received Christ in his heart live in two unique dimension—time and eternity—because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. How does this hymn writer speak of this truth?

Looking Back at Sunday’s Gospel

Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30

People gathering at the synagogue that Sabbath Day must have been full of anticipation. The home town boy who had gone out into the world, about whom the most outrageous stories were circulating, had finally come home. The president of Nazareth’s synagogue probably wished he could drum up this much excitement every week. It was probably noisy, too, as people whispered and pointed to the family and to Jesus. But eventually, they quieted down and the worship began.

During the preliminaries to the reading of Scripture, people were undoubtedly well-behaved and respectful. As Jesus took his place in front and the scroll was unrolled with great reverence, there may have been a little more whispering. He read. He spoke. He said,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Many people in the crowd may have been so taken aback by this statement that they heard nothing else. In the gospel record, no other words were saved. Only these.

When it was all over, the crowd departed. Even though the NRSV translates the crowd’s reaction by saying first that “all spoke well of him,” it also records that they asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” As Pastor Huber was able to explain with more substance from the Greek, there was a rising murmur.

We know this guy. He lived here for thirty years, and we didn’t see anything exceptional. Now we hear all these rumors about sick people getting well, lame people walking, blind people seeing, but he isn’t doing anything like that for us. What about our sick and lame and blind? He comes back from his medicine show, but we don’t see any of it. When is he going to do a few miracles for us? Who does he think he is, anyway. The fulfillment of Scripture? He just looks like the same carpenter’s apprentice he always was. Where does he get off playing the holy man?

Luke records that Jesus responded by saying that a prophet is without honor in his home town. That was not a nice thing to say. It almost sounds like a zing we might think was unworthy of Jesus. He didn’t help his case when he further pointed out that God practices inequality. Miracle disparity. Miracles do not roll off a production line to be distributed equally to all. In fact, to illustrate the point, Jesus reminded them of two times when God skipped the chosen nation of Israel altogether and did his miracles for Gentiles.

This bit of wisdom enraged the already sullen crowd. The local upstart not only refused to give them a good show. He also demonstrated that he was bigoted against his own home town. Why, next thing you knew he might suggest they hang around with Samaritans.

The people had had enough. Luke says they were filled with rage. The very idea. There were ways to deal with arrogant, manic, vagabond preachers. The crowd pushed and shoved till they reached the edge of a precipice overlooking the town. They intended to throw Jesus over, but he escaped. How did he do that?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his small book on Psalms points out that the book of psalms was Jesus’ prayer book. With that in mind, it isn’t a big stretch to imagine Jesus praying Psalm 71, the psalm we read today, as he slipped through the crowd and out of their clutches.

Peter and John, and the other disciples who had been called already, were with Jesus that day. Over and over through the gospels we hear that even though Jesus told them important things, they really did not understand or remember those lessons till after he had ascended to heaven. Peter apparently forgot this lesson even longer than that. If he had remembered how Jesus said that God loved Gentiles and gave some of his miracles to them even long ago in the Old Testament, Peter would not have been so startled when God gave the Holy Spirit to new Gentile believers in Cornelius’ house.

The day Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people of his home town probably thought he was going to do something special for them as the select of the select for his campaign team. They thought he would give his most special miracles and his most special appointments to the local guys. They thought they were the ones who had made him, and they thought he should ‘give back’ to the ones responsible for his success. Instead, Jesus demonstrated forcibly that his work was bigger than anything they could even imagine, and his calling did not develop out of his connections in Nazareth.

We can learn something important from this story: don’t try to box the Christ up in our limited expectations. When he asks something of me or you or anyone, we don’t need to worry that we can’t imagine it will work; Christ is not limited by our vision. When we face challenges because of our faithfulness to Christ, we don’t need to worry that we won’t be able to weather the storm; Christ is not limited by our perceptions of our abilities. When it appears to us that the church is being destroyed and disintegrated by satanic powers that seem to triumph before we even know they are there, we don’t need to worry that God’s plan for the triumph of his church is being derailed; Christ is not limited by our lack of understanding.

Jesus in Nazareth is a great metaphor for our daily lives. One minute Jesus was on top of the world. Next minute he was dirt. But the way Jesus slipped away and ultimately accomplished all that he came to earth to accomplish teaches us that we can trust him and we must trust him. We must not try to hang on and survive; we must hang on to Christ, and he will take care of everything else.

I read a blog post this week written by a woman who travels around the world for Voice of the Martyrs. She takes Bibles and books and personal items to people in danger for their faith, and most of all she delivers encouragement and prayers. In the places she visits, it is often dangerous simply to be a Christian, and the danger is increased by helping another Christian or by simply being in the company of a local Christian. She says that her friends all tell her they will pray for her safe return, but she asks them not to do that. She asks that they pray she will do what Christ has sent her to do, that she will accomplish Christ’s purpose for her. That long-ago day in Nazareth, Christ’s purpose in coming to earth could have been derailed if Christ had relied on his human strength or persuasiveness to save the day. We know he didn’t do that. There is no evidence that he even tried to defend himself. Just as he stood silent during his final trial, he did not defend himself in Nazareth, either. He trusted himself to God and God’s sovereignty. For God’s purposes he was rescued from the crowd. The woman who travels for VOM says that she knows God has a purpose for every minute of her life. She says that if she lives, she serves Christ on earth, and if she dies, she serves Christ in heaven. Wherever she goes she serves Christ.

Jesus showed us in Nazareth that we can and we must trust ourselves to God’s purposes at all times. The prayer of Psalm 71 is a good way for us to pray: “You have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.”

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me.  Psalm 50:23 

 

The first time I read this verse, printed all by itself in my Daily Texts, I was taken aback. I have read the Bible through several times, but it is truly startling sometimes to be reminded that simply reading through the Bible does not imprint every word in my heart. I read these words as if I had never seen them before. Thanksgiving as a sacrifice. I wondered what it could mean.

When I try to teach others how to understand the Bible, I always emphasize that every verse has context, and that the context is the best place to look for guidance in understanding the verse. I read the context. Psalm 50 is not long, and this verse is the concluding verse, so it didn’t take much time to read the whole thing. Imagine my surprise when I read verse 14: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” There in the center of the psalm is this idea again, the idea of thanksgiving as a sacrifice.

I read the Psalm again. Over years of Bible study following any number of guides and methods, I have learned that the most important principle is to keep reading until the Holy Spirit teaches me something. In fact, the Holy Spirit has taught me that the way to the truth is often simply to hammer persistently at the words. Read them more than once.

I began to see a pattern to the psalm. I noticed that verse 5 included the word sacrifice, too. In this verse, God says that his faithful followers had made a covenant with him by sacrifice. In verse 8 God is complaining about Israel, however, and even though he says “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you” he then proceeds to say that he doesn’t like their sacrifices. God is angry. He says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you.” Of course, this statement refers to the image of a god eating the burnt offerings of worshipers, and there are many references in the Old Testament to the notion that a burnt offering created a fragrant or pleasing aroma for God to enjoy. However, in this psalm, God says he does not enjoy those offerings.

Then he explains. God is displeased, even angry to the point of retribution. By verse 22, any doubt about the level of God’s outrages is cleared up as he says, “I will tear you apart.” That statement is graphic.

After reading the psalm yet again, I realized that the problem lay in people’s notion that when they sacrificed a bull they were giving up something. They were not giving up something. All those bulls and everything else in the world already belonged to God. They were not giving up something; they didn’t own anything to give up. It was supreme ego for them to feel deprived when they sacrificed a bull or a lamb or any other offering.

The people were bringing their offerings to God because they thought it was something they were required to do. They thought God would be mad if they didn’t do what he said, and they resented every bit of it. In fact, everything in their lives testified to their complete disdain for God and for each other.

You hate discipline

You make friends with a thief

You slander your own mother’s child

You thought that I was one just like yourself

 

Every person who brought an offering to God was griping internally at the obligation. Every one of them fretted that he had lost something by giving up this animal, and for what? Every person who put something on the altar was inwardly consumed with anger that he had to give up something he wanted for himself. They all felt needy. They all felt like victims of religious tyranny. In this psalm, God expresses his outrage that they are all so busy worshiping themselves that they cannot worship him, and he says they can just quit bothering with it. God wants one thing from them: he wants them to stop worshiping themselves.

This is why he says he wants a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” This is why he says that “those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me.” They are the people who recognize that “every wild animal of the forest is [God’s].” They are the people who know that they can’t give God anything; it all belongs to him already. They are the people who thank God for all his gifts and for his provision for their every need and for the animal that they put on the altar. The people who give thanks for the sacrificial animal also give thanks for God’s sovereignty. They don’t feel they have lost something when they give God what is his already.

Jesus talked about the same thing. Jesus, God in flesh, said that people who wanted to follow him had to deny self first. In other words, they had to stop worshiping themselves and feeling like victims every time there was some inconvenience or persecution or loss.

We all do it. It comes time to put money in the offering envelope, and it is hard to let go of that money, because the credit card bill is shockingly larger than expected this month. The church asks for volunteers to help serve food to homeless people on Saturday morning, and it seems like a great imposition on the only day you can sleep in. The youth director asks if you are willing to be a chaperone for the summer youth mission project, and you think, “But I only have two weeks of vacation a year. There goes one of them.” We all think we have rights, and we think we have ownership, and we think God asks too much.

God doesn’t ask much at all. All he really asks is integrity. Honesty. He wearies of never hearing a “Thank you” when every good gift we have in life is a gift from him.

The sacrifice of thanksgiving is not a barely audible “Thank you” choked out through clenched lips by a pouting child. We give the sacrifice of thanksgiving when we pray as we are taught by Christ, the one who sacrificed himself for us on the cross, “Thy will be done.”

Truth in all its Splendor

The more I read Psalm 19, the more I love it. This psalm is like a layered sauce for shrimp and pasta. Each layer has been reduced to its flavorful essence, and there are so many flavors that it is impossible to appreciate each one.

Psalm 19 begins with a lavish statement of the way creation testifies to God’s work and ongoing sovereignty. Pointing out that created things have no voice in the sense of a sound we can hear, the psalmist says, as translated in The Message, “Their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” (Psalm 19:4) This statement feels like a Hubble photograph. It responds to my hunger for truth. The world around me suffers from a massive truth deficit, but all of creation speaks truth that fills and comforts my heart. To hear these words is to be built up in faith that God has a purpose for all things, and his purposes do not fail.

The heart of the psalm is a master statement of the way God’s law testifies to the same truth which creation speaks without words. God’s law is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure and true. There really is order behind the chaos I encounter everywhere. Like a painter’s palette of many colors, the psalmist’s word palette names God’s law as the facets of a jewel – law, decree, precept, commandment, fear, ordinance. I feel as if I hold this treasure in my hand turning it this way and that to catch the light the way I might view a beautiful diamond ring.

In case I don’t really absorb the value of God’s law, the psalmist explains what will happen if I make the law a part of myself. If I absorb it into my spirit, it will make me feel alive, it will make me look wise even if I am not smart, it will make me happy with a happiness that cannot be crushed, it will give me insight into reality, it is never out of date, and best of all, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Using God’s personal name, the name God gave to Moses to emphasize his eternal presence with Israel, the psalmist makes the revelation of the law intimate and vibrant, just for me.

In sum, the psalmist says, God’s revelation of himself is so rich and so valuable that it is better than the finest gold or the sweetest honey. Maybe I don’t think so highly of honey as the psalmist, but I do know that when Israel left Egypt bound for the Promised Land, they called it the land of milk and honey. As far as the psalmist is concerned, the law is a real treasure.

There is only one legitimate response to such a revelation. I bow my head in worship and prayer. God has given me the priceless treasure of himself, wordless truth in creation, words of truth in his law. With the psalmist, I ask nothing more than to speak and think truth in all things as my creator does.

If you don’t have a Bible handy, here is a copy of the Psalm

Psalm 19

1      The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2     Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

3     There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

4     yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5     which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6     Its rising is from the end of the heavens,

and its circuit to the end of them;

and nothing is hid from its heat.

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure,

making wise the simple;

8     the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear,

enlightening the eyes;

9     the fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true

and righteous altogether.

10    More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey,

and drippings of the honeycomb.

11    Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12    But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.

13    Keep back your servant also from the insolent;

do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless,

and innocent of great transgression.

14    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.