Posts Tagged ‘government’

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

These trying times

King David stretches out his hands in prayerKing David stretches out his hands in prayer,  Hungarian Gradual 1500-20

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  American patriot, poet, philosopher, and political activist Thomas Paine penned these words in December 1776, referring to the difficulties associated with America’s Revolutionary War.  Paine’s words couldn’t ring truer today. These are tough times. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused rapid, fundamental changes in the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world. The pandemic effects are cascading and could affect us for a generation.

Christians have special responsibilities during times like these.  My recommendations for all who profess Christ as their Savior are as follows:

Trust in God: Viruses are a natural part of this world. Remaining informed, preparing and not panicking are vital when facing contagion, just like we plan for natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards. No matter how dire the situation might appear, the Lord remains our refuge and strength, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). When Christians put their trust in God, it bears witness to the power of Jesus Christ to all those around us.

Pray Without Ceasing: Be aware of God’s presence and have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Pray for the sick, those who are frightened, and those who are alone. Pray for public health officials, for doctors and nurses, researchers, caregivers, emergency management personnel and police. Pray for our elected leaders, especially those who will be making important decisions that will impact many lives. Pray for those who have lost their jobs and whose continued employment is at risk.  Pray for those who have lost their child care.  Pray for those who have had their school year disrupted.

A Prayer for Protection

Since you, O God, are with us,
nothing that has happened, nothing still to come,
can rob us of our hope in Christ.
Sustain us, we beg you,
during this time of uncertainty.
Bless all the emergency and medical personnel
who are caring for the sick and working to contain the outbreak.
Grant swift recovery to those who are affected
and comfort to their families and loved ones.
Encourage those who are afraid.
Bind us now, more than ever,
to you and to each other,
so that we may triumph
by the power of him who loves us,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Social Distancing, not Social Disconnection: Caring for the sick and dying is a fundamental calling of Christians. Early Christians were noted for caring for the sick and dying, sometime risking their lives. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Even if a pandemic prevents Christians from gathering as congregations to worship, they can still support one another in caregiving. This can be in the form of prayer, verbal encouragement in person or by phone, and coming alongside others to provide help. Each individual’s personal situation will dictate the level of risk he or she is willing to accept.

Be Informed, not Misinformed: Today we live in the Information Age.  Unlike previous times, where people may have suffered from a paucity of information, today people are bombarded by information from thousands of sources on a 24/7 basis. Many of these sources are not accurate or reliable. It is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources.  Here are some good sources.   

 

Crises come and crises go.

When they’ll happen you never know!

But rest assured that God is there,

to keep you in his loving care.

This will pass!

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? –Matthew 6:25–27

 

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.

 

 

Who can you trust?

Trust.jpg

In his popular play All’s Well that Ends Well, William Shakespeare said, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  This quote could introduce a number of discussions, but today I want to focus on trust.  The Miriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of trust.  For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first, which is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Think about this question for a minute and then try to answer. Who can you trust?  I’ll bet you didn’t come up with a long list of people. The fact is that most of the people reading this blog aren’t very trusting. According to polls of American voters, trust in the U.S. Congress is running at near all-time lows, as is trust in many state and local governments. 

Much of this distrust is fueled by the pending insolvency of many so-called “trust funds,” like the Social Security “lock box,” which apparently isn’t locked tight enough to keep the Congress from raiding it and depleting the funds. Then there are numerous similar lock boxes at the state and local levels established to fund the retirements of teachers, firefighters and police. It seems that politicians have raided many of these as well, causing some states and municipalities to renege on their retirement promises to employees. 

Trust in amorous relationships is on the rocks. Social media is awash in “cheater” stories and videos.  Videos about catching cheaters in the act have become a popular form of entertainment. Websites with advice on how to cheat on your significant other without getting caught abound.    

You certainly can’t trust a lot information on the Internet. Internet sexual predators take on false identities to try to lure children into sexual encounters.  Internet news sites (and news outlets in general) are awash in so-called “fake news.”  Comparing the story lines of Fox News (right-leaning) and CNN (left-leaning), for instance, gives two very different views of reality.

You can’t trust advertising, especially when it comes to products like weight loss supplements, miracle cures, and get rich quick schemes.  Environmental news is questionable—global warming advocates and so-called global warming deniers are locked in seemingly mortal combat.  Do you have a financial adviser or auto mechanic you fully trust?  Do you have complete faith in your physician or dentist?  Do you trust the attendants in the nursing home that’s caring for your parent? Do you trust the weather forecaster on your TV? Do you even trust the clergyman in the pulpit?

So amidst all this distrust in the world, who can you trust?  The great entertainer Lawrence Welk, who was better known for Polkas than proverbs, might have said it best when he advised, “Never trust anyone completely but God. Love people, but put your full trust only in God.”  Scripture is full of similar advice (references are taken from the NIV):

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Micah 7:5-6,  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend.  Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

1 Peter 2:6, For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

There are many other examples of scripture that speak to trust. The best advice I can provide is to trust in God alone.  Your friends and loved ones will inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you. You can trust me on this! 

Check out this short video – How to trust God.   https://youtu.be/OVDaq-drUh0

Give Thanks to God

Thanksgiving Turkey.jpg

May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!

                                                                             An Irish Blessing

Father Desmond O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic Priest in Northern Ireland, recently told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that Christians should abandon the word “Christmas,” noting that the name has been “hijacked by Santa and reindeer” and commercialized to the point that it is virtually meaningless.  “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell said.  

Just go to a mall today and see what he means.  You’ll find Christmas on display everywhere, even though we’ve yet to celebrate Thanksgiving. Check your mailbox today and you’re apt to find a pile of Christmas sale catalogs and flyers.  The Christmas theme is clear—buy, buy, buy!

Sadly, we can say the same thing about losing Thanksgiving.   What was originally a day set aside for Americans to thank God for our many blessings is now often referred to as “Turkey Day,” a time to overeat, over indulge in alcohol, and watch football on television. Indeed, a number of Thanksgiving Day football matches across the country are referred to as the “Turkey Bowl.” Thanksgiving has become irreversibly connected with Black Friday, the day Christmas buyers literally battle one another in malls and big box stores to get super bargain prices on anything and everything.  Some stores have even resorted to open at midnight on Thanksgiving to maximize the Black Friday “spend fest.”    

For many Americans, it might appear that there isn’t too much to be thankful for.  We see reports of multiple mass shootings; police officers are gunned down in our streets; there are dozens of reports of sexual misconduct by politicians and Hollywood celebrities; natural disasters hammer the land; and we have a government run by two feckless political parties that seemingly can’t even agree on when to hold the next meeting.  Sometimes it seems as if our whole system, our entire way of life, could be swept away in an instant (and it can, but that’s the Book of Revelation, which I won’t go into today).

So what does America have to be thankful for?  The answer is truly simple, although not necessarily obvious.  What a pity more Americans don’t travel abroad to Third World countries and countries with oppressive regimes like Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.  In such places it takes very little time to recognize how truly blessed we are.  I was blessed that my military career allowed me to see so much of the world. It changed me forever.

America isn’t perfect, but it is great enough that many people around the globe dream of coming here.  If you take time to thank God this coming Thursday, thank Him for these simple blessings:

  • We can go to the faucet and fill a glass with clear, clean water. In Somalia I watched people drink water drawn straight from the muddy Jubba River, where it was not uncommon to see the carcass of a hippopotamus or other large animal floating down the river. Diarrheic disease kills Somalis and other Third World citizens by the score.
  • Our country is relatively free of deadly infectious diseases like plague, cholera, and malaria that devastate many other countries.
  • We light our homes with the flip of a switch. Following the long civil war in the Former Yugoslavia, I was deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of the city was without electricity when I arrived, and much of it was still without when I returned home 13 months later.
  • We are well-fed compared with much of the world. Even many people living below the poverty level in America are better fed than people in some Third World countries.
  • One can travel freely in America. Oppressive regimes around the world control movement of the population. They use checkpoints with armed officials to prevent unrestricted movement about the country.
  • Americans can speak freely without fear of reprisal by the government. Sure, sometimes there are bad consequences for speaking freely, such as libel suites, but we aren’t silenced by the government.
  • While there is a problem with homelessness in America, most of us have a roof over our heads nevertheless. In Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia I saw thousands of people who had been violently forced from their homes or had their homes destroyed by war.
  • We have the freedom to worship God in the way we choose. While many Christians grumble about losing religious freedom (and some rightfully so), we enjoy more religious liberty than most of the world.

Truly America has its problems, but our country is blessed in many ways.  Despite its faults, it is still a place where many oppressed people dream of coming to.  Take time to pause and thank God for blessing America. May he continue to do so in the coming year!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.*

*Lyrics from “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Quaker Tune

A Message of Hope – Christmas Eve 2016

christmas-2017

“Oh come let us adore him!”

“My dear friends, on this Christmas . . . let us seek, in the Babe of Bethlehem, the One who came to us in order to bear with us everything that weighs heavily upon us. . . . God Himself has built a bridge from Himself to us! A dawn from on high has visited us!”

Rev. Martin Niemoller
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Christmas Eve, 1944

Isaiah 9:1-7    For to Us a Child Is Born

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Click for a Christmas message from the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America:      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSs4Nk1RlOw&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Our Waning Confidence

Faith

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, and though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas;  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof.    —Psalm 46: 1-3 (ASV)   

 In June of this year Gallup conducted a poll on the public’s confidence in several major institutions in American society.  The U.S. military topped the list with a 76 percent confidence rating.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. Congress ranked at the bottom with only 10 percent.

There were troubling results suggesting that less than half of Americans have confidence in many of the institutions that helped form the bedrock of our society.  Big business came in at 22 percent.  Newspapers and television tied at 23 percent.  The criminal justice system was rated 28 percent. Public schools were rated 32 percent.  The U.S. Supreme court was rated 34 percent. The presidency received a rating of 46 percent.  The public’s confidence in churches and organized religion was only 48 percent.

There are plenty of reasons to lack confidence in these institutions.  Violence and even homicides in our schools are now commonplace.  It seems like hardly a month can pass anymore before you hear about another beating or killing in a school.

The recent federal government shutdown left World War II veterans blocked from visiting their memorial in Washington D.C., national parks closed, most government employees furloughed and many federal contractors idled.

A failure of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (food stamp) computer system recently caused panic across multiple states.  The registration website for the new federal health care system is a train wreck.

On top of all this, the U.S. economy stinks.  The national debt is at 17 trillion dollars—that’s 12 zeros.  Congress narrowly averted a default on the debt earlier this month, but could not reach a definitive solution.  They merely postponed the debt argument for a few months.   Failed economic policies spanning multiple presidential administrations have left millions of Americans unemployed or underemployed.

The church has taken a lot of hits in recent times.  Just last week Pope Francis chastised a German Bishop for his lavish lifestyle. Embezzlement of  funds by church employees is becoming commonplace.   It is no longer unusual to hear about a church leader caught up in a sexual crime or other form of corruption.

When times are good it’s easy for you and me to simply drift through life without a care, but when things turn bad all kinds of troubles arise.  Just trying to comprehend all of the problems plaguing American society today can cause fear, anger, paranoia, despair and depression for some.

In Matthew chapter 17, Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop. His apostles Peter, James and John behold the full glory of God.  It’s no surprise that immediately afterwards they ask Jesus if they should pitch tents so they can remain on the mountain.  His apostles want to stay and continue to soak in the glorious experience.  Instead Jesus leads them back down the mountain to the valley and their regular lives.

Life’s greatest lessons are rarely learned on a mountaintop.  They’re learned in the daily drudgery and pain of life. Fortunately for Christians, regardless of how bad things might look today, we know how the story ultimately ends.  As Oswald Chambers described his life, “I am in the procession of a conqueror, and it doesn’t matter what the difficulties are, for I am always led in triumph.”

Saint Paul echoes the same message in Romans 8:38-39 (ASV), “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He goes on to challenge us in Philippians 4:6 (ASV), “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

When you’ve reached wit’s end, stop, take a deep breath, lift your eyes and look.   You’ll see God standing right there.  Regardless of your present circumstances, never forget that He is the author of the story in every Christian’s life.  God stands ready for us to lift the burdens from our backs and place them squarely on His.  Therefore, guided by the Holy Spirit, let your thoughts and deeds spring from faith, not fear.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  —Matthew 11:28-30 (ASV)