Whose Coin Is It?

“For a small reward, a man will hurry away on a long journey; while for eternal life, many will hardly take a single step.” ― Thomas à Kempis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ You have revealed Your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of Your mercy, that Your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV)

PRAYER FOCUS: God and Government

The sit-in protesters in Zuccotti Park were angry. They didn’t have the things they expected to have. They wanted—no, they demanded—that someone should do something about that. They “occupied Wall Street” by camping out in one of New York City’s tiniest green spaces.

The youthful protesters wanted “the rich” to pay for a growing list of services including Free College Education (#4) and Forgiveness of All Student Loans (#13). They lamented the lack of “good” jobs available. They demanded a “living wage” for all work, however menial. And, of course, they demanded to have it all right now.

The mainline news media initially reported these protesters as a nascent political movement. And yet, as time wore on it was clear they were no such thing. Reporters and cameramen meandered through the gaggle searching for a soundbite—the weirder, the angrier, the better.

Your humble writers were there, Christian, and witnessed this event first-hand. Our first impression was the smell—a noxious cloud of marijuana smoke, urine and alcohol whiff, plus several days’ worth of body odor that drifted for a city block or two. There was trash and detritus everywhere. It was not pretty. Our next impression of the protest was its size. We had been led to believe this was a large movement. It wasn’t. There might have been three hundred people at noon on a Saturday in New York City. They were outnumbered by the news crews and police.

In an exquisite irony never captured by the media, the Zuccotti squatters were surrounded by monuments to the opportunity and success they claimed to crave—massive skyscrapers, profitable businesses, the economic engines that power a national economy. A mere block away, two more giant buildings were going up, including the new Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center. Help Wanted banners and Union flags hung from the mid-level floors, testifying to the fact that work can be a profitable, accessible, endeavor for all.

In another irony, also ignored by the media, two blocks away from the protest circus, the Trinity Episcopal Church was holding Alpha-style seminars on Christianity for the benefit of the protesters. May God bless the leaders of this historic church who initiated the outreach, as well as those who stepped up to have one-on-one discussions with some young people who very much needed to hear about Jesus and the Gospel message.

The “Occupy” crowd may not have accomplished very much during their time in the park. But they did manage to bring wide attention to the question of government, work, and taxes.

Two thousand years ago, in the middle of another tax revolt, Jesus of Nazareth was asked whether it was “lawful to pay taxes—or not?” Except Jesus didn’t say whether it is right or wrong to pay taxes. His careful response comes in the form of another question: “Whose image and inscription are on this coin?”

Jesus disarms his questioners and their agenda with, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Although this week’s Lectionary Scripture is from Matthew, all three of the Synoptic Gospels recount this episode essentially verbatim. It sets up a certain tension between our allegiance to governmental authority and our allegiance to our Heavenly Father. It also clarifies the hierarchy in these allegiances that we confuse at our peril. The relationship of Christians to secular authority can become fraught with moral questions over which things are Caesar’s are which are God’s.

The coin bore the likeness of Tiberius Caesar and a Latin inscription identifying him as the sovereign Emperor of Rome. The coin, and the tax, belonged to Caesar. Likewise, we owe our nation a large measure of allegiance. We can be called upon to serve in the military, participate in a jury pool, and though we grumble, we are routinely called upon to pay taxes.

Human beings are created in the image of the Living God. As Christians, we have His Word inscribed in our minds and His Eternal Spirit in our hearts. We belong to Him. We owe to our Lord our ultimate allegiance, tithes and offerings, our worship and praise, even our lives.

In Jesus’ time, economic life and success were governed by civil authorities that included the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar and Jewish King Herod. They were corrupt, oppressive, deviant and idolatrous tyrants, and yet there is not one recorded word of Jesus directly opposing them. In our Scripture we see Jesus tacitly acknowledging the authority of earthly governments—even bad ones. Paul explicitly acknowledges this in Romans 13:1. Absence of civil authority is a disaster.

Jesus came to save people, not governments. Consider the church that was quietly reaching into the congregation of misguided youth in Zuccotti Park. We may never know who those faithful brothers and sisters were, or what the fruits of their labor will be. But we do know the Lord’s laborers were in the field that day, “persevering with steadfast faith,” sharing the gospel and handing out coins of the heavenly realm.

This week please pray for all those who labor, and for those who are seeking work. Pray for business leaders, elected officials, and church leaders. And pray for the lost among all of them.

It’s Monday Morning. Like the coin in this week’s Scripture, whose image and inscription does your life bear?

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The Contenders

To err is human. To forgive is divine. — Anonymous.

PRAYER (from the Lectionary)

“LORD, we pray that Your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.”

SCRIPTURES (from the Lectionary)

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel…whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: OVERCOMING DISAGREEMENT.

First a quiz: Would you like to have your name recorded in the Bible for all eternity?
a. Yes.
b. No.
c. It depends.

Euodia (pronounced “ee-OOO-dah”) and Syntyche (“suh-DEE-hee”) were members of the church in Philippi. We hardly know anything about them, and what we do know is really good. The Apostle Paul commends them highly. He describes them as loyal believers, hard workers for the cause of the gospel.

But they also contended with each other, enough that it was a problem in that early congregation. In his epistle to the Philippians, now enshrined in Canon for all time, Paul pleads with them—publicly, in writing—to agree with each other. He also asks for others to help them resolve their differences and restore harmony in the church.

Philippi, as a Roman colony, afforded a level of independence to women that was uncommon during the first century, even in Greece. This may account for the prominence of these two women and the deleterious effect of their dispute.

We don’t know why they quarreled. But their inability to get along was almost certainly causing contention among other believers in Philippi. How do we know? Because it can, and does, happen with embarrassing regularity, between men and women alike. Yes, at church.

Disagreements are inevitable given our human condition. And once we allow pride to creep in and nudge aside God’s love, disagreement can result in hurt feelings and division. Hurt feelings turn into hard feelings. Gossip begins to spread. People take sides. The whole church can lose its harmony. People may not remember what caused the problem in the first place, but they will almost always remember which side they were on.

Too often, sadly, this is what happens unless there is wise intervention. Take note that Paul addresses both individuals. He doesn’t mention who started it or who was more at fault. He expects both of them to give ground. Paul tells them to “agree with each other”—but not just any kind of agreement, “agree in the Lord” (4:2).

It is the heavy responsibility of the members of the family of Christ to help resolve such disputes with fair and peaceful solutions – not to take sides or add fuel to the fire. The first steps toward reconciliation are taken in prayer, and that can start with anyone.

In this week’s Lectionary Epistle to the Philippians Paul urges the church to be different, to stand out from those who do not know Christ: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

The world watches us, Christian. We may be the only glimpse of Jesus that some will ever see. We must not dim the light of that gospel by quarreling among ourselves.

Did Euodia and Syntyche resolve their disagreement? We don’t know. To do so they would have needed to value church unity more than what separated them. This week we pray for God’s grace to precede us and follow us, that we would be given to good works. Let us also pray for unity in the house of the LORD.

It’s Monday Morning. Did you see the contenders in church yesterday? Are you praying for them today, that they would agree in the Lord?

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. –Paul

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It’s Simple

By two wings is man lifted above earthly things…simplicity and purity. Simplicity in the intention, purity in the affection. ― Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior, in Whose Name we pray, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 19

PRAYER FOCUS: Praying

Did you know that sometimes it is enough to just pray, “Here I am, Lord”?

This week’s Psalm begins with “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” and ends with “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer”. A psalm of David, it frames both the majesty of Creator and the intimacy of Father in one brief lyric. The Bible is full of such beautiful discoveries.

Praying is so simple. And it is such a pure joy.

It’s Monday Morning. Have you been missing your prayer time with your Heavenly Father? We’d like to offer our prayer that your time with the Lord this week will be “more precious than gold, and sweeter than honey.”

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Education or Indoctrination?

“The weekend at the college didn’t work out like you planned; the things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand…” —Lyrics from Reelin’ in the Years, by Steely Dan (Becker & Fagen, 1972)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O God, you declare Your Almighty Power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of Your grace, that we, running to obtain Your promises, may become partakers of Your heavenly treasure, through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done…” (Psalm 78:1-4 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: Christian Education

NOTE: The Monday Prayer is indebted to the clear theological vision of our friend Ravi Zacharias, and the ongoing work of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, which we commend to you. Today we lean heavily upon one of Ravi’s essays from 2011 that neatly encapsulates the core of our message on the importance of education and the danger of indoctrination.

“We have educated ourselves into imbecility,” quipped the noted English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, as he bemoaned the many nefarious ideas that are shaping modern beliefs. Venting an identical disillusionment in his commentary on American culture, George Will averred that there is nothing so vulgar left in our experience for which we cannot transport some professor from somewhere to justify it.

Why this juxtaposing of aberrant behavior with the halls of learning? The answer is well worth pursuing if we are to deal with our present world cultural malaise by understanding its progenitors, and thwart what looms as a future with terrifying possibilities.

It is not unprecedented that as a young nation begins to reach its adolescent years, it craves freedom from any restraint. Emulating a legal proceeding in which an attorney tries valiantly to discredit witnesses who injure his or her case, secular thinkers unleashed a concerted effort to prejudice the minds of this generation. If even a slight doubt could be raised upon any minutiae of theistic belief, it was exultantly implied that the whole worldview should be deemed false. The goal was to forge a new breed of young scholars and opinion-makers who would be perceived as saviors, delivering society from the tyranny of a God-infested past and remaking culture in their own image.

The principal means to accomplish this was to take control of the intellectual strongholds, our universities, and under a steady barrage of “scholarly” attack, to change the plausibility structure for belief in God, so that God was no longer a plausible entity in scholastic settings. This assault on religious belief was carried out in the name of political or academic freedom, while the actual intent was to vanquish philosophically anything that smacked of moral restraint.

Unblushingly, the full brunt of the attack has been leveled against Christianity as Eastern religions enjoy a patronizing nod and the protection of mystical license. As for Islam, no university dares offend. Hand-in-hand with this unmasked intellectual cowardice and concealed duplicity came mockery and ridicule of the Christian, which has now become commonplace, a “civilized” form of torture.

In such fashion came the onslaught of all that had gone before; the pen became the sword and the professorial lectern, the pulpit. If young, fertile minds could be programmed into believing that truth as a category does not exist and that skepticism is sophisticated, then it would be only a matter of time before every social institution could be wrested to advantage in the fight against the absolute.

However, over time the sword has cut the hand that wielded it, and learning itself has lost its authority. Today as we look upon our social landscape, the answers to the most basic questions of life, from birth to sexuality to death, remain completely confounded. The very scholars who taught their students to question authority are themselves disparaged by the same measure. No one knows what to believe as true anymore; and if anything is believed, the burden of justification has been removed.

Yet, all is not lost. In spite of the varied and willful attempts made by anti-theistic thinkers to undermine the spiritual and to thrust it into the arena of the irrational, or at best deem it a private matter, the hunger for the transcendent remains unabated. After nearly two decades of lecturing on campuses around the world, it is evident to me that the yearning for the spiritual just will not die. In fact, at virtually every engagement I have found the auditorium filled to capacity and the appreciative response quite overwhelming, even in antagonistic settings. There is no clearer demonstration of this unrelenting hunger than the experiences of Russia and China as each has in its own way tried to exterminate the idea of God, only to realize that God rises up to outlive his pallbearers.

Our universities tell a similar story. Though proud skepticism is rife in academic bastions, the human spirit still longs for something more. This tension must be addressed, especially at this time of cultural upheaval, and it is imperative that the answers we espouse meet not only the intimations of the heart but the demands of the mind. The familiar adage rings true: the mind is too great an asset to waste, for it is the command control of each individual life. And it is my desire that each of us may come to recognize the greatest mind of all, even God Himself, whose existence or non-existence is essential to defining everything else.

–Ravi Zacharias, in A Slice of Infinity, September 15, 2011 (Education and Imbecility)

Have you ever noticed that the same Liberal-Progressives who preach tolerance and claim open-mindedness are most often the first to shriek “hate” and “intolerance” at anyone who would dare to disagree with them? As Ravi points out, these same secular (and theological) Progressives are quite happy to attack traditional Christians, and orthodox Christianity, but you hardly hear of one directing the same vitriol at Islam or any of the Eastern religions. Why not?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the difference between education and indoctrination.

Education involves the seeking of facts, and learning about what is the truth, and what is not.

Indoctrination is aimed at influencing people to believe in facts, using buzz words and emotionally-catchy phrases calculated to manipulate emotions and opinion.

Education pursues truth. It is unafraid to encounter and examine notions, politics, facts, and beliefs that might challenge previous learning. An educated mind can deal with doubt, and remain confident when faced with uncertainty.

Indoctrination pursues an agenda. It is a bully that bristles in the face of contradiction, pummeling it when possible, fleeing when intimidation fails. You can be indoctrinated into a political party, a belief system, or a cult. An indoctrinated mind reliably panics at the onset of doubt, converting scholarly argument into personal ad-hominem attack.

There is an alternative to Progressive indoctrination, and to its underlying agenda. It’s called the Truth. We know its Source, and we are commanded not to hide it from our children.

Therefore, we must re-engage the next generation—tell them the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders He has done. The Psalmist doesn’t call for more government programs or another church committee. He challenges parents, family members, church members, the Christian believers of this generation—with teaching them how to seek the Truth.

The bottom line is this, Christian: We are what we believe. Education matters—our Christian education most of all. Theologically, doctrine is destiny. As the Apostle Paul exhorts in this week’s Scripture from Philippians, Christians should be of one mind, united against both the creeping corruption of both progressive indoctrination and the undisciplined thought that permeates it.

It’s Monday Morning. What do you believe? Are you teaching your children what the LORD wants them to know?

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The Laborer’s Wages

“My client is not in a hurry. He has all the time in the world.”
—Antoni Gaudi, renowned Spanish Architect (1852-1926), in response to his pace on a cathedral.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

PRAYER FOCUS: LABORING for the LORD

Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926) was a leader in what became known as the architectural Modernist Movement. Nearly a century later, it is still difficult to classify Gaudi’s work simply because he defied labels then and now.

You see, Gaudi was a deeply religious man. By his own admission, he was most powerfully influenced by the artistry of God that he saw in nature. He looked for the beauty in things. He wanted his work to reflect that beauty. He often said, “Originality begins at the Origin.”

Gaudi’s final and most famous work was the cathedral known as La Sagrada Familia, or The Sacred Family. Gaudi began work in 1883 when his career as an architect was still ascendant. He devoted the last decade of his life exclusively to it. It is full of Christian icons and architectural symbolism, which, like nature itself, must be beheld to be appreciated.

Construction was underway in 1926 when Gaudi was killed in a tram accident. His unfinished project languished for decades, undergoing periods of continued construction as private funds permitted. Somehow it survived the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), although several of the interior features were destroyed, along with Gaudi’s models and his workshop. Today La Sagrada Familia is still under construction, still funded entirely by private donations. Modern building technologies are now being employed, from computer-assisted design and engineering analysis to high-speed laser-guided robotic stone milling. Its estimated completion date is 2026, the centennial year of Gaudi’s death.

Consider the vineyard workers described by our Lord, in the Lectionary Gospel passage in Matthew 20. Jesus told His Disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard…”

Now that metaphorical vineyard is the Church. We are all called upon to be laborers in this vineyard. Here we plant, water, fence and fertilize. We prune, dress, dig and weed. It is hard work, but good and joyous work. Both our labor and our fruits must honor our Lord.

We keep our own vineyard just as we do our Master’s. Our souls are well-tended, well-nourished and free of weeds. We are productive.

Our Father-God is always looking for workers. Like the workers waiting in the marketplace, our souls stand ready to be hired into some service or other. We are all creatures of labor of one form or another. We will serve either righteousness or iniquity. The Devil, through temptation and deceit, is also looking to hire laborers into his field—to wallow hungry in filth and feed swine. We choose each day whom we will serve. Those choices matter.

Our wages are fair and adequate for the day. The Denarius was a silver coin that constituted the daily wage for both an unskilled laborer and a common soldier. At the time this parable was told, one denarius could buy enough bread to feed a worker’s family for one day. By paying the last hired the same wage as those who had worked many hours longer, the proverbial vineyard owner is making sure all of his workers can feed their families, and none of them have to choose which children would eat and which ones would go hungry. With an appreciative nod to Mick Jagger, there is some truth to the classic lyric, “you can’t always get what you want—you get what you need.”

The people who began Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia project have not lived to see its end. Likewise, none of the people who will finish it (presumably in 12 years, in 2026) saw the project’s beginning. The workers in the middle have seen neither beginning nor end. And yet, the man (or woman) who lays the last stone in La Sagrada Familia will have made no less a contribution than the individual who laid the first one. Hopefully the finished cathedral will endure for a long time, and will reflect the Origin that Gaudi sought to glorify.

In this week’s Lectionary we pray, “not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly—to hold fast to those [things] that shall endure.” Receive that, dear Christian. Don’t be anxious. Love. Hold fast to eternal things.

It’s Monday Morning. How is your vineyard today? Need to prune anything, maybe pull a few weeds?

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Let It Go

Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. —Corrie Ten Boom, Author and Holocaust Survivor (1892-1983)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O God, because without You we are not able to please You, mercifully grant that Your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

PRAYER FOCUS: FORGIVENESS.

This week marks the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 (“9-11”) terror attacks against the United States. It seems an uncanny coincidence that this week’s Lectionary is centered on Forgiveness and Tolerance: Joseph and his brothers (Genesis), removing our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalms), the parable of the ungrateful servant (Matthew).

Thirteen years later, how should Christians mark such a dark and tragic memorial? Should we forgive the terrorists of 9-11? This might seem a moot point, since the hijackers are all dead. But for the surviving family members and loved ones of the victims, this is a very real question with very real consequences for spiritual and emotional health.

The evil men who commandeered and crashed civilian airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon never asked to be forgiven. They expressed zero remorse as they joined their victims in death. Likewise, the evil men who sent them, those who financed them, and those who applauded their deadly success have never spent a moment regretting what happened. It is important to remember that this latter group has not gone to the bar of justice willingly. The ones who have been caught were taken by force—in most cases, by military force.

Let us be clear on this—evil unchallenged is evil condoned. To lower one’s guard in the face of a real and gathering threat can amount to suicide. To forgive and forget, as German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put it, “means to throw valuable experience out the window.” Those who forget history’s lessons frequently repeat them. Therefore, even as we forgive our enemies, let us not forget what happened on that dreadful day. And let us not relax our guard against the evil forces that even now gather against God’s children.

As we see in our Lectionary Scriptures, what matters most is what we do with our injury…

Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983) was living in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded in 1940. By 1942, she and her family were working with the Dutch resistance hiding Jews and helping them escape from Europe. The Nazis arrested the entire Ten Boom family in February 1944. They were sent to the Scheveningen prison, where her father died ten days later. Corrie and her sister Betsie were then sent to the Vught political concentration camp in the Netherlands, and finally to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.

Betsie died in captivity in December 1944. Because of a clerical error, Corrie was released a few days later, on New Year’s Eve. The week following her release, all the women prisoners her age in the camp were killed.

In her later years Corrie Ten Boom wrote several books. The following is a condensed narrative from Tramp for the Lord (1974):

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. The year was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever…’

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’

No, he did not remember me.

But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then…

How should we mark this Thursday’s dark memorial? Definitely in prayer.

And in that posture of prayer, perhaps there’s an opportunity to survey the people you need to forgive.

It’s not about them, Christian—and it’s not about what they did to you. It’s about what your forgiving and tolerant Father-God has done for you. He wants your healing to be complete. Many of the 9-11 widows now work in ministries helping people forgive others who have hurt them. Corrie Ten Boom devoted the rest of her life to a reconciliation ministry that set thousands of captives free from depression and bitterness.

Is unforgiveness crippling you? Wouldn’t this be a good time to let it go? It’s Monday Morning. Don’t wait for Thursday…

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Time Flies

For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. —James, the brother of Jesus (James 4:14).

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

You know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up! The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. (Romans 13:11-12 NLT)

PRAYER FOCUS: Our Scarcest Resource

“How did it get so late so soon?” asks the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.

William Penn, a prominent Quaker and one of America’s Founding Fathers, wrote, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

Charles Darwin, the great 19th Century naturalist and evolution theorist, declared, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

Ancient Romans used the expression, Tempus Fugit, which translates literally from Latin— “Time Flies”…

And you thought you were the only one with a hectic life full of time-gobbling stuff…

In this week’s Lectionary passage from Romans, the Apostle Paul expresses this same urgent, premonitory sense of fleeting time. He sounds the alarm to a sleeping Church: WAKE UP!

Once fully awake, Paul calls for believers to change their clothes—to take off their old dirty garments and to put on new ones more appropriate to the beloved children of the Living God. Paul exhorts us to do four things:

1. What to take off—the deeds of darkness. Literally, to cast off (or throw off) the works of darkness. The 18th Century Bible scholar Matthew Henry puts it this way, “Sinful works are works of darkness; they come from the darkness of ignorance and mistake, they covet the darkness of privacy and concealment, and they end in the darkness of hell and destruction.”
2. What else to take off—thoughts about how to “gratify the desires of the flesh”. Paul mentions three specific pairs of sinful behaviors that we must discard and disregard: 1) carousing (rioting) and drunkenness, 2) sexual immorality and debauchery (adultery, fornication and other forbidden sex acts), and 3) dissention and jealousy (envy). How often do these pairs follow each other? Put these behind you, Christian!
3. What to put on—the armor of light. Other references to armor include 1 Thess 5:8, and Eph 6:10-17. Specifically, this armor includes a breastplate (of faith and love, righteousness) and a helmet (of hope, salvation). Paul is telling us to protect our hearts by 1) keeping them full of God’s love and 2) by clean living. We protect our minds with the hope of the gospel and the certain knowledge of our salvation. You live in the land of the enemy, Christian. If your life resembles a battlefield, it is because the forces of darkness continually make war against your heart and your mind.
4. What else to put on—clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. In baptism we put on the Lord Jesus Christ (all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ, Gal. 3:27). Borrowing again from Matthew Henry, “Without Christ, we are naked, deformed; all other things are filthy rags, fig-leaves, a sorry shelter. Jesus Christ is the best clothing for Christians to adorn themselves with, to arm themselves with; it is decent, distinguishing, dignifying, and defending.”

And we are to waste no time in doing this. As Paul says, it’s later than we think.

With more and more of the world being overshadowed by the gathering storm clouds of war, and with more and more congregations of the Church coming under persecution, how much longer can we afford to sleep? What are we waiting for?

Wake up, Church. Get dressed—not as you used to, but as you should be, now that you belong to Jesus. Put on your armor, for you will have to overcome many trials and temptations in this day. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ—be energized by the radiance of His love, marvel at the beauty of His goodness, feel the perfect fit of His plan for you. And may your well-adorned feet bear these garments of hope and good news to everyone He directs you to.

It’s Monday Morning. If you knew time would run out on Tuesday, what would you do differently today? Wake up. Get dressed. Get busy.

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I can hear the ticking of the second hand of destiny…we must act now or we will die. —Gen Douglas MacArthur, just prior to the amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea, in September 1950.

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Getting Even

If you seek revenge, dig two graves. —Old Chinese proverb.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: Vengeance.

This past week has seen additional atrocities committed by the terrorist group ISIS. In a particularly graphic video, the world has witnessed the slow, horribly painful, amateurish decapitation of an American journalist by a disillusioned British Muslim rapper who became an ISIS jihadist.

Journalist James W. Foley was a Christian. He had been captured and held hostage once before, in 2011, while covering the Libyan Civil War. He responded to his dangerous situation with prayer, not despair. “I began to pray the Rosary,” he later wrote to his alma mater, Marquette University in Wisconsin. “It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom—an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released…”

After his release from captivity in Libya, Jim Foley continued to report on events in the Middle East, which led to his subsequent capture in Syria, and his horrific death somewhere in ISIS-held territory.

As Christians, what are we to do about this? More to the point, what are we to pray?

Foley’s bishop, Peter A. Libasci of Manchester, New Hampshire, reminded Foley’s family and friends, “A Christian must always remember that revenge does not belong to us.”

In the first part of this week’s Lectionary Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul issues a curious series of commands: hate evil, love one another, hold fast to good; do not lag, be ardent; rejoice, persevere; contribute, extend hospitality. Paul writes in the imperative voice, communicating the imperative to us.

In the second segment, Paul continues: bless your enemies, do not curse them; live in harmony…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Is there contradiction here? How can you simultaneously hate what is evil and not be overcome by it? How do you overcome evil by doing good, yet not avenge yourself? Clearly this is a difficult path to walk.

Let’s be very clear on two points:

One, resisting evil sometimes means using physical force, including military force. Nothing in this scripture, nothing in any scripture, negates the God-given right to self-defense or the defense of others. Acts of war are not necessarily acts of vengeance, nor are they morally equivalent.

Two, the use of force, the management of violence, is not to be undertaken lightly, or as a half-measure. Once we employ force it is essential to prevail; indeed, there is a moral imperative to win.

As our Lectionary Scriptures remind us this week, we must also oppose evil when the threat is not deadly. One way we do that is by treating our prisoners humanely. We meet their physical needs such as thirst and hunger. We show them mercy even though they might not show us the same. We take thought of what is noble in the sight of all.

Evil is not overcome by accommodating it, by appeasing it, or by making excuses for it. Evil is evil, and cannot coexist with good. We must confront it and overcome it. Scripture affords us no wiggle room, no conscientious “opt-out” in the struggle against evil.

Does resisting evil, even to the point of fighting, diminish our witness for Jesus Christ? No, it shouldn’t. Not if we fight when we have to and leave any/all vengeance in the hands of Almighty God.

Consider the story of Nikolai…

Born in 1881, in what we now know as western Serbia, Nikolai was the first of nine children. His father was a farmer. He was raised in the church and was mentored in his faith by his mother.

Nikolai applied to his country’s military academy, but was rejected because he wasn’t physically strong enough. Instead he earned University Degrees in Western Europe and in Russia. Nikolai first became a monk and then an Orthodox priest. He displayed an ability to address large audiences and speak convincingly about his beliefs. He rose quickly in the Serbian Orthodox Church to Bishop. In 1915-16 Bishop Nikolai toured the United States raising relief for the Serbian people and drumming up support for America’s intervention in World War I.

During the period between the World Wars, Serbia was annexed into the larger nation of Yugoslavia. Bishop Nikolai became an activist, speaking out against the rising evil of State Collectivism in all its various forms: Communism, Fascism, Socialism, and National Socialism. This placed him opposite the Soviets, Italians, and the Nazis in the Second World War. When German forces occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, Bishop Nikolai was arrested, and in 1944, transferred to the infamous concentration camp at Dachau. He was liberated by the U.S. 36th Infantry Division in 1945. Although Nikolai survived his captivity, his health was wrecked.

At the end of WWII, the nation of Yugoslavia fell into Communist hands, and Nikolai was considered a threat to the regime. Yugoslavian Communists labored to destroy Nikolai’s reputation, both in Serbia and in the Orthodox Church. Nikolai fled to the United States in 1946. He served as the dean and rector of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary in Wayne County, Pennsylvania until his death in March 1956.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Empire in 1991, Serbia regained its independence. The body of Bishop Nikolai was exhumed, returned to his native land, and laid to rest next to the graves of his parents.

The damage done to his reputation has been repaired. On May 19th, 2003, the Serbian Orthodox church recognized Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich (or Nikolaj Velimirović, in Cyrillic: Николај Велимировић) of Ohrid and Žiča as a saint.

Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, a man of God, confronted evil everywhere he found it. He opposed evil with all of the tools at his disposal. He suffered through the inhumanity of one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Third Reich. Nikolai never stopped pushing back against evil. He spoke, he wrote, he preached, he served at every opportunity. He walked the difficult path of opposing evil while blessing those who cursed him.

Over the past two decades, historians and religious scholars have recovered many of Nikolai’s writings along with transcripts of his speeches. In 1999, Prayers by the Lake was translated into English.

The following is one of his prayers, which we commend to you on this somber Monday:

“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.”

As the nations of the world, including most Muslims, recoil in horror at the unmitigated evil presented by ISIS, let us take a moment to remember that even in the preparation for, and prosecution of, war, Christians are called to be witnesses to a loving and merciful God, who alone lays claim to all vengeance.

It’s Monday Morning. Please pray for those who are grieving the mounting loss of lives and loved ones in the Middle East. And pray for those who are now moving to confront the terror that has caused it.

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“You Look Like…”

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. —C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn… (Isaiah 51:1 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: Faith in Hard Times

“I swear, you look just like your mama!” So says a high school friend I haven’t seen in nearly forty years. Mom would have been my current age the last time he saw her. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are great for such reconnected observations, aren’t they?

But it’s true—we each carry the genetic code of our parents. To a great degree, we will look like others in our family, especially Mom and Dad. Could it be that our past can predict our future?

This week’s Lectionary Old Testament passage would seem to say that. Isaiah was speaking to the Hebrews who were being released from exile in Babylon. A faithful remnant had stayed true to Jewish culture and customs. They had not become assimilated into the “progressive” ways of Babylon. They had remained righteous, even while in captivity to a culture that was hostile to theirs.

And now they were going home, as it were. But they had been away for so long–many of them had never seen their ancestral home at all. How were they going to survive in a land they didn’t know?

So before the Jewish exiles left Babylon for their journey to the Promised Land, God asks them to do two things: listen and look back. Remember where you came from…

Through the prophet Isaiah, God asks His children to consider their captivity and judge for themselves if their righteousness was worth it. He reminds them of Abraham’s faith and steadfast righteousness. He recalls Sarah, who was barren, who was “too old” to bear children. To these two God had promised not just a son, but a whole nation—the nation that Isaiah now addressed. Isaiah’s references to rock and quarry reflect the purity and the power of Israel’s origin. God called Abraham with a solid and sure promise, just as the rock is solid and sure. Therefore, Isaiah reasons, God’s promise to them is solid and sure.

Look at yourselves, my children, you look just like your father Abraham…

Isaiah 51 is an exhortation to a faithful remnant, to Abraham’s true children who were about to embark on a great undertaking they weren’t entirely sure about. It is a message of love, of redemption, of salvation to the righteous, of great joy to those who seek the Lord—even in uncertain and difficult times. Hearing God instills hope for the future.

The returning exiles are to think of themselves as children of promise, envisioned long beforehand by a God who singled out one unpromising couple for supernatural blessings. If Abraham and Sarah could become parents of many, even the depleted generation of exile could become many, and restore a nation under God.

Isaiah writes in the prophetic perfect tense. He is so certain that what he prophesies will come to pass it is as if it has already happened:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail (Isaiah 51:6).

Meaning—don’t evaluate the things of God by the things of this earth.

The God who created all things, who restores all things, restored these exiles just like He promised. The same God who established Abraham and Sarah and restored Israel to Himself is still in the business of restoration. And that’s very good news today.

Centuries later, Paul said as much to the Romans when he wrote,

The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:16-17)

This week the prophet Isaiah reminds you to stop, listen and look back. Consider those who have gone before you. Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you are hewn. Can you see how much you resemble your Father Abraham? Look again, Christian, look again. How about that family resemblance with your brothers and sisters?

It’s Monday morning. You look just like your Father. Step forward in faith.

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House of Prayer

“It is thus an inherently Christian task to actively work at un-thinking the inevitability of the way things are and to labor accordingly at changing them.” —Jill Carattini, of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of His redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

“These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: Our Hurting World

It has been a really bad week. Genocide in Iraq. Civil War in Libya and Syria. Ebola in Africa. War in Gaza.

Iraq’s Christians and religious minorities have been subjected to the greatest mass murder since the Holocaust. Until the past few days, this has gone on largely without a peep of condemnation from either Western governments or Western church denominations. One Christian blogger, Stacy Nott, sums it up thus:

Beheading children. Sawing them in two. Raping women. Killing men. Displaying heads on sticks in a park. Reports say that some parents, rather than see their children starve or fall into the wrong hands, have thrown their own children off cliffs…

In our world, today, they’re marking doors for destruction. Chew on that. Can you swallow it? (Between Blue Rocks)

Courageous Christian leaders such as Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, of Mosul, and Anglican Canon Andrew White “the Vicar of Baghdad”, continue to testify to the ongoing genocide. They minister to the suffering Iraqi survivors with minimal resources, and at enormous personal risk.

A civil war is breaking out in Libya. Western nations are evacuating their diplomats and embassies, as law and order degenerates into open sectarian warfare. Hundreds have been killed in Benghazi and Tripoli, with hundreds more wounded. Hospitals are overflowing. The fighting is getting worse.

Civil war has not broken out in Syria, it has become the status quo over the past three years. The dominant rebel group—ISIS, once heralded by some in the West as the answer to Syrian dictator Assad—is the same group that is now conducting the wholesale slaughter of Iraqi Christians, even as they did in Syria. According to several estimates, well over 100,000 Syrians have died in the fighting, plus those who are being murdered in the subsequent atrocities (including beheadings and crucifixions) committed by the ISIS fighters.

An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has killed one thousand people in four countries in West Africa, with thousands more infected and still more in danger of becoming infected. Other nations are moving to quarantine the disease-stricken ones, as global health organizations estimate this outbreak threatens to continue for months and take many thousands more lives. Despite the looming plague, Christian relief organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse continue to send medical supplies and personnel into these stricken areas.

In Gaza, Palestinian officials estimate that airstrikes and shelling have wrecked at least 10,000 houses and seriously damaged 30,000 more. Israel has been targeted by more than 3,000 rockets and thousands more mortars. Scores are dead and thousands are displaced from their homes.

All this in just one week. As our good friend Stacy says, “chew on that” for a moment.

What can we do?

As Christians, we first respond by praying. Prayer is our first weapon to fight back against the evil in our world. Prayer is our first touch in ministering to those who are hurting. Prayer is our first step in the journey of deliverance and freedom for those who are oppressed. A praying Christian refuses to come to terms with an unjust and fallen world. In prayer we stand, alongside each other, together with the faithful saints from all generations, against suffering and injustice, against the evil sent forth by the enemy of our souls.

Because, Christian, despite all appearances, this is still Our Father’s world, a place where nothing is impossible. A long time ago mankind lost dominion of the earth through an act of sin that still curses us. But God’s unchanging Word reassures us that curse was broken on the Cross. What we see today is not the end state of either mankind or the planet we share together. Through the suffering and triumph of the Risen Christ we gain more than personal redemption, we gain the courage to turn and face His enemies with purpose and resolve.

We do what Jesus did. We pray for yet-unseen possibilities. We pray against the deception and evil that keep us bound to Creation’s fall and not its redemption. We pray for the amazing grace of the Father and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. We cry out to the One who has laid claim to vengeance, and who measures justice both in heaven and on the earth. We join our prayers to Jesus Christ, He who is Faithful and True, He who crushes injustice and fear, He who declares with all authority in heaven and on earth, “I am the way, the truth, the life.

Dear Christian, do you feel overwhelmed by the tremendous scope of the evil on display today? If so, be assured you are not the only one. Our words fail us, too. We ask, where do we even start to pray?

So let us kneel and begin with the words we do know:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”

Let us pray as we are led. We know that through our prayers, we unleash the absolute power of the Holy Trinity. We flood every situation, every circumstance, every place and every nation with the righteous will of the Almighty Godhead. This is why the prophet Isaiah declared, and our Lord Jesus repeated, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Do you want to make a difference today? Do you want to make a difference right now?
Make your desk, your office, your car, your home, your room—wherever you are—a House of Prayer.

For all God’s people.

It’s Monday Morning. The world outside your window is hurting. It desperately needs Hope and Love and Healing. Pray for it. Pray for it now.

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