Marks of Discipleship

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. —G.K. Chesterton.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray. Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways. By your mighty power you rescue those who seek refuge from their enemies. (Psalm 17:6-7)

PRAYER FOCUS: MARKS OF DISCIPLESHIP

Su•per•fi•cial: adj., 1. concerned only with what is obvious or apparent. 2. not thorough or complete.3. presenting only an appearance without substance or significance. (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, citing 2010 census data and a 2008 study by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), more than 173 million out of 228 million American citizens claimed Christianity as their religious faith. The 2008 ARIS found that 77 million adults (or 33%), described themselves as “born again.” A longitudinal Gallup Poll (from 2001-2007) noted that 38-45% of the adult population in the United States identified themselves as “evangelical.”

This is great news!

But if this is really true, if so many are truly committed to an active, evangelical faith in Jesus Christ, why are we seeing such decay and deterioration in our society? If all these Jesus-namers were actually Jesus-followers, shouldn’t things be getting profoundly better?

According to Gallup many Christians have a superficial understanding of their faith. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it.” For example, 61% believed that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence and power, and not a living entity. Four out of ten believed that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

But the Scriptures direct followers of Jesus to be a biblically informed community whose lives are founded on an absolute, revealed truth. And because so many Christians are ignorant of the Bible, actually holding convictions that are contrary to its clear core teachings, they live an uncomfortable and unproductive compromise with prevailing worldly “values.”

This superficiality has been devastating. Contrary to raw numbers that would place Christian Believers in a strong and influential majority, the downward spiral of both culture and morality testify to core beliefs that are indeed lightly held, if they are understood at all.

Over the past 25 years the Barna Group (www.barna.org) has conducted a series of studies of the relational impact Christians and the Church are having in the culture and society. According to Barna, of the one-third of adults who self-identify as both “Christian” and “born again”, fewer than one in five has any specific and measurable goals related to his or her own spiritual development. Only one out of six adults who attend Christian worship are involved in some type of group or relational process that is designed to help them mature and grow spiritually. Less than one out of ten have shared their faith with a non-Christian, or practice traditional Christian disciplines such as solitude, prayer, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, and scriptural meditation. (Barna, Growing True Disciples, 2000).

What’s missing here?

In a word—DISCIPLESHIP.

Whatever else we do in church, it seems we are not making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures portray the original Disciples as people who were engaged in a disciplined way of life led by, and patterned after, Jesus of Nazareth. They followed Him. They listened to Him. They asked Him questions and did what He did. It wasn’t always an easy path to walk—in fact it could be quite dangerous. But it was a path of great honor, of miraculous good, a path that changed lives. Using the disciplines they had been taught, these Disciples set in motion a viral movement that changed the world and made history.

The Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to the discipline of an athlete. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (1 Cor. 9:24–25). How many Christians are actually living out a disciplined life like that?

In his extraordinary and simple book Celebration of Discipline: the Pathway to Spiritual Growth (Harper, 1998), author Richard Foster outlines the classic disciplines of Christianity and explores why they are essential to our growth in faith and freedom. We most highly recommend this book, and the process it outlines. In Foster’s words,

Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life…of all the Spiritual Disciplines, prayer is the most central. Meditation introduces us to the inner life, fasting is an accompanying means, [Bible] study transforms our minds, but it is the Discipline of Prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. Real prayer is life creating and life changing. (Foster, p. 33).

Barna notes that most churches encourage people to engage in an increasing amount of religious activity, pouring themselves into worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and community. While growth in those areas is important, Barna also points out that people often fail to realize that the end game of spiritual development is godly character, not worldly accomplishments. In other words, sometimes people get so wrapped up in church programs that they lose sight of the purpose of their faith, which is to have a life-giving, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That relationship begins with a conversation we know as prayer. We recommend it!

Jesus did not leave His Disciples alone then, and He does not leave us alone now. He still calls his followers closer, and ever closer, to Himself through the same faith-building process that is DISCIPLESHIP.

Imagine what our society, what our world, would look like if 173,000,000 Americans were actively and intentionally becoming more like Jesus…

It’s Monday Morning. If you were accused of being a Christian on Tuesday, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Reference sources:
ARIS 2008 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/documents/aris030609.pdf)
U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, Table 75: Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf)

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A Special Message from Iraq

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako issued an urgent appeal in a letter on Thursday 17th July 2014…

To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world:

To the voice of moderate brother Muslims who have a voice in Iraq and all the world:

To all who have a concern that Iraq could remain a country for all His Children:

To all leaders of thought and opinion:

To all who announce the freedom of the human being:

To all protectors of the dignity of human beings and of religion:

PEACE AND MERCY FROM GOD!

The control exercised by the Islamist Jihadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs.

The initial sign was in the kidnapping of the two nuns and 3 orphans who were released after 17 days. At the time, we experienced it as a flash of hope and as a clearing of the sky after the appearance of storm clouds.

Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the jizya — without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.

In recent days, there has been written the letter ‘N’ in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying ‘Nazara’ (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter ‘R’ signifying ‘Rwafidh’ (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al-Sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.D.s for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.

This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought which is expressed in the Quran which says, “You have your religion and I have my religion” and yet another place in Quran states, “There is no compulsion in religion”. This is exactly the contradiction in the life and history of the Islamic world for more than 1400 years and in the co-existence with other different religions and nations in the East and in the West.

With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East, specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.

It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co-existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.

Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.

We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.

The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect “to the seventh neighbor.”

We call Christians in the region to act with reason and prudence and to consider and to plan everything in the best way possible. Let them understand what is planned for this region, to practice solidarity in love, to examine the realities together and so be able together to find the paths to build trust in themselves and in their neighbors. Let them stay close to their own Church and surround it; endure the time of trial and pray until the storm will be over.

Louis Raphael Sako
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad
July 17, 2014

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Times of Trouble

Most people in the West have little idea of the threats Christians endure around the world…victims of persecution are ‘too Christian’ to excite the Left, and ‘too foreign’ to interest the Right. This was not always the case… –Author John Allen, in The Global War on Christians (2013)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

PRAYER FOCUS: Times of Trouble

The news today is heartbreaking. As you read this, Iraqi Christians are being persecuted–driven from their homes, stripped of their belongings and money. Many are being murdered. The Monday Prayer asks that you pause to pray for these dear brothers and sisters.

The following article is copied from the Facebook page of our dear friend Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad”, who remains one of the most reliable witnesses to the events now unfolding in Iraq:

For Iraqi Christian Fadi and his young family it is a lonely wait to see whether they will be executed soon. Their Christian neighbours and friends have already fled the city of Mosul in Iraq’s north, which last month fell into the hands of Sunni jihadists led by the Islamic State group, which espouses an extreme form of Islam. Along with the rest of the city’s estimated 25,000 Christians who had not already fled years of kidnappings, bombings and shootings, Sunni militants gave 36-year-old Fadi, his wife and son until Saturday to comply with a brutal ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay an unspecified tax, leave the city or die.

“I’m staying. I already feel dead,” Fadi, a teacher, told AFP by telephone moments before the deadline ran out. “Only my soul remains, and if they want to take that I don’t have a problem,” he added, giving only his first name.

On Friday, Mosul’s mosques called through loudspeakers for Christians to leave, after centuries of being part of the once cosmopolitan city’s social fabric. Fadi said he could not afford to flee and argued that the prospects for those who did were hardly better.

Islamic State (IS) militants robbed departing Christians of their belongings, he said, leaving them to face destitution in grim camps for the displaced. “They were stopped by members of Islamic State, who took everything they had. Mobile phones, money, jewellery,” he said, speaking of the fate of some 25 Christian families who had recently fled.

“When my cousin and friends, from three families, tried to plead with them, they took their cars.”

IS fighters took control of Mosul and swathes of north and west Iraq in a sweeping offensive that began last month. Their leader has since then declared a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria. The group claims its goal is to return the lands they conquer to a state approximating that of early Islam, in which Jews and Christians who did not convert had to pay a “jizya” tribute to their Muslim rulers.

“From one old woman they took $15,000 (11,100 euros). She asked for just $100 of it so she could reach Dohuk. They told her that these are the funds of the Islamic State, and we cannot give it to you,” Fadi said.

Robbed of their cars and cash, many Christians were forced to walk to safety. Some of Mosul’s Christians might be able to afford to pay the jizya, but they appear unwilling to take their chances living under the thumb of rulers notorious for executing and crucifying their opponents.

“Maybe a few are still hiding in Mosul but I don’t think any would have decided to pay jizya or convert. There is no Christian who can trust these gangsters,” Yonadam Kanna, Iraq’s most prominent Christian leader, told AFP. “They even took wedding rings from women fleeing the city at checkpoints… I am astonished they can claim to be Muslims.”

In a purported statement issued by IS last week which detailed the ultimatum for Mosul’s Christians, there will be nothing left for those who do not comply “but the sword”.

In times of trouble like these our faith must become more than words in a book, more than a collection of thoughts on morality. Here is where our faith is either real or it is not. Iraqi Christians in the way of “IS” terrorism are facing a life-or-death situation. Let all of us who believe pray that their faith will withstand this tribulation.

It’s Monday Morning. Please pray for the Persecuted Church. As in this week’s Lectionary Prayer, ask Father-God to increase and multiply His mercy, that we may pass through things temporal and lose not the things eternal.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

To give to Relief and Reconciliation in Iraq: www.frrme.org

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Knowledge Too Wonderful

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)

PRAYER FOCUS: Knowledge Too Wonderful

In 1970, a previously unknown author named Alfred Toffler rocketed onto the bestseller list with a book called Future Shock. Toffler introduced the term to our lexicon and defined it as “The shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” He argued that 20th Century society was undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to what he called a “super-industrial society”, and that most people felt overwhelmed and disconnected. And he predicted this disorientation and disconnection would increase as the rate of technological and social change accelerated.

Nearly a half-century later, Planet Earth, population 7 billion, has transitioned from Toffler’s post-industrial society to an information society, and is in the process of transition into whatever lies beyond that. On this day, more than 350 billion text messages will be sent and received, exceeding the world’s population by a factor of five. More than 300 billion emails will be sent and received. There will be over 3 billion Google searches; nearly 20 million of which will be previously unknown questions. By the end of this year, Google estimates that we humans will have generated more than 40 exabytes (40,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 40 billion billion bits) of unique new information.

That’s a lot of information. How much of that is knowledge?

Information refers to raw data that has been processed and classified; it accrues meaning only by way of relational connection. Information may not actually “mean” anything. On the other hand, knowledge is the concise and cognitive association of information in a way that makes it useful. Simply put, we need information in order to gain knowledge.

This week’s Lectionary presents some excellent, deeply thoughtful, richly theological passages of Scripture, in addition to a great devotional prayer. But it is Psalm 139 that we zoom in on. This Psalm of David reveals Almighty God, the Creator and Architect of the Universe, the Eternal Father, in a refreshingly pure and personal way.

The first verse gets right to the point: You have searched me, O Lord, and you know me…

David is saying:

My Father-God knows everything about me. He is familiar with all my ways. He knows when I stand and when I sit. He knows what my thoughts are, even when my thoughts are far away from me (i.e., even when I’m not thinking). He knows what I’m going to say, even before I say it. He knows what I’m going to do, even before I do it. Nothing I have ever thought, said, or done has surprised Him. And He loves me anyway.

Verse five reminds us we are never alone, never apart from either God or His Love: You hem me in behind and before…

My Heavenly Father is with me; His Love surrounds me. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Whether I climb to the highest heavens, or descend to the lowest depths, He is there, guiding me and protecting me—loving me. He has laid His hand on me…

God’s hand on us says He is actually, actively connected to us; He knows our health, our strength, our weaknesses, our disposition. He means to bestow His blessing and offer His protection. That connection is meant to establish a two-way flow of information.

Verses 13 and 14 introduce the particular intimacy of God’s knowledge of us: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…

My Father has been with me since the very moment I was conceived. He formed me in my mother’s womb. Therefore I am not an accident of nature. I am an awesome, wonderful work of the same Creator-God Who spoke the Universe into being, and He loves all the works of His hands.

God doesn’t need Google to search us. Verses 17 and 18 illuminate the vast and personal scope of His knowledge: How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand…

My Father-God thinks this much of ME.

Christian, say that again: “My Father-God thinks this much of ME.”

We live at a time when the amount of information, and the resultant knowledge, is expanding at an exponential rate. New discoveries introduce advanced technologies that impact the way we live, the way we think, the way we interact and relate to each other, in ways unimaginable to King David when he wrote this Psalm.

And yet the nature of mankind remains the same. More importantly, God’s love remains the same. It transcends time and space. It surpasses all human knowledge. In the midst of a universe of information, and a world full of people, the all-knowing Creator knows you; He is focused on loving you.

How wonderful is that?

It’s Monday Morning. Our prayer for you this week was first written by Paul to the Ephesians, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”

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The Third Reformation

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. ― C.S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105 KJV)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Third Reformation.

Orthodox. adj. 1. Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion. 2. Adhering to the Christian faith as expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds.

The word sounds so…musty. Like the out-of-style coat hanging at the very back of your closet, this term “orthodox” recalls familiar, yet bygone, days. What meaning, what value does it have in today’s modern vernacular and progressive world values?

Simple—orthodoxy connects us to the truth. And we desperately need that connection today.

Contrary to the expository of atheists, agnostics, and some purveyors of “progressive” theological views, there is such a thing as Absolute Truth.

God’s Word is transcendental: It doesn’t change, it hasn’t changed, and it will never change. In a world full of uncertainty and moral relativism, this is wonderful news. God is the same today as he was yesterday, same as a thousand years ago, same as ten thousand years from now. There is great peace in knowing God’s love never changes and His promises are steadfast.

Orthodoxy is simply getting back to the precepts of that Faith. Any time a sports figure gets into a performance slump, the return to excellence begins with embracing the fundamental disciplines that produced excellence in the first place. Likewise, the church of Jesus Christ today must return to the fundamentals of Faith as expressed by our Lord Himself, and as laid out by the early church fathers like Paul, Peter and James.

Dr. Os Guinness gives a lecture he calls “Challenging the Darkness.” He points out that the unhappy place the church finds itself in today is not without precedent…

During the First and Second Protestant Reformations, the church had stumbled into disarray. It had lost its way. It was cloistered and contained behind its own walls. Corruption was rampant. Before the church could once again move forward in the Truth, it had to move backwards to rediscover its roots. The church needed to be re-formed before it could resume its primary mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ and transforming the world. This return to orthodoxy was not a reactionary move, but rather an intentional one, to avoid descending into a useless, compromised theology. Reformation required great courage, persistence and sacrifice on the part of those who led it.

The church has grown cold twice in its history. Many would argue that it has grown cold today.

In our time we have seen entire Denominations led astray by those who insist the church must conform to the world and not vice versa. Under the guise of progress, these world-conformers promote a set of values, e.g., “reproductive freedom” and “choice” (euphemisms for abortion), and permissive sexual behaviors that destroy lives and divide communities.

These so-called progressive theologians may argue that the Church must soften its moral stance in order to be relevant in today’s society. Without societal relevance, they say, all is lost. The Church must “stop judging” and become “more inclusive”. Coincidentally, every survey of churchgoers for the past two decades has revealed that there is no longer much difference between the behaviors of many Christians and worldly non-Christians, particularly where sexual behaviors are concerned.

This is not progress. This is the opposite of progress. It is devolution to what is base and low in our human nature. It is not a reflection of God’s image that we were created to be.

It is not judgmental to know, and to stand for, the difference between right and wrong. And while every sinner is included in God’s invitation to forgiveness and grace, every behavior is not. For one thing, asking for forgiveness requires acknowledging that one has done something wrong. If the distinction between right and wrong becomes blurred, it negates the fundamental need that should bring us to our knees before the Cross in the first place. Christians are called to choose better, to live higher than this.

The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2 NKJV). James asks, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:4 NKJV). C.S. Lewis warned, “If you adapt the gospel message to fit your times, you’ll have a comfortable and convenient theology…and it will be irrelevant to the next generation.” The Church is called to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ, not transformed into what passes for popularity on social media or TV.

Eventually every tree is known by its fruit. The abandonment of orthodox strictures on work, marriage, sex and abortion have left countless individuals deeply wounded and scarred for life. No Christian in his or her right mind can look at such wreckage and say this is good fruit. The Church cannot illuminate the pathway to the world to come if it ceases to be the lamp that provides light against the darkness.

If we are to successfully challenge the darkness the Church cannot retreat behind sanctuary walls. If we are to have any hope of transforming the world and living up to our pivotal role in human history, the Church must return to its orthodox foundation. Much like a once-great team that has fallen into disarray, it’s time for the Church to intentionally return to the fundamental disciplines and truths that made her great in the first place. The way forward begins with a return to orthodoxy.

It’s Monday Morning. Thank you for praying with us. May the light of God’s Word be a lamp unto your feet throughout this week. May His light illumine the Church’s path forward as we pray for the Third Reformation.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

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Independence Day

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. —Thomas Paine, American author and patriot, 1776

PRAYER: The Prayer of George Washington.

Almighty God,

We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep these United States in Thy Holy protection; and Thou wilt incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field.

And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation.

Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

SCRIPTURE: 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV).

If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

PRAYER FOCUS: Freedom from Tyranny

As we celebrate the freedoms that are our legacy from our forefathers, let us remember the service and sacrifice of those who fought to win the blessings of Liberty. For history teaches us that oppression, and not freedom, is the natural state of man–and of the governments of man. As Thomas Paine declared, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” There is no freedom in the human experience that has not been bought with blood.

Today, let us thank God for those victorious warriors who have stood, and who still stand ready, between us and tyranny. May we gratefully live our lives as people worthy of such a rare and noble gift.

Happy Independence Day to you all, from The Monday Prayer.

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Praying with Force

Pray as you can, not as you can’t. —Abbot John Chapman (1865–1933), British Catholic priest and New Testament scholar.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145: 8 – 15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:25-30

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

PRAYER FOCUS: Praying with Force.

Can you relate to Jesus’ words about being tired and worn out? How about the part about being burned out on religion? Has your daily life ever gotten so chaotic that you stumbled over your words in mid-prayer? Or perhaps you’ve been holding something so close to your heart, in secret, that you wonder, like, how can I bring this before the Lord?

Don’t kid yourself, Christian. None of our words are “good enough” anyway. Just because someone prays eloquently doesn’t necessarily mean God is impressed. Besides, what if the reason you’re struggling for the right words is because there are no right words? What if you have a thought, or a task, or a burden, that is coming from the very Heart of God that just can’t be expressed in mere human utterance?

Simply stated, prayer is not about what’s in our words, it’s about what’s in our hearts. More to the point, actually, prayer is about what’s in God’s heart. Our focus in prayer is to engage with the Living God and seek His will, His wisdom. We use words to the extent we have them, but we leave the supernatural part up to Him.

…The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Now this is really, really good news. The Holy Spirit will interpret our prayers on our behalf—however imperfect our words and thoughts. Our heart-felt messages will always get through.

C.S Lewis put it this way:

“What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.”

The success or failure of a task or endeavor may hang on what you do and say, or what you do not do and say. But the force, the power, the effectiveness of your prayer does not. You don’t have to have everything “just right” in order to pray. Praying to Almighty God does not require any mastery at all. Sometimes “Help!” is all we need to pray.

Christian author Richard Foster writes:

The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives—altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter…this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it. (Prayer, 1992, p. 8)

And so, dear Christian, don’t hold back from the loving embrace of your Father-God because you judge your words to be inadequate. It isn’t your words He is interested in–it’s you, beloved one. God wants to communicate with you. He knows you. He has time for you—all the time in the world. He adores you. He’s paying attention! And He has known all along what you’ve been waiting to say.

Therefore, just pray as you can, not as you wish you could. Offer up whatever understanding you have, and trust your Eternal Father, who has known you since before you were born, to know what you mean. Just pray.

That unspoken need, that burden you carry in your heart—the secret one you don’t have words for, the one you’ve been holding on to—go ahead and lift that up. Today. Right now. Pray as you can.

It’s Monday Morning. Your Heavenly Father is waiting to hear from you. Have a wonderful, miraculous week.

…Pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is a powerful force to be reckoned with. (James 5:16b, The Message)

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Jehovah Jireh

Patience is more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see… —Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

So Abraham called that place “The LORD Will Provide.” (Gen 22:14 NIV).

PRAYER FOCUS: The God Who Provides.

“God tested Abraham…” (Gen. 22:1).

This is one of the most chilling passages in the entire Canon of Scripture.

Imagine what Abraham must have felt like when God told him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. Surely agony gripped his heart as he and the boy walked to and then climbed the mountain. Surely Abraham wished he could take Isaac’s place. Surely Abraham PRAYED he could take the place of his son. Isaac, the miraculous gift, the son of promise, asked, “Father, where is the lamb?”

Once before Abraham had tried to “help God out” and substitute his own solution for God’s. The whole difficult, painful situation with Hagar and Ishmael had resulted. Such lessons are not soon forgotten. A chastened, wiser, Abraham now declared, in faith, “My son, God Himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering.”

And he was right. God did provide—a ram in a thicket, its horns caught in a bramble of thorns. Abraham called the place Jehovah-Jireh, meaning “the Lord will provide.” (Actually, the Hebrew phrase is more correctly translated as “the Lord will see to it”).

Note the prophetic nature of this event. The substitutionary purpose of the ram’s sacrifice points forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who died in our place. Even the thorns that held the ram’s horns are prophetic of the Via Dolorosa and Calvary. Thus by word and deed the prophecy announced that the Lamb of God would come through the line of Abraham, who was rightly called “God’s friend.”

Abraham’s faith, so great here, was not born in a day. It was the result of years of seeing God’s faithfulness to His promises. This faith grew daily in prayer as he spoke to, and listened to, his Lord and God. Abraham chose to believe what God promised. Abraham chose to depend on those promises. Like so many of us, Abraham had stumbled over his lack of faith and had to learn the hard way that God’s ways are better than our own.

Why did God test Abraham? God didn’t want Isaac’s life, He wanted Abraham’s heart. And He got it. Abraham’s previous failures worked together to produce the faith that spelled success this time.

Let’s take a look at the elements of Abraham’s test:

1. What could Abraham depend on? a) He could not depend on his feelings; everything he felt would have compelled him to run away from this terrible, painful test of faith. b) He could not depend on his friends and family–Sarah was far away; the men who helped him were back at camp. He faced the test alone, with his son Isaac. c) He could depend on God’s Word. d) He could depend on God’s promises; God had always come through in the past and had never let him down.

2. Where did God provide? At precisely the point of his need. Abraham was “in place”. We have no right to expect God’s help if we are not in His will.

3. When did God provide? At precisely the right time. God stayed Abraham’s hand only after he had raised it. Abraham didn’t see the ram until after the test was over.

The best evidence of our reverence—our love—for God is being willing to serve and honor him with that which is dearest to us, to give away all of it to Him, or for Him.

Please don’t confuse God’s tests with Satan’s temptations. God’s tests call forth what is best and highest in each of us. Satan’s temptations bring out our worst. When we pray that God will “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” this is specifically what we mean to discern.

Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) wrote,

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first [response]. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.”

Christian, do you want the faith to move mountains? Then go to your Father-God in prayer and ask which one He wants moved. However, don’t be surprised if He tests you first. He may ask you to wait. He may ask you to give up something you cherish. Do not recoil–pray. He may yet stay your hand, as He did Abraham’s. And do not shrink if in your prayers He shows you a mountain so great you can’t conceive any way you can budge it. Because that is precisely the point—God, Almighty God, our Eternal Father, the Lord Who Heals, the Lord Who Saves, will see to it.

It’s Monday Morning. Draw near to your loving Father in Heaven. Affirm the good He has promised you. Thank him for the good he has already provided for you. Remember there are fellow Christians around the world today who desperately need a miracle of provision. Please pray for them.

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Pray for Iraq

If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions. ― Tertullian (c. 160-220 A.D., a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy)

PRAYER: (from Psalm 69:13-18)

“O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me…answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me, deliver me because of my foes; AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69
Romans 6:1-11
Matthew 10:24-39

But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Church in Iraq

The prophet Jeremiah (Aramaya) is honored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. Jeremiah lived in Judah during the 6th Century B.C., just prior to the Babylonian Exile. He is known as “the Weeping Prophet” due to his propensity for tears as he exhorted people to turn back to God before it was too late. If Jeremiah was distressed or depressed, it might have been because the world as he knew it was collapsing around him. The mighty Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and most of the Hebrew nation was carried off in exile to Babylon, in what is now Iraq.

Iraq has been the focus of a great deal of church history. The Garden of Eden was somewhere between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Abraham was from Ur, in southern Iraq. Nineveh, where the prophet Jonah reluctantly preached after being swallowed by the great fish, was a sprawling trading complex in the vicinity of modern Kirkuk, Irbil, and Mosul. In fact, if Christianity has a single point of concentration in Iraq, it is Nineveh. Saint Thomas brought the message of the risen Jesus during the first century A.D., and the Assyrian Church has survived there until the present day.

It is here that we draw our Prayer Focus this week. Almost everyone will know of the deterioration of law and order in Iraq, and the growing threat from terrorists. However the world’s news media have once again ignored the dire and deadly consequences to Christians in the region. The Monday Prayer has previously introduced our good friend Canon Andrew White, “the Vicar of Baghdad.” We repeat and endorse his appeal for prayer and for assistance during these desperate times…

Dear Friends,

Things are bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group that does not even see Al Qaida as extreme enough, has totally taken control of Mosul, which is Nineveh, the main Christian stronghold. They have destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. Many military resources have been captured. Tanks, armoured vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.

Now the Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked. The tanks are moving into the Christian villages destroying them and causing total carnage. ISIS militants are now moving towards Kirkuk, and the major Oil fields that provide the lifeblood of Iraq. We are faced with total war.

People have fled in their hundreds of thousands to Iraqi Kurdistan for safety. The Kurds have had to close the border, preventing further entry of the masses. The humanitarian crisis is so huge it is almost impossible to comprehend what is really happening.

The terrible fact is that ISIS terrorists are in the control now of Fallujah in the South, and Mosul in the North. Here we are with this huge crisis and need and we do not even have the resources to help those most in need.

The need is great. Will you please help us?

With much love and grace,
Andrew

www.frrme.org
www.frrmeamerica.org

UPDATE: 14 June 2014, Saturday

Desperate.

Things have moved from terrible to desperate in much of Iraq. Despite hundreds of terrorists being killed, the march towards Baghdad by the ISIL has continued.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq’s supreme religious leader, has called on all Iraqi people to take up arms against the Al Qaeda terrorists. He is the most listened-to person in Iraq.

Meanwhile the terrorist mob gets closer. Baghdad is now closing down in fear. The US Embassy is evacuating. The British embassy has cancelled all business.

I am writing from the British island of Jersey, where I am trying to raise funds for relief.

Thank you so much for those of you who have helped us financially. Most of all thank you for your prayers of intercession during this desperate crisis.

Blessings and Peace,
Andrew

www.frrme.org
www.frrmeamerica.org

In this week’s Lectionary reading in Jeremiah 20:10, the prophet writes of a time when God’s people were in grave danger from powerful forces. They would be expected to reject God in order to save their own lives. “For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble”. Many people were killed. Many people fell away.

Yet in Jeremiah 20:13, Jeremiah closes in words of praise to the God who rescues, the God who delivers. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers”. Jeremiah could well be writing of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq today. He could well be writing of us.

It’s Monday Morning. Thank God that you are safe from fear and terror. Please pray for Iraq, for peace in Iraq, and for safe deliverance of the persecuted church throughout the world.

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Tested by Tragedy

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear —C.S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty and everlasting God, You have given grace to us Your servants, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity, to worship You in Unity. Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see You in Your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor. 13:11-12)

PRAYER FOCUS: Tested by Tragedy

H.G. and his wife Anna had it pretty good. They lived in an affluent neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. He was a successful lawyer who had added to his substantial earnings by making a series of smart real estate investments along the shore of Lake Michigan. They were dedicated followers of Jesus Christ. They were active in their church and in their community. They tithed and gave generously to a number of charities. They supported several national and international Christian ministries, including that of the renowned evangelist Dwight L. Moody. The couple had five beautiful children—four girls and a boy, H.G., Jr.

In 1870, H.G. and Anna were devastated when their only son contracted scarlet fever and died at the age of four. Shortly afterward, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 spared their home, but destroyed most of their real estate holdings. Nevertheless, they marshaled their greatly reduced financial resources to bless their community—they fed the hungry, housed the homeless, and ministered to the grief of those who had suffered great loss.

By 1873 Anna’s health had deteriorated from the stress, so they planned a family vacation to Europe with their four daughters. At the last minute, a business emergency arose that demanded H.G.’s attention. They decided that Anna and the girls would proceed as planned, aboard the steamship Ville du Havre. H.G. would follow later, once his business problem was resolved.

During the night of November 22, 1873 the S.S. Ville du Havre collided with a British iron sailing ship, the Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre foundered and sank within twelve minutes. Of the 313 passengers and crew, only 87 survived. Anna was among the survivors retrieved from the cold dark waters. All four daughters perished.

Anna was utterly devastated. She was inconsolable. Many of the survivors became so concerned they put her under what we would now call a suicide watch. Somewhere in the midst of her grief and despair, Anna heard a soft voice speaking to her, “You were saved for a purpose!”

Nine days later, in Cardiff, Wales, Anna telegraphed her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do…”

H.G. left Chicago as soon as he received the telegram. He boarded the next ocean vessel to Europe to meet his beloved and grieving Anna. Once underway, he asked the captain of the ship to notify him as they were approaching the spot where the Ville du Havre was lost.
Several nights later, the Captain called H.G. to the bridge to inform him that, “A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing the place…the water is three miles deep.”

H.G. went out on deck, and for a long time stared at the dark and deadly sea. Returning to his cabin, alone, Horatio G. Spafford penned the words to his famous hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Horatio and Anna Spafford returned to Chicago and started over. They had three more children.

In 1881 they emigrated to Israel, where they settled in the old section of Jerusalem. They served the needy, helped the poor, cared for the sick and took in homeless children. They lived out the remainder of their lives showing the love of Jesus to their neighbors.

Anna Spafford wrote, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

In this week’s Lectionary, we are presented with some truly awesome scriptures, including the Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4), the Psalm that asks, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him and the son of man, that thou visitest him—for Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Psalm 8). But we draw our focus on the closing words of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 13:11-12): “Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

It’s Monday Morning. This week, let us heed the Apostle’s words. Encourage each other. Live in peace. And may the God of love and peace be with you in all you’re going through.

IT IS WELL (sung by Chris Rice)

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:

It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

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