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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Water Walking

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. —C.S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

PRAYER FOCUS: COURAGE.

Simon Peter uttered mankind’s original prayer: “LORD SAVE ME!!!”

The Apostle known as Cephas “the Rock” was about to sink like one. Matthew records that Peter “cried out…”

As we read this well-known passage of Scripture, three questions come to mind:

The first engages one of the great mysteries of our human condition. Namely, why are we so easily distracted when things are going well? Only a few moments before, Peter was in fear for his life. Suddenly he was walking on water. He was doing great…right up until he became distracted and his faith wavered.

The second question is similar to the first. Why must we be in distress before we cry out to Jesus? We humans, in our frailty, will reliably wait until the storms of life are upon us before we start looking around for the Lord. He is always with us, always loving us, and yet we take our eyes off of Him and follow our own attentions into danger. We, like Peter, are usually in trouble and sinking fast before we start to pray.

But the third question reveals one of our greatest human weaknesses. Why didn’t anyone else get out of the boat? How often do we sit on the sidelines, or even in the bleachers, and critique those on the field? Peter had the courage to stand up and step out onto the water. Sooner or later, Jesus Christ will ask each one of us to look the impossible straight in the eye and depend on God’s supernatural power.

And this leads us to our Prayer Focus this week—COURAGE.

There is no class called “Water-Walking 101.” Jesus didn’t explain the principles first. He didn’t help his disciples practice on puddles. No, He waited for the darkest time of night, in the middle of a storm, in open water, after they had been rowing for hours into an opposing wind. The Teacher arrived at a moment when the students were stressed and tired and scared. He shows up doing some supernatural thing that was quite frightening, and commands them to do the same. Such is the classroom of faith.

Note how the Lord greets them:

“Take courage.” Faith and courage are inseparable. One requires the other.
“It is I.” Even though their eyes may deceive them, they know His voice.
“Don’t be afraid.” Fear is the mind-killer. Bold Peter had this task mastered until fear wormed its way back into his mind.

The lesson was over once Teacher and Pupil climbed into the boat. We DON’T see Jesus congratulating his one brave disciple with silly platitudes like, “Wow, man, you really did it!” The other disciples don’t get T-shirts to commemorate the experience, no one gets trophies for coming out for the water-walking team. Jesus rebukes Peter with, “Why did you doubt?”

Does this seem harsh?

Too often we seek a Savior who, after assuring us of eternal life, leaves us alone until our next crisis. We ask Him to comfort us but never confront us. We ask Him to use us, to bless us, but not to form us for His greater use.

But Jesus is not a Savior who rescues us and then leaves us alone. The same Teacher who calls us to take courage will not indulge either pride in success or self-pity in failure. Jesus will not willingly permit that contamination in His disciples. The discipline we undergo is intended for our good, so that we may be conformed to Him.

God’s goal is not merely to protect us. He intends to perfect us. He accommodates and redeems the conflicts that rage against our souls. He uses these times to build in us the virtues we lack, so that we may perfect our faith.

Maybe you’re going through one of life’s storms. Maybe it’s dark, and you’re rowing against a contrary wind. And, of course, you’re praying. But what are you praying for, Christian? Are you crying out to God, asking for a return to your safe, predictable life, or are you seeking something more—supernatural?

Take courage! Be of good cheer. May you be enabled to live according to God’s Will…

It’s Monday Morning. What will it take to get you out of the boat this week?

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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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