A Letter to ISIS

And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out. –Peter the Apostle (Acts 3:19)

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

PRAYER FOCUS: The Persecuted Church

Every so often we find a picture, or a video, that captures thousands of words. This is one of those times. The video is entitled, “A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS”. It’s a little over three minutes in length.

Worldwide, of those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs, about 75% are Christians. Pray for those who share our faith, but not our freedom.

It’s Monday Morning. This week, even this day, Christian, your brothers and sisters will die for their faith. Will you live for yours?


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“Their God is My God”

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity! –Psalm 133:1

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

In two separate raids on the 27th of December 2014 and the 3rd of January 2015, Islamist radicals from the Islamic State, or Daesh in Arabic, kidnapped a total of 21 migrant workers they believed to be Egyptian Christians, of the Coptic Church. They were poor men—most of them from a poor town called al-Our, south of Cairo. Six weeks later, on February 15th, a horrific video emerged depicting these men dressed in orange jumpsuits, bound and kneeling on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea before their black-robed, masked, knife-wielding captors. One at a time, all 21 men were beheaded. Careful analysis of the video reveals that the men were repeating “Ya Rabbi Yasou” or “Lord Jesus help me” as they died.

But not all of the murdered workers were Egyptians. One was a man from Chad, who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not a Christian (slightly more than half of Chadians profess a blend of muslim-animist spirituality). He can be distinguished from the others by his much-darker skin. The Daesh terrorists saved him for last. They told him to renounce Jesus and he could walk away free. The simple migrant worker from Chad nodded towards the decapitated bodies of the Coptic Christians and declared in a voice that was heard around the earth and across the heavens, “Their God is my God.”

We are absolutely staggered by this. Consider a man–a poor man, a migrant worker, with little education–who almost certainly never read a Bible, and probably never entered a church or heard a sermon. His understanding of Jesus Christ would have been based largely, if not entirely, on what he had seen in the lives and heard from the lips of men who called Him Lord. Regardless, this Chadian knew exactly what a confession of faith would cost him. He could only hope in faith what it would gain him.

Their God is My God

In today’s prayer we ask Almighty God to grant that we may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Pause for a moment and consider the full meaning of that prayer, especially in light of our new, martyred, brother from Chad.

The persecution of the Church is real, Christian, and it is accelerating. Believers just like you are increasingly arriving at a point of desperation where all is lost, everything has failed, and their best efforts have summed up to zero. They have nothing. It is here that faith is either real, or it is not. It is here in this moment of need that we must realize that Jesus Christ is everything. If we have Jesus, we have everything.

What should we pray? Actually, “Lord Jesus help me” says it all.

Right now, the refugee camps along the border of Jordan and Iraq are full of our persecuted brothers and sisters—and their children. Please pray for them. Pray for their faith. Pray for their testimony. And pray for those who are laboring to bring them relief and hope.

It’s Monday Morning. What would you do if this was all happening to your church, in your community? This week, let’s practice saying two things: “Lord Jesus help me” and “Their God is my God”. Peace be with you.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

–John 20:19-31 (from this week’s Lectionary)

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Church, Arise!

Happy Easter Morning to you!

May this be a day of great rejoicing.

We cannot stress this point too strongly: The women who went to the grave of Jesus that morning (Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene) did not start the day believing in his resurrection. They weren’t checking to see if the tomb was empty. The fact that they carried spices to anoint a decaying corpse shows what they expected to find…

Luke 24:1-8 “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

He is RISEN!!! (He is risen, indeed…)

Church, arise.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

― Timothy Keller, author of The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

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The Last Painting

presented under license with IgniterMedia.

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In the Thundering Silence

It’s Good Friday. For centuries this day was known as Black Friday, with good reason. Today we commemorate the darkest day in all of human history.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, AMEN.”


Matthew 26:57—27:61
Mark 14:53—15:47
Luke 22:54—23:54
John 18-1—19:42


“He said he was the Son of God. How could he be dead?” #Shock.

“They’re saying he was a false prophet. What if they want to stone us?” #Fear.

“He was our friend, our teacher. He loved us.” #Pain.

“And we ran away when he needed us.” #Shame.

The followers of Jesus were thunderstruck. Their world was rocked. They were hiding. None of them had stood by the one they called Lord. Not one had so much as raised his voice.

Except Peter–ha! Peter the sword-wielding fisherman had shouted “I never knew him!”

The only bright spot in their litany of failure was that John had somehow found the gumption to accompany the women—including Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene—to Golgotha for the end.

The bravest men Jesus had in Jerusalem that day were members of the Sanhedrin—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The two of them had risked their lives, their fortunes and their families to take his dead corpse away from Golgotha. They buried him nearby, in a new tomb Joseph had made for himself. They hadn’t even had time to properly anoint the body before the Sabbath was upon them.

The vile Romans had promptly placed a large stone in front of the tomb’s entrance and ordered a detachment of armed guards “to protect the grave from looting by his followers.”

As if! You mean the same “followers” who fled silently into the night when Judas brought the Temple Guard to arrest him?

Who were his friends among the Sanhedrin when he stood before them, falsely accused of blasphemy? Ah, yes–the silent ones.

Where were his supporters in the streets of Jerusalem while others in the crowd cried “Give us Barabbas!” and “Crucify him!”? Silence there, too.

And we–yes, we–who would so quickly judge them in their day, how many times have we stood just like them–silently–while the mockers mock and the liars lie about the One we know is Faithful and True? Where are our voices?

Somewhere in the thundering silence hangs the answer.

It’s Good Friday. Thank God.


1. The Catholic Church treats Good Friday as a day of fasting, as does the Eastern Orthodox Church. Adult Orthodox Christians are expected to abstain from all food and drink the entire day to the extent that their health permits. As Protestants ourselves, we admire and agree with this church tradition. We pray you will consider it.

2. In observance of Good Friday, we will have our header photo blacked out until Easter morning.

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Thy Will, Not Mine

It’s Thursday morning of Holy Week. If this week is comparable to walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we are approaching the deep, dark and dangerous part. We are close to the end of our Lenten journey.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life, AMEN.”

PRAYER FOCUS: Thy Will Be Done

It was just three hours. They would regret them for the rest of their lives.

Peter, James and John were His most trusted Disciples, His best friends. They had been with Jesus since the beginning. They were sometimes slow to get what the Master taught; and they were prone to pride. Even tonight they were jockeying for “Who is greatest among us?” But they had never before failed like this.

And their night was just getting started. Before the rooster crowed the next morning it would get much, much worse…

The Gospel accounts of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane illuminate our Lord for all eternity. They provide a moving, compelling and accurate record of the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth. They tell a story of strength and weakness, light and darkness, faithfulness and failure. Ultimately, they record a glorious victory on a scope we haven’t the capacity to imagine.

We encourage you to spend a few minutes reading at least one of them.

Matthew 26:36-56
Mark 14:32-52
Luke 22:39-53
John 18:1-12

Concentrate on Jesus in Gethsemane. Our Lord expresses great dread over what is about to happen. He confesses to his Disciples, his friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He pleads with them, “Stay here and keep watch with me.”

These are not the words of a man who thinks he has it all in the bag. These are the words of a man who is struggling to hold it all together. Jesus knows exactly where this is all heading.

Focus on His prayers:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew)

Jesus pauses–and finds his friends asleep. He asks, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” Disappointed, he returns to his prayers.

“Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark)

He finds them sleeping again. He returns to his praying for the third time.

“Father, not my will…” (Luke)

These are not only not the words of a man who thinks he has it all in the bag, these are the prayers of someone who needs help. Jesus wants another way. He asks Father-God to let this cup pass. He gets silence in reply. He calls out “Abba”—Dad—and he prays like even the Messiah has never prayed before. He knows he needs more strength, more power.

Jesus is crushed by anguish. He prays with such great intensity that His sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood. Luke records that an angel from heaven appears and strengthens Him.

But the cup remains. And the obedient Son would soon drink every bit of it.

“Not my will…”

When the Disciples awaken it is too late. Judas is arriving with the temple guards, armed and wearing the full mantle of their authority. He greets Jesus with a kiss. Nothing they could do would alter the terrible course of events now in motion.

But they might have prayed with their Master, their Lord, their friend, just one more time. If only…

The Disciples fled. Every one of them. Peter would run away AND deny even knowing his Lord and Master–not once but three times.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

It has ever been thus. All of us have weak flesh. Like Jesus, all of us need strengthening to meet the tasks our Father-God sets before us. Like the Disciples, we can all seek and receive forgiveness when we fail. And that, dear friends, is why we need to pray.

It’s Thursday of Holy Week. The events commemorated on this day are somber at best. But we are not without hope. We are not without help. Let us pray, with our Lord and Savior, “Not my will…”

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What Does It Take to Amaze You?

“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35)

It’s Wednesday of Holy Week. In Western Christianity, this day is sometimes known as “Spy Wednesday”, a reference to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, for thirty silver coins. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, this day is called “Holy and Great Wednesday.”

We are nearing the end of our Lenten Journey. Lent is, without a doubt, a long and difficult trek. Passage through Holy Week has been fairly compared to a walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David describes in the 23rd Psalm. And, like the Psalm, this journey ends very well. The joy in the dawn of Easter morning makes it all worthwhile.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN.”


What if you saw a miracle? What if that miracle happened to you? Would it amaze you?

When Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem that Wednesday he didn’t come to argue with the priests and scribes. He taught: the Parables of the Two Sons, of the Tenants, and of the Wedding Banquet (Matt. 21:28-22:14, Mark 12:1-11, Luke 20:9-19). He performed miraculous healings: “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them” (Matt. 21:14-15).

Jesus was, in a word, amazing.

(Music by Phillips, Craig & Dean. Footage from the movie “Jesus of Nazareth”. Presented under license from IgniterMedia.)

It is clear from the four gospels that wherever Jesus went, people were amazed. Whether they were rich or poor, young or old, sick or well, friends or enemies — people were amazed. The Bible (NIV) uses the word amazed thirty-nine times, always referring to how people were amazed at Jesus.

Terrible things began to happen the next day, Thursday, events that had been prophesied about hundreds of years prior. But before we follow the Scriptures through that, remember what it was like when God became flesh and dwelled among us, how much He loved–with a pure, powerful, and utterly amazing love.

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The “Come to Jesus” Talk

Human Resources Professional speaking to employee on the edge: “Our goal for today’s session is to make you either a performing associate or a former associate. We don’t much care which…” In professional circles, this is known as The Come to Jesus Talk.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN.

SCRIPTURES: Matt 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-21

PRAYER FOCUS: Bearing Fruit

It’s Tuesday morning of Holy Week. In the Eastern Orthodox Church this day is referred to as “Great and Holy Tuesday.” Yesterday, on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus cursed a fig tree for being full of rich green foliage, but having no fruit. What do you think that tree looks like today?

On their way to Jerusalem for a second day of confrontation with the Jewish Religious Leaders, Jesus and his Disciples passed that fig tree. They saw it was completely withered. As usual, there was a lesson. Jesus paused to teach the importance of bearing fruit.

Like that fig tree, Israel showed all the signs of abundance–from a distance. The Hebrew nation was in full leaf; they had been blessed greatly. But the people were not faithful towards God. Nor did they love their neighbors, as we saw yesterday. Their leaders went to great lengths to appear holy. Only they weren’t. Even the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem was spiritually barren.

The Priests, Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees all followed the letter of the law, and were careful to be seen doing just that. Then Jesus walked into the Temple and denounced them all as a den of thieves. He very publicly and very pointedly condemned their religious structure—their church—to remain a lifeless, fruitless thing. So it was, and so it would be.

Their synagogues remained open, for a time. But their teaching became a dead form of what it had been. As a nation, Israel had no further influence. The Hebrew people became, for centuries, a withered tree. Jesus did not destroy their religious organizations—He didn’t have to. He left them as they were, rotten and decayed from the root, until the Romans came, and with the axes of their Legions, hacked away the fruitless trunk.

Renowned Evangelist Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon in 1889, observed:

Persons whose religion is false are frequently prominent, because they have not grace enough to be modest and retiring…they do not walk in secret with God, they have little concern about private godliness, and so they are all the more eager to be seen of men. This is both their weakness and their peril. Though least of all able to bear the wear and tear of publicity, they are covetous for it. This is the evil of the whole matter; for it makes their spiritual failure to be known by so many, and their sin brings all the greater dishonor upon the name of the Lord, whom they profess to serve. Better to be fruitless in a corner of a wood than on the public way which leads to the temple.

(from The Withered Fig Tree, Sermon #2107)

And so we take away three lessons from this event, and none of them have to do with figs or fig trees:

1. A lesson for nations. A nation may be founded on good and godly principles, and may profess to be a faithful people. Its laws may be modeled after the great truths of Scripture. It may build an empire that spans the globe. And it may display all the foliage of civilization, art, and science. But when it fails to exhibit the righteousness and faithfulness that exalt the nation before God, if there is no inner life of godliness, that nation will become barren, and then wither away.
2. A lesson for churches. Throughout the ages, the church has included congregations that changed the course of human history. But these victories have usually proven transient. Because even in the best congregations, the disciplines required of true faith, love and holiness have not been maintained. Inevitably, the Spirit of God left them to their vanity, fruitless, until they destroyed themselves.
3. A lesson for individuals. There are consequences for not bearing fruit. Jesus was also warning those whose promise is great, but who yield no fruit. They may seem impressive in the sanctuary or Sunday School room–loud, learned, authoritative. Given their impressive foliage, you’d expect many baskets of the best figs from them. We may envy them and seek to emulate them. But when (not if) their hypocrisy is discovered, we are apt to despise our own faith as well as theirs.

The Bible tells us that from the beginning of time as we know it, a war has raged between the spiritual forces of good and evil. Participation is not optional. We win when we bear fruit. The enemy wins when we don’t. Jesus, our Captain, our Lord and Savior, has every right to expect the first and best fruits of His followers.

This is Tuesday of Holy Week. It’s time we had a Come to Jesus talk. Are you going to bear fruit—or not?

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Why Was Jesus Angry?

A man is about as big as the things which make him angry. —Sir Winston Churchill

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find in it the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN.”


Jesus clears the Temple: Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48

PRAYER FOCUS: What Makes Jesus Angry?

“What makes you angry?”

This is probably the most revealing question asked in any job interview. The answer provides clear and deep insight to the person’s priorities, their values, where their boundaries lie. It can also reveal the person’s capacity to misrepresent, or conceal, the truth.

Some people never seem to get angry. Nothing disturbs their even keel. They are rarely, if ever, visibly upset, much less indignant. This is often seen as a marker of virtue or strength. But it is neither.

In our modern day, children, especially boys, are repeatedly given the message that anger is bad, that acting out brings disgrace and discredit. This message can be extremely harmful. It allows no room to deal with things that do—and should—make us angry.

The Monday before he was crucified, Jesus Christ gave us a crystal clear demonstration of what made him angry.

Jesus enters the Temple and confronts the merchants and moneychangers inside what was known as the Court of the Gentiles. He loses his temper. He raises his voice–overturns tables, scatters money and merchandise all over the place. He raises his fist. He makes a whip of cords, and physically drives both man and beast out of the Temple. Jesus has insulted the Temple’s leaders before and now he insults them again. “Den of thieves!” he yells at them.

It is safe to say almost everybody in Jerusalem heard about this violent, spectacular confrontation. Religious leaders of first century Jerusalem were no different than many religious leaders of today: they (claim to) disavow violence, they dislike spectacles (especially at their expense), and they avoid confrontation (unless they control it).

The events in today’s Scriptures stand in sharp contrast to what is usually preached about Jesus. An angry Jesus? Well, we’d just rather talk about how much he loves us. Anger is so, so–negative. (wring hands for effect).

What made Jesus angry to the point of violence?

1. Defiling what is holy (set apart for God). The Court of Gentiles was the outermost enclosure of the Temple of Herod, where non-Jewish believers worshiped the God of Abraham. But instead of being a quiet place, a clean place, a holy place for prayerful consideration, it was where animals were penned, where religious merchandise was sold and money exchanged. Would it make you mad to walk into your church and find all this going on in the back half of your sanctuary? Jesus roared, “Make not my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16).

2. Disenfranchising God’s children. Mosaic Law kept Gentiles separate from the ethnic Hebrews in the Temple (hence the outer court). But the Jewish religious leaders were callous towards the Gentiles in ways that far exceeded that requirement. How do you think it made the Gentiles feel to have their spiritual brothers shunt them into a smelly, noisy stockyard to pray? God is offended when we make it difficult for any group (or any one) of his children to worship. Jesus exclaimed, “My house is to be called a house of prayer for all people!” (Mark 11:17).

3. Exploiting and/or cheating the faithful. The Temple levied a tax on all visitors equivalent to two days’ wages. Most people used Roman coins engraved with the image of Caesar. This was offensive to the religious leaders, so pilgrims had to exchange them for local coinage—for a small fee, of course (~15% commission). Animals brought to the altar for sacrifice had to be declared without blemish. The Temple had quality control inspectors and, of course, they usually found something wrong. Conveniently, the worshiper could buy a beast that had already passed inspection—for a small fee (10x the normal price). Not surprisingly, the Temple priests were in on the racket. Dishonesty takes many forms, and God hates them all.

What makes Jesus angry? The same things that make our Father-God angry: Sin. Impurity. Injustice. Dishonesty. Unbelief. Rebellion against God’s authority.

Yes, God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:14, Jonah 4:2, Nahum 1:3, etc.). And He is deeply, keenly interested both in keeping His house clean and His children safe from abuse. Just because God’s anger is slow to rise doesn’t mean He will never respond in it.

Consider what Jesus did and did not do:

• Jesus didn’t form a committee or ask anyone’s permission. He got right to work making his Father’s house clean again, directly challenging those who had let it become defiled.
• Jesus didn’t ask nicely, and He didn’t worry about what anyone thought. He made a whip and He made a scene. There is a time for diplomacy, but this was not it.
• Jesus did have the courage of his convictions and was prepared to seriously offend those in power. He hit them right where it hurt—He assaulted their cash flow and their pride.
• Jesus did show restraint, even in the heat of anger. With a word the Son of God could have called down fire from heaven, or caused the earth to open and swallow up the recipients of His anger–but He didn’t. The whip of cords would sting but not wound. He drove the cattle and sheep out of the temple where they could be retrieved. The scattered coins could be picked up. Jesus did not release the doves, but rather warned their owners to “get them out of here.”

The cleansing of the Temple shows what controlled, righteous anger can do. The correction of social injustices in the 19th and 20th centuries happened because people got angry about the conditions of the working poor, the plight of women and children, the unequal exploitation of minorities. There are times remedial action needs to be taken in our churches, and it is rarely the placid, passive man or woman who undertakes the task.

Jesus was angry, and for good reasons. Let us mark those reasons well. There is enormous, eternal comfort in knowing our Lord and Savior understands anger and allows a place for it.

It’s Monday. What would Jesus drive out of your church? What might he ask you to drive out of your life?

NOTE: In honor of Holy Week, The Monday Prayer will publish every day until Good Friday. As the week progresses, we will follow the daily activities of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Scriptures, along with observations and prayer.

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Whose Coin Is It?

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

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

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

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

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

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

PRAYER FOCUS: God and Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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