The religion of the founding fathers is notoriously difficult to pin down, but their written records offer many insights. For example, when the Continental Congress met for the first time, in September 1774, John Adams described in a letter to his wife a remarkably familiar religious atmosphere:
“When the Congress met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina because we were so divided in religious sentiments—some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists—that we could not join in the same act of worship.
“Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue who was at the same time a friend to his country. He was a stranger in Philadelphia but had heard that Dr. Duche deserved that character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche, an Episcopal clergyman, might be desired to read prayers to Congress tomorrow morning. The motion was seconded and passed in the affirmative. … “
In this case, unlike many others in history, conflict apparently ended with the selection of a spiritual spokesman. Adams continues:
“Accordingly next morning he appeared with his clerk and his pontificals [vestments], and read the Psalter for the seventh day of September, which was the 85th Psalm. You must remember this was the next morning after we had heard the rumor of the horrible cannonade of Boston. I never saw greater effect produced upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duche, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporaneous prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present:
“‘Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the counsel of this honorable assembly. Enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundations, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed, that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish among the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, thy Son and our Savior, Amen.’
“Washington was kneeling there, and Henry, Randolph, Rutledge, Lee, and Jay, and by their side there stood, bowed in reverence, the Puritan patriots of New England, who at that moment had reason to believe that an armed soldiery was wasting their humble households. … They prayed fervently for America, for Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially for the town of Boston [whose port had been closed and in which British troops were being quartered].
“And who can realize the emotions with which they turned imploringly to Heaven for divine interposition. It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, pacifist Quakers of Philadelphia.”
If My People Will Pray
“We have been made right in God’s sight by faith…” Romans 5:1
Bethel Church sat on a quiet road on twelve acres of well-tended land. Across the parking lot was a very nice parsonage. There were six primary families who had the vision for Bethel and saw to it that their vision became a reality. In the process, they confused building the church with “owning” the church.
As the head elder Bud would say, “We have the responsibility to keep an eye on the pastor just to make certain sure he don’t go down any wrong trails.” They took their jobs very seriously. So far six pastors failed to make the grade. A seventh was about to find the door out.
An emergency meeting had been called to discuss the pastor. A young believer sat in the meeting, astounded by the petty, ridiculous accusations leveled at the pastor. He knew him to be a man of love; a man who guided his young life to trust in the Lord. With tear-filled eyes he stood and reminded the people of God’s desire for believers to walk in love, to practice forgiveness and pray for healing. Instead, one of the founding fathers smiled and said, “Well son, we know you mean well but you’re young yet. Some day you will understand. Now let’s have the vote so we can start looking for a new pastor.”
The next morning, the pastor called the young man over for coffee and a little help in preparing for the move.
Laying his hand on his Bible the pastor said, “Son, God’s Word will never fail or let us down. He has seen to it that the answers to all our problems can be found between these pages. Let me show you an important section in the book of Romans.”
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
“What a wonderful set of promises,” said the Pastor. “You will notice that it does not say anything about having perfect conditions or a place of prominence. These promises are based on our decision to believe in Jesus Christ; in spite of any problems we might have. And they have nothing to do with our performance. Notice the word undeserved!
“We can’t stop reading there. To fully understand how God works, let’s keep reading.”
Romans 5:3-5 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
“Now, let’s look at some verses spoken by Jesus in the book of Matthew.
Matthew 6:9-15 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“Here is a powerful prayer given to us by Jesus Himself. Look at what he says about forgiveness, ‘forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven…’ As we pray this, we are agreeing with God to put a condition on our forgiveness. We are saying, forgive me in the same way I forgive others who have sinned against me. You see how it plays out? If we don’t forgive others He can’t forgive us. Now that is a place I do not want to be in with God.
“So, when I consider these verses, I have no choice but to believe that God was not taken by surprise when our tenure here was cut short and that He has another place for us to go. What God considers most important is how I react to this trial. Do I allow Him to change me by this or do I stomp off mad, pouting in a corner somewhere? We mustn’t forget the words of James either.”
James 1:2-4 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
“And as I read James last night, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Matthew as well.”
Matthew 5:11-12 God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
“Son, I fully believe all the words that God has placed in our Bible and I have placed my life in His hands. I understand your feelings of hurt and outrage over what happened to me but you’ve got to go to His word and see what He says about life. The Bible is not buffet style, where we pick and choose which verses we consider important or relevant for today. If you want to follow the Lord, you must give it all up to Him. Believe me, you will never regret it. Never.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always” Philippians 4:4
If I had loads of money would my life be better or more satisfying? Am I looking for God’s guidance, wisdom, and direction each day or am I hoping for a miraculous change—a heavenly rescue.
Do I think I will be more useful to God and others if I strike at rich, win the lottery or write a best seller? As a Bible-believing Christian, how does God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit impact my life as it is? Has Jesus Christ become nothing more than Fire Insurance to me?
Last weekend brought forth the culmination of the NFL…The Super Bowl. Millions of people spent several hours cheering, yelling, hoping against hope that their favorite team would win. Beginning with the first kickoff, passion exploded across America with people cheering, screaming, shaking fists and raising arms in excitement, hoping for victory. All this for something temporary, something that will fade into obscurity at the last trumpet blast when Jesus Christ comes in glory!
And what of the believer? Where is our passion? We have a treasure hidden in our hearts, the greatest gift ever given, a gift never to erode or pass away. The gift of forgiveness, redemption and eternal life. So where are our tailgate parties and festive, cheering meetings? As receivers of the greatest gift given at the greatest price, where is our football-like excitement and passion? It seems as though it is hidden. Rather than telling our workmates and neighbors about life eternal and the Salvation of Jesus Christ, we would rather take off our armor, set aside the grace of Jesus Christ and join in Monday morning sports talk.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” ~Revelation 3:15-16
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:1-21
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS!
It’s finally happened. The high-flying Red, White and Blue is stained with the wretched colors of thousands of political exaggerations and lies poured out onto the airwaves as well as the internet. Once votes are cast and counted the lesser of two evils will wear the mantle of President of the United States (are we united?)
Trump? Clinton? Which one will gleefully claim victory in November? Will either one allow the solemness of such an incredible responsibility remake them into a servant of the 320,000,000 people living here? If history teaches us anything useful (and it always does), we’ve just witnessed nearly eight years of empty promises and egotism instead of well-honed governing.
Regardless of which “lesser of two evils” walks into the Oval Office in January, God is quietly behind the scenes setting up scenarios that will fit perfectly into His end times puzzle. And then one day Jesus Himself will come down from heaven with an earth-shattering shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God!
On that day whoever lives in the White House will suddenly realize the insignificance of their power and authority in comparison to the majestic, almighty power of God.
“The mind of man plans his way” Proverbs 16:9
“It is quite plain in the scriptural revelation that spiritual things are hidden by a veil, and by nature, a human does not have the ability to comprehend and get hold of them. He comes up against a blank wall. He takes doctrine and texts and proofs and creeds and theology, and lays them up like a wall – but he cannot find the gate! He stands in the darkness and all about him is intellectual knowledge of God – but not the knowledge of God, for there is a difference between the intellectual knowledge of God and the Spirit-revealed knowledge.” ~A.W. Tozer
Isa. 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
1 Cor. 2:14 , “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Jn. 16:12-14 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
1 Cor. 2:6-9 “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”
1 Cor. 1:18-29 “I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. For God says, “I will destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be, and ignore the best ideas of men, even the most brilliant of them.”
“What about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world’s great affairs? God has made them all look foolish and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. For God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance, and then he stepped in and saved all those who believed his message, which the world calls foolish and silly. But God has opened the eyes of those called to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, to see that Christ is the mighty power of God to save them; Christ himself is the center of God’s wise plan for their salvation. This so-called “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man, and God in his weakness—Christ dying on the cross—is far stronger than any man.”
“Notice among yourselves, dear brothers, that few of you who follow Christ have big names or power or wealth. Instead, God has deliberately chosen to use ideas the world considers foolish and of little worth in order to shame those people considered by the world as wise and great. He has chosen a plan despised by the world, counted as nothing at all, and used it to bring down to nothing those the world considers great, so that no one anywhere can ever brag in the presence of God.”
Often we struggle to seem clever, smart, self-contained and able to tackle any task that comes our way. The result, when successful, is pride. Humans want to elevate people, to praise them and admire them. Large churches are filled with followers of a person. God has clearly explained He wants us to be dependent on Him, not ourselves. Many years ago, Billy Graham went on the Dick Cavett Show to be interviewed. Cavette was not a believer. Each time he asked a question to belittle Graham, Billy replied with a smile, “Dick, the Bible says. . .” After a few such answers, Cavette was visibly uncomfortable, wishing for the show to end. Billy chose to be weak in his flesh to be strong in the Spirit.
The unrelenting sun scorched everything in the arid oilfields. The grizzled, rough-and-tumble men approached the lone speaker slowly, determined to stop his mouth permanently. A few feet away now, the solitary sentinel turned to face them, eyes penetrating, fire like.
“Boys?” he enquired.
“We come to show you your words ain’t enough to stand against us. We come to shut you up once and for all,” they said.
Squaring his slight shoulders and facing his threatening accusers directly, the slender young man opened his mouth, but the words were from another realm, “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer with shatters a rock?”1
As though held by an unseen force, the men were frozen, mouths agape, eyes wide. They were silent.
He continued, “Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent His Son to bring His message to us. God created the universe by His Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like Him in every way. By His own might word, He hold the universe together.”2
Without a word, the hardened, sunbaked men sank to their knees onto the superheated ground with their heads bowed, tears streaming down their crevassed faces.
Only God knows if this was the only time men were baptized from a canteen!
1. Jeremiah 23:39; 2. Hebrews 1:1-3
My wife and I were in the living room of our third-floor apartment when she heard the low rumblings of an emergency vehicle in the drive. In a flash we were at the window. Who? How bad? Is there hope? “I think they’re headed for Glenn and Arlene’s place. I better be with Arlene.” She headed out. Seconds later, an ambulance arrived, pulled out a gurney and headed for the same apartment. Within fifteen minutes, the paramedics reappeared, guiding the gurney to their vehicle with Glenn wearing an oxygen mask, covered with a blanket, strapped to the gurney. He seemed out of it.
My wife helped Arlene into the ambulance and told her we would talk tomorrow. If she needed anything to call. Small, seemingly insignificant words perhaps but to Arlene, they were words of love and compassion if she remembers them at all. No calls that night. Arlene spent the night beside her husband, sleeping very little. At 77, that’s a sure-fire way to sap one’s strength.
The next morning our phone rang at 7:30. Arlene calling. “Please call my daughter and my niece. Glenn is in pain. They are giving him morphine. It seems to help. He’s not talking, just mumbling a bit. The doctor said they may have to prepare him for emergency surgery. His body is failing. Heart rate 60/40.
Last night, and since we awoke this morning, we’ve been praying for Glenn and Arlene. But what does one pray? God heal Glenn and make their lives good again? Really? So we pray, “God please reveal your perfect will for this couple. You know them and have a plan for them. We pray for the best possible outcome! In the name of Jesus we pray.” Although I believe in God and the efficacy of prayer I must admit to feelings of helplessness in times such as this. “God, I know you hear but I don’t know what you will do.” Glenn and Arlene trust God with the outcome. Actually, what else can you do at a time like this?
Leann makes the calls and we head-out for the hospital. Arriving we find Arlene alternately sobbing and looking confused. Who wouldn’t be? Is this it? Will he live or die? Can he understand me? Will he forgive me for that snippy remark I made last night? Will I forgive myself? God help me.
A young doctor attempts to describe Glenn’s condition and the possible surgical procedure. He fails. We are dumb. He knows and walks slowly away, wishing he was a better communicator. “Ok folks (four of us now, including the 53-year-old daughter), we’re moving Glenn and Sally will take you to the second floor waiting area. A doctor will be there shortly to explain everything.”
Time slowly passed as we talked aimlessly, trying humor which fell flat, remembrances which brought sadness and tears until a middle-aged doctor arrived to introduce himself. I got off the two person padded bench for him but he motioned for me to sit beside him. I think he wanted the contact. What he had to say was not easy but necessary. I felt his compassion and love. It was evident to see. I patted his back from time to time. He didn’t object.
Using wonderful, caring descriptions this man, this surgeon helped Arlene and her daughter understand that Glenn’s body would not recover. He was shutting down. Surgery would not be possible. Too much risk. Not much chance for satisfactory recovery. Finally he said, “Sometimes, when the body is shutting down, the heart reflects that change by slowing down accordingly until finally…it stops beating.” Tears filled his eyes. “Believe me I understand your feelings. Today I had to admit my 93-year-old mother and there’s not much chance she will return home.” Those tears overflowed from his eyes and streaked down his worn face. We all cried.
We were told to join Glenn around the corner in a cordoned off area where his bed had been situated. A wonderful, loving nurse softly explained what was happening and how important it was for us to talk and pray with Glenn. She found country music (his favorite) on her phone and set it near him as she gently caressed his face asking how he felt, making certain he was as comfortable as possible. “He knows you are here,” she told us. “It’s good if you talk to him and touch him. It will help you too.”
Shortly, Arlene asked us to leave and thanked us for all we did to help. “I will never forget what you’ve done,” she tearfully said. “Never! It meant everything to me.” Funny how much it meant to her. We did nothing unusual or admirable. Perhaps we were following the command of Jesus to “love your neighbor.” I hope so.
Arlene called within two hours. Glenn had passed from this life to the next. Now he was at peace and without pain.
Let us prove our reverence for God by consecrating ourselves to Him completely.
2 Cor. 7:1
“Are you sanctified?” bellowed the animated preacher, pointing and sweeping his right hand in a grand gesture to the church. “Are you sure? Are you holy? If you have any doubts you better come down to the altar and pray your way through! God is not happy with any fence sitters tonight. He means business and you better mean business too. You got to be sanctified to make God happy and get a golden key to your heavenly mansion,” said the sweat-drenched pastor as he walked to and fro among them, satisfied with the response to his fear-packed message.
Terrified and confused, people flocked to the altar, crying and begging God for the elusive sanctification, fearing they might miss the golden key awaiting those who have achieved sanctification [holiness]. Contrary to his threats and confusing statements, God was not happy with him or his misguided sermon. Believers do not receive sanctification as a result of fear or condemnation. To be accurate, this very emotional and dramatic pastor should have proclaimed, “Your faith has made you whole and you are all sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit!” Let’s see what God’s Word has to say about our sanctification/holiness.
Romans 6:19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
1 Cor. I:30-31 God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.
1 Cor. 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
1 Cor. 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Thess. 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Cor. 7:1 Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
John 17:17-19 (Christ’s prayer to God) Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
2 Thess. 2:13 As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth.
Hebrews 10:10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.
Sanctification/holiness is not something we can beg God for at a church altar. Sanctification is a gift from God as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ. Although a gift, God requires our involvement to make choices for purity and holiness. But fear not, it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to follow through on our Christ-like decisions.
The scene is a courtroom trial in South Africa.
A frail black woman rises slowly to her feet. She is something over 70 years of age. Facing across the room are several white security police officers, one of whom, Mr van der Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband some years before. He had come to the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point blank range and then set the young man’s body on fire while he and his officers partied nearby.
Several years later, van der Broek and his cohorts had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, van de Broek came back to fetch the woman herself.
How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father forgive them…”
Now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions offered by Mr van de Broek. A member of the South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?”
“I want three things,” begins the old woman calmly, but confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”
She pauses, then continues “My husband and son were my only family, I want secondly, therefore, for Mr van der Broek to become my son. I would like him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining in me.
“And finally,” she says, “I want a third thing. This is also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr van der Broek in my arms and embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he has just heard, faints. As he does, those in the courtroom, family, friends neighbours – all victims of decades of oppression and injustice – begin to sing, softly but assuredly. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” (From J.John & Mark Stibbe)