The battle belongs to the Lord

President Obama declared on national TV that “we have contained [ISIS]”; within hours of the broadcast, ISIS struck Paris, following hard on the heels of attacks in Beirut and Baghdad.  Burundi, which not so long ago was sending peacekeeping forces to Somalia, is descending into a whirlpool of violence and nightmare.  It’s easy to look around at the world and wonder, “Where is the hope?”Read more

De profundis

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice. . . .
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Lord, be . . .
Lord, be peace to calm the storm.
Lord, be enough, for I am not enough.
Lord, be strength to bear these burdens.
Lord, be wisdom to mend my folly.
Lord, be knowledge, for I do not understand.
Lord, be light outshining the darkness.
Lord, be power to raise up my weakness.
Lord, be hope when I have no hope in myself.
Lord, be goodness to draw my heart.
Lord, be love to heal me, and through me to heal others.
Lord, be grace to set me free from fear of condemnation.
Lord, be faithfulness, for I don’t know how to trust.
Lord, be joy on a bitter road.
Lord, be promise when the way ahead is dark.
Lord, be the next step, for I am lost.
Lord, be healing in the midst of pain.
Lord, be music through the discord.
Lord, be justice against the evil in my heart.
Lord, be protection from my enemies, for they are great and I am small.
Lord, be who you are and have always been, because the waters are over my head.
Please . . .
Lord, be.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


Ludolf Backhuysen, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1695

Prayer in the Roman world

[Jesus said,] “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

—Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV)

This evening, my lovely wife discovered what looks like a fascinating blog, For the Sake of Truth, by a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named Josh Mann. I’ll have to explore it a bit to see if I want to add it to the blogroll, but I can already say that the current top post, “How to Pray: Two Ancient Views,” is a keeper.

Commentators generally understand Jesus’ condemnation of “using meaningless repetition” (βατταλογήσητε) and “many words” (τῇ πολυλογίᾳ) as either (1) formulaic and legalistic repetition of intelligible prayers; or (2) pagan magical incantations (probably unintelligible gibberish). I lean heavily toward the first view, not least because of the prevalence of repetitious intelligible prayers carried out in the Roman culture (both private and public).

He then goes on to lay out examples of that (including a remarkable quote from Pliny the Elder), concluding,

It seems that in the Roman view, strict adherence to a formula would obligate the god or goddess to respond in kind.

This, of course, stands in the sharpest of contrast to the view of prayer taught by Jesus:

One should not think to obligate God by some formula. Rather, one ought to pray to God as a dependent child makes request to a Father (Matt 6:9-13). In my view, Jesus gives a model for prayer (rather than a strict formula!), but in any case, he clearly commands that prayer be done with sincerity and humility, recognizing one’s needs and the ability of the Father to provide for such needs. Prayer is no doubt petition at its core, but in Matthew 6, Jesus challenges the crowds regarding the attitudes and motives underlying prayer.

It’s a great post; go read the whole thing.

We aren’t islands—we should act accordingly

Tyler Dawn has a very good post up today, one which I encourage you to read, that reminded me of this wisdom from the preacher-poet Dr. John Donne:

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. . . .

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

In keeping with this, I also note Tyler Dawn’s most recent post; I’ll be praying for her, and I hope you will be too.

In honor of Kerry Livgren

Thanks to a commenter on the previous post for tipping me off: Livgren suffered a major stroke three weeks ago. It was bad enough that he had surgery that morning to remove a clot from the language centers of his brain; the surgery went well, and the reports on his recovery (posted on Kansas’ official band website; click on “Kerry L. update”) are positive. Please be praying.Since I’ve been on a Kerry Livgren kick anyway, I thought I’d post a few more videos—this time from the AD phase of his career.


The Fury

All Creation Sings

Lead Me to Reason

Evening prayer

The Lord reveal himself more and more to us in the face of his Son Jesus Christ and magnify the power of his grace in cherishing those beginnings of grace in the midst of our corruptions, and sanctify the consideration of our own infirmities to humble us, and of his tender mercy to encourage us.

And may he persuade us that, since he has taken us into the covenant of grace, he will not cast us off for those corruptions which, as they grieve his Spirit, so they make us vile in our own eyes.

And because Satan labors to obscure the glory of his mercy and hinder our comfort by discouragements, the Lord add this to the rest of his mercies, that we may not lose any portion of comfort that is laid up for us in Christ.

And, may he grant that the prevailing power of his Spirit in us should be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity. Amen.

—Richard Sibbes

HT: Of First Importance

Morning prayer

Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be;
set your seal upon my heart and live in me.

—John Bell

This is a simple little musical prayer written by the Iona Community’s John Bell, with a reflective melody that ends on an unresolved chord (the melody ends on re); I’ve seen it used most often as a congregational response, either to Scripture readings or during a time of prayer. For whatever reason, it floated into my mind this past hour, and has been flowing through it ever since. I guess this is the prayer of my heart this morning, for myself and for our congregation.

The terrible beauty of freedom

What’s happening in Iran in response to the fraudulent election is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This may be the revolution, and if so, it indeed will not be televised (though the early phases were), but it will be tweeted. The Anchoress comments,

You can feel the pulse. It is a human force for freedom that is pressing, pressing against restraints; fully aware of the danger, it yearns, pressing forward, still. It is a terrible beauty.

Read her post; she has some great comments and, as usual, a terrific roundup of key links on the state of things in Iran. We can be proud of Twitter, and of the people who came up with it and maintain it; we can be grateful that they were willing to reschedule their maintenance to inconvenience Americans instead of the Iranians who are tweeting for their lives, their freedom, and their sacred honor. And we can pray (hard!) for those Iranians, that God would protect them and honor their prayers, that he would work a miracle through them and give them freedom.

Unfortunately, our president hasn’t covered himself with glory in this instance; he seems to think that to “stand strongly with [a] universal principle” is enough, that if he just does that, he doesn’t have to stand with the Iranian people. Don Surber put it well, I think, when he wrote,

As an American, I am embarrassed that a couple of computer geeks who came up with a social network have more brass than my holier-than-thou president. Words, deeds. Odd that Twitter does deeds while the commander-in-chief does words.

Just an observation.

Fortunately, as the Anchoress notes, a 27-year-old Condoleezza Rice appointee at the State Department, Jared Cohen, took up some of the president’s slack when he asked Twitter to postpone their scheduled maintenance. Cohen’s an interesting chap, having spent a fair bit of time wandering around the Islamic world before going to work at Foggy Bottom; in 2007 he told the New Yorker,

“They make alcohol in their bathtubs and their sinks,” Cohen said. “And the drug use—it’s really no different from a frat party. You have to pinch yourself and remind yourself that you’re in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian young people are one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East. They just don’t know who to gravitate around, so young people gravitate around each other.”

Watch out for this guy—he has a very bright future—and be grateful that God put someone in his job at State who knows and cares about the people of Iran, especially since his new boss doesn’t know them and doesn’t seem to care very much. Never mind that, because Barack Obama’s not at the wheel here—he’s on the sidelines, a spectator, pretty much irrelevant; history’s happening somewhere else today. Pray for the people of Iran; pray that God brings the walls down. And pray that when that happens, and the reactions of our government start to matter again, that then they do the right thing.

Thought on prayer and the routine

Today was taken up with a trip down to Indianapolis.  On the way back, we saw two overturned semis—one by itself, one at the center of a multi-vehicle accident (in the lanes going the other direction) that had drawn upwards of a dozen emergency vehicles, all with lights going.  One of my daughters asked, after we passed the big one, why it had happened; I said I didn’t know, but the comment was made that probably someone hadn’t been paying attention.  There was a little red car, undamaged, stopped a short distance ahead of the accident, which made us wonder if perhaps that car had cut someone off or made a sudden move of some other sort, setting off a chain of events that made the semi swerve and overbalance, among other things—the sort of careless move that people make and get away with all the time, but this time at just the wrong moment to cause a tragedy.

We take so much for granted, most days.  We take for granted that we can drive wherever we need to go and get there and back safely—and if we don’t, people call us worrywarts.  We take for granted that we can do whatever it occurs to us to do and it will all be okay, and that if we’re a little careless, no harm will be done.  We may pray for God’s protection as we travel or do other things—I had asked for prayer Wednesday for traveling mercies for us—but we do so lightly, more in the spirit of “just in case” than with any sense that it’s actually important.  We take for granted that the routine and the mundane really is, of its essence, the routine and the mundane.

And it isn’t, as the folks involved in that accident were reminded, and as we were reminded, passing by in the other direction.  It isn’t at all.  There is always the possibility for the unexpected and the uncontrolled to intrude—and if, at any given point, that possibility may be quite low, it does build up after a while.  There’s always more out of our control than we like to admit, and more variables (many more) than we can possibly track, and far more ways that things can go wrong than there are ways they can go right.  We expect routine good fortune, take it for granted, and consider ourselves ill-used when we don’t get it, when we really ought to realize that even that much is a great gift, an act of God’s grace.  It is, truly, no small thing to pray for traveling mercies—and no small blessing when our request is granted.  Every such answer to prayer is a victory over the chaos in our world; and every such victory should be taken seriously as reason for gratitude.