National Day of Prayer 2016

This year the observance of the National Day of Prayer is on May 5. In communities across America, the faithful will take the opportunity to pray for our nation and its leaders.  If you feel compelled to pray and want to invigorate your prayers, I suggest using Scripture as a prayer guide, demonstrated here using a few select verses.

The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His (2 Chron. 16:9).  Lord we need your strong support for our nation, community, work, family, and for ourselves.  By your Spirit, move us to give our hearts completely to you, to receive your presence and guidance.  As your eyes roam the earth, may they rest on us as having embraced the gospel of Christ in which we find righteousness by faith and the hope of eternity.

Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are but men (Ps. 9:20). It is when a nation’s leaders imagine that they have authority reserved only for you, God, that calamity comes.  Instill in our nation’s leaders a sense of humility and respect for a greater authority, for in this we the people can enjoy peace and freedom.  Thank you that in your Providence, you have accounted for evil among the nations and you will accomplish your purposes in the world.

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation (Ps. 43:1).  Lord, we thank you for the freedoms we have enjoyed as Americans, but we understand that these are not guaranteed in this world.  We are stunned to see our culture define religious freedom as a form of bigotry, and Christian morality as intolerable.  Strengthen us to remain faithful to obey God rather than men.

God be gracious to us and bless us…that your way may be known on the earth, your salvation among all nations (Ps. 67:1-2).  The greatest blessing to a nation is for its people to receive forgiveness and salvation, and to live lives loving God and neighbor.  Lord, as ambassadors for Christ may our words and deeds make your way known.

To incorporate Scriptural prayer into your devotional life, I suggest you select a Psalm chapter, and as you read each verse let God lead you to a related prayer. Let us join together in appealing to God for mercy on the U.S.A.


Mere Christianity

According to a March 24 Wall Street Journal article, C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity has sold more than 3.5 million copies in English, and has been translated into 36 languages.  It sold more copies in the last 15 years than in its first 15.  Impressive for what Lewis did not originally intend to be a book.

Dr. Francis Collins, the renowned genetics researcher and director of the National Institutes of Health, spoke to the impact of the book. In a PBS interview, he set the stage by explaining his worldview while pursuing his first doctorate at Yale.  “I concluded that all of this stuff about religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, we didn’t need it anymore.”

While a resident physician, Collins decided that he needed data to support his rejection of God. He sought out a Methodist minister, who suggested he investigate the thinking of a certain Oxford scholar, and gave him Lewis’ book.  As he read, Collins discovered that the evidence for God is plausible, but he resisted.  About a year later while hiking in the Cascades, overwhelmed by the beauty of creation, something changed.  He thought, “This is something I have really longed for all my life without realizing it, and now I’ve got the chance to say yes.  That was the most significant moment in my life.”

The book has been impacting the lives of its readers since 1952 when first published. But it began as a series of BBC radio broadcasts during WWII.  George Marsden, who wrote what he calls the “biography” of Mere Christianity, explains that it “originated in the midst of one of the most stressful times in British history…when there were still fears of a Nazi invasion and the Blitz bombing.”  (FYI, this period is captured in the TV drama series Foyle’s War.)

Though Mere Christianity has a few historical references, Lewis wanted the talks to avoid current religious fads, denominational distinctives, and partisan politics.  He knew how to translate deep truths into the vernacular with vivid analogies.  Marsden explains, “Lewis was trying to present the beliefs that have been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”  Yet despite the common appeal, it can convince a brilliant, highly-trained scientist.  Most compelling to Collins was “the argument about the existence of moral law.  How is it that we, unique in the animal kingdom, know what’s right and what’s wrong?” That could only come from God.

Mere Christianity is a book for the ages.  Hinting at its purpose, Lewis writes, “Look for yourself, and you will find only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him,” which is indeed mere Christianity.

Ultimate Questions

Recently, a political candidate explained his spirituality with, “Every great religion in the world – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism – essentially comes down to: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His point was that “we are all in this together.”

I appreciate the effort to unify people. Americans could use some common ground these days.  He chose Jesus’ statement (the “Golden Rule”) as a unifying principle, but unity was not Jesus’ purpose (Luke 12:51).  Over-simplification obscures truth.

One’s worldview addresses the ultimate questions of our existence. Ravi Zacharias summarizes these as origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  Chuck Colson’s questions are, where did we come from, what is wrong with the world, what can be done to fix it, and how now shall we live?  In Christianity, the answers are explained by Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Ethics.

The politician addressed only Ethics which sufficed for political purposes, but it is quite incomplete to say that Christianity “comes down to” an ethical statement. It is a common error to presume that Jesus was just an ethical teacher, although that was certainly part of His earthly mission.

Jesus’ most expansive ethical teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7), which contains the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. He says to turn the other cheek, love your enemies, and give to the poor.  He teaches that you cannot serve God and money, and should not worry.  As difficult as some of these are, he summarizes with this: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).  He raised the ethical bar to an impossible standard.

Why did he do that? Jesus did not want us to mistake ethical living as a path to God.  Jesus’ ethic is certainly to strive for, but our imperfections are what is wrong with the world.  His fix was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:17) on our behalf through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, and to offer us righteousness by faith.  The gift of his Spirit empowers us to live His ethics.

So, what does Christianity “come down to”? In a name, “Jesus.”  He is the only path to the Father (Jn. 15:6).  He said, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Mat. 10:38).  He once posed the question that still calls for an answer, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mat. 16:15).


Leo Tolstoy was a Russian author probably best known for his massive novel, War and Peace. He died in 1910 at age 82.  He was a master storyteller, and his later works were influenced by his personal experience of a profound Christian awakening.  One of these is a short story, What Men Live By.

The story is about an angel, Michael, sent by God to collect the soul of a new mother. Michael couldn’t do it, so God sent another angel to complete the task, and Michael to earth as a human until he learned some profound lessons.  A poor cobbler found Michael cold and hungry, and took him home.  The cobbler’s wife’s initial resentment soon melted into pity, and Michael quickly learned the cobbler trade under the tutelage of his compassionate host.

One day a rich man came into the shop demanding that sturdy boots be made from the fine leather he brought, threatening prison if the workmanship failed. Needing the money, the cobbler accepted the commission despite the risk.  After entrusting the task to his skilled apprentice, he was shocked to find that Michael made slippers instead of boots.  But later that day the rich man’s servant came with news that his master had passed away, and actually needed slippers for his burial.

A year later, a woman entered the shop with two little girls. She shared that she was raising the girls as her own, though they were orphans.  Michael realized in that moment that the girls’ birth mother was the one he couldn’t take.  He also realized that he had learned the lessons God had for him.  He explained, “I have learned that all men live not by care for themselves, but by love.  It was not given to the mother to know what her children needed for their life.  Nor was it given to the rich man to know what he himself needed.  Nor is it given to any man to know whether, when evening comes, he will need boots for his body or slippers for his corpse.  God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all.”

Tolstoy begins the story with an epigraph on love from 1 John 3. In this passage we encounter what can be quite uncomfortable demands, such as “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”(17).  We are to follow “His commandment that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us”(23).  As each believer lives this Christian ethic, so the world experiences the love of God.