A Prayer for Our Nation

…pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. James 5:16 The Message

The very first prayer I remember was for “our soldiers and sailors overseas.” I was so young I didn’t know what the words meant. I knew who soldiers and sailors were; we saw people in uniform everywhere during World War II. But what was “overseas?” And why was I praying for it?

I wasn’t much older before I knew: the victory celebrations at the end of the war; my mother hanging a daisy chain around the neck of her Winston Churchill toby jug.

Our generation grew up steeped in patriotism.

We stand on the verge of 4th of July—yet another holiday made strange by this strangest of all years. No rodeos. No fireworks. No parades. Far worse: our nation struggles to find footing in a time as threatening and divisive as the Civil War.

My heart is deeply grieved; I wonder if the land I love will even survive.

Then I remember my history.

In November 1776, five months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our newly-fledged nation was dying. Routed at the Battle of Brooklyn, chased out of New York City, hounded through Westchester County like the green troops they were, Washington and his ragged army fled south through New Jersey.

Writes historian David McCullough (in “1776”), “Possibly 6000 were fit for duty. Hundreds were sick and suffering from the cold. …more and more of the local citizenry were signing the British proclamation (of surrender and amnesty.) Congress had fled. Two former members of Congress…had gone over to the enemy. By all reasonable signs, the war was over and the Americans had lost.”

“These are the times,” famously wrote Thomas Paine, “that try mens’ souls.”

And yet. Somehow George Washington found the courage and determination to rally his troops on Christmas night for one last desperate attempt at the Hessian mercenaries in Trenton. They won that battle and the long war which followed, sacrificing everything to create the nation we celebrate today.

I cannot believe their struggle was in vain. I cannot believe that He Who enabled us to survive so far would let our nation die now.

I challenge us to pray for each other, so we can live together whole and healed—even those who offend us, as Jesus commanded (Matthew 5:43 ff.) Then let’s commit to pray for our nation. Daily.

And see what happens.

FATHER GOD: Your Word says our prayers are powerful. May it be so. Help us. Give us wisdom and courage for this dark hour. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” Sunday June 28, 2020.

 

 

Forever is Forever

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Stand-by) that He may remain with you forever. …I will not leave you as orphans. (Jesus) John 14:16 Amplified

It’s graduation season. Once again, we are tasked with celebrating a familiar moment in a most unfamiliar time. Kudos to those creative folks who have done what they can to make this graduation as special as possible for young people whose traditional landmarks and expectations have been swept away.

I’ve made a particular point of praying for graduates since a classmate of my sons’ was killed in a tragic party years ago. I’ll never forget the sorrow of watching those teenagers attending a funeral five days before their own celebration. There will likely be a lot less of that this year.

But their situation is still full of danger.

Never, except perhaps at times of actual war, have young people had to try their new-fledged wings in such an uncertain and fearful time. We all know the storm of epidemic, economy and politics that rages around us. We all know how difficult it is to make plans, to move forward into an unpredictable future.

Yet move forward they must. And so must we.

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples on the night before His crucifixion. Unknown to these men sitting before him, their own storm of hatred, fear and persecution was about to break. The One they counted on was going to be arrested, tortured, executed.

As Pastor McDevitt reminded us last week, they were left huddled in the upper room, wondering what to do. The resurrected Jesus had appeared to them, calling them out into the world, but they had just seen how dangerous and frightening that world could be.

Like us, they cried, “What now? Where is our help?”

Today we celebrate Jesus’ answer to their desperate question: Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts, we read account after account of the same shivering, frightened people now proclaiming their faith boldly in public, even before the very people who had been instrumental in putting Jesus to death.

What made the difference? The Holy Spirit. With His presence, they went out and changed the world.

As Jesus promised them, He promised us. He is and will be with us, too. In our times of crisis, we can call on the One called “Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby.”

Forever is forever.

That’s one promise our graduates can count on.

Us, too.

DEAR HOLY SPIRIT: Protect our graduates. They are so young; the storms are so scary. Give us all your wisdom, strength and courage. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” May 31, 2020.

 

 

Easter…Happened

…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”…The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. John 20:19,20

Easter…happened.

Never, in my eight decades of life on this haunted, beautiful planet, have I seen a stranger one. Never, since the very first one, perhaps, has there been such opposition to our Easter joy. This virus from hell threatening death and destruction on every hand. Social distancing. Schools closed. Stores closed. Churches closed. Even a snowstorm.

Never did I imagine I’d sit in front of my computer screen on Sunday morning in my jammies with coffee cup in hand and call it “church.” I wept when the first hymn was played, wept in longing for my church family and the services we had shared. My heart wailed with the ancient Israelites as they were led into exile:

“How can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalms 137:4)

I gulped down my tears, watched the service and felt my spirit lift a little.

Our celebration which followed was small, quiet, but blessed. Somehow, in a way so subtle I almost didn’t recognize it, Jesus was there. Not physically, of course, as He’d been with the first disciples, but in His spirit of joy and faith. He came through our locked doors of fear, doubt, sorrow, anger, uncertainty. For those with ears to hear, He whispered,

“Shalom, dear ones. Be at peace. Remember: I am the resurrection and the life. See? I am with you…and I have conquered the world.”

My faith took a shuddering breath and stood back on its feet.

What was I thinking? Like Christmas, Easter is something God does. It’s His thing or it means nothing at all. I don’t, I can’t “make it happen.”

For this year Easter was not about “bunnies and bonnets,” as one writer put it, but all about Jesus and His resurrection, His promise of eternal life and the peace that promise brings us–“the peace that passes understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

“We have this hope as the anchor for the soul,” wrote the author of Hebrews, “firm and secure.” (6:19) This year, I found that anchor holds, no matter what storms rage around it.

For Easter…happened.

Stasi Eldredge writes, “God…laughs at the sneers of the enemy, stares suffering in the face, and proclaims with fierce love, ‘You do not have the final word.’”

How could I have forgotten? I’ve read the last page of the Book…and God wins!

FATHER GOD: Where are the words to thank You for the gift of the resurrection? Help us cling to the promise of Easter, the hope that anchors our soul. Give us strength, give us endurance, give us faith. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” April 26, 2020.

 

Trust God and Carry On

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Jesus) Matthew 6:34 The Message

 

This was certainly not how I planned to spend the winter.

I figured as soon as we had enough snow, I would cut a ski track around my pasture where the dog and I could step out the front door, ski in the sunshine and fresh air every day, and cap it off by occasional basketball games, a trip to the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in March.

As expected, the snow came at the end of January; I had my track cut a week later.

I got up the next morning with a dry cough that turned wet and wracking. Sure enough, the bronchitis that haunts me every winter was back for another round, bringing pneumonia and heart complications with it this time. The bluebird sky I longed to ski under now mocked me through the narrow window of a hospital room. Simply putting on shoes over my swollen feet left me breathless and gasping. My skis stood unused by the front door as I staggered from the hospital to my doctors’ office to the lab and the pharmacy. Six weeks of my life dissolved like a snowbank in a chinook, taking my hopes and my happy little plans with them.

But there was this book, the one my church group has been reading together all year. “You’ll Get Through This” by Max Lucado deals exactly with the shock of upside down plans, the trouble you never saw coming. At first, I didn’t think I needed it, but now I did. Desperately. I read and re-read Max’ summation:

“You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you’ll get through this.”

Whether it’s me with a health challenge or a rapidly spreading virus that no one saw coming, we all must get through crises, sooner or later. Our job is to do what Jesus commanded: don’t panic about the future and let God help us take the problem one step at a time.

“Don’t let the crisis paralyze you,” Max writes. “Don’t let the sadness overwhelm you. Don’t let the fear intimidate you. To do nothing is the wrong thing. To do something is the right thing. And to believe is the highest thing.”

FATHER GOD: Keep us from panic. Help us to trust You and carry on. Amen

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 15, 2020.

 

 

 

Lights in the Darkness

…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Jesus) Matthew 5:13 NIV

We took down our outside Christmas lights last week. Yes, it was time. The glorious party that is Christmas is over for another year. And I’m okay with that. Really. It’s far easier to let it go when I understand Christmas in all its joy is God’s doing, not mine…and that He will bring it around again in due time.

But oh! This morning was dark. I know the days are getting longer, minute by minute, but right now it doesn’t feel that way. I pulled the eastern curtain to see yet another sky of low, gloomy cloud, another view of our pasture ugly with brown grass and stubble. How I long for some sunshine, or even the fresh glow of white, fluffy powder.

It’s hard to shine in the darkness.

Yet, that’s what we’re told to do. I hear Jesus saying, “You be the lights of Epiphany, shining in the gloom of winter. Your good deeds will cause the dark world to turn to and praise God.”

I’m tempted to respond, “What good deeds, exactly?” But I know the answer: giving and forgiving; refusing to take offense; being kind and tender-hearted; offering grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it.

Uh-oh. Sounds a little like New Year’s resolutions, doesn’t it? “I’m going to be a better, more faithful person this year. I’m going to do more good deeds, work even harder…”

We all know where that ends up.

For example, I remember those mornings as a young mother when I would get out of bed, vowing I would be extra kind and patient with my kids, only to lose my temper by 10 a.m. What one teacher called “taking a few more cranks on the willpower screw” never works.

What does, then? Jesus wouldn’t command us to do something we can’t.

At the risk of sounding like your high school English teacher, let’s look at the verb in this passage. Jesus didn’t say “make” your light shine but “let” it shine. We do not cause the light but we allow it. Like Christmas, shining is not our job but God’s. He fills us with His love; we are to let that love flow through us to the dark world around us. All we have to do is be aware of His heavenly Nudge and follow His leading.

Then our good deeds are not a burden but a joy.

LORD JESUS: This is Epiphany season; You commanded me to shine. Show me how and where, for “apart from you I can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen

Submitted for publication, “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” January 16, 2020.

Our Unexpected God

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:11, 12 NIV

In Advent, we await a God Who delights in the unexpected.

From the prophet Elijah standing before his cave to the Jews longing for their Messiah, who wouldn’t have expected their mighty God to come with power and glory—in the wind, in the earthquake, in the fire, in a powerful, shining Being who would rescue His people with the stroke of His arm? Who would listen for a still, small voice? Who would look for a baby born to an ordinary couple in a borrowed barn? A child growing up in a hick town in a far corner of Galilee?

It was such a surprise that many just couldn’t believe it. Many still don’t.

So what was God up to?

The most obvious answer was to hide Jesus plain sight. From the beginning, there were enemies who sought His life. No one would think to look for the promised King in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.

Then, God wanted His Son to live a normal life as we do–to feel human pain and joy, to experience hunger, weariness, suffering, rejection. Now, no matter what we go through, we know He understands.

Yet there’s something deeper still. He did not come in pomp and power as a king because He wants our obedience to grow out of love, not fear. Love is won, not commanded.

He often wins our love by coming to us in ways we don’t expect, at the times we feel lost and lonely—when we need Him the most.

I notice it especially during this season.

Yes, I love the candlelight and carols, the family gathered in church on Christmas Eve, but He touched me once most clearly when we were all alone in a hotel lobby. Or in the kindness of a stranger in Costco. Or in a dark car full of sleeping people as I drove back from Christmas dinner. All kinds of odd times and places.

My prayer for myself—and all of us—in this season is that we have those unexpected, special moments when we know He is present and He loves us.

Still.

LORD JESUS: You promised we will find You if we seek You with our whole heart. (Jeremiah 29:13) May it be so. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 15, 2019.