One Scripture verse that encourages me to pray comes from Psalm 81:10, I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. This reminds me of newly hatched birds in a nest and their wide-mouthed pleas for food from their parents. Our heavenly Father delights to receive our pleas in prayer, and He promises to answer us! We ought often to pray, and to “open wide out mouths” in expectancy of God’s blessing.
Today, the first Thursday in May, is our National Day of Prayer in the USA. I hope all Christians will take time (perhaps at Noon) to seek the Lord in heart-felt prayer for mercy on America. Let me further encourage you with a few historical quotes that define the work of prayer…
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised. — John Bunyan
Prayer as it comes from the saint is weak and languid; but when the arrow of a saint’s prayer is put into the bow of Christ’s intercession it pierces the throne of grace. — Thomas Watson
Prayer is the sweat of the soul. — Martin Luther
Neglect of private prayer is the locust which devours the strength of the church. — C. H. Spurgeon
As the media continues to wig-out over our wintry weather, and as pop culture fills terabytes of social media with pictures and captions expressing weather weariness, Christians should remain vigilant not to use the pagan language referring to nature as our “Mother.”
I was reminded of this as I read the latest dispatch from The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. Just today Dr. Gary L. Welton, an assistant dean and professor of psychology at GCC wrote a great little essay: “Mother Nature? Nature is Not Our Mother.” It’s more than a boiler-plate warning; he shares some interesting insights, stirred by the old G. K. Chesteron. Welton writes —
G. K. Chesterton, however, wrote in “Orthodoxy” that, “The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.” He argued that because we share the same father, we are siblings. Nature has no authority over us. “Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”
He also quotes James Fennimore Cooper as he elaborates on the whole sibling idea. But he does arrive at an important consideration:
Although the analogy of nature as our sister works better than the analogy of nature as our mother, there is a sense in which the analogy falls short. In the creation mandate, we are instructed to have dominion over nature. My parents never gave me any dominion over my sister. Although there are a few times I tried to establish such dominion, she never allowed it. Our charge to have dominion over nature is not consistent with the sister analogy.
This is timely stuff from the helpful Vision & Values team at GCC. I suggest you subscribe to their emails. At least click on over and read Welton’s essay (just a page or so long), here.
When U.S. Presidents take the oath of office, most* have placed their left hand upon a Bible during that solemn moment, raised their right hand, and repeated the oath of office — adding the unofficial words “so help me God” at the end, as was first done by George Washington. On most occasions the Bible has been open to a specific verse.
For his second inauguration [in January 2013], reports a UPI website, President Obama selected three Bibles to use for his oath of office: the Robinson family Bible, the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King’s traveling Bible. The family Bible was used at the private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, January 20, 2013, and the other two were used in the public ceremony on the following Monday. UPI reported that “both bibles were be closed, rather than open to a specific verse, when Obama took the oath of office Monday, as was the Robinson Bible on Sunday.”
Abraham Lincoln, 1861 – opened his Bible at random. In 1865 he used an open Bible, since lost, and noted 3 verses: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, Matthew 7:1; “Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh!” Matthew 18:7; and, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” Revelation 16:7.
Rutherford Hayes, 1877 – “They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Psalm 118:11-13
Theodore Roosevelt, 1905 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.” James 1:22–23
Woodrow Wilson, 1917 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . .” Psalm 46
Franklin Roosevelt, 1933,`37,`41,`45 – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . .” 1 Corinthians 13
Gerald Ford, 1974 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6
Jimmy Carter, 1977 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Ronald Reagan, 1981,`85 – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
George H.W. Bush, used his Family Bible open to Matthew 5.
Bill Clinton, 1993,`97 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (1993). “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” Isaiah 58:12 (1997)
George W. Bush, “Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31
*According to that UPI website, “Just two presidents (that we know) have chosen to use books other than a bible for their oaths: John Quincy Adams, who used a book of U.S. law, and Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in aboard Air Force One following the assassination of Kennedy. Johnson used a missal–a book used for Catholic Mass–found on a side table in Kennedy’s Air Force One bedroom.”
In a sermon summarizing the book of JUDGES, Mark Dever included this wonderful quotation from the late Dr James M. Boice, which explains our culture today — as well as our often unrealistic expectations of it….
“No people ever rise higher than their idea of God, and conversely, a loss of the sense of God’s high and awesome character always involves a loss of a people’s moral values and even what we commonly call humanity. We are startled by the disregard for human life that has overtaken large segments of the western world, but what do we expect when countries such as ours openly turns their back upon God? We deplore the breakdown of moral standards, but what do we expect when we have focused our worship services on ourselves and our own often trivial needs rather than on God? Our view of God affects what we are and do…“
(taken from Dr Boice’s sermons on Psalms, Vol. 3, p. 912)
Our founding fathers “were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power“ said President Calvin Coolidge on this date (July 5th) in 1926. He was in Philadelphia to a speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The whole text is available here. Coolidge emphasized that “in its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document.”
Such clarity of thought and understanding is near extinct in our land, so I urge you to read the speech, and breath its fresh and vital air. Here is an excerpt —
No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed.
Yes, the things of the spirit come first! May liberty yet be revived in our land.
Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) died in Boston 120 years ago today. It is said that Christians throughout the world mourned his death, and his funeral was “like that of a king.” Brooks has been called by some “the greatest American preacher of the 19th Century.”
Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks’ life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: “A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds.” [Dan Graves in Christianity Today online article, June, 2007]
Brooks was the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts when he died, having also served important churches in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Americans know him as the author of the popular Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” — which he wrote a couple years after visiting Palestine in 1865. While there, Brooks journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback, and there assisted with a midnight service on Christmas Eve. He would later write, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”
On his preaching, the Encyclopedia Britannica says
In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously. [online EB article]
At the Trinity Church in Boston (which Brooks helped design) there was no pulpit until 1888, but Brooks preferred to preach from a modest lectern near the rector’s stall, typically only wearing his black academic gown. And later on, during communion, he would preach not from the pulpit but from the chancel steps.
It is said that he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, and championed more congregational singing. During his childhood, the Brooks family spent Sunday evenings singing hymns. He would grow-up to know over two hundred hymns by memory, and often quoted them in his sermons.
Brooks was also known for his vocal defense of the Trinity as Unitarianism was then on the rise throughout New England.
Brooks was a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. His close ties to Harvard led to the building of the “Phillips Brooks House” in the northwest corner of old Harvard yard (facing the small Holden Chapel). It was was dedicated on January 23, 1900, to serve “the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality.” The Phillips Brooks House Association remains in operation to this day as a student-run consortium of over 80 volunteer organizations.
Phillips Brooks never married, or had children of his own. Dan Graves, in closing his Christianity Today article, observed that this famous preacher
…loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be.”
Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian’s goal should be “To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life.”
In light of today’s horrific events in Connecticut, Pastor John Piper has written the following at his Desiring God blog.
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize . . . but one who in every respect has been tested as we are. ~ Hebrews 4:15
[Piper:] Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did. What kind of Savior do we need when our hearts are shredded by brutal loss?
We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.
And that is how he came. He knew what this world needed. Not a comedian. Not a sports hero. Not a movie star. Not a political genius. Not a doctor. Not even a pastor. The world needed what no mere man could be.
The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Mere suffering would not do. Mere sovereignty would not do. The one is not strong enough to save; the other is not weak enough to sympathize.
So he came as who he was: the compassionate King. The crushed Conqueror. The lamb-like Lion. The suffering Sovereign.
[Piper’s concluding thought] The God who draws near to Newtown is the suffering, sympathetic God-man, Jesus Christ. No one else can feel what he has felt. No one else can love like he can love. No one else can heal like he can heal. No one else can save like he can save.
PS: I would encourage you to search the Desiring God website for additional helpful, biblical thoughts on the topic of “suffering”.