Is God for Us or for Our Enemies?

As his Israelite army prepared to attack what even then was the ancient city of Jericho, Joshua “looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’” (Joshua 5:13).
We understand Joshua’s query. Whether it’s a matter of war-time alliances, taking sides in political campaigns, or what sports team a person cheers, we want to know whether other people are on our side. If they do not side with us, we may ascribe evil motives, or at least poor judgment to them.


In the current American political culture, both parties advocate polices that make strong ethical or moral claims that are based in biblical values. As you read that previous sentence, did your blood pressure start to rise? Both parties? You may have wanted to protest that your party’s key issue (in your opinion) is the most important moral issue; the other party has forsaken morality and ethics. You may have difficulty conceding, or even imagining, that someone from the other party may having the same thoughts you are in reaction to that sentence. We all want God to be on our side.


Joshua wanted this warrior to be on his side. It quite likely seemed a matter of life or death at that moment. The warrior’s response startled Joshua:


“Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Joshua 5:14a).


Neither? But wasn’t Joshua’s people the Chosen People of God? How could God NOT be on their side? The warrior asserts that God’s purposes do not align necessarily with any nation or army. When Joshua hears the warrior’s retort, he reacts in a way that suggests to me that if God is not on his side, Joshua definitely wants to be on Gods side:


“Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:14b)

Joshua does not argue with the warrior. He does not protest this unexpected neutrality. Joshua recognizes truth and realizes he is in the presence of God. He seeks to learn what God’s priorities are. When we pray regarding the outcome of elections, or pray regarding candidates, we want to pray for specific outcomes. This episode in Joshua’s life warns us to approach such prayers in humility, with a spirit that seeks to learn and not to impose our own will. Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled, “When to Pray, When to Protest,” that you can read by clicking here. In that post I wrote, “Working for justice demands taking the time to learn what is right and what is true in the circumstance that arouses our anger.” Like Joshua, we should seek to learn what message the Lord has for us but studying what the Bible has to say about the issues that our party advocates and that the other party advocates. As we study, and pray as we reflect on what we have learned, we also must remember how Joshua’s interaction with the warrior continued:


“The commander of Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15).


Let us act and speak with awareness that we are standing on holy ground. If we are to be rebuked or condemn, let it be because we have taken the time to discern what the will of the Lord is.

• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.


Lord,
We bow before you, recognizing your reign and authority over us. Our pride enshrines our opinions as sacred. Awaken us when we are obtuse. Reveal to us when we teeter on the edge of idolatry, tempted to worship ideologies or economic theories, praising leaders without careful reflection that they are, like us, merely your creatures. Help us, as we read the Bible, to understand what we read and to discern rightly how the message applies in our own time. Teach us to value truth and integrity. Grant us the courage to pursue justice for those who cannot defend themselves. Help us to remember that you do not have to be on our side, but that we desperately need to be on your side. Forgive us for our arrogance. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer for Courage on an Anniversary of Evil

In this year where the unexpected seems to occur daily, we remember today a day when we were shocked by destruction. Wars followed that day of disaster; nineteen years later, peace talks will begin between the Afghan government and the Taliban that hope to end the first of those wars. We battle a virus now, but still we battle our fear.  While now we may not always be able to meet together to worship, we still can live each day to the glory of God, praise him in prayer and song even if only in our heart, and love our neighbors by surrendering our rights to protect their lives. May we maintain community with other believers in Christ, even if only on Zoom, and relish each moment we worship together when we are reunited. Let us resolve anew to pray for courage and wisdom as we seek spiritual and physical health. We decide each day whether we will follow God or surrender to evil.  May we discern correctly when what appears to be an angel of light is fact darkness incarnate.  Pray hard, my friends, as you read the attached post from a previous anniversary of the terrorist attacks on this date in 2001.

Call for Fire Seminar

A prayer I offered in 2012 front of an assembly from several nations in Kabul for Patriot Day (September 11):

O God, Creator of all, Sustainer of life, our Refuge from disaster, we commemorate today an event that awakened a nation and that forced awareness of vulnerability upon a world. As a nation, the United States of America sank to its knees in prayer as we reeled with disbelief. Even so, hundreds of citizens immediately responded, many dying themselves as they struggled to save those trapped within the targets of the terrorists.

Today we pray that you will restore our hope, that you will renew our faith, that you will energize us to defend liberty to speak, to worship and to assemble.

May we have the courage, when faced with evil, to stand firm in freedom, resisting the urge to retreat into authoritarianism and oppression.

Thousands have given their lives…

View original post 85 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer that We Will Find our Security in God

In this post from September 2016, I reflected on changes that the terrorist actions on September 11, 2001 had brought to our lives. I also spoke to fears that some had regarding the results of that year’s Presidential election. Another election now looms ahead, and fear still is alive and well in America. Let’s pray for the faith to envision hope and opportunity where others see only peril. Let’s trust that God will provide security for us, that he is still in control. My prayer today remains the same. God is the faithful provider. I pray that he will revive our spirits, fill us with discernment, and mold us into his agents who spread health and life rather than fear and suspicion. Pray hard, my friends.

Call for Fire Seminar

Fifteen years ago, the fabric of security in which Americans had wrapped themselves was ripped away as hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Our government responded with what the Attorney General at that time termed a more “authoritarian” approach to security and governance, restricting freedoms for the general public in order to attempt restraint of terrorism. The impact from the events of that day still resonate in our society, even for those who had not yet been born on September 11, 2001.
When we go to an airport today, we encounter procedures and security far different than what existed prior to the attacks. I miss saying “goodbye” to loved ones or friends at the gate and watching their plane take off. Now we bid farewell before they go through security unless a child or disabled person needs someone to accompany them…

View original post 427 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer that We Will Flee from Idolatry

The book of 1 John begins with focus on Jesus:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1-2)

In chapter two, John reminds us that Jesus is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). He affirms that if Christians remain in what they heard from the beginning, they will remain “in the Son and in the Father.” In chapter 3, he reveals what that message they heard was: “We should love one another” (3:11). He says that Jesus defined love when he laid his life down for us (3:16).

 
Prayer comes into the picture again in chapter three, also, where confidence in prayer is tied to our obedience to God’s commands (3:22). God’s command, John writes, is this: “to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ” (3:23). John continues to emphasize focus on Christ and love (for God and for other people) as critical components of Christian living throughout the rest of this letter. He finishes the letter with continued emphasis on Jesus and a final instruction:

“We know also that the son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear child, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:20-21).

Keep yourselves from idols? Certainly, by seeking God by focusing on Jesus and his embodiment of who God is, by loving God and loving one another, by obeying God’s commands. When we lose focus and substitute someone or an ideology or a symbol for Jesus as the focus of our confidence and faith, we lapse into idolatry. As a retired Army chaplain, I love my country and respect its flag. That flag, however, did not save my soul. To substitute that flag or any other national symbol for Jesus would be an act of idolatry, as would be professing that an economic system or a political party is our hope for salvation.

 
Let us pray with courage. Let us pray and live with love. May we always pray with our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. My friends, flee from idolatry.

 
• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

 

O God who teaches us to love, Calm our fears. Help us to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to you except through year. We’re tempted to place our faith in things concrete, but also in political parties, economic theories, and charismatic leaders. We’re tempted to excoriate and curse those disagree with those regarding those matters and leaders. We act sometimes with hatred and disrespect towards people who differ from us. May we follow the instruction of Jesus to love one another, and his example to love sacrificially. Strengthen us that we hear your Word and walk in obedience to your will. We pray through our advocate Jesus, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanking the Judge of the Nations

Give thanks when God answers your “call for fire” prayers. We ask when we want or need. We lament when we grieve. We praise God when we rejoice in his grace and love. Let’s remember to say thank you when he grants our request or rescues us from a dire situation. The Psalmist gives thanks in Psalm 9. His prayer is complex, also including praise and request for continued judgment against evil people, but begins with a joyful statement of gratitude and a promise to sing God’s praises:

“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High” (Psalm 9:1-3).

The prayer identifies God as righteous judge (v 4, 7), as a refuge for the oppressed (v 9), and as the righteous avenger (v 12,16). The avenger “remembers; he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.“ The persecution of the psalmist continues, so he asks,

“LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death that I may declare your praises in the gates of Daughter Zion, and there rejoice in your salvation” (Psalm 9:13-14).

While he affirms that “God will never get the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” in verse 18, he cries out for the Lord to arise and judge the nations. He boldly asks, “Strike them with terror, LORD; let the nations know they are only mortal” (Psalm 9:20). From the very beginning, humanity has reached for the status and power of gods, but often we have abused the powers we have and the technologies we invent to assert our power over others in harmful ways. Let’s join the psalmist in thanking God for his gifts, but also in remembering with God to hear the cries of the afflicted, to pursue justice, and to act in ways that will bring hope for the poor and vulnerable. May we remember to seek and to trust the Lord, for as the psalmist prays,

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10).

 

  • Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

You are the judge of the nations, our God. You pursue justice for the oppressed and the vulnerable. You hear the prayers of those who seek you. Remember us, Lord, when our enemies assail us unjustly. Open our eyes to our sin when we have earned our affliction. Use us as your agents to bring peace and truth into our cultures. Grant us discernment so that we may identify those who seek to deceive us. We thank you for the love and provision that you give us. We thank you that we can laugh, that we can sing, that we can shout when we recall how you have rescued us from darkness. Arise, Lord, and continue to act on behalf of those who need salvation. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Prayers from Psalms, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Praying with Integrity

When we are hurting, we want to lash out. In anger, or in despair, we abandon love. We flee from trust, even as we crave to trust and long to be trusted. In Psalm 7, a psalmist under attack prays for victory against his oppressors:

“Arise, LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God, decree justice” (Psalm 7:6 ).

He voices his despair. He pleads for God to exact justice. In Psalm 7, the words of the prayer differ from the message of many prayers for justice. The writer of this psalm prays that God will judge him along with his enemies. When angry or hurt, we may ignore factors that explain the perspective of others and explain away actions of our own that are unjust or selfish. As the Psalmist prays, he holds himself accountable:

“Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust” (Psalm 7:3-5).

He restates this willingness to be judged in verse eight when he prays that God will vindicate him “according to [his] righteousness, according to [his] integrity.” He stages this assertion after placing it in the context of an assembly of the nations in the presence of God the judge on his throne. Not only his enemies, but he himself will be judged so that God can “bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (verse 9). As he prays that God will end the violence of the wicked, he acknowledges that no one can deceive or hide from God, our judge who is able to probe minds and hearts. In verses seven through nine, he recalls that God “has prepared his deadly weapons.” The armor and weaponry of God is ready for him to use it as he judges and disciplines humanity.
He continues his prayer with confession that serious consequences stem from evil thinking and actions:

“Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment. Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made. The trouble the cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads” (Psalm 7:14-16).

In this prayer, a humble of servant of God confesses his fear that his own sins have fueled the struggles and opposition he is enduring, even as he asks God to rescue him from those who threaten to tear him apart. Despite his fears, He confesses his faith in God’s righteousness, justice, and power both to avenge and to save. He concludes his prayer with gratitude, singing, and praise. When I was in the Army, I repeatedly heard leaders remind their soldiers to take care of their equipment and to trust that it would work. This man of prayer realizes that God is his best defense, his shield, against all that threatens him.
This psalm reminds you and me that when we pray, it is crucial that we are honest with ourselves and with God. We cannot hide from him, but we can deceive ourselves. I’ve learned to critique my own emotions and motives before assuming the worst in others. It was not an easy lesson to learn. I encourage you to pause to evaluate yourself before you pray. Remember God’s justice and power to discipline and punish, but also remember his love and his power to save those who strive to walk in righteousness. God values truth-telling highly. Let’s testify to our own faithfulness by seeking to speak (and to post on social media) truth at all times. Let’s pray with the psalmist that God will arise to save the righteous. May we be among those he rescues.

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Joy of Your Presence: A Poem of Prayer

A sense of calm enveloped me in a gentle embrace
That eroded the frantic terror that life’s movement weaves
When skeptics mock and bullies impede running my race.
Deriding study and laughing at knowledge, they bask
In ignorance, and when in doubt, will not for help ask.
These modern incarnations of Job’s self-assured friends
Know all answers except truth, whose lofty ends
They do not understand nor the labor needed knowledge to attain,
They laugh at vocation as they push the preacher out into the rain.
The chilling drops pummel my dreams and fuel my anger,
Concealing your vision and posing a greater danger.
I shiver, wandering on, stunned by this rejection,
Crippled, questioning skills, denying your election,
Assessing my wounds, evaluating the sting to my pride,
Knowing that I must let you heal the harm to my hide.
I walk down the forest trail that winds near my house
And I watch two cardinals swoop, my sadness douse
With their brilliant color and carefree cavorting,
Then recall that you created, sparked the birds’ sporting.
A waterfall’s crescendo after a storm also calms
As I watch the foaming at the base, waters like balms
Massage the aching and torn muscles of my soul,
So ravaged that I despaired to be made once more whole.
As I ponder these marvels of godly creation,
I sense frothy, high waves of exhilaration
Washing over me, cleansing me of all so drear,
Soaking in memory that you are always near.

– Michael Waymon Summers

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:9-10).

  • Quote from the Bible is from the New International Version 2011.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer about a Father’s Hope

As I reviewed this post from two years ago, and the prayer with which I concluded it, I realized how relevant the words remain today. Please read, reflect, and share if  you will. On this Father’s Day, I realize how blessed I have been to have a loving father, and to have children to love.  I have great hopes for their future, but concern for the roads they may have to travel.  I pray that we, and they, may have the courage to love God and love our neighbor. Pray hard, my friends, and fix your eyes on Jesus, who has blazed the trail that we should follow.

Call for Fire Seminar

I preached about “A Father’s Hope” this past Sunday. Drawing from Isaiah chapters 7-9, I discussed how Isaiah’s sons participated in his ministry and became part of his message. As Isaiah proclaimed his message, he noted that he and his sons were signs from the Lord to a nation where “the heart of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). Fear permeated his society and his peers were prone to believe conspiracy theories. As they sought to untangle these theories and find the truth, they reached out to mediums, fortune tellers, and foreign religious ideologies for answers to their questions. Isaiah asks in horror, “Should not a nation enquire of their God?” He warned earlier,

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread, but the Lord of hosts, him…

View original post 397 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer for Vindication When Enemies Surround

He prays earnestly. He cries for justice. He insists that he is innocent:

“Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed. Though people tried to bribe me, I have kept myself from the ways of the violent through what your lips have commanded” (Psalm 17:3-4).

We may approach this with skepticism. Innocent? Don’t “all sin, and fall short of the glory of God?” In fact, as I pointed out in another post, these words sound eerily like the prayer of the hypocritical Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18. Here, however, in Psalm 17, the words rise from the lips, or from the pen, of a faithful worshiper of God who nonetheless realizes that his life is in danger. He craves God’s protection:

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes” (Psalm 17:6-7).

He is a worshiper of God, and he derives his confidence in God’s protection from his knowledge of God’s history with his people. His words in this prayer echo the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. As Moses had implored Israel to remain faithful, he reminded the nation that God had found their ancestors deserted, but had “shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” Deuteronomy 32 describes God’s protection for and vindication of his people when they had been most vulnerable, but had realized that they had no other hope than in trusting the only real God. The faithful Psalmist confesses his confidence that God can deliver him by using this same language even as he admits also his terror and fear. He prays,

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:9).

Did you notice the echoes from Deuteronomy 32? When he mentions the “apple of your eye,” he is not claiming to be God’s favorite. The psalmist is praying passionately that God will guard and protect as if the psalmist were the pupil of God’s own eye. We protect our eyes, don’t we? We guard them carefully, because we do not want to be blinded. He wants God to protect him like the eagle protects her brood so very carefully and even savagely. His fear is concrete. He describes the intent purpose of his enemies as they seek to kill him:

“They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance, they have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground. They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover” (Psalm 17: 10-12).

As I have read Psalm 17 during the past few weeks, my mind has imagined how a young jogger in Brunswick, Georgia, might have prayed as two vehicles pursued him, and then a man with a shotgun jumped from one of them to confront him. That young man might have prayed the words of verses ten through twelve, if he knew them, even perhaps if he did not, in the last moments of his life. The Psalmist writes as one who is threated in a similar manner. He is confident that God can protect and that God can punish those torture and pursue him. He prays that God will confront the evil enemies and rescue him.
The prayer of Psalm 17 is vivid. I could feel the psalmist’s fear of his enemies, and the urgency of his pleas for rescue. Have we known such fear? Do we know people who have? Do we hear their cries? Do we believe their fears to be real? If God will answer their prayers, are we willing to be his agents in rescuing the endangered?
The prayer begins with a plea for vindication and an assurance that its composer speaks the truth. It ends with faith that God will hear, that he will vindicate, and that the endangered will know the safety of seeing God’s likeness when he awakens:

“As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

The Bible says that humans were created in the image of God. Christians believe that God’s spirit dwells within them. I have been reading and praying the words of this psalm for more than a month. I have reflected on its relevance to current events, but even more on its challenge to me to be able to pray with confident faith and to live with determination to do God’s will. Let us so live and act so that God may use us to save souls and to save lives. May the vulnerable and endangered pray a prayer of thanks when they see us.

  • Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

 

O God, we pray with awareness of having failed. We have not spoken up when others were jeered or mocked. We have not stepped in when they were threatened. We pray because we too have been harmed. People have struck us even while we cried out to passive onlookers to intervene. We pray because we seek to grow in confidence that we have in you and your people. There are people in our world who either because they are evil, or because they are afraid, or because they misunderstand us, seek to hurt us or others. As people of faith, we want you to guard us and to hold us as we hold our children when they are afraid. But we also ask that we may have the courage to be the people whom you use to demonstrate your love and to achieve justice. If we do your will, and it results in others being rescued, we pray that they and we will awaken to the satisfaction of seeing your likeness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Posted in Prayers from Psalms, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Empty Pews Sing Softly

As local churches begin to assemble again in larger groups, church leaders contemplate how to assure safety for those assembled while still pleasing God and encouraging one another. If you have worshipped in different settings than normal in recent weeks, how have you done so? Have you watched a service online? Have you participated in the Lord’s Supper? If you did, did you use elements provided by your church or bake your own bread and buy your own grape juice or wine? Have you sung or only listened? Have you prayed? Do you think that your relationship with God has improved during this time of displacement, or has it declined? Have you missed the assembly of fellow Christians, the engaging in fellowship in worship with like-minded believers?
I posted this poem that I had written a few years ago, reflecting on how empty pews testify to believers’ priorities and choices. Now, some pews remain empty for different reasons, but they still command our attention. We still must assess our priorities, but also must examine how our love for God and one another are reflected in how we serve and worship together, what we consider most important. I believe that Christians must seize opportunities to serve and to seek reconciliation during this time of pandemic and civil unrest. Study the Bible carefully and pray vigorously for wisdom during a time when temptation to argue and act for division abounds. I begin Call for Fire seminars by examining Isaiah 59, where God observes injustice and sees to his chagrin that no one is stepping forward to act for what is right. God then puts on his armor, some parts of which are identical to the armor of God that Christians are to put on according to Ephesians chapter 6:10-18. I invite you to reflect on my poem and to pray with me that as “the empty pews sing sadly, [that God will] ignite again faith’s fire.” Pray hard, my friends

Call for Fire Seminar

The empty pews sing softly, echoing back melodic tones

Wafted by faithful worshipers scattered in erratic zones

Through a hall reserved for moments of joy and grief,

Exultation and lament, fervor and hopeful belief

In Messiah Jesus, Son of God, Messenger of the Most High,

Sent by you, O God, to expose Satan’s greatest lie,

A bald-faced assertion that we need never repent,

An insistence that we never request, that we need not

Your forgiveness, a denial of need for redemption bought

By your Son’s blood, a ghastly, obscene sacrifice

Decried as amateur stagecraft, a vain artifice

Meant to deceive, so we are told by the great Deceiver,

Who argues skillfully against one becoming a believer.

We still sing, and we still pray, so his wily lies to drown

With songs and calls for fire that you his quest will down.

The empty pews sing sadly of Christian faith surrendered,

View original post 46 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment