Tuesdays Are For Giving…

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Daily Prayer for April 24

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19, NIV

Lord God, we thank you for giving us light here on earth, where it is so often completely dark. But in the darkness the name of Jesus Christ shines out as the prophetic Word: “Be comforted. After darkness comes light, after night comes day!” We thank you for this light. In joy we thank you, for we have experienced that Jesus lives and comes to meet each one, bringing victory over enemy powers. In the name of Jesus Christ and in his name alone we ask you to remember the needs of our time. We do not want anything that comes from ourselves. We do not want any earthly peace. We want your peace, Lord God, the peace in which everything becomes new, born anew even in suffering, to the eternal glory of your name. Amen.

Witness

Spare no place, spare no tongue, nor pen, but be obedient to the Lord God: go through the work, be valiant for the truth upon earth. —George Fox

Redeeming the Soul of America

 Gary Dorrien

“I am a child of the American white working class. This nation has never had a breakthrough for racial justice that did not set off a mighty backlash from my group. Yet long ago I was drawn into the spirit and way of Jesus, which Martin Luther King exemplified.” —Gary Dorrien

The story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement he led is our greatest national treasure. It is beautiful, searing, inspiring, and traumatic. It resounds with soaring rhetoric and ends in night­marish despair, but does not end. To me, this story surpasses all other American stories because it is the passion narrative of our time. It crashed through my lower-class white world in my youth and put me on a very unlikely vocational path. Yet this greatest of American stories no longer makes its own way, partly because of the way it was told for many years.

The civil rights movement led by King refuted America’s self-congratulatory story about its freedom-loving goodness, instead offering Americans an opportunity to confess and atone for the ongoing legacy of their nation’s original sins. Today we need the witness of King more than ever, for America never built a culture of atonement, and today our nation is wracked by consequences of the very problems that King devoted his life to ending.

I grew up in a poor, semi-rural section of Michigan, Bay County, in a nominally Catholic family. My parents moved there after growing up in similarly poor areas of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where my father took abuse for his Cree heritage. At the age of twenty he acquired passably white status by moving south, to the Lower Peninsula. When he looked in the mirror he saw an inferior caste, so the most loving thing he could imagine as a parent was to claim for his children all the white privilege he could get. Today my father is proudly, even aggressively, Native American, and I appreciate the changes in American society that made it possible for him to reclaim his racial identity. None of it would have happened without the civil rights movement. But I am a child of the white working class, having never experienced or claimed any other racial identity, and this nation has never had a breakthrough for racial justice that did not set off a mighty backlash from my group. We are in one such backlash now.

Photograph by Mark Smith, Alba, Michigan. Used by permission.

Photograph by Mark Smith, Alba, MichiganUsed by permission.

In my youth I got to Mass sporadically with my family and sometimes hitched a ride with neighbors – just enough to be caught by the figure of the crucified Jesus. This God-figure who responded to evil with self-sacrificing love provided a religious ideal, a sign of transcendence that broke through my everyday horizon of lower-class culture and the next game. Then the stunning witness of the civil rights movement similarly broke through, eventually melding in my thought and feeling with the cross of Christ.

I came of age in the climactic years of the movement. The Selma demonstration made a searing impression on me. My teachers described America as the world’s greatest nation in every way that mattered. But the civil rights movement taught a very different lesson. King became the formative figure for me long before I understood much of anything about politics or religion. Then King was assassinated, and he became more than merely the leader of a justice movement. Like Jesus whom he followed, King had died for us – died as an exemplar of Jesus’ way of peacemaking and justice-making. That was the extent of my religious worldview when I squeaked into college, mostly to play sports. In my twenties and early thirties I served as a community organizer and Episcopal priest; at thirty-five I became an academic; today I stand on the same bedrock as when I started.

After King was gone he left an incomparable legacy and an immense void. For fifteen years, racial justice activists and ecumenical leaders called for a national recognition of his legacy: a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. King’s reputation among white Americans climbed ever higher, putting a holiday in reach. People who had spurned him while he lived now claimed to admire him; many “forgot” having reviled him. The campaign for a holiday lost a House of Representatives vote in 1979 but won a veto-proof majority in Congress in 1983, compelling President Reagan to sign it.

The campaign fixed on the imagery in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I organized ecumen­ical MLK observances during those years, and chafed at the rules governing them. The rules domesticated King in order to win for him the iconic status he deserved. The memory of King taking the struggle to Chicago, railing against capitalism and the Vietnam War, emphasizing what was true in the Black Power movement, and organizing a Poor People’s Campaign faded into an unthreatening idealism. King became safe and ethereal, registering as a noble moralist stripped of his Christian language of sin, redemption, and prophetic justice. The civil rights movement was reduced to a reform movement for individual opportunity. It became hard to remember why, or even that, King had been the most hated person in America during his lifetime. (For example: a 1966 Gallup poll found that almost two thirds of Americans viewed King unfavorably, with 44 percent viewing him “highly unfavorably.”)

King keenly understood that he was hated, and why. The point of his protest campaigns was never merely to attain the next reform, although he always had a reform objective. White America needed to confront its hostility toward black Americans and its sense of racial entitlement. It needed to build up a culture of atonement for 246 years of chattel slavery and 100 years of racial segregation. No mere political reform movement would ever make that happen.

King was steeped in the black social gospel – a tradition of neo-abolitionist theology and politics that played a leading role in every racial justice organization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was “neo-abolitionist” because the founders of the black social gospel were compelled to ask what a new abolition would be, now that Reconstruction had been abandoned, racial caste had been codified, and racial terrorism enforced the caste system. The founders included Baptist cleric and educator William Simmons, African Methodist Episcopal Zion cleric ­Alexander Walters, anti-lynching crusader Ida Wells-Barnett, and African Methodist Episcopal cleric Reverdy Ransom. They taught that churches had to apply the ethical ­commands of biblical faith to the ­political struggle against the tyranny of white supremacism. Their successors included all four of King’s chief social gospel mentors: Baptist clerics Benjamin E. Mays, J. Pius Barbour, Mordecai Johnson, and Howard Thurman. King held these mentors in mind when he stepped into the spotlight on December 3, 1955.

King had grown up in a middle-class black Baptist church in Atlanta, where his father was the pastor. He went to Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, moved to Crozer Seminary and Boston University, took over as pastor of Dexter Church in Montgomery while writing his doctoral dissertation, and had a freshly minted PhD when Rosa Parks got arrested on December 1, 1955. King had no activist experience before lightning struck in Montgomery. He had to rely on what he believed and on what his mentors had modeled to him.

Photograph by Mark Smith, Alba, Michigan. Used by permission.

God is the personal ground of the infinite value of human personality. This two-sided credo had a negative corollary that confirmed King’s deepest feeling: If the worth of personality is the ultimate value in life, America’s racial caste system was evil on distinctly Christian grounds. Evil is precisely that which degrades personality, the sacred dignity of every human life – the very thing that America’s racial caste system was designed to destroy. King selected Boston University because its commitment to personal idealism supported his core convictions more powerfully than any other philosophy. Then his ministry in Montgomery put him in position to be swept away by a movement whirlwind.

It was the movement that made King, not the other way around. But the movement that carried this young minister to prominence in December 1955 would not have caught fire without him. Montgomery mounted a bus boycott because three organizers had been laying the groundwork for months: Jo-Ann Robinson, president of the Montgomery Women’s Political Council; Rosa Parks, secretary of the Mont­gomery branch of the NAACP; and E. D. Nixon, a former NAACP leader. They were ready to challenge bus segregation when Parks provided the perfect test case by getting arrested. But somebody had to speak for the boycott, and it turned out to be the newcomer who was willing to risk his life. History turned in a moment. King had twenty minutes to plan what he would say that night. He had one guiding thought as he headed to Holt Street Church: I have to be militant and moderate at the same time.

“We are here,” he told the crowd gathered there, “because first and foremost we are American citizens…, because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy, transformed from thin paper to thick action, is the greatest form of government on earth.”

But American democracy was grievously distorted. Blacks in America were humiliated and oppressed simply for being black. “That’s right!” the crowd shouted. King moved to Parks, lauding her “boundless” integrity and devotion to Jesus. Then he started a justice run: “And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.”

Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.

The crowd erupted in thundering applause, and King kept the run going. People get tired of being “plunged across the abyss of humiliation” and driven into the “bleakness of nagging despair” and “pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July.” Black Americans were tired of all that, yet they did not advocate violence and never had. “Repeat that!” the crowd called. King stressed that black Americans were Christians who followed the gospel. He tacked back to the right to protest in a democracy. The Klan and the White Citizens Councils terrorized to oppress, while black Americans opposed oppression in the spirit of Jesus. King declared, “There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in Montgomery.” No whites would be extracted from their homes and “taken out on some distant road and lynched for not cooperating.” The Montgomery protest sought merely to right a wrong. That got him started on a second justice run. If they were wrong, so were the Supreme Court, the Constitution, Jesus, and God Almighty: “If we are wrong, justice is a lie. Love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

King moved from quoting the prophet Amos to a call for solidarity: “We must stick together.” The movement needed unity and courage, the one reinforcing the other. He risked a trade union analogy, observing that when working people got “trampled over by capitalistic power,” there was nothing wrong with pulling together to demand their rights. “We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.”

The crowd erupted again at the stunning image of daybreak. King implored the crowd to “keep God in the forefront.” But love, he said, is only one side of the Christian faith; the other side is justice. Christians live in the spirit of love divine and employ the tools of divine justice. They use the tools of persuasion and the tools of coercion. If they pulled together, history would be written in Montgomery.

King ran out of metaphors, halting his run, but the Holt Street Address perfectly distilled what became his message: “Justice,” he said, “is love correcting that which revolts against love.” Soon this message was his trademark, helping him to personally link the fledgling, theatrical, church-based movement for racial justice in the South to the established, institutional, mostly secular movement in the North.

Black pacifist activist Bayard Rustin rushed to Montgomery from New York, befriended King, and introduced him to his fellow Old Left activists Stanley Levison and Ella Baker. After the boycott succeeded, all four were determined to build a new organization that would kindle many Montgomerys. The NAACP still had a role to play, but it was consumed with marching through the courts. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) protested bravely and doggedly, but failed to spark a movement. It was top-heavy with white middle-class intellect­uals who gave an impression of patronizing earnestness. Another version of CORE was not what the movement needed.

The new organization would be exclusively black, but its goal was to redeem the entire nation. In December 1956 King told a celebratory gathering at Holt Street Church that the goal was to “awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority,” not to defeat white oppressors: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of a beloved community.” The following month King, Birmingham minister Fred Shuttlesworth, and Tallahassee minister C. K. Steele called for a conference to establish a new organization. By August 1957 it had a name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and a motto: “To Redeem the Soul of America.”

King rightly figured that the movement needed a church-based organization dedicated to spreading protest wildfire. He stocked SCLC with powerhouse preachers who deferred to him; meanwhile he relied on Rustin and Levison for ghostwriting, networking, and counsel and hired Baker to run the office. Rustin, Levison, and Baker were veterans of the Old Left who fondly remembered how the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) used strikes, boycotts, and marches to make gains for economic justice. They were also chastened by this history, because the Old Left strategy of fusing anti-racism with trade unions and socialism had failed in the 1930s and ’40s. Racism cut deeper than class solidarity.

Thus the three movement veterans were strategic in basing SCLC on the black church, notwithstanding that Rustin was a socialist Quaker, Levison was a Jewish former ­Communist, and Baker’s experience of the black church made her averse to authori­tarian preachers. SCLC embraced nonviolence and touted its political nonpartisanship, although Baker accepted nonviolence merely as a tactic, not as the faith it was for Rustin and King. The SCLC ministers and board members did not like King’s reliance on Rustin and Levison, but King was emphatic about needing them.

King took in stride that Rustin, Levison, and Baker had Old Left backgrounds. It was one of God’s mysteries why so many ­Communists and so few white liberals had cared about black Americans. King had become a democratic socialist in seminary, embracing the conviction of Johnson, Barbour, social gospel icon Walter Rauschenbusch, and Boston University ethicist Walter Muelder that political democracy cannot survive without economic democracy. Then he joined a racial justice movement in which he took for granted that former Communists had major roles to play. Rustin and Levison believed that black Americans would never be free as long as large numbers of whites were oppressed by poverty. Capitalism, they said, played different roles in the struggles for racial justice in the North and South. In the North, blacks suffered primarily from the predatory logic of capitalism. In the South, blacks suffered primarily from the tyranny of racial caste, and capitalism was an ally in the struggle against racial tyranny because the capitalist class experienced the demands of racial caste as a needless waste. In the North, fighting for economic justice was intrinsic to the struggle for racial justice; in the South, economic justice was secondary for the time being. King agreed with Rustin and Levison that the Northern and Southern struggles had to be waged differently and that the struggle for economic justice for all Americans was indispensable in the long run.

For a while, SCLC floundered, even as King became famous. King shuddered to imagine the violence that Gandhian protests might unleash; thus he talked about Gandhian disruption without causing any. It took the student sit-in explosion of 1960 and the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to push King into committing Gandhian disruption. King accepted that he needed to raise hell in the most hostile cities he could find. SCLC became a fire-alarm outfit relying on street theater and heroic agitation. It was long on charismatic ministers who disdained grassroots organizing and did not treat their female allies with the respect they deserved. King was no exception on either count; thus Baker left SCLC to advise SNCC. But both organizations stoked the fires of protest in ways that King’s leadership inspired.

Photograph by Mark Smith, Alba, Michigan. Used by permission.

From 1960 until his death, King got more radical and angry in every succeeding year. The great demonstration in Birmingham was excruciatingly slow to catch fire, saved by marching children, and nearly ended disastrously, but it caused President Kennedy to propose the Civil Rights Act. In 1964, interviewer Alex Haley asked King what his biggest mistake had been, and King said it was overestimating the spiritual integrity of white ministers. The essence of Pauline Christianity, he observed, is to rejoice at being deemed worthy to suffer for the divine good: “The projection of a social gospel, in my opinion, is the true witness of a Christian life.” The white ministers who opposed or sat out the civil rights movement failed the Pauline test. Haley asked if black churches did better at projecting a social gospel; King hedged on “no,” adding that black churches dealt with daily threats to their existence that whites couldn’t imagine, so there was no basis for comparison.

We domesticated King in order to win for him the iconic status he deserves.

Haley noted that many derided King as a sell-out; King said he took for granted that criticism came with the job. Haley asked how one could be militant and nonviolent at the same time; King said it was a necessity, like being simultaneously realistic and idealistic. Nonviolence is a sword that heals. Haley observed that many whites believed the civil rights movement had gone far enough and should cease. King’s response was blistering: “Why do white people seem to find it so difficult to understand that the Negro is sick and tired of having reluctantly parceled out to him those rights and privileges which all others receive upon birth or entry in America? I never cease to wonder at the amazing presumption of much of white society, assuming that they have the right to bargain with the Negro for his freedom. This continued arrogant ladling out of pieces of the rights of citizenship has begun to generate a fury in the Negro.”

The fury in King showed through to anyone willing to see it. He said that white Americans were abysmally ignorant about the true state of American society, and three variations of this ignorance were politically significant. One group was stridently bigoted and reactionary; a second group, public officials, did not fathom the harm they caused, because it never occurred to them to actually listen to black people; a third group was the hardest to take, “enlightened” types who admonished in patronizing fashion about proceeding gradually.

Selma nearly ended disastrously, but the march to Montgomery led to the Voting Rights Act. Then King took the struggle North, where very few of his lieutenants wanted to go. King said that racism in the North was structural and threefold in every city. Segregated housing led to segregated schools, and segregated housing and schools handicapped black Americans in the job market. So he pushed into Chicago, where SCLC was battered viciously. This time the battering was not redeemed by any national legislative breakthrough, just before Watts and Detroit exploded in rioting.

Until 1966, King refused to say that white Americans never intended to integrate their schools and neighborhoods. Then he got pelted with rocks in Chicago and said it scathingly, cautioning the SCLC: “The white man literally sought to annihilate the Indian. If you look through the history of the world this very seldom happened.” This, he said, was what black Americans were up against. Until 1967, King refused to describe white America’s reaction to the civil rights movement as a backlash, because that kind of language suggested that he was to blame, racism was increasing, and the movement had backfired. Then King wrote his last book, Where Do We Go from Here, and he stopped imploring against calling it a backlash. The backlash was terribly real, he said, but what mattered was the cause: America’s age-old racial hostility. The civil rights movement merely brought this hostility to the surface. Coping with that reality was, and is, a spiritual discipline.

The fury in King showed through to anyone willing to see it.

Hope gives power to the way of nonviolence; thus King accepted the burden of being a bearer of hope, even as he stressed that white ­supremacy vengefully prevailed. He warned that despair never sustained any revolution. Liberation and integration go together, and must do so, because power must be shared in a just society. The sharing of power is the very definition of a just society. King wearied of being asked if he still believed in nonviolence. He reached for a way of saying it that settled the question. Most black Americans, he believed, agreed with him about nonviolence, but even if they did not, he believed in it. Some leaders merely reflect whatever the consensus happens to be. King took no interest in that. For him it was convictional leadership or bust, and his conviction was a burning fire in him: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what I have found in nonviolence.”

Very near the end of his life, in his last Christmas sermon, King made his usual vow to endure suffering, respond to violence with soul force, and love the oppressors. But now he said it by counterposing the dream of a just society with the nightmares of recent years: the four girls murdered in a church in Birmingham, the miserable poverty of urban neighborhoods, American cities on fire, the war in Vietnam. At the end, King was unfathomably exhausted, living on the edge of despair. But he did not give in to it. “Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life.”

In his last years King fixed on three reforms, one movement ambition, and one colossal imperative. The reforms were to terminate racial discrimination in housing, establish a minimum guaranteed income, and end America’s militarism. The movement ambition was to build a multiracial “Poor People’s Movement” for social justice. One of King’s favorite stories on this subject took place during his jail experience in Birmingham. He told it in his last sermon at Ebenezer Church, two months before he died:

The white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell . . . showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. . . . And then we got down one day to the point . . . to talk about where they lived and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people.”

King took for granted that the movement for social justice had to give high priority to influencing the federal government. Every reform that he sought focused on the federal government. He never believed that passing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act exhausted the struggle for government reforms. Though King lost President Johnson’s support after he condemned the Vietnam War in April 1967, he did not make a fetish of the outsider status to which he was driven. The civil rights bills had to be defended and enforced, he wanted the ear of the next president, and it mattered greatly what kind of role the federal government played in social issues, human rights, and war. Believing that a minimum guaranteed income was the appropriate successor to the civil rights bills, King threw his heart and soul into that cause, whether or not a civil rights bill focused on housing could be revived.

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Martin Luther King Jr. sits in his cell at the Birmingham City Jail, Alabama, October 1967. Photograph by Wyatt Tee Walker, UPI.

Yet King did not settle for political reforms and goals. In his magnificent Riverside Address of April 4, 1967, King invoked the three reform objectives, calling America to repudiate its “giant triplet of racism, materialism, and militarism.” But he featured the larger imperative, calling America to “a true revolution of values” – a moral transformation of American society. King said that America’s warped value system defeated every attempt to overcome the giant triplet. America needed to stop tolerating extreme inequality in the United States, stop pillaging nations in the Third World, and stop presuming its right to bully and invade weaker nations. Above all, America needed to build a culture of atonement for centuries of racial violence and bigotry.

Exactly one year after this speech, King was killed.

This is the King we need to remember today. White Americans have never built anything remotely like the culture of atonement that Germany managed a generation after the crimes of the Nazi era. In 1952, only 5 percent of Germans said they felt guilty about the Holocaust. That year, a German government reparations bill made the first step toward a reckoning with the nation’s actual guilt. King could imagine an American nation that acknowledges its crimes, compels every American to learn about them in school, and builds a generous, hospitable, multiracial social democracy that reconciles America’s democratic self-image with the facts of its history. He was scathing and specific about what was needed and what was lacking.

King’s belief in the importance of federal government reformism was deeply rooted in the black social gospel tradition, and was already under attack by the Black Power movement during his last years. Today it is a flashpoint issue that polarizes American politics at every level, roiling, especially, white working-class Americans, who believe that the federal government confers blessings on everyone except them. The first thing that must be said about the political crisis of the white working class is that the racial factor is central. Working-class whites differ from all other working-class laborers on account of their whiteness. Donald Trump won every economic sector of the white vote, and his race-baiting bigotry was spectacularly successful among the white working class.

America needs to build a culture of atonement for centuries of racial violence and bigotry.

But Trump’s strategy would not have been so successful among working-class whites had Democrats been known for caring about their plight. The difference between normal success and spectacular success swung the election. Poor and working-class white Americans believe by overwhelming margins that the federal government is their adversary. For eight years, working-class whites heard President Obama give sunny speeches about economic progress on his watch, and they burned with resentment. They did not feel economic progress had come to them, and they felt their struggles were invisible to the professional class that runs the Democratic Party. Trump won the white working class by 39 percent – a staggering differential that overcame his immense personal baggage.

Polling data consistently register that white working-class Americans despise the government by a four-to-one ratio. Appealing to this animus is not difficult, and Trump is a master at it. According to Peter Hart Research Associates, a tiny sliver of the white working class is politically liberal, thirty-five percent is ideologically moderate, and the majority is ideologically conservative. The difference between the moderate and conservative groups is that moderates say they would support progressive candidates if they believed that doing so would help them achieve their goals. The moderate group supports higher taxes on the wealthy, curbing the power of Wall Street, and ensuring paid leave for workers.

Politically moderate white working-class voters would welcome government intervention that benefits them. But they emphatically disbelieve it will ever happen. There is an opportunity here for candidates who speak with moral conviction about helping those left behind by economic globalization and by government policies favoring the well connected. Policies that directly help the poor, the working class, and the middle class could be featured: single-payer healthcare, a minimum guaranteed income, paid leave, and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. To make a case for this approach, breaking through the miserable status quo, would require a King-like capacity for love andjustice, idealism and realism. Thus far, that is very much lacking.

I do not believe that one has to be religious in King’s fashion or in any fashion to sustain the struggle for a good society. But I do believe it helps. Long ago I noticed that the stalwarts of social justice movements, the ones who don’t give up even when they fail, usually have some kind of spiritual wellspring. On the lecture circuit I meet people every week who ask me incredulously why I am still a Christian. I try to explain that I was drawn long ago into the spirit and way of Jesus, which Martin Luther King exemplified.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, March 28, 1968. Photograph by Sam Melhorn/AP

Jesus did not talk about the things that social ethicists like me talk about. He did not talk about problems of proximate means and ends, theories of justice, intersectional criticism, critical race theory, calculated consequences, postcolonial theory, or defending structures of justice. The gospel has no theory of politics or economics. But the teaching of Jesus impels us into the struggle for a just and peaceable world and holds us there, whether or not we succeed. That is its social relevance. To love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, is not merely the content of an impossible ethical ideal, as Reinhold Niebuhr called it. It is the motive force of the struggle for the flourishing of all human life and ­creation. The love of Jesus makes you care, makes you angry, throws you into the struggle, keeps you in it, and helps you face another day – like Dr. King and those who showed him the way.

 

 

Verse of the Day

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Thoughts on Today’s Verse…

If value is determined by price, we are incredibly valuable. God took the most precious treasure of heaven to buy us out of sin and death and adopt us into his family. Silver and gold pale in comparison to that value.

My Prayer…

Holy God, may I live each day more aware of my inestimable value to you. May my words, thoughts and actions be permeated with your sense of my worth — not so that I may seem important to others, but so that I may live in holiness and honor to your precious gift to me. Through him I pray. Amen.

 

 

 

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Hezekiah: Spiritual Renewal

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INTRODUCTION

Spiritual renewal is often associated with the present concept of “revival.” It was in the nineteenth century that Cotton Mather first used the word to describe a great awakening in the early Americas. The word derives from the Latin revivere, “to live again,” and was typically used to describe an old play that was brought back to a new generation of theater audiences. The concept is closest to the Old Testament idea of renewal or restoration, found especially in the work of leaders such as Hezekiah and Josiah.

The story of King Josiah is probably the best illustration of revival in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 34). Judah had fallen away from God, almost exclusively serving the idols of surrounding peoples. When the Pentateuch is suddenly rediscovered, Josiah immediately calls the people back to this covenant, and institutes sweeping reforms throughout every institution in Israel. Revival was possible because the lines were so clear-cut. Judah had a past relationship with God it could return to, with the spiritual and political mechanisms in place to quickly restore this relationship to a central place in Israelite life. They rebuilt what had decayed.

The reign of Hezekiah some 70 years earlier is one example that Josiah was likely aware of. Through Hezekiah’s devout commitment to God, a legacy of devotion was passed on.

Jumping forward seven centuries to the empowering of the Church in Acts 2, we see the ultimate spiritual renewal. As a nation, Israel was proven guilty by their treatment of the Messiah, but His death became their atonement for sin – a concept Jews would have readily understood, given their tradition of sacrificing animals. The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead becomes the pivot point from which Jews are called to return to God so that the spirituality seen in Hezekiah’s day might be actualized once again.

I. CALL FOR SANCTIFICATION (2 Chron. 28:1-4, 22-27; 29:1-11)

The name Hezekiah in Hebrew means “God has strengthened.” This is appropriate, given the story of this uncommon king’s life and reign. As we will see, he emerges from the most unlikely background to rule with persistent godliness. The thirteenth king of Judah since the northern and southern lands of Israel have been divided, Hezekiah stands in the Gospel of Matthew’s lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:9-10 NKJV). A careful study of Hezekiah’s life will show us why God graced him with a messianic lineage. His commitment to spiritual renewal in Israel makes him an appropriate predecessor to Christ.

A. A Wicked Father (28:1-4, 22-27)

(2 Chronicles 28:1-42 Chronicles 28:22-232 Chronicles 28:26 is not included in the printed text.)

24. And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God, and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem.

25. And in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers.

27. And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, even in Jerusalem: but they brought him not into the sepulchres of the kings of Israel: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead.

Surprisingly, the reign of Hezekiah begins with a father of unparalleled wickedness. Ahaz never makes any effort at all to put Yahweh first in his life or in the administration of the kingdom (v. 1). He boldly serves foreign gods, to the extent of calling for the manufacturing of Baal idols and the execution of child sacrifice (vv. 2-3). This means that Hezekiah once had siblings whose lives were given over to pagan cults, most likely Molech, the god of death. The ensuing chaos in the land leads Ahaz to make a treaty with Assyria – an aggressive nation that is quickly becoming a regional empire (v. 16). This pressure fails to cause Ahaz to turn to Yahweh. Instead, he sacrifices all the more to the various gods of Damascus in Syria (v. 23). He crosses a sacred line, however, when he incorporates the Temple’s furnishings into these pagan rituals of worship (v. 24).

What would cause a man with Ahaz’s history in Judah to become so stiff-necked? We are left to guess. Determined that Yahweh will do them no good, that these other gods are the saviors of Judah, he closes the Temple completely after ransacking it for its sacred vessels. This is explicit religious syncretism – utilizing Yahweh’s temple’s furnishings in the worship of other gods. For the worshipers of Yahweh still left, it was a ghastly crime.

Ahaz sees to it that this pagan worship takes place all over the city of Jerusalem, then moves outward with his campaign of sorcery (v. 25). The text stops just short of insinuating that Ahaz purposefully attempts to anger Yahweh. “High places” were altars built on cliffs and mountains that were considered sacred space due to their usage for various forms of worship, including incense and sometimes sacrifice. These high places were often dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, but apparently not in Ahaz’s lifetime. As a result of his betrayal of the God of his fathers, including his own father, Jotham, Ahaz’s burial is a disgrace. Though laid to rest in Jerusalem, he will not receive the honor of a burial with previous kings (v. 27). Judah seeks to forget him entirely, and Hezekiah is the perfect ruler to help them do so and to move forward with God.

B. The New David (29:1-11)

(2 Chronicles 29:4-92 Chronicles 29:11 is not included in the printed text.)

1. Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.

2. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.

3. He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them.

10. Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us.

Because Hezekiah has reached adulthood, his reign will be characterized by getting things ordered in a hurry. His father long forgotten, in verse 2 Hezekiah is identified with David – the greatest spiritual and political leader to ever emerge from the hills of Judah.

The language in verse 2 is deliberate as usual. Other kings accomplished righteousness before the Lord in part, or for a historical segment of their reign. Hezekiah, however, achieves righteousness in full. Everything good about David is found in Hezekiah. This connection to David is especially important. It was the goal of every king after David to be identified with David. In fact, even King Herod in the time of Jesus took pains to identify himself as the new ruler in the line and spirit of David. We will see that this is an appropriate moniker for Hezekiah.

A king’s first action is indicative of his priorities. The business of leading a nation is multifaceted, so we can guess that kings ordered their time with care and precision, just like leaders today. Therefore, the text wastes no time in letting us know what Hezekiah is passionate about. He “opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them” (v. 3).

These doors will be very important to Hezekiah’s conflict with Sennacherib later on in his reign, but that is not in view here (2 Kings 18:13-16). Hezekiah breaks with his father by reopening the doors to God’s temple in Jerusalem – the same doors his father had tried to close for good. This statement rang out to the kingdom of Judah loud and clear. God would be the national priority again. In the spirit of David, they were to put their trust in Yahweh.

Hezekiah, like several kings before him, is passionate about proper order in the Temple. He does not commence the work of restoration himself, as if he has rights to administrate the Temple’s operation. We know from King Uzziah that this is dangerous territory (2 Chronicles 26:19). So Hezekiah readies the Levites to take over the Temple once more (2 Chronicles 29:5). It has been a long time, however, since the house of the Lord has been open for business. Given that Ahaz reigned sixteen years, many of the Levites have never served in the Temple, even though they are from the priestly tribe. Hezekiah, then, leads the charge to get the Levites and the Temple consecrated. He takes pains to ensure that everything is done according to God’s law. All the while, he keeps his eyes on Judah’s history. To Hezekiah, this history clearly shows that dedication to Yahweh is demanded from Judah. Therefore, he plans to call the nation back to the covenant (v. 10).

Initially, making a covenant seems strange. Didn’t God forge an eternal covenant with Israel, and especially with David (2 Samuel 7:15-16)? Yes, so what is needed is not a new covenant, but a renewed covenant. God’s offer to bless Judah still stands; it is still based on covenant. And this covenant still costs Judah something. It costs unabashed and singular devotion to Yahweh, the one true God.

II. ATONEMENT MADE (2 Chron. 29:12-24)

Hezekiah has now solidified his focus on the Temple. The accomplishments of his dynasty will therefore be in tandem with the work of the priests and Levites in Jerusalem. This close relationship is often established by the faithful and successful kings of Judah. Again, Hezekiah realizes that he cannot effect spiritual renewal in Judah on his own. It will be a national effort, led by those who care most for Yahweh and His temple. Such leadership is always communal, and never individual. It starts with the ruler’s heart and extends outward to his followers.

A. A Period of Consecration (vv. 12-19)

(2 Chronicles 29:12-142 Chronicles 29:18-19 is not included in the printed text.)

15. And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord.

16. And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron.

17. Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of the Lord: so they sanctified the house of the Lord in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end.

One remarkable characteristic of the reign of Hezekiah is that he never sacrifices care and quality for speed, even as he races ahead to make God’s temple in Jerusalem ready for worship. Indeed, the pace of the work was amazing. He has carefully apportioned the various ethnic groups descended from Levi to accomplish their respective work on the Temple. But first, they ritually consecrate themselves in accordance with God’s law. These laws are explicitly laid out in Leviticus 21 and Leviticus 22, which depict the high standard for God’s priests. After all, they intercede with God on behalf of the people. They cannot do so flippantly, but must remain reverent.

Once they have consecrated themselves and their garments, the consecration of the Temple itself begins. They work from the inside out, moving into the dilapidated inner court to make it ready to serve God and the people of Judah again. We can imagine the emotion of the priests’ duty, walking into the Temple, some of them perhaps for the first time. Disgustingly, they find the Temple full of unclean things, all of which they haul to the Kidron Valley, probably for ceremonial burning or to drown in the Kidron River. The work takes sixteen days: washing, praying, singing, and cleaning. After the work is done, they joyfully report their progress to Hezekiah, who wants to know everything. They explain each facet of the cleansing with him, ensuring that everything has been done properly and in order. This purification even included the utensils for sacrifice – forks, bowls, bread plates, and the like. Unsurprisingly, they mention wicked old Ahaz in their explanation to Hezekiah. They have undone all that he did, providing a new day for Hezekiah and the kingdom of Judah. Without Hezekiah’s bold willingness to break from his father, spiritual renewal would not have been possible.

B. Yom Kippur (vv. 20-24)

(2 Chronicles 29:22-23 is not included in the printed text.)

20. Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord.

21. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah. And he commanded the priests the sons of Aaron to offer them on the altar of the Lord.

24. And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.

The festival of Yom Kippur represents the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, yet Hezekiah realizes the nation has failed to celebrate it during the reign of Ahaz his father. The holiday means “Day of Atonement,” and it refers to a single sacrifice which God accepts to atone for the sins of the entire nation. This sacrifice does not preclude individuals who come on a regular basis to honor God with the firstfruits of their livestock and crops. It is of a corporate nature, meant to enact God’s peace upon the entire kingdom.

From what we know, King Hezekiah has kept his plan secretive. He plods along in the reconsecration of the Temple, and surely the people expect some kind of celebration at its grand reopening. Hezekiah, however, knows that too much is at stake to simply open the doors and stand back. He takes the lead in reinstating this important holiday into Judah’s national and spiritual life by creating an elaborate program. However, it will be a slightly different kind of Yom Kippur, in that Hezekiah brings seven of each of the sacrifices before the Lord.

The number seven represents the number of God’s completion. Through this act of atonement, Hezekiah proclaims that God is completely restoring Judah to her covenant with Him. The emphasis is on the word “all Israel” (v. 24), foreshadowing the restoration of the divided kingdom. Remember, Israel has been separated from and in conflict with Judah for thirteen Judean kings now. Hezekiah boldly makes the sacrifice for the united kingdom, signifying an important day in the future.

III. WORSHIP RESTORED (2 Chron. 29:25-31, 35-36; 30:1-27)

The text has built tension by keeping the reader wondering what will come next. Will the nation respond to Hezekiah’s leadership? After all, in some respects he is unproven. He has yet to lead them into battle or to preside over an economic boom period. He has focused on getting God’s temple back into shape. Even an elaborately staged ceremony of dedication to Yahweh does not mean the people will cease following the gods of Ahaz – gods they have grown used to over the years. Hezekiah’s daring leadership shows its true colors when the people respond with overwhelming affirmation to his sweeping spiritual reforms.

A. Order in the Temple (29:25-31, 35-36)

(2 Chronicles 29:25-30 is not included in the printed text.)

31. Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank offerings; and as many as were of a free heart burnt offerings.

35. And also the burnt offerings were in abundance, with the fat of the peace offerings, and the drink offerings for every burnt offering. So the service of the house of the Lord was set in order.

36. And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly.

After the sacrifices are completed, the heartfelt celebration begins (vv. 25-30). Hezekiah has stationed skilled musicians in the places appointed by King David himself. Obeying the prophets of old, the psalms of David are reintroduced to the nation. The people once again learn the story of Israel through David’s psalms. They learn about the character and attributes of God. Equally important, they learn the heart of David, which is a template for God-honoring service.

In a final burnt offering, Hezekiah gives the nod and the choir erupts into rapturous praise. In response, the nation gathered there fall on their faces before God. This continues for the entire sacrifice, perhaps fifteen minutes of overwhelming jubilance before the Lord. Now Hezekiah will open the floodgates for the people to express their individual praise to Yahweh, saying, “Come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings” (v. 31).

Verse 31 gives us a glimpse into the communal nature of sacrifices. That is, they were meant to be eaten by the family, tribe, or the community which brought them. We sometimes have this idea that the sacrifice is only about the death of the animal. This is a part of God’s plan for atonement, but the sacrifice is equally about the consumption of the animal. Through eating the animal together, a group remembered the goodness of Yahweh who had nourished them. They also remembered the covenant they had with God and with one another as the people of God, since they ate as one from the same animal.

The sacrifices brought by the people were too much for the freshly trained priests to handle. As a result, the Levites put in overtime as an emergency consecration service was held for unconsecrated priests (v. 34). Verse 35 provides a key insight to spiritual renewal. The text does not say that worship in the Temple simply recommenced. Instead, it emphasizes the priestly order (“the service of the house of the Lord”) which allowed the Temple to be reestablished in the first place. This shows us that order in God’s house tends to flow from the top down. Hezekiah chooses to become a righteous king, so righteousness has a way of filtering downward to the priests through the king’s faithfulness.

The last verse in the chapter marvels that Hezekiah is able to get so much done so fast, and clearly attributes this success to God. Yet God would likely not have overridden Hezekiah had he been lazy. It is the urgency of Hezekiah that God uses for His glory. He embodies the maxim that motivated Dr. Martin Luther King – “the fierce urgency of now.”

B. A Passover Like No Other (30:1-27)

(2 Chronicles 30:1-42 Chronicles 30:6-122 Chronicles 30:16-24 is not included in the printed text.)

5. So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.

13. And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.

14. And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron.

15. Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the Lord.

25. And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced.

26. So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.

27. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.

After the Temple is gloriously reestablished, Hezekiah moves onto the daily business of governing. However, he maintains his sense of priorities. In his first recorded royal edict, he issues an invitation to the entire kingdom, including the northern land of Israel, to reconstitute the Passover celebration (v. 1). This is an especially bold move since the official time for Passover has already expired. Hezekiah had hoped that the nation could be ready at the appointed time, but his plans prove overly ambitious. There are simply not enough consecrated priests to serve the people at the first of the year (v. 3). But Hezekiah refuses to let his dream sit still for the remainder of the year. He lays out a plan to celebrate the festival that year anyway, so the proclamation goes out “from Beersheba . . . to Dan” (v. 5).

Hezekiah’s edict is especially meaningful to the northern kingdom of Israel. By this time, Assyria has sacked Israel and led many of its inhabitants into exile. Nonetheless, there are some that remain, and these Hezekiah invites to return to the God of the patriarchs. Unfortunately, some of the regions of the northern kingdom are hostile to Hezekiah’s edict. They probably wondered what there was to celebrate, as they had already been defeated by the pagan Assyrians (v. 10). How could God help them now? Nonetheless, some Israelites make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem (v. 11), while all of Judah attends (v. 12).

The “very great” (v. 13) crowd that gathers once again has some work cut out for them, for some unofficial altars have emerged around the city. It is only when these are destroyed that the Passover lamb can be sacrificed and the festival celebrated.

Once again, Hezekiah’s dedication to God’s order results in a well-run festival centered on the Temple. For those citizens who are unconsecrated, the Levites are ready to step in and make their sacrifice for them (v. 17). But there are simply too many sacrifices to keep up. As a result, Hezekiah offers a prayer to God that the physically unconsecrated will be forgiven if their hearts are consecrated (vv. 18-19). God hears (v. 20), and the festival is full of such meaning, rejoicing, and worship that the entire assembly agrees to extend it another week (v. 23). These are agricultural people with much to attend to back home, but they are caught up in the moment.

In response, Hezekiah blesses the assembly with an enormous donation from his royal treasury, providing food for the second week of Passover (v. 24). Because of this, everyone is reminded of Solomon and David (v. 26), and the people are tremendously blessed before God (v. 27).

CONCLUSION

The reign of Hezekiah proves the tremendous work that goes into spiritual renewal for a corporate body of people. He approaches every aspect of the nation’s spirituality with intentionality and care. He gets the right people in place. He centers on the right biblical texts. In so doing, Hezekiah is allowed to see some of the greatest miracles God performs for the divided kingdom. He also stands as an example for us of the cost and the benefits of spiritual renewal.

GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE

“NOW YE HAVE CONSECRATED YOURSELVES UNTO THE LORD, COME NEAR AND BRING SACRIFICES AND THANK OFFERINGS INTO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD” (2 Chron. 29:31).

After the central burnt offering, Hezekiah exhorted the people to personal acts of devotion and thanksgiving. Even though there had been a burnt offering expressing the devotion of the entire congregation, individual commitment and thanksgiving were necessary.

Revival must not only reflect the unity and corporate strength of a congregation, it must also touch individual hearts. Without personal application, revival will have no effect on an individual’s life. A revival may fall greatly upon the gathering of a congregation. However, each person is responsible for his individual responsiveness to the Lord.

In the last part of the verse, the expression “free heart” in the Hebrew text emphasized a person’s willingness and personal motivation. In other words, the people were not forced to bring thanksgiving and offerings. Personal motivation and willingness are essential for revival. Hezekiah knew that the revival would not be genuine if the people were forced to worship. They had to come to the Lord of their own will and personal motivation. So must we.

 

 

Blessing Through Brokenness

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 12:25, niv

What is your reaction to that verse? Jesus is the One Who died for you and me! Surely He’s not saying you and I must die for Him! Death is a pretty big stretch from your daily prayer, “God, bless me indeed,” isn’t it? And it’s not nearly as full of wonder and excitement, and if we’re honest, personal profit. God wants to bless you and me even more than we could think to ask, but the power that produces the blessing comes through brokenness and death. And not just any death, but death by crucifixion.

I will tell you honestly from experience that crucifixion is a slow, painful death to your self. It is impossible for victims to crucify themselves. Crucifixion is the result of our decision to yield ourselves to God as He allows various pressures and problems and pain into our lives. They are used to put us to death that we might be raised to an abundant . . . victorious . . . blessed . . . fruitful . . . powerful . . . Christlike . . . Spirit-filled life. And remember–after the Cross comes the resurrection and the glory!

My Heart’s Cry, (Nashville: W Publishing, 2002).

(c)2012 Anne Graham Lotz. All rights reserved.

 

 

Painting of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen | photo by Andreas Praefcke

Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen

Saint of the Day for April 24

(1577 – April 24, 1622)

https://www.franciscanmedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SODApr24.mp3

 

Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen’s Story

If a poor man needed some clothing, Fidelis would often give the man the clothes right off his back. Complete generosity to others characterized this saint’s life.

Born in 1577, Mark Rey became a lawyer who constantly upheld the causes of the poor and oppressed people. Nicknamed “the poor man’s lawyer,” Rey soon grew disgusted with the corruption and injustice he saw among his colleagues. He left his law career to become a priest, joining his brother George as a member of the Capuchin Order. Fidelis was his religious name. His wealth was divided between needy seminarians and the poor.

As a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi, Fidelis continued his devotion to the weak and needy. During a severe epidemic in a city where he was guardian of a friary, Fidelis cared for and cured many sick soldiers.

He was appointed head of a group of Capuchins sent to preach against the Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. Almost certain violence threatened. Those who observed the mission felt that success was more attributable to the prayer of Fidelis during the night than to his sermons and instructions.

He was accused of opposing the peasants’ national aspirations for independence from Austria. While he was preaching at Seewis, to which he had gone against the advice of his friends, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped unharmed. A Protestant offered to shelter Fidelis, but he declined, saying his life was in God’s hands. On the road back, he was set upon by a group of armed men and killed.

Fidelis was canonized in 1746. Fifteen years later he was recognized as a martyr.


Reflection

Fidelis’ constant prayer was that he be kept completely faithful to God and not give in to any lukewarmness or apathy. He was often heard to exclaim, “Woe to me if I should prove myself but a halfhearted soldier in the service of my thorn-crowned Captain.” His prayer against apathy, and his concern for the poor and weak make him a saint whose example is valuable today. The modern Church is calling us to follow the example of “the poor man’s lawyer” by sharing ourselves and our talents with those less fortunate and by working for justice in the world.


 

 

 

Nehemiah

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. – Romans 14:12
Nehemiah, the great rebuilder of Jerusalem, is a great example in the Bible of leadership, faith, and unshakable commitment. He didn’t let the huge task of the long-delayed restoration of Jerusalem discourage him. He realized that it was never too late for God’s people to begin the process. He took direct and forceful action. His faith, wisdom, and courage kept him focused on his goal. He was determined to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He faced foreign opposition and discord amongst his own people, but the wall was completed in just fifty-two days. An incredible feat!
Soon after this victory, Nehemiah directed the people toward a second phase of restoration. He called upon the great teacher Ezra to lead the people in a study of the Scriptures. Confronted by God’s word, they were soon in tears because they could see the truth of how far they’d strayed from God’s law. They confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They accepted responsibility for generations of unfaithfulness on the part of their people and grieved openly before God.
When Nehemiah returned to Babylon, however, the people returned to their sinful ways. Nehemiah found himself once again putting the Jews back on a right path. This example of short-term restoration shows how prone we are to drifting away from what’s right if we’re not held accountable. The encouragement: it wasn’t too late to rebuild the wall, and it’s not too late to rebuild your life. Begin by doing the next right thing!
“Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver five minutes longer.” – Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
Devotionals Daily: A Year with Jesus

From Live Loved by Max Lucado

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life.” – John 6:40

Our Part Is to Trust

It’s a simple promise. . . . Everyone who believes in [him] will have eternal life (John 3:15 NLT).

The simplicity troubles many people. We expect a more complicated cure, a more elaborate treatment. . . . We expect a more proactive assignment, to have to conjure up a remedy for our sin. Some mercy seekers have donned hair shirts, climbed cathedral steps on their knees, or traversed hot rocks on bare feet.

Others of us have written our own Bible verse: “God helps those who help themselves” (Popular Opinion 1:1). We’ll fix ourselves, thank you. We’ll make up for our mistakes with contributions, our guilt with busyness. We’ll overcome failures with hard work. We’ll find salvation the old-fashioned way: we’ll earn it.

Christ, in contrast, says: “Your part is to trust. Trust me to do what you can’t.”

By the way, you take similar steps of trust daily, even hourly. You believe the chair will support you, so you set your weight on it. You believe water will hydrate you, so you swallow it. You trust the work of the light switch, so you flip it. You have faith the doorknob will work, so you turn it.

You regularly trust power you cannot see to do a work you cannot accomplish. Jesus invites you to do the same with him. Just him. Not . . . any other leader. . . . Not even you.

You can’t fix you. Look to Jesus . . . and believe.

—From 3:16: THE NUMBERS OF HOPE

Lord, you have invited us to trust you for salvation and for everything we need. You’ve promised rest and restoration if we will simply trust in you. Teach us to trust you more. Forgive us when we struggle to do what you long to do for us, amen.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. – Ephesians 2:4–5

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Acts 2:21

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue. – 2 Peter 1:3

 

 

 

What Jesus Did! ‘Surely!’ — John 6:14

Illustration of John 6:14 NLT — When the people saw [Jesus perform the miraculous sign of feeding the 5000], they exclaimed, "Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!"

Key Thought

The people were “wowed”! They recognized something incredible had happened. When they first saw the miraculous sign, they were convinced that something great was going on. But their reaction didn’t last long as this was the “miracle on demand” crowd (John 6:30). Unfortunately, they let their praises die down and their desire to see another “miracle show” rev up. God still does mighty things among us today. When he does them, let’s praise him. Even when we endure a season where he doesn’t appear to be working, let’s remember that he is still at work even if the things he does remain unseen. Let’s be drawn closer to him — not to see another mighty deed, but to give him our hearts. The mighty deeds will come in God’s time, not ours. So instead of focusing on our expectations, let’s focus on God’s incredible work among us!

Today’s Prayer

Father, thank you for your mighty deeds throughout history. Thank you for your mighty deeds in my life as well. I can see only an incredibly small glimpse of all that you have done, and yet I am awe-struck, and I praise you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Related Scripture Readings

Daily Wisdom: Proverbs 15:18

Illustration of Proverbs 15:18 — A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

Spiritual Warfare: ‘God Acknowledged Jesus as Family at Baptism’

God’s Power for Our Battles

Illustration of Mark 1:9-11 NLT — One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.  As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'

One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.’

Today’s Prayer

Lord, I know that John witnessed Your Spirit descend onto Jesus when He was baptized, and he even heard Your voice from heaven acknowledging Jesus as Your Son. Yet when life got tough for John and he was imprisoned by King Herod, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the one. So John doubted Jesus when the circumstances of life didn’t match what he expected to happen. I confess that I’ve done the same thing, doubting You when problems come my way. Forgive me, and help me to have more faithful trust in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Praying with Paul: ‘The Body of Christ’

The Body of Christ — 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
v1-11 Spiritual gifts were extraordinary powers bestowed in the first ages, to convince unbelievers, and to spread the gospel. Gifts and graces greatly differ. Both were freely given of God. But where grace is given, it is for the salvation of those who have it. Gifts are for the advantage and salvation of others; and there may be great gifts where there is no grace. The extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were chiefly exercised in the public assemblies, where the Corinthians seem to have made displays of them, wanting in the spirit of piety, and of Christian love. While heathens, they had not been influenced by the Spirit of Christ. No man can call Christ Lord, with believing dependence upon him, unless that faith is wrought by the Holy Ghost. No man could believe with his heart, or prove by a miracle, that Jesus was Christ, unless by the Holy Ghost. There are various gifts, and various offices to perform, but all proceed from one God, one Lord, one Spirit; that is, from the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the origin of all spiritual blessings. No man has them merely for himself. The more he profits others, the more will they turn to his own account. The gifts mentioned appear to mean exact understanding, and uttering the doctrines of the Christian religion; the knowledge of mysteries, and skill to give advice and counsel. Also the gift of healing the sick, the working of miracles, and to explain Scripture by a peculiar gift of the Spirit, and ability to speak and interpret languages. If we have any knowledge of the truth, or any power to make it known, we must give all the glory of God. The greater the gifts are, the more the possessor is exposed to temptations, and the larger is the measure of grace needed to keep him humble and spiritual; and he will meet with more painful experiences and humbling dispensations. We have little cause to glory in any gifts bestowed on us, or to despise those who have them not.

Dear Father, great, good and generous giver,

Thank you for making me part of the body of Christ, his church. Thank you that there are no unimportant parts to the body. Thank you that all of us are interconnected and interdependent.

We have a variety of gifts from you, but all have the same spirit.

We have varieties of service, but all have the same Lord, Jesus Christ.

We have various ways of working, but it is you, O God, who inspires all of it. Your spirit apportions your gifts as he wishes.

Thank you for every manifestation of your power and goodness. And thank you for every graciousness shown to me personally.

In the name of Jesus, the head of the body, I pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Today’s Scripture

We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:3-5

Thoughts for Today

It is usually easy to rejoice when things are going well in our lives. But how about when we are having problems … and suffering? The Bible says even then we are to rejoice!

None of us likes to suffer, but experiencing problems does not have to be destructive to our relationship with God. We need to trust God and see the good that can come through our experiences of suffering. Suffering teaches us to endure patiently . It also teaches us that our comfort is not the most important thing in life. Suffering builds character. It strengthens our hope because when we have to face another tribulation, we can look back on how God helped us in the past.

Consider this …

Although we would all prefer to be exempt from tribulations, God uses them to deepen our relationship with him. They are still painful, but we can be comforted with the knowledge that our sufferings do not mean God is displeased with us. And we can rejoice because God will bring good even from the most difficult times … if we will continue to trust in him and his great love.

Prayer

Father, teach me to rejoice even when I am suffering … to see the good that can come from these struggles … and to remember your great love for me. In Jesus’ name …

 

 

 

Healing Before Ministry
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1 by Os Hillman
April 24, 2018

“And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.” – Joshua 5:8

Before the nation of Israel could go into the Promised Land they had to be circumcised. Circumcision is painful, bloody, and personal. God requires each of us to be circumcised in heart before we are allowed to enter and receive the blessings that await each believer in the Promised Land.

This circumcision can often be very painful. Circumcision requires losing our old way of life. The process of spiritual circumcision may mean a loss in areas that have been a part of our lives in order to draw us to the Savior. God understands this. Consequently, like the people of Israel, we must wait until we are healed before we begin to be effective in our calling. If we launch out too early, we will be ineffective and may risk infection and disease and will not be at our full capacity. God wants each of us to walk in His healing grace.

The people of Israel fought only two battles when they were coming out of Egypt. In the Promised Land they fought 39 battles. Each of us must be prepared to enjoy the benefits of living in the Promised Land. However, we must also be prepared to wage war against the enemy of our souls. Make sure the Lord has provided the needed healing to your circumcision experience before you enter the Promised Land.

 

 

 

 

StoryTime1

Well, Duane had a doctor’s appointment, an EMG (“needle test”), for his hand, to try to find out why it’s numb.  I had this test done up in Scranton and I recall that it was pretty horrid…..they stick needles and electrodes all up your arm and then shoot electrical currents through them…..OUCH!  The final result is almost always to tell you that it’s a nerve or muscle that runs from your elbow to your wrist…..they suggest surgery to tighten it up but the surgery doesn’t last……the muscle eventually loosens again…….

I had my heart tests last week but I won’t get any results till the end of next month…..it worries me some because I’ve already had to use my nitro tabs three times over the last two weeks!  But, John, the Tech who did the tests, did tell me that he thinks Dr. Norred will be back…….whooppee, I pray so!!

I didn’t go with Duane today because he plans to stop at his Mom’s, to pick up an air conditioner/heater and to see if there’s any mail there for him…..and, well, I’m not welcome there anymore, yet………I still feel a need for an apology from them…….I truly didn’t deserve the treatment I got and neither did my son!  Duane is part of my reason for living……part of my world, a big part……..his accident shook me to my core…….they separated me from him when I needed to be near him……..they attacked my son and made false accusations against him (are they without sin that they felt they could cast stones?)…….they threatened my son and I…….and, after all this, do they really feel like they did nothing wrong?  Do they truly think their cruelty was vindicated?  And, do they think I should just FORGET it all?  No!  Never!  I awake each and every night, I hear Bob’s voice, threatening me and calling me vulgar names…….I see Billy Ray attacking my son here…….and all for NO GOOD or SANE reason!!  I forgive but I will never forget!  They even tried to keep Duane up there, at his Mom’s…..were they shocked that HE wanted to come home to ME?  Did they really think he’d choose THEM over ME?  I guess none of them knows what REAL TRUE LOVE is……I pity them all…….and, I don’t need any of them………..”what goes around, comes around…”  God will see to this……..

 

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