A Prayer for America

I was standing at the door greeting people after a Thanksgiving Day service when a member of the congregation said to me, “I think you missed the point in your sermon. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, and the emphasis should be on our nation giving thanks to God for His blessings.”

It was a constructive criticism that I have never forgotten. This man had been born in another country and seemed to have a special appreciation for America. So, because of his counsel, I want to speak primarily regarding our nation giving thanks to God for His kindness to us in every way.

Let’s look at two scripture passages. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). Moses writes, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord has chosen you out of all the people on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Scripture makes it clear that Israel was THE chosen people of God. No other nation has ever had that distinction. It was out of Israel that all the people of the world would be blessed. From this nation was to come the Savior of the world.

The United States can never claim to be THE people of God. Yet is it possible that we could call our nation A people of God? Don Williams, in his commentary, writes, “While Psalm 33:12 refers to Israel, this promise is extended to God’s new Israel, the Church, who are the baptized believers in Jesus Christ.”

History reveals the United States is a nation highly populated with people who confess Christ as Savior and Lord and desire to live in harmony with His will. In 1621, only one year after the settlers had landed on these shores, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of special thanksgiving for God’s blessings on the people. After the colonies received their independence, President Washington delivered a like proclamation, as did Lincoln following the Civil War. It is a tradition. Each year our president calls upon the nation to give thanks to God in their homes and churches for His goodness to us as a nation.

Until recently, the Bible has been open in our schools. The day was started with prayer. The children were taught the Ten Commandments and respected them as divine absolutes, which gave clear guidance regarding what is right and wrong. “In God we trust” is printed on our coins. The pledge of allegiance reminds us that we are “one nation under God.”

Is there evidence that God has blessed us? There certainly is! Every American is free. Sometimes we wonder if this freedom is not carried a bit too far. We have opportunities to make the most of our talents. This is America where all who wish can have the “good life.”

Our daughter recently sent us a sheet showing what advancements have come to America in the last 100 years making life much more secure, enjoyable, and easier:

“One hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was 47. Fourteen percent of the homes had bathtubs. Eight percent of the homes had telephones. There were 8,000 cars in the United States and 144 miles of paved roads. Six percent of Americans were high school graduates. Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as substandard. What a difference a century makes!”

Are we thankful we are citizens of the United States? Let my close friend answer this question. He was born and raised in Germany. He fought in the German army. After World War II he came to the United States. Later he and his fiancee, who was also from Germany, were married and located in Iowa. While they enjoy many material blessings, their greatest thrill as American citizens is the freedom they enjoy and the opportunities to make the most of their talents. Their license plate reads, “USA IOU.”

Yet the greatest blessings God has given to us are not material but spiritual. This is the confession of all who know Christ as Savior and Lord. God’s law is still taught in many of our churches as absolute truth, and we know what is right and wrong. We have the Gospel, where Jesus Christ is proclaimed, on the basis of Scripture, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He died for our sins. For all who will receive Him, Christ forgives our sins. We have the assurance that He walks with us and, at the end of this life, He will bring us home to heaven.

Thanksgiving Day is a special time to pray for our nation. We have not become a part of the post-Christian age. It is becoming more difficult to be a vocal Christian without experiencing criticism. Our rights to give expression of our faith in public places will be challenged in the very name of the Bill of Rights, which gave us these privileges.

As we lift our voices in prayer giving thanks to God, let us pray for a spiritual awakening in our blessed land. Let us pray that those who do not know Christ in a personal way will receive Him. Let us pray that the Church will be fearless and faithful in preaching Law and Gospel. May Christ be held up as God’s unspeakable gift and the only way of salvation.

God Says, “I Promise You.”

How good is a promise? “Not as good as it once was,” someone may answer.

Why is it that some question the value of a promise more today than a generation ago? Could it be that the world in which we live is larger? Once our business dealings were with friends; now they are with strangers. I wonder if the promises with those we know are not as good today as they were in the past.

Yet when counseling people who were entering a second marriage, I always suggested a prenuptial agreement. Human nature being what it is, emotions sometimes get out of control in marriage relationships. It is just good business to have a legal document to guarantee the verbal promise. I remember how some would say, “If I cannot trust the person’s promise, how can I marry him or her?” What that person did not believe was that, after one hundred arguments, these promises could wear thin.

However, right now we are thinking about the promises of God. They are always sure. One promise is, “If you become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God provoking him to anger . . . you will quickly perish. . . . The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods . . . But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things happen to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath” (Deuteronomy 4:25b-31).

This promise from God so inspired Felix Mendelssohn, he included it in his oratorio Elijah, written in 1846. It is the evangelical appeal found in the Old Testament calling God’s people back to their Father. Note the subjective appeal: God invites us back into a relationship with Him by the power of His Spirit. However, we have the power to reject that invitation.

Two thousand years later Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). What comfort this brings to the first-time seeker who longs for a personal relationship with God. Here again you have the appeal to come. What hope it brings to the backslider who once lived in a relationship with God but departed for greener pastures. Now, in their emptiness, God invites them back to their spiritual home.

God also has plenty of promises for His children who suffer from an affliction. We know the Christian faith does not free us from hard times. God sent this promise to Israel through the Prophet Isaiah when they were living in exile: “Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). That promise is good today.

When Lois’ physician told her it would be wise for her to have a mastectomy, she was crushed. Her baby was nine months old; her father was terminally ill. We had dinner together recently, and it was an inspiration to be with her. She was very honest. “I am very angry,” she said. Why shouldn’t she be? Lois wants to see her little boy grow up. She doesn’t want to leave her husband of only six years. They have a great relationship. But then she explained, “The fact that I am angry does not mean I have lost my faith in God. I used to get angry with my earthly father, but that did not mean I had lost my love for him. I know all the theological answers to the question: Why does this happen? I realize that sickness and death is a part of a broken world. No, I trust Jesus more than ever. He has promised to be with me, and this promise is sure. I just wanted things to be different.”

Remember the picture Jesus gives us of the human being’s value? He says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Even the hairs of your head are numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29f).

Just what kind of bird the sparrow was in Jesus’ day, I do not know. When we think of the sparrow, it is a very common bird. We have a new bird feeder in our backyard, and it is entertaining to watch the birds come and go. Once in awhile my wife will say, “Come and see the bird at the feeder.” The pretty birds catch our eyes; sparrows are a dime a dozen. Then there are those big black birds that chase all the pretty birds away. We wish the black birds would go and never come back. I was complaining about them one day when my unbelieving neighbor reminded me that God created them too. Jesus’ parable makes a strong point when it clearly teaches that no bird, and certainly no human, is insignificant. He watches over us, and that is a promise.

“Do not be afraid. I have my eyes on you.” What a promise that is!

These are some promises of God. Just remember, He has put them on paper. You can read these promises in your Bible. He will deliver what He has promised to his children. It is a part of his faithfulness.

Faithfulness: An Attribute of God – A Characteristic of His Children

How do you describe God? Your childhood training could shape your answer to this question.

Someone would answer in this way: I don’t have an answer to this question. God is really not a part of my life. I cannot recall a serious question about God in my parental home. Perhaps my father and mother were atheists.

Another person is not satisfied with this answer. He believes that God is “the man upstairs” or “a higher power” that has created and sustains this universe. God is impersonal and has little or no relationship with any one person.

If you were raised in a Christian home, God would be more personal. However, even if you came from a Christian home, your description of God might differ from another person’s description who was raised in a Christian home.

Perhaps your home placed emphasis on the judgment of God. Then you would think of God as One who is to be feared, because one day you will stand before His judgment seat.

If your home placed a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God, you think of Him as the One who controls everything. The individual has little freedom. Everything is in God’s hands. He has given little freedom to the human being. What is going to be, will be.

If, however, your home talked a lot about Jesus and what He has done for you, your answer would have to be that God is love.

These answers described in the Christian home are all true. God is holy, and there is a sense in which He is to be feared. He is sovereign and is in control. God is love and is our Savior. Yet there is another word that describes our Heavenly Father extremely well. That word is the attribute around which I build this sermon. It is FAITHFULNESS.

All of the biblical writers lift their voices and sing praises for God’s faithfulness. Joshua, in his farewell address to the leader of Israel writes, “Now I am going to die. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Jehoshaphat was a lesser-known king of Israel. When he was confronted with a powerful enemy, he prayed, “We have no power to face this vast enemy who is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (II Chronicles 20:12). He was counting on the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 121, which is sometimes attributed to Hezekiah, says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills Ð where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber nor sleep.” What a description of God’s faithfulness!

Move now from the biblical writers to your own life. If your life is committed to Jesus Christ, you experience the faithfulness of God on a daily basis. More than fifty-five years ago, Bishop Hans Lilje of Hanover, Germany, addressed a congregation in Minneapolis. In his sermon, the Bishop said words like these: “Through all the suffering we endured during the war, including time in the concentration camp, God was always faithful. His grace was sufficient.”

My wife and I recently visited her brother, Verner. He was a chaplain on the Gambia Bay sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. For more than forty hours, he was in the water with the men. As he described some details of those horrible two days to us, Eunice asked her brother, “Did you think this was the end for you?”

Verner smiled and said, “The thought did cross my mind. I held onto the great truth that no matter what happened, God was faithful.”

A little girl who lives on our street, is one of the sweetest children I have ever met. Perhaps it is because of her physical condition. Occasionally she will come to our door and say, “Would you like to contribute to the cancer fund? I have cancer.” When I visit with her dad, he tells me how serious the situation is, but they trust in the faithfulness of God.

When we enjoy God’s faithfulness daily, some of it begins to rub off on us. The closer we walk with Christ, the more we will experience his faithfulness. This attribute will become one of our characteristics. John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” Can we not also say, we are faithful because we first experienced his faithfulness?

Do you remember how concerned your parents were that you had good friends, people who would not lead you astray? They understood that, if we hung out with the wrong crowd, we could become one of the crowd. On the other hand, good friends were a healthy influence on us. When we are a part of Christ’s crowd, His attribute of faithfulness becomes one of our characteristics.

We are faithful in reading the Word and prayer.

We are faithful in worship.

We are faithful witnesses of the Gospel.

We are faithful stewards.

We are faithful to our marriage vows.

We are faithful in our work ethic.

Yes, one of God’s attributes is His faithfulness. I learned this as a child, and I have experienced this in many years of living.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

An old saying goes like this: “What makes a person cry says a lot about that person.” The self-centered person cries only for self. The compassionate person weeps for others when they are afflicted.

Jeremiah, the prophet, is an example of a man who wept over the fate of his people and nation. He was Judah’s great prophet during the days they lived as captives in Babylon. Jeremiah records his tears over his nation’s pitiful condition in the book of Lamentations, from which our text comes today.

God had chosen Israel to be His people from whence would come the Messiah. Jesus would be the builder of an eternal Kingdom. Israel was blessed to be God’s chosen people, and yet they experienced many difficulties because of their disobedience. Israel wanted a king in order to be like other nations, and God obliged. Saul, David, and Solomon were the first three kings. While there were plenty of problems during their reigns, real trouble began when Rehoboam came to the throne.

After Rehoboam’s coronation, the people requested tax relief, but they were instead given a cruel answer: “My father (Solomon) made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” I Kings 12:14. The people rebelled, and Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Ten of the tribes formed the Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, with Jeroboam as its king. The other two tribes were known as the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, and Rehoboam ruled over them. Eventually the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, and the Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 B.C.

The most talented of Judah’s people were taken into exile. The rest were left to die. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. As Jeremiah walked through the rubble, he wept for his people. Here are a few of the Prophet’s words of mourning:

“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations.”

“All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.”

“All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan.”

“Jerusalem has sinned greatly, and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her.”

“All her people groan as they search for bread . . . “

Jeremiah wept!

Is it unpatriotic to even wonder if such destruction could come to our nation that we love? Could it be one day our children will walk through rubble where our cities once stood, but now are destroyed by nuclear weapons?

“No,” you might answer, “having such thoughts is not unpatriotic. However, we can rest assured that it will never happen to us, for we are the super power of this world.”

Yet is it heresy to suggest that a day could come when God would say, “Enough is enough. You charted your own course. You depended on your own strength. You gave me only lip service. Your heart was far from me. I will take my blessings from you”?

Shuddering thoughts, aren’t they? For whom do we weep? Look at America!

Today we stand strong and mighty among the people of the world, but spiritually and morally we lie in rubble. Our prisons are full. Our streets are unsafe. Our business establishments are marred with dishonesty. Our children in large percentages come from broken homes. We abort our fetuses by the thousands every day.

Yet this is the land we love Ð the land of opportunity where world leaders in every area of life have been born and educated. Blessings from America have gone forth to other parts of the world in abundance. Families have raised and educated their children to enjoy the good life. This is America. We would live in no other place, but we see the moral and spiritual rubble falling. The demonic fires are destroying the foundation on which we established our blessed land. How can we help but join with Jeremiah and lament? How can we but ask, “Could God withdraw His blessings from us?”

Now we turn to the Church, which we love. The Church is the Body of Christ that brings us the saving message of Jesus Christ. It assures us He will walk with us through tough days, and he has promised us a heavenly home. It was the Church that ministered to our family when grandma died in the upstairs bedroom. We gathered around her bed and listened to the pastor commit her into the hands of the Lord Jesus as she breathed her last breath. Then he turned to us and said, “She now lives with God in heaven.”

It was the Church that ministered to the neighbor next door when a soldier came to tell the young mother with five children that her husband had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge. Believers came for months afterward to assure her that Charlie was with the Lord and He was expecting the widow’s brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with her.

It is the Church where we kids sat on the hard benches of the church for two hours each Saturday morning learning the Ten Commandments and Luther’s meaning to them. They were then, and they are now, the absolutes that help us understand what is right and wrong. This is also the Church that taught us the creed and made us memorized those inspired words of the meaning to the second article: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, . . .” Our salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. The pastor was not a great orator, but he had a soul that was on fire with the Gospel, and he was introducing us to the Savior, who was personal and living.

However, things are changing in some places. What caused the change? Fifty years ago our seminaries taught the Bible is the Word of God, and this divine truth is to mold our society’s thinking. Today there is a voice that says culture has something to do with our interpretation of the Bible. If this is true, what then is our sole authority in the Church? “You and I should decide what in the Bible is truth for us.” When there is no objective authority, we begin to see spiritual decline, even within the Church.

Is there hope? Can we hold back the tears?

Yes, there is hope, and we can rejoice through our tears.

Jeremiah brings the good news. “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ÔThe LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.'” Ð Lamentations 3:19-24

After seventy years, the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, though Jeremiah never saw it. Here is the Gospel: No matter how difficult the day and how bitter the tears might be, God has not forsaken His promises. Therefore, we too can smile through our tears and sing, “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”

What a lesson this is in how to handle discouragement! With God’s faithfulness the sun still shines. Our security comes from trusting God’s faithfulness.