The Gift of Thankfulness

This week I had the opportunity to read an article from the November issue of Christianity Today. It was about the Christian author Ann Voskamp. [1]. Ann Voskamp lives on a farm in Canada. Her husband, is “The Farmer.” Her book, One Thousand Gifts, has become a national best seller. Ann Voskamp’s the story is important and touching. She grew up in Canada as the daughter of a farmer. When she was quite young, her younger sister wandered into a farm lane, where she was hit by a truck and killed. Their family entered decades of trauma. Both of her parents were emotionally and spiritually wounded. Her father stopped going to church. Ann was also emotionally wounded and had difficulty trusting God or feeling any joy in Christian faith.

After years of suffering, she had a revelation about the importance of thankfulness. As she was studying her Bible she recognized how many times Jesus gave thanks in difficult circumstances. She then discovered how often the apostles gave thanks in difficult circumstances. She learned that the word for thanks in Greek comes from the same root word, “charis,” as “”grace” and “gift.” She began to find things to be thankful for in the midst of suffering and hard times. She became thankful for fresh jam, for a baby’s breath, for the harvest, for all the simple things of life. One day, one of her friends noticed the change in her, and she recognized that her practice of giving thanks for the little blessings of life had begun to overcome the darkness and the bitterness that pervaded her life. Even her friends noticed that she was a changed person.

imgres-2Thanksgiving is an important holiday. At Thanksgiving, we celebrate and remember the gifts of God. In modern society it is harder to remember to be thankful for the harvest because we no longer live close to the soil. That’s too bad. The fact that we are here this morning, that we have enough to eat, that we have family and friends, – all of these are gifts of God.

Thanks at the End of an Era.

Last week we studied Second Chronicles. The book covers the period from the ascension of Solomon to the throne of Israel to the Babylonian exile, a period of about 400 years. Today’s text is from the end of the reign of King David, or around 970 B.C. [2] It was written hundreds of years after David’s death. By the time First Chronicles, was written, David was a distant historical figure, somewhat like George Washington is for people today. Let’s listen to David’ final prayer:

 imagesDavid praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, Lord, is what the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power  to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks,  and praise your glorious name. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.”  Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king (I Chronicles 29:10-20).

Prayer: Eternal God: Give us thankful hearts this morning. Fill our hearts with thankfulness for the simple things of life and for the nation we are privileged to live in. Give us thanks for those who sacrificed for our freedom—and for those who are sacrificing for us this very day. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

The Life of David.

Oh I wish I had time to preach a sermon series on the life of David!  Years ago, a Presbyterian pastor I know preached an ingenious series of sermons called: “The Life of David: God’s Soap Opera.” David’s life often reads just like a soap opera. Most of us know the outline of the story. David was the youngest son of Jesse. His great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabitess. He was the youngest son of his father Jesse. Through God’s miraculous intervention in his life, he was anointed king of Israel to succeed Saul. As a young boy, he fought the giant Goliath armed only with a sling. He won a great victory.

imgresAs a result of the victory, he was brought into the court of King Saul. Because of his talent as a musician he was called upon to sing for Saul when Saul was depressed or in a dark mood. He became a great soldier, eventually the greatest soldier in Saul’s army. Saul became jealous of him and for many years David was an outlaw wandering in the wilderness of Judah trying to stay one step ahead of his kingdom. All along David remained faithful to God and trusted God even in his desperation.

After many years, Saul was killed in battle, and David became king of Israel, first in Judah and then in Jerusalem. As king, he continued to provide security for his people. Then, he had a notorious affair with the beautiful Bathsheba. In the process of trying to cover up his affair with Bathsheba, David committed murder. The son conceived as a result of the affair died shortly after childbirth. As a result of these events, God brought a terrible judgment upon David. From that time forward he faced revolt and revolution from within his own family. He saw two of his children die violent deaths. He had a grand daughter who was molested by one of his own sons. One of his children led a rebellion against him. As an old man who could barely lift the sword he had to return to the battlefield. He was victorious in that battle.

After these events David entered a season of peace. He had a son by Bathsheba whose name was “Solomon.” Solomon turned out to be the most brilliant and capable of his children. Therefore, he determined that Solomon would replace him as king. At the end of his life, for a period of time, he and Solomon ruled together. David wanted to build the temple in Jerusalem. God did not permit him to do so because he was a man of violence and had shed blood. In today’s text David looks back upon his life and realizes that every good gift he has received: his positions came, his wealth, his power, his family, – all these things – came from God.

Grace and Thankfulness.

As part of preparing for this blog I wrote this week’s meditation posted on Facebook:

Thankfulness and grace go together. If we think we are entitled to the gift of life and to the things we want and need, we will never be thankful. It is only when we realize that everything we have as individuals, as a church, and as a nation are gifts of God’s grace that we can be truly thankful—and thank the One who bestowed them upon us.

 This is the last week of our series on many ways of giving. As we have every week, we are returning to the subject of God’s grace. As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the interesting parts of Ann Voskamp’s spiritual healing was recognizing that grace and joy and thanksgiving go together. The Greek word “charis” is at the root of our word for grace, thanksgiving, gift, and joy. If we do not develop a gift of thankfulness, we will never experience the joy that God desires us to have as Christians. It’s only when we recognize that all of life is a gift that we can truly experience the healing power of God and the joy of God in our lives.

One thing I hope we have all gotten out this series of blogs is the importance of recognizing how dependent we are on God and on the love and mercy of God not just for our salvation but for all of the blessings of life. We cannot be thankful until and unless we put our own wisdom, our own work, and our own striving into perspective: No matter what I have done or accomplished, it is still because of God’s grace that I have accomplished it. When I have this realization, I am released to be be humble, open, wise, loving, and thankful.

The First Thanksgiving.

images-2Last week I mentioned how important it is for our country to remember something of our history and traditions.  The Pilgrims left England for America because they did not have freedom of religion in England. People who belonged to the free church movement, the Puritans, who took their faith very seriously, were unable to practice their religion with freedom. They were persecuted not just by the government but by the people of their day. They left England and went to Holland for a short period of time. They did not find Holland a good place to live because their children were developing Dutch customs and speaking Dutch at the expense of English. They learned that they could move to America, have religious freedom, and remain British citizens. So, they embarked on a voyage to the New World in a sailing ship that would fit into the sanctuary of our church. Many of the pilgrims died on the voyage. They landed late in the year and many died during that first cold, dark, dangerous first winter.

The following spring, the survivors began building their colony and planted a crop. They were aided by members of a local Native American tribe. Their first harvest was successful; and in November the group’s leader called for a feast to celebrate. Hunters were sent into the wilderness to hunt game for the event. Members of the local Native American tribes were invited and brought deer meat to add to the menu. The celebration lasted for three days.

We can learn some lessons from that first Thanksgiving. The survivors of that first time in the New World were not wealthy. They had not been terribly successful. They had barely enough food to make it through the next winter. Nevertheless, they were thankful. We don’t have to have everything that we desire to be thankful. To be thankful is to recognize that everything we have is a gift. In a society in which we feel entitled to happiness and success, it is hard to realize that even our failures involve God’s grace and we should be thankful for what we’ve been given.

Our Thanksgiving.

images-4In a little less than two weeks, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. I hope that all of us will take some time to think about what we are thankful for before that day. Perhaps we can develop the habit of Ann Voskamp of taking time every day to think about what we are thankful for, even amidst the problems and difficulties and stresses of that day.

Some years ago, I was witness to a very touching moment. An elderly gentleman was near the end of his life. He managed to take care of his family, raise his children, and put away little money for retirement. He knew that he had very little time to live. There was a meeting in which he made some final arrangements for his wife, who would be left behind, his children, and his grandchildren. When the meeting was over, he looked up and said, “Oh God thank you that I was able to do this.” This man, like many members of his generation, have lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. He had had medical problems and business problems and all the problems that we have. Now, he was dying. Yet, he was thankful.

In many ways, David had a hard life. As the youngest son, he had been relegated to the most menial tasks on his father’s farm. As a young man, he had to fight wars for a mentally unbalanced king.  That king had ultimately feared,  persecuted, and tried to kill him. He spent many years in danger, fleeing from place to place trying to save his life. Even after he became king, he was in constant danger for a long time. When he managed to defeat most of his enemies, he made a mistake that followed him every day for the rest of his life. As an old man he saw two of his sons die. He might have been bitter. Instead, he made arrangements for his son Solomon to replace him, to build the temple in Jerusalem, and to be successful as a king. Then, he thanked God for the blessings of his life.

This week, and between now and Thanksgiving, perhaps we all could focus on three questions:

  • What should I be thankful for?
  • What have I forgotten to be thankful for?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my family, for my children and grandchildren, my church, for my city, and for my nation? And, what arrangements should I be making so that these dreams can come true?

I am not by nature a thankful person. When I read the article in Christianity Today about Ann Voskamp, and when I read her book on gratitude, I realized that this is a great spiritual weakness. She’s very right: we will never grow into the people God wants us to be until we learn to be thankful for the little things of life. And, we will never learn to be thankful until we learn to be thankful like Jesus even in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Katelyn Beaty, “Contemplative Activist” in Christianity Today (November, 2016), 50-52. Ann Voskamp’s first book from which I quote below is, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

[2] See, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 3.  “Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job” Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1954. This is a Methodist commentary with a fairly progressive Biblical studies background and tilt. This commentary would place the work at around 350-250 B.C. or much later than the time of Ezra. By the time the book was written Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians, the Persians had captured Babylon. Cyrus of Persia had released the Jews, and some of them had returned home.

Praying for our Nation

This post is inspired by 2 Chronicles 7:14. I am posting it a bit early because of the election. It is much longer than the related sermon. I am publishing the blog early this week so that people can ponder it as they consider the choices they will be making next Tuesday and pray for our national day of decision. You may share this as you feel called.

My theme in this blog is praying for our nation. imgres-1This weekend, our church had a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil for our nation as we vote this coming Tuesday. As I begin, I want my readers to clearly understand that it is not my purpose to influence readers to vote in a particular way or for a particular person. Instead, I want to encourage all of us to pray for our nation, for those in authority, and for decisions we must make about the future of our nation. This week, we will vote for the next President of the United States and other public officials. At such a time, it is appropriate to think about prayer, its power, and its impact upon our nation and our own lives as citizens. It is also appropriate to consider the factors that might guide our prayers.

Normally, there is a great similarity between my blog and the sermon of the week. This week, there is a larger than normal difference. Because of the importance of this election, and the limited time I have on a Communion Sunday, this blog contains reflections not found in the sermon. I hope that the blog can help Christians ponder how to pray for our nation more effectively and to vote wisely.

Early this past week, a group of us went on a silent retreat to a Catholic retreat center in Cullman, Alabama. It is Benedictine retreat center, and so there is a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict in each room. I began my retreat by reading the prologue to the Rule. Here is what I first read:

We should begin every good work praying that the Lord God will bring our good work to completion. Since God is good, has called us his children, and wants good things for us, we shouldn’t grieve God by doing wrong or asking for wrong things. To the contrary, Christians should listen for the voice of God so that we may receive the good gifts God desires to give us. In this manner, Christians will not experience God as an “angry father,” “harsh task-master,” or “rigid judge” who punishes, but as a wise and loving parent who gives to his children every good and perfect gift. [1]

This part of the Rule of St. Benedict reminds us that, for Christians, every good work should begin in prayer. This reading was particularly important to me during our retreat, because I went on the retreat partially to pray about the next stage of life. Renewing our lives and families begins with prayer. Renewing our neighborhoods and churches begins with prayer. Renewing our nation begins with prayer. For Christians, every good work, of whatever type or nature, begins with prayer.

We live in difficult times. Our nation is divided. This election has highlighted that division. When a nation is divided, it is easy for harsh language, bitter personal attacks, emotionalism, and violence to rule the day. Unfortunately, good decisions are almost never made in anger, in bitterness, with harsh language, with deceit, or with violence. The experiences of the 20th century, and the horrible dictatorships founded on class warfare, bitterness, and deceit in Germany, Russia, China,Venezuela, and other places around the world  should remind all of us that our nation is on a dangerous path.

If my People…

images-2Our text for this meditation comes from Second Chronicles. This is not a book we study often in Protestant churches, so let me briefly introduce it. There are six books in our Bible that tell the story of Israel and Judah from the time of the Judges until the fall of the Southern Kingdom (Judah): I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and I & II Chronicles. Of these, Chronicles is the least readable and the driest of the three sets of histories. Therefore, it is the least read. Nevertheless, a portion of todays text (II Chronicles 7:14) is among the most famous passages in Scripture.

The reign of Solomon is reported in both I Kings and II Chronicles. Today’s text is from the period when Solomon finished and dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. As you read, listen to the Word of God as it comes to us by the Chronicler:

When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, the Lord appeared to him at night and said:

I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to rule over Israel. But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?” People will answer, “Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them” (2 Chronicles 7:11-22).

Let us pray: God of History, we stand at one of those moments when we wonder what you are doing in the history of our nation and of our civilization. Help us to hear these words  as if they were written to us, as your very word to each of us. We pray for our nation and for the election to be held next Tuesday. We pray for the candidates and for their safety. We pray for the integrity of the election process. We pray for wisdom and discretion as we and our fellow citizens cast our votes. Finally, we pray that your will would be done and that we would come together as a nation after the election. In Jesus Name, the Name of the King of All Kings and Lord of All Lords,  Amen.

The Vision of Solomon.

As mentioned a moment ago, the historical books of the Old Testament tell the story of Judah, the tribe of King David, and how Israel was founded as a nation with a king and ultimately disintegrated and was destroyed by outside conquest. I & II Chronicles tells the story from the time of Adam until the fall of Judah, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. The story ends with Israel and the House of David having disobeyed God, drifted from faith in the God who led them out of captivity in Egypt and into a “land flowing with milk and honey,” and taken once again into captivity, this time in Babylon.

There are two shining figures in the national story of Israel: King David and King Solomon. There were, of course, other good kings, Josiah and Hezekiah among them. In Chronicles, both Solomon and David are portrayed as heroes. In Samuel and Kings, their failures and weaknesses are revealed. David, the founder of the dynasty of the House of David, is portrayed as its greatest king and loyal to God, but emotionally and morally flawed. Solomon is portrayed a bit differently. In I Kings, Solomon is portrayed as a man who begins well, but is not fully faithful to God at the end of his life, and who, at the end of his life, sows the seeds of the decline and fall of the House of David (I Kings 11). [2]

Second Chronicles was written after the fall of Jerusalem, probably near or after the time of the return of Ezra and Nehemiah. [3] By the time the book was written it had become obvious that neither Solomon nor the people of Israel had been faithful to God. They had forsaken the love of God, the laws of God, and the ways of God. The result was the fall of Judah and the enslavement of the people of God. The Chronicler set out to tell the story of God’s people as reflecting certain great truths: There is a God, who is the maker of Heaven and Earth, who is to be worshiped by all who call on his Name. God has instituted a moral law, and we human beings violate that moral law at our own risk. Finally, if we violate the laws of God, we can expect suffering. These are truths that remain important to us today.

This blog begins with a serious and important point. God is love (I John 4:8), and as we discussed last week love is at the center of the Christian life—not just any love but the self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God shown by Christ on the Cross. God’s love is, however, a special kind of love. It is Self-giving Love indissolubly united with Truth, the Divine Light of God. It is absolute love  revealed to us in the laws of God, laws God has written not in human words, but into the fabric of the universe and on the human heart. [4] When we follow God’s ways, we experience that love as blessing. When we ignore God’s ways, we experience that love as judgement. God is always Divine Love, but the way in which we experience that love depends on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Prayer that Changes Things.

Since we are all sinners, and none of us can fully live out the love and laws of God, if it were not for God’s grace this blog and the Bible would end on a hopeless note. Our nation would be doomed, just as Judah was doomed. Fortunately, verse 14 of today’s text shows us that the mercy and grace of God is available even when we have sinned and fallen short. God promises Solomon that, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). God makes the same promise to his people today.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was thinking about this message, I wrote these words out in my journal as a formula. The formula is simple. The first word is “if.” In other words, everything that follows is conditional upon some action by God’s people (those called by has Name). There are four actions that God asks of us:

  • First, we have to humble ourselves.
  • Second, we have to pray.
  • Third, we have to repent.
  • Finally, we have to turn around our thoughts, our desires and our actions. We have to stop sinning, confess our sins, and move forward in the will of God.

If we do these things, then, and only then, God makes certain promises to us:

  • He will hear our prayers from heaven.
  • He will forgive our sins.
  • And finally, he will restore our land. [5]

images-3The formula God gives to Solomon may be simple, but it’s hard to live out in real life. It is hard to give up our human pride and recognize that we are fragile, fallen, and weak creatures. It is hard to pray with broken hearts about our own sin and about the sin of our people. It is hard to repent of our sin (especially sins that we love). It is hard to turn our lives around and begin to act and live differently. Unfortunately, if, and only if, we do this, will God restore our lives, the lives of our families and loved ones, the lives of our churches and our neighborhoods, the life of our nation, and the lives of all the nations of the world.

Our Election and the Decisions We Face.

At this point, it would be easy for me to make a long laundry list of our national sins and shortcomings. At least one person I talked to while writing this blog suggested that I do exactly that. (I think this person believes that I’m a coward for not doing so!) Instead of making a long laundry list, however, I’d like to focus on some general reflections about which I think most of us can agree, things that we need to consider as we pray for the election and as we cast our own votes:

  • First of all, if anything has been made clear during this election, it is  that our nation is troubled and deeply divided. It is clear that the dysfunction of our society is slowly creating generations of people who are angry and have difficulty differing with others without crude language, devious behavior, over-emotionalism, and sometimes violence. We need to pray for more rational and more peaceful elections.
  • Second, the politics of negative sensationalism, often focusing on sex, prevents us from having a conversation about serious national problems. It is easy to win office by trying to prove that the other person is a worse person than you are. It is a bit harder to prove that you can actually solve the problem with our healthcare system or the budget. We need to pray that we and all voters will focus on what matters and not primarily on sensational disclosures.
  • Third, there is a massive lack of understanding of the fundamental principles upon which our nation and our way of life is based. A people who do not know and cannot remember their national history, the sacrifices made for their freedoms, their Constitution, and who do not possess a fundamental level of political and economic knowledge, simply cannot make good decisions about the problems we face. This makes it even easier for the media and elites to manipulate voters. We must take time to be educated and we must see that our children and grandchildren are properly educated. This is the only way democracy can work effectively.
  • Fourth, there is a lack of discrimination about what is possible and what is not possible. We cannot find or elect a perfect person as President. Only Jesus fills that bill. We all have character flaws, but some flaws are deadly in a democratic leader. A lack of respect for people, for the moral law, for the laws of our nation, and for the fundamental rules and responsibilities of public office are central character flaws. Good people make mistakes and have character flaws. Bad people and bad politicians could care less about the constitution, the laws of our nation, the  moral law, or character. Persistent criminal behavior is different from moral lapses. David, Solomon, and other rulers in the Bible, were flawed, but they were trying to be faithful to God.  Ahab and Jezebel were evil and were not trying to be faithful. Because there are no perfect people, voters in a democracy must always weigh the character and the character  flaws of each candidate, recognizing that no candidate is perfect. We will have to wait until Jesus returns for that to be the case. Nevertheless, it remains true that “When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rule, wise people go into hiding” (Proverbs 28:12). To elect a person of bad moral character as president is to risk terrible consequences, as those of us who lived through Watergate can remember,
  • Fifth, where a people no longer believe in the existence of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, politics descends to the simple search for power. This election has clearly revealed a kind of “anything goes” mentality. The media seems no longer to believe that their role is to assist the voters in understanding and casting a wise vote. Instead, they see their role as manipulating public opinion one way or the other depending on their political beliefs. Where a people lose faith in the existence of truth, justice, the good and the like, a kind of tyranny is never far away. This is perhaps the most serious problem we face, because the loss of belief in truth is a big part of what is sometimes called “postmodernism” and is rampant in our colleges, universities, governmental agencies, courts, and other elite institutions. People who no longer believe in the Good, the True, the Just, and the Beautiful capable of anything. [6]
  • Sixth, we have to be realistic about what can be achieved and what will and will not be achieved by the candidates. It is true that we elect a President and the character and ability of the President is of great importance. But, a President also appoints judges, works with the leaders of Congress, appoints members of his or her own administration, and makes many decisions based upon the advice of others. If those the President appoints are unskilled, incompetent, immoral, and the like, then the President will not make good decisions and the nation will suffer. No President can or will accomplish all the things they promise during an election. A President, however powerful, must work with Congress, the Courts, other state and local governments, the media, business interests and others. Wise voters remember this.
  • Finally, we voters have to be willing to make sacrifices. Both of our candidates have made many promises that imply that there is an easy way out of our national problems—a way that involves no sacrifice on our part, or on the part of our social class, or our business, etc. This is unrealistic. Solving hard problems always involves sacrifice. We cannot balance an already unbalanced budget without impacting someone’s taxes or social services. We cannot the reign in the cost of medical care without restricting some procedures, either by regulation or by the free market. In the real world,  problems created by pushing back a day of reckoning cannot be solved without experiencing at least a part of the day of reckoning. The question is what is the best and fairest means of solving the problem with the least amount of suffering, particularly among those without the resources to avoid the full impact of the sacrifice to be made.

If our nation is going to be renewed and restored, we all must be willing to do a lot of hard work to change some of the negative aspects of our society. We all have to pray. We all have to work. We all have to repent. We all have to change the way we live and conduct our public business, not just those with whom we disagree.

The People Who Need to Do the Praying: Us.

I was preparing this blog, I read a sermon that was critical of most sermons preached on this text. The point the pastor was trying to make is simple: we Christians often read this text and preach this text as if all Americans needed to pay attention, humble themselves, pray, repent and change their behavior. We don’t need to change, everyone else does. This ignores the very beginning of the conditional statement. The Chronicler begins, “if my people who are called by my Name.” In other words, God did not believe that the Babylonians, or the Persians, or the Greeks, or any other nation  except the Jews  needed to humble themselves, pray, repent and behave differently. God’s people needed to change.

imagesThis applies to us. We cannot expect people who do not believe in God, do not believe in the loving Word of God, do not believe in the revelation of Scripture, do not believe in God’s power in history, and/or do not believe in the moral law, to humble themselves,  pray, repent, and change their behavior. We are the ones who must humble ourselves, pray, repent, and turn from our wicked ways. When we do this, slowly but surely, the world and our nation will change. It will change because we have changed. As we become more like Christ, as we become more filled with God’s love, as we are filled with the Spirit of God, and as we live God’s Spirit of Love and Wisdom out in our day-to-day lives, America will change because we’ve changed and the people whose lives we touch are changed.

I suppose everyone who goes on a retreat as a favorite moment. It so happens that my favorite moment during this week’s silent retreat was a moment in which everyone was talking. At some point during one of the classes our teacher said something that provoked a conversation. Several ladies, including my wife Kathy, began to discuss what was said. The discussion was about what to do if a child comes home wanting to share a bedroom with their boy or girl friend. The point was made that the parent should say, “I love you and I will always love you. Nothing you can do can change how I feel about you. But, I don’t agree with what you are doing, and I don’t feel comfortable with you doing it in my home. That does not mean I don’t love and respect you.”

The conversation then turned to the way in which Christians, about a number of moral and political issues, need to be so filled with the love of God that our families, friends,  neighbors, and fellow-citizens will recognize that we love them, will always love them, and will always serve them. We do not need to change what we believe is right and wrong. We do not need to compromise what Christ and the Bible clearly teach.  We do not need to change the way we live or our values. In fact, we need to be sure we do not change our core beliefs and core values as Christians. However, we need to communicate and act on our beliefs with such unselfish love that others can see and know that Christian faith makes a difference and that the key to their own happy future is to become a part of the loving Kingdom of God.

Self-giving love changes the world. We know this because God became one of us in Jesus Christ. He embodied the love through which God created the heavens and the earth. In his life and in his sacrificial death, he showed us a way to return to fellowship with God, be filled with God’s love, and slowly but ever so slowly bring the Kingdom of God upon the Earth. With this in mind, we might rephrase today’s text like this, “If my people who are called by my Name will only remain faithful to me and be humble and meek as I was humble and meek on the in my own life with them and on the Cross, if they will pray to the Father as I prayed to the Father on behalf of the whole world, if they will turn from their selfish self-centeredness and serve the needs of others as I did, then God’s  Kingdom will come into the world and their lives will be changed and sold the lives of everyone they touch to the ends of the earth.”


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue in contemporary language and as paraphrased by the author. For a strict translation. see, Timothy Fry, ed, The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN, 1982).

[2] The reign of Solomon is portrayed in I Kings 1-11 and in I Chronicles 28-II Chronicles 9). In preparing this blog I have been guided by J. A. Thompson, “1, 2 Chronicles” in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1994), Robert C. Denton, “The First and Second Books of Kings and the First and Second Book of Chronicles” in The Layman’s Bible Commentary (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1964).

[3] As in so many areas liberal and conservative scholars differ on the dating of the book. Traditionally, most people held that Ezra, the author of Ezra and Nehemiah, was the author of Chronicles. Modern scholars have sometimes disagreed. As in so many other areas, there is no way to absolutely prove one way or the other who wrote Chronicles and in what time period. I tend to accept the tradition under these circumstances.

[4] I have written on this in two books, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. Ed. (Booksurge, 2016) and Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ-Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

[5] The formula is this: If and only if (≡) my people humble themselves (H1), pray (P), and turn from their wicked ways (T), then (→) I will hear from heaven (H2), forgive their sins (F), and heal their land (H2) or” ≡ (H1+P+T) → (H2+F+ H2).”

[6] I have dealt with this at length in my book, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers previously cited. I am always dependent upon the work of the philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, and his version of “critical realism” for the insights of my book and for the insight that we must believe in the reality of truth before we have any hope of finding it. See, Michael Polanyi, Science Faith and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1946 and The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1951).