Monday, May 31, 2010

Casualties of War

Memorial Day has always been somewhat surreal for me. The day is set aside to remember our war dead and to reflect upon on the price of freedom. Many cemeteries line their driveways with American flags. Many communities will have a memorial service at a monument built for veterans. Such somber reminders. And yet many will spend this day playing on the lake or traveling home after a holiday weekend. Others will invite friends over for a cookout and conclude the evening by watching a fireworks display. Surreal. The very freedom that allows us to do such things is often the farthest thing from our minds. But who can blame us? It’s easier to play than to remember—to remember the human cost of war, the grief of those who get news their loved one was killed in battle, the kids who grow up without a father, knowing him mostly through a picture on the mantle next to a folded American flag. So, so many have died on fields of battle for their country, for their buddies, because somebody had to. It's right and good to remember them and their families.

But death is not the only casualty of war. You can’t visit a VA hospital without stepping aside for the man with one leg on his crutches and the man with no legs in his wheelchair. And then there’s the guy on the elevator wearing a shirt with an empty sleeve, and next to him is the man with a face scarred from burns sustained in combat. Death is not the only casualty of war.  Not every casualty comes home in a flag-draped box.

I think of two veterans today who have brought that truth home to me. The first is my father: a U.S. Navy Seabee in the South Pacific during World War II. It was bad enough getting shot at by Japanese snipers while trying to build an airfield, bad enough watching buddies picked off like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery. But then there was the letter—the one from his wife, the one that was supposed to cheer him up, give him hope, and remind him of what he had to look forward to if and when he ever got off those God-forsaken islands in the Solomons. “Mail call! McCallum, looks like you’ve got a letter from your wife.” I can hear his buddies whooping it up and giving him the business. And I can see him taking that letter, running it past his nose to check for the scent of perfume, then clutching it tightly while he found a quiet place to open it, to read and reread every word. Ahhhh! Just a little piece of home in that hell-hole in which he found himself in 1942. I can see him carefully opening it (my father was particular about such things), unfolding it, holding it up to good light, and reading the salutation. Well, what hit him next might as well have been a Japanese bullet. The name that followed “Dearest …” wasn’t my daddy’s name. Seems his wife had found a new lover and had mistakenly enclosed her love letter to him in my father’s envelope. Between his war experiences in the jungles of the Solomons and that letter, my father was never the same again. At least that’s what his family has told me. Like so many others who apparently came home in one piece from places like Tulagi, Normandy, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan, there were wounds we couldn’t see with our eyes, wounds that haunt them and hurt them for their rest of their lives. Casualites of war—body intact, soul in more fragments than the remnants of a mortar shell. So I think of my dad on Memorial Day.

And I think of another veteran named Steve. Steve grew up in a Christian family, volunteered for the Marine Corps, and ended up in Viet Nam. Steve was never the same after his experiences there. He was introduced to drugs while fighting that war, and except for a few years, never could quite kick the addiction when he came back home. That was tough enough. But I’ll never forget the day he told me about something he did in Viet Nam that was so heinous he had never told a soul until he told me, and then he made me swear I would never tell another soul either. He was hoping, I think, by confessing his sin that he would find some relief from the guilt he had carried for almost 20 years. I don’t think he did. He did get his life on track with Christ for a few years, but then when trouble once again battered down the door of his soul, he soon reverted back to the drug scene and died with a needle in his arm. Casualties of war. Many years passed between Steve’s tour of duty in Viet Nam and his death, but no one will ever convince me that the two were not somehow intertwined.

So on this Memorial Day 2010, I pause and give thanks for the brave men and women who died in battle for our freedoms. And I pause and give thanks for the brave men and women who are dying one day at a time from the internal scars of war. You’d think with all the destruction and the killing and the grieving war leaves in its wake that somehow we human beings would find better ways to solve our differences. Maybe the fact that we don’t and we won’t is the most surreal thing of all about a day like Memorial Day. But I am not without hope. It's just that I don't look outward for hope; I look upward—longing for the return of Jesus, His decisive destruction of evil, and the great vision of the prophet to come true: “He shall judge between nations and decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Karen on My Mind (Part 2)

Wow! Just wow! Not two days after I posted the previous blog, Karen on My Mind, one of my Facebook friends, who was also a teenager in the church I referenced, read the blog, emailed me about it, and suggested I check out a certain Karen on Facebook to see if it was her. I did and it was. After all these years of having no idea if Karen was alive or dead or where she might live, God has allowed us to reconnect with one another again. That’s good news!

Here’s even better news: Karen is doing well. After years of being up and down, in the hospital and out, Karen is feeling pretty stable these days. And what’s more, she’s walking with Jesus and active in her church. (Pardon me for a minute while I step away from the computer and do a couple of cartwheels, a somersault, and a cheerleader jump in praise to God.) Words are sort of my business, but I can’t find enough words or the right words to express my praise and thanksgiving to God for His good work in Karen’s life. I do think of a Scripture that seems to apply: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Is this a great story or what? Even though it was hard to see all those years ago, Karen built her life on the Rock, and even the storms of abuse and rejection and heartache and loneliness couldn’t knock her down. Well, they might have knocked her down, but they couldn’t knock her out. It’s as if Jesus came to Karen in her storms and said, “Devil, you can’t have Karen. She’s my girl. I love her. I’ve saved her. I’m for her. I’m with her. And I’m going to keep her forever.”

So, if you feel like a Karen in this world, be encouraged: God has a hope and a future for you. And if you're reaching out to some Karen in this world, don't doubt for a minute the mercy and power of God to save and to keep in spite of all the obstacles that must be overcome.

Like I said, I’ve got no words to express my praise, but the psalmist does, so I’ll borrow his: “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! And his steadfast love endures forever.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Karen on My Mind

At some point or another along the way, Karen had come to the church where I served as Youth Minister. I did not know her. Had never seen her. But her name was on the roll, so I went to visit her in her home. And what an eye-opening visit it was. Karen was from a family that didn't have much in the way of stuff. They lived in a run-down house. Karen wore old clothes. She seemed rather embarrassed about the conditions in which she lived. And while she managed in school, I don't think she was making any honor rolls. On a scale of 1-10, her self-image must have registered at about a negative 5. While I had no evidence, my hunch was that there may have been some kind of abuse going on in the family.

Anyway, I invited Karen to church. I could tell she was a girl who needed Jesus and needed friends. And I was of the opinion that she could find both through the church's youth ministry. I was able to tell her about Jesus, and she accepted Christ even though she found it hard to believe that someone like Jesus could love someone like her. I introduced her to the youth group. Some of the kids knew her through school. It was all a very uncomfortable mess. In a room full of beauty queens, Karen stood out as the great exception. In a room full of "who's who" types, Karen stood out as the great exception. In a room of high fashion, Karen stood out as the great exception. She felt intimidated by them, I think. She couldn't connect with them. They wouldn't connect with her. I don't think that they intended to be mean; they just couldn't find a way to connect with her, and they didn't try very hard either. I even went personally to some kids and said, "Please sit by Karen. Please talk to Karen. Please try to include Karen in your group." But it just didn't happen. She only felt more and more uncomfortable. And eventually she dropped out. I hung with her as best I could, but to the best of my knowledge, she finished high school, moved out, and I lost track of her.

Several years later, I heard from her. "Where are you?" I asked. "I'd like to come see you." She said she was in the psychiatric ward of the county hospital. I went to see her. And once again I thought, "Here's a girl who needs Jesus and who needs Christian friends." But she wasn't about to try the church again. She tried once, had the door slammed in her face, politely slammed, but slammed nonetheless. This is what she said, "I tried the church once, and there's just no place there for someone like me." The church had a chance to redeem Karen from a terrible life, and by shutting her out of the fellowship, the church let her go. And now, I don't even know if she's dead or alive.

I share this story because I’ve been preaching a series of sermons on relationships, and I can’t help but think again of Karen—a girl who had no strong and healthy connections with anyone. I can’t imagine how lonely she must have felt every day of her life and twice on Sunday. I can’t help but wonder how many Karens we cross paths with in the church and in the world. And I can’t help but wonder what a difference it might make if we would notice them, speak to them, include them. This is not easy work. Having been burned more times than they can count and having so little confidence in themselves, the Karens of the world are rarely going to meet you halfway. At least at first, you might have to put forth most, if not all, of the effort. Could I encourage you to do just that? Could I encourage you not to give up but to hang in there and keep building a bridge of friendship even when you feel like you’re getting no where? Karens don’t believe in themselves; will you believe in them? Will you love them like Jesus and to Jesus? The Karens of the world are worth it. God loves them. Jesus died for them. And the church needs them.

You know what I hope for? I hope that someday the phone rings and that Karen is on the other end: “John, I just wanted you to know that I’m better, that I found my way back to Christ and to the church. Thank you for loving me and believing in me when I could do neither one of those things for myself. Thank you for pointing me to Jesus and the church all those years ago. For the first time in my life I think I’m going to be okay.” I would love to receive such a call, but I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: I’m keeping my eyes peeled and my soul sensitive to the next Karen that crosses my path. And when she or he does, I’ll try all over again. The way I figure it, we all pretty much look like Karen to God, and yet He pursues us, loves us, and at great sacrifice reaches out to the likes of us. If God did that for me, it becomes my privilege (dare I say duty) to do that for others. Like I said, this is no easy task and successes may be few and far between. But maybe the success is in the loving and the trying and the reaching and the knowing that if we reach even one, the angels will dance, heaven will sing, and Jesus will clap His hands for joy because a lost one has been found and a stray has come home. Read the gospels and you’ll see that Jesus loved and sought the Karens of this world. He's still doing the same thing, but now He wants to love and seek them through you and me, and He wants us to make room for them in our circles of fellowship. I’m game. Will you join me?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Birthday Girl

It got kind of dicey when the doctors gave my wife Dayna an epidural in preparation for the C-section that would bring our second child from the womb to the world. Something went wrong. The anesthetic moved up instead of down, and Dayna went into respiratory arrest—she couldn’t breathe for the life of her. The doctors acted quickly. In less than a minute, I’d guess, they had her under general anesthetic and a breathing tube down her throat. The first C-section was smooth as silk; this one as smooth as sandpaper. But it all worked out. They put Dayna to sleep, made a quick and skilled incision across her waistline, and in a matter of seconds I got my first look at Kristen Anne McCallum. That all happened on May 10, 1982. And that little girl turns 28 years old today.

A baby girl. I knew nothing of girls. Having been raised among three brothers and having a two-year-old son when Kristen came into the world, I knew all about boys. I knew about wrestling and playing ball, about getting dirty and eating like a pig, about bodily functions and acting crude. And I knew how to discipline a boy too. They take a spanking pretty good. I could yell at a boy when I needed too. But how do you discipline a girl? I wasn’t sure I had it in me to yell at her. And I wasn’t sure I could spank her either. So I was kind of nervous about having a girl. Could I really enter her world? Other than the GI Joe I played with in the mid-60s, I’d never been around dolls in my life. And even then, GI Joe was no girl doll. He was always shooting the enemy and blowing stuff up. He’d have had no trouble wiping out Barbie if he thought she was a Communist. He was one bad dude. But this girl world was going to be different—dolls and tea parties, Kaboodles and My Little Ponies, jewelry and makeup, dresses and ribbons and lace. I hoped she’d at least like sports a little and was so pleased when she did. But this girl thing was going to be a whole new world for me. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to understand girls. And all these years later I’m not sure I understand them much better.

But I sure am glad God gave us that little girl named Kristen. What a gift! For the longest time we called her Krissy. It just seemed right. But you know how it goes: kids grow up, they get more independent, they want to put away certain childhood things, so Krissy became Kristen. I don’t remember exactly when that happened, but it just seems right to call her Kristen these days. She’s all grown up. She’s the wife of a good man, Robert, the mother of a beautiful little girl named Hallie, and carrying her second child as I write these words. She’s all grown up.

But there sure was joy in the journey to adulthood. She was always such a good kid—well-behaved, respectful of others (except maybe of her brother who wasn’t very respectful to her either), thoughtful, happy, a good friend, helpful, bright, humble, Christian. People have always described her as beautiful on the inside and the outside, a girl whose scent is sweeter than Chanel No. 5; it is the fragrance of Christ.

She took up music early on in her life and became quite good at the piano. I’ll never forget her first recital. It was a Halloween recital. So her mom made her a Razorback cheerleader outfit and Kristen played Arkansas Fight, elevating the mood of all in attendance—well, my mood anyway (we lived in Missouri at the time). I guess a lot of my memories revolve around Kristen’s music. I remember her writing songs and playing them (usually after I was in bed), but what a treat. One of those songs was published and churches were singing it in worship all over the country. She wrote a song for my son's boy Noah when he was born, and even though I've heard it a thousand times that song still makes me misty. There’s just something about the way she plays and sings that touches the hearts of those who hear. I think it’s because her music comes from the depths of who she is and from a heart that has been touched by God. Though this is not a word I toss around lightly, there is an anointing in her music, and God has just used her in that way for years and years.

Like any kid she had her share of heartaches too—disappointments, boy stuff (though she never was boy-crazy, thank God), frustrations, the time in second grade when she had to get glasses, the time we moved from the only home she ever knew just in time to start eighth-grade in a whole new state and a whole new school. But she did just fine. As has always been the case with Kristen, everywhere she goes she finds people who were just waiting for her to walk into their lives—some friends here in Hot Springs, college friends, a group of teenage girls she discipled and mentored during her college years, and then finally this guy named Robert Parrish.

I remember when she told us she thought Robert was the one. I wasn't so sure. But then again, I wouldn't have been sure of anyone. We're talking about my little girl here. But the truth is: she couldn’t have picked a finer man, nor he a finer woman. They married in June of 2005. I was a little taken aback at the cost of such an undertaking. Kristen has always been pretty practical but my cheapness outweighed her practicality in the wedding process. Thankfully, I only made her cry a couple of times. I was being cheap and stupid, and I regret that now. But she had a great wedding, and as a church newsletter reported after their annual picnic, “a good time was had by all.” She deserved far more than we were able to do, but I’m so glad we could do what we did for her.

She’s doing fine these days—still serving the Lord along with her husband through TBarM Christian Camps deep in the heart of Texas. She’s still encouraging young people in their walk with Jesus. She’s still singing to the Lord and active in her church. She’s a virtuous wife. She’s an excellent mother. And no mom and dad could ever hope for a finer daughter. She stays in touch. She sends encouraging notes, knowing just what to say and how to say it. She sends tons of pictures of Hallie. And Dayna and I still pinch ourselves to think that this little child born 28 years ago became God’s good gift to us. Though the wisdom writer said this about his wife, I want to borrow his words and say them about my daughter Krissy, oops … Kristen: “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all. Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

I hope you’re not too embarrassed by my praise today, Kristen. But I can’t help myself. I have loved you since the doctor told your mother she was pregnant. I have loved you every day of your life. I will love you forever. I am thankful for you, proud of you, and honored to be your dad. Happy Birthday, Kris! And God willing, many, many more.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

This Year's Nomination for the Mothers Hall of Fame

One of my favorite moms in the Bible is the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples—the ones He nicknamed “the sons of thunder.” Maybe Jesus gave them that nickname because they were short-tempered, explosive, quick to anger. There was that time when a Samaritan village refused to let Jesus pass through, and James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven and incinerate them on the spot. Jesus rolled His eyes and told them to forget it, but something in those young men was so fired-up about that Samaritan rejection that they wanted to literally fire-up those Samaritans too. So, maybe Jesus called them “the sons of thunder” because of their quick fuse. Or, heck, maybe it was because they passed a lot of gas. I don't know. But regardless of whether they were short-tempered or gassy, you’ve got to love the woman they called mom (tradition calls her Salome). And what she must have endured in their upbringing! (I’m shaking my head as I write that line.) Temper tantrums, wrestling matches—how many pieces of pottery did those rowdy boys break through the years? But she and her husband Zebedee, got the boys to manhood. I suspect she did most of the raising because Zebedee was out in his fishing boat most of the time trying to scratch a living together for his family. So when you’re a mom and you’re raising sons of thunder, I doubt if every day is a Zebedee-do-dah-day. Had to have been a lot of tough ones too. How many switches did she wear out on their backsides? How many times did she have to grab them by the ear to pull them apart? Can you imagine how often she said, “Just wait till your father gets home”? But she got those boys raised.

Like most boys in that day, they followed in their daddy’s footsteps and joined him in the fishing business. That’s what they were doing when Jesus told them to leave their nets and follow Him. And these spontaneous, impetuous sons of thunder did just that. Sort of makes you think their mom did something right in their raising. She probably told them Bible stories and made sure they were at synagogue every week whether they wanted to be or not, whether they disrupted the service or not. We don’t know exactly what their spiritual condition was, but we do know this: these sons of thunder had spiritual sensitivities. When Jesus called them to do a radical thing like leave everything behind and follow Him, they anchored the boat, dropped their nets, and hit the trail with Jesus.

Apparently their mom followed too. She shows up in the story every now and then—like in Matthew 20 when she approaches Jesus on the sly and makes her big ask. I wonder if she rehearsed her speech. I wonder if she told her boys what she was up to. They were with her when she made the ask. She got Jesus off to the side, dropped to her knees at his feet, and asked, “Master, would you do me a little favor?” Jesus was all ears: “What do you want?” He asked. I don’t know if she hesitated or blurted it right out, but she sure wasn’t bashful: “Would you let my two boys sit at your right and your left in the kingdom?” Huh? Are you kidding me? She asked that? Hey, lady, while you’re at it, why not just ask for the key to the executive washroom and the corner office that overlooks the glassy sea? Sheesh! Probably not a bad idea to keep Jesus in between the sons of thunder, but to ask for the seats of honor … holy moley! That takes some kind of nerve. Maybe in some ways she’s no different than the mother who tells the band director that her daughter should be first chair flute or tells the coach that her son should be the starting pitcher and bat fourth in the line-up. But talking to a teacher or a coach falls way short of asking such bold things of the Lord. The mom of the sons of thunder went straight to the top: “Grant that my sons can sit on your right and your left in your kingdom.” She didn’t even say please. Some pushy mom for sure.

Still, I can’t help but like her and admire her just a bit. She was no outsider. She followed Jesus too. When she asked Jesus for the favor, Jesus didn’t have to ask her name. He knew her and loved her. She knew she could talk with Him about anything. And really, like most moms, she just wanted the best for her sons. She wanted them to be with Jesus. And she wanted them to be like Jesus. Can a mother want anything better for her children than that?

Jesus went on to explain to her that He didn’t make the kingdom seating charts; His Father did. And He also told her that before there is a crown to wear there is a cross to bear. That applied to Jesus. And that applied to James and John too. Being with Jesus and being like Jesus means more than a parade and a throne; it means some suffering along the way. That’s what Jesus meant when He asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Of course, being sons of thunder and being clueless as to what Jesus meant, they boldly proclaimed, “We can.” Well … eventually they did—James was the first of the original disciples to die a martyr’s death—Herod killed him in Jerusalem in the early months of the church. And John suffered much persecution and even exile before he apparently died as an old man. Their mother was witness to much of that. I suspect she saw her son John beaten and thrown in jail in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel. And she no doubt wept bittersweet tears when Herod put the axe to the neck of her son James. She outlived one son. She surely died long before the other.

But I just bet she died content and at peace. She might not have received from Jesus everything she asked for, but she did receive everything she hoped for. Her two sons of thunder were with Jesus and they were like Jesus. And even better, because Jesus drank the cup of the cross and died for their sins, mom and her two boys are all with Jesus now in heaven. The seating chart just doesn’t matter to her anymore because no matter where they’re seated, they are all around the same table, and they get to enjoy one another’s company forever.

So today, I nominate this lady for the Mothers Hall of Fame and offer this simple greeting: Hey, mom of the sons of thunder, Happy Mother’s Day to you!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The 2010 National Day of Prayer

I just finished attending our Hot Springs National Day of Prayer service at the Convention Center. A bunch of people crowded in a small room and beseeched the Almighty for mercy and favor on our nation. (I’m sorry if that last sentence sounds a bit pious for me, but I did just come from the event.)

The conveners said at the service that this was the 60th anniversary of the Day of Prayer. I’ve been in the pastorate for 29 of those “days” and I’ve never been to one of these things before. Here’s why: based on who was putting them together I always figured (right or wrong) it was more of a political rally than a prayer meeting. Now I’m not opposed to Christians being active in politics, but political action has just never been my bag. A lot of church members over the years have tried to make it my bag, but I’ve stubbornly resisted, telling them that unless God leads me to take up that banner, I’m not taking it up. If they want to do that—more power to them. But I have never felt any Spirit-promptings in that direction.

In fact, I’ve never even been comfortable with the American flag in a Christian sanctuary or with those big blow-out patriotic services so many churches have around July 4. As I read the New Testament, Jesus said the church’s mission is to make disciples, not patriots. I’m certainly not against patriotism. I do love our country, and I cast my ballot when the voting times come. But God has given me a job that transcends geographical boundaries and political agendas. He’s called me to be an ambassador for Christ and His kingdom. So I try to put my focus there.

Anyway, when asked to participate this year, I told the woman who asked me that if the event was really just a political rally in disguise, I wasn’t interested. I talk politics with close friends, but I’m not interested in going public in that regard or in aligning myself with a group that’s pushing any particular political agenda or candidate. She assured me it was only about prayer. So I said yes. I had to leave the service a bit early so I didn’t get to stay for the whole thing, but I do appreciate the heart and the spirit of those who offered their prayers to God in behalf of our nation. Their prayers encouraged me and challenged me to be more fervent in praying for our nation.

Each pastor who prayed was assigned a topic: youth, media, branches of government, our city; you get the idea. I was assigned a more general topic: “Prayer for America.” I spent time this week praying through what I would say to God in such a public setting, hoping that it would be a prayer and not a sermon (occupational hazard, you know). My prayer sure didn’t sound as fervent as some of the other prayers today—I pray kind of quietly and reserved. But I trust I gave God back words He gave to me. So on this National Day of Prayer, I offered these words to the God who hears our prayers. If these words help you find your own words to pray for our nation, then I’m grateful.


We praise you, our Father, because you are a great God. You spread out the heavens like a tent and rest your feet on the earth like a stool. You are sovereign over the whole wide world. You do anything you chose to do, any time you chose to do it, without seeking the counsel of any of us. Nothing happens that takes you by surprise. You know everything there is to know. You are the one true God. There is no one greater. You are God and we praise you.

Forgive us when we forget just how great you are. Forgive us when we ascribe supreme power to the kings and rulers of this world, forgetting that the only power they have is the power you give them. They are but drops in a bucket to you. You set them in place, and with the puff of your breath, you can inflate them to glorious heights or blow them away like chaff. So forgive us when we consider the trying times in our nation and forget that those are not the hands of world leaders on the wheel of history; your hands are on that wheel. You are large and in charge, so forgive us when we live in panic instead of in the peace that passes understanding. In these confusing times, we need you, Father. We pant for you as a deer pants for water. And so on this Day of Prayer for our nation we come to you in humility and need.

We thank you for our nation. You have been kind and patient with us beyond measure. Were we to count our blessings we would need more than a day of prayer, we’d need a lifetime.

• You have blessed us with freedom.

• You have sent rain and sun in such proportion that farmers have crops in the field, grocers have food on their shelves, and families have dinner on their tables. And thank you that even with all that there is still enough food to feed the needy in both our nation and the world.

• And thank you also for a government that allows every citizen a voice and an opportunity to be a change agent for good.

Thank you, Lord, for these good gifts.

We also give you thanks today for brave men and women who have gone before us and for those on the battlefield and the home front even now who have paid or are paying the highest price for our freedom. We are debtors to them all. Thank you so much for those who “more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.” Watch over them and bless them today. We thank you, too, for visionary leaders and unselfish citizens who have served well and sacrificed much for our country in every avenue of life. And we thank you that we have used many of our blessings to bless so many others in need around the world. We are so thankful for our country.

But we confess, our Father, that all is not well. You have given us freedom and we have turned it into license where many do what is right in their own eyes. The moral decay so evident in places high and low betrays our freedoms and raises a fist to your face.

• You have given us amazing natural and financial resources and we have been greedy for more, wasteful with what we have, and arrogant about it all.

• You have given us a society built on the family unit and we have forsaken our vows, broken our promises, and broken our children to pursue selfish ends.

• Forgive us also when we have made truth a casualty, sex a god, and the value of human life dependent upon convenience rather than principle.

Our nation’s sins are legion, Father. Please, forgive us, and would you cast out Legion once again? Help us to repent in dust and ashes.

And your church is not guiltless either. Forgive your church in this nation when we contribute to the problem rather than the solution by living and behaving no differently than those who don’t even claim to know and love and follow you. Help us repent in dust and ashes too.

You teach us in your Word that you put leaders in place and that we are to pray for them, so we pray for them today. Would you please give them common sense and a great big dose of your wisdom so that they will govern wisely and well? And we pray other things for them too.

• Would you help them to seek the good of the state above personal gain, party favor, and private ambition?

• Would you help them avoid compromise with the truth, and to seek to serve rather than be served?

• Would you purge them from greed and selfishness?

• Would you teach them how to be fiscally responsible in the wake of overwhelming deficits?

• Would you show them how to wage peace instead of war so that the world can be a bit safer and our soldiers and their families can be together again?

• And maybe above all, Lord, when they get too big for their britches would you humble them; would you please help them feel so helpless that they will seek help in you?

Finally, Father, we pray for the church in our nation—for everyday folks like us gathered in this place and in other places around the country today.

• Teach us to be your church and not just another political action committee.

• Make us a praying people, a serving people, a Spirit-empowered people, a unified people in Christ.

• Help us to be humble and to be Christ-righteous rather than self-righteous.

• Help us to love one another, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us.

• Help us to share your word with love and boldness with every nation, tribe, and tongue within our borders.

• And since you have called us the salt of the earth and light of the world, would you please make us the salt that creates a thirst for Jesus in the lives of the lost? And make us a light so bright that as we let it shine, our nation will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven—for yours is the kingdom and power and the glory for ever.

We pray these things with one heart in the name of our crucified and resurrected Savior—Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.