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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 15:30-33

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s magnificent ministry, to which he referred in Romans 15:22-29.

These verses conclude Romans 15 and the theology of the letter. Romans 16 details the teachers among the people he has converted in his wide-ranging trips from Asia Minor to Macedonia and Greece.

Paul was a big believer in the power of prayer. He prayed continually. He prayed fervently. He prayed for himself as well as for new Christians.

Here he asks that the Roman Christians ‘strive together’ in their prayers for him (verse 30).

John MacArthur discusses those words:

Notice verse 30, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake” as we saw “and the love of the Spirit,” then this word on prayer, “that you sunagōnizomai.” Agōnizomai would be enough. That means to agonize together in a struggle. To add sun to the front of it intensifies it. “That you intensely struggle together with me in your prayers to God for me.”

Now he realizes that ministry in the will of God is dependent on prayer. That is an essential element. The word agōnizomai or sunagōnizomai is a word taken from gymnastics. It’s taken from athletics. It is a gymnastic term meaning “to agonize.” It could be translated “to fight.” It takes tremen­dous exertion and energy and maximum effort to fulfill the significance of this word, a very strong term. In fact it’s translated in John 18:36 “fight.” Jesus said, “My servants would fight if My kingdom was of this world.” It is a word of great intensity.

Prayer, beloved, is a battle. And I say this from time to time as we come to passages like this but I want to remind you of it. Prayer is a battle. I think sometimes we don’t understand that because the battle isn’t where we can see it. We’ve been talking, haven’t we, in 1 Timothy, about the spiritual battle. And I hope we’ve learned some things. Prayer is a war waged against the forces of evil. In fact, Isaiah 64:7 speaks of, quote: “Arousing oneself to take hold of God in prayer.” That’s the idea of the Hebrew terminology in Isaiah 64:7, arousing one’s self to take hold of God. And you remember, no doubt, reading Genesis 32:24 to 30 where it says that Jacob wrestled with the Lord and he wouldn’t let go of the Lord until he was what? He was blessed. In Colossians 2:1 Paul calls prayer great conflict. He sees it as great conflict. It is not an easy thing, it is a conflict. He says, “I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you.” What is he talking about in writing to the Colossians? I’m engaged in a battle, a prayer battle over your spiritual situation. And in 4:12 of Colossians, as I mentioned earlier, Epaphras, that wonderful man of prayer, is said to be always laboring fervently for you in prayer that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Prayer is a battle, an agonizing experience.

Now I realize there is a certain paradox between the sover­eignty of God and fervent prayer, but the Bible teaches us to pray fervently. We go back to Luke 11 and remember the story of the man for his much knocking who was heard, because he gave much effort he finally received what he sought, and it’s an illustra­tion of what we call importunity, or intensity in prayer. We remember James who said in 5:16 of his epistle, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Even our Lord fasted and prayed for 40 days. It wasn’t easy for Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that as Paul prayed for them, he desires their prayers for himself. This was not out of selfishness but as a sign of mutual love (emphases mine below):

He had prayed much for them, and this he desires as the return of his kindness. Interchanging prayers is an excellent token of the interchanging of loves. Paul speaks like one that knew himself, and would hereby teach us how to value the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous.

He asked for the Romans’ prayers for his deliverance from the unbelievers in Judea and for the success of his ministry in Jerusalem, his next destination (verse 31).

MacArthur elaborates on the Greek word for ‘deliverance’:

The word “delivered” is a very interesting word. Rhuomai means to be rescued, to be rescued out of a dangerous life-threatening situation. I want you to pray for my rescue. I want you to pray that I will be delivered from a very dangerous situation.

It was not uncommon for Paul to face danger. In fact, it was a way of life. He was in danger most of the time. He continually asked for prayer because of that

So what he is saying in verse 31 indicates to us that it marks a person in the will of God really moving ahead for the glory of God that they’re going to be persecuted because they’re invading the kingdom of the enemy. Now he had no idea at the time of the writing of Romans what was to come from those who do not believe in Judea, Jews who resented him, he had no idea at this particular time what they would do to him. But it was very predictable that they would be hostile toward his message.

Henry says:

The unbelieving Jews were the most violent enemies Paul had and most enraged against him, and some prospect he had of trouble from them in this journey; and therefore they must pray that God would deliver him. We may, and must, pray against persecution. This prayer was answered in several remarkable deliverances of Paul, recorded Acts 21:1-24:27.

I wrote about Acts at length in 2018 and 2019. The passages from the chapters of Acts that Henry mentions are posted below. This was a highly charged and dramatic time in Paul’s ministry over the course of two years:

Acts 21:1-6 – Paul, Luke, Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, kneeling in prayer

Acts 21:7-14 – Paul, Luke, Caesarea, Philip the Evangelist, Philip the Evangelist’s daughters, Agabus

Acts 21:15-16 -Paul, Luke, Caesarea, disciples of Caesarea, Jerusalem, Mnason of Cyprus

Acts 21:17-18 – Paul, Luke, James, elders, Jerusalem

Acts 21:19-26 – leaders of the church in Jerusalem, Paul, Judaisers, Nazirite vow

Acts 21:27-36 – Paul, completion of Nazirite vow, riot, Ephesian Jews, Asia Minor Jews, Trophimus the Ephesian

Acts 21:37-40 and 22:1 – Paul, Roman tribune, Jerusalem

Acts 22:2-21 – Paul, Jerusalem mob, conversion story

Acts 22:22-30 — Paul, Jerusalem, Roman justice, Roman citizenship, Roman tribune (Claudius Lysias)

Acts 23:1-5 – Paul, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, Ananias the high priest

Acts 23:6-11 – Paul, Sanhedrin, Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, Jerusalem, Roman tribune (Claudius Lysias), Jesus Christ, ‘take courage’

Acts 23:12-15 – Paul, Sanhedrin, oath, murder plot, Jerusalem

Acts 23:16-22 – Paul’s nephew, Paul, centurion, Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, Jerusalem, murder plot

Acts 23:23-30 – Paul, divine intervention, Claudius Lysias, two centurions, 200 troops, Caesarea

Acts 23:31-35 — Paul, military escort, Antipatris, Caesarea, Felix

Acts 24:1-9 — Tertullus, the Sanhedrin, Felix, Paul, Caesarea, Claudius Lysias

Acts 24:10-21 — Paul, Felix, Sadducees, Caesarea

Acts 24:22-27 – Paul, Felix, Drusilla, Caesarea, Porcius Festus

As our commentators have said, Paul had no idea about any of those events, although he certainly would have anticipated danger. At that point, he expressed his longing to finally meet the Romans, if it be God’s will, and be ‘refreshed’ in their company (verse 32).

For good or bad, the Lord and the Holy Spirit guided Paul’s ministry from the beginning, as evidenced by the accounts in Acts. Therefore, Paul was a great believer in the will of God.

MacArthur summarises a few instances from Acts and Galatians for us:

The reason I believe Paul is obedient is multiple. One, he lived in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And I believe since he was committed to doing the will of God and obeying the will of the Spirit, he would have not flagrantly denied the Spirit’s will in this case. When in chapter 16 he started to go into one area, Bithynia, the Spirit stopped him, he turned around. When he started to go into another area, the Spirit stopped him; he went the other way and finally went in to the Macedonian region because the Spirit stopped him in all the other areas. I believe he lived in sensitivity to the Spirit. And I believe also in chapter 20 when he says, “I am bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem,” he is saying, “I have a strong leading from the Spirit of God within me.” Furthermore, he had the right reasons for going. His reasons for going were to accomplish the ministry of collecting this offering which he knew was from the Lord. From the very beginning of his commission as recorded in Galatians 2:7 to 10 he was told to remember the poor, he was doing what he was told, he was doing what the Spirit of God had put in his heart to do. And I believe the Spirit actually sent him. I believe he was dispatched by the Spirit of God to carry out this ministry.

And, after two years of imprisonment in Judea, the authorities sent Paul to Rome:

The Romans themselves sent him there so that he could have a trial before Caesar. After two years of being kept a prisoner for his own sake in Caesarea, they then sent him to Rome and even on the way to Rome I believe the devil tried to drown him. There was a terrible shipwreck. But not only did Paul escape but so did everybody else on board, Acts 27. He made it to Rome. Well that’s the testimony to the power of prayer.

In Rome, Paul was martyred for his faith, but not before he was able to meet the Roman Christians and convert more to the faith over a period of two years:

Acts 28:30-31 – Paul, Rome, ministry

The final verse (33) of Romans 15 is the benediction, the blessing Paul sends to the Romans, asking that ‘the God of peace’ be with them all.

Henry gives us the scriptural history of the benediction and the application for us today:

The Lord of hosts, the God of battle, is the God of peace, the author and lover of peace. He describes God under this title here, because of the divisions among them, to recommend peace to them; if God be the God of peace, let us be men of peace. The Old-Testament blessing was, Peace be with you; now, The god of peace be with you. Those who have the fountain cannot want any of the streams. With you all; both weak and strong. To dispose them to a nearer union, he puts them altogether in this prayer. Those who are united in the blessing of God should be united in affection one to another.

MacArthur has this:

The God of peace, what does that mean? That’s a com­mon term for God, the God of peace. It is to say that God is the source of peace. What do you mean by that? He is the source of peace in two ways. He provides peace with Him. Before you came to Christ you were at war with God. In Christ you are saved, you make peace with God. We call that peace with God. He also provides the peace of God which is the settled heart confidence that all is well that removes anxiety and brings tranquility to the soul. He is the God of peace, that is to say He reconciles men to Himself. He is the God of peace, that is to say He brings tranquil­ity to the reconciled soul, the God of peace.

Our God is identified in this chapter in verse 5 as the God of patience and the God of comfort. In verse 13 He is the God of hope. And here He is the God of peace; the God of patience, the God of comfort, the God of hope, the God of peace.

Those of us who attend churches with established liturgies hear and/or say ‘Peace be with you’ in every service, often more than once. Sometimes I think we hear it so often that we forget or take for granted what it means. I do.

I will be reflecting silently on this in the week ahead.

Next time — Romans 16:1-2

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 13:17-19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

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The verses in last week’s post were a final warning against falling into apostasy by following teaching that goes against Scripture and the Good News.

The first verse in today’s selection is a rather substantial one relating to the clergy or, as they were called at the time, overseers (verse 17).

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counsels his Jewish converts to obey their overseers and submit to them spiritually, because being an overseer is all-consuming work as, at the end of it, he has to give an account to the Lord. Therefore, we should respect their position, the onerous responsibility of that position and allow them to get on with their work without putting obstacles in their way. If a good clergyman leaves as a result of petty obstacles, ultimately, the congregation loses.

Matthew Henry explains the issue impartially — and well (emphases mine):

It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

It is sometimes difficult in our era to submit, especially to clergy who are quasi-agnostics (I have known a few). To them, I have kept my distance beyond civil pleasantries of a greeting and a kind word on Sundays.

As far as clergy are concerned, Henry — who was an Anglican clergyman himself — says that they are not to lord their position over the congregation:

They have the rule over the people; their office, though not magisterial, yet is truly authoritative. They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases.

Henry explains the heavy responsibility of a clergyman:

They watch for the souls of the people, not to ensnare them, but to save them; to gain them, not to themselves, but to Christ; to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.

After they have exercised their solemn duties on Earth, they will have to give an account to the Lord:

[3.] They must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry. [4.] They would be glad to give a good account of themselves and their hearers. If they can then give in an account of their own fidelity and success, it will be a joyful day to them; those souls that have been converted and confirmed under their ministry will be their joy, and their crown, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, we should think of our clergy as we would a shepherd busy with his flock or, as John MacArthur says, a triage nurse:

I’ll tell you something, that’s a joy. The sweetest joy that comes into the life of a pastor who’s committed to the things of God is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. Believe me, that’s sweet. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves – worse than anything else. We’re like nurses, you know, with critical care patients. We care for your souls …

It’s a serious thing to be a critical care nurse in the church. It’s a serious thing to be a wakeful shepherd of a flock that has sheep that are forever going astray. And we have to labor as those – and I say this even with a sense of reluctance in my own heart to – to even admit that this is true, that I must give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me. And as I’ve said before, that’s why I’m not real anxious to have more people. I’m not too sure I’m doing the right job with the ones I’ve got.

What humility. He preached this in 1973, and, since then, his team’s ministry has gone international. That said, I bet he still has the same concerns — and rightly so.

MacArthur points out that St Paul had his share of faithful and rebellious congregations. The faithful ones made him joyful and the rebellious ones grieved him:

I think sometimes the saddest group of people, the most grieved group of men, are very often ministers, pastors. And I think sometimes the reason is because of the fact that they are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who, because they will not submit, rob them of the joy of their ministry.

The idea of the word “grief” here is groaning, over a thankless task, and there are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you. You know, the Apostle Paul knew about that joy, apparently especially the Philippians were a submissive bunch. He didn’t express a whole lot of joy over the Corinthians. In fact, they were a pain in the neck as well as the heart. But in Philippians 1:4, he says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He said to the Philippians, “You make me happy.” And the reason was because they were submissive.

The author of Hebrews then issued a personal message, requesting the converts’ prayers for him and Timothy (verse 18). (I’ll have more on Timothy next week.) The author is sure both have clear consciences as they attempt to act honourably in all their undertakings.

Henry says this request came because the Jews hated Paul, wrongly so, but the author and Timothy were taking great pains to not offend anyone unnecessarily:

Many of the Jews had a bad opinion of Paul, because he, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, had cast off the Levitical law and preached up Christ: now he here modestly asserts his own integrity: We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. We trust! he might have said, We know; but he chose to speak in a humble style, to teach us all not to be too confident of ourselves, but to maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts.

The author asked for their prayers so that he might be with them again that much sooner (verse 19). MacArthur explains:

And so he says, pray for me, I deserve it. Secondly he says, pray for me, I need it. I need it. Verse 19, “I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” I want to get there. You say that guy actually believed that prayer works? Does he believe that if he was going 30 miles an hour and they started praying, he’d go 90 miles an hour to get there? He believed that. Doesn’t sound too much like fatalism to me. Not at all. He knew God heard and answered prayer. There’s no blind fatalism.

Sadly, next week’s verses conclude the Book of Hebrews. However, I will follow up with posts on the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, which explain how to live the Christian life. Fortunately, those verses are in the Lectionary.

Next time — Hebrews 13:20-25

Ash Wednesday is February 26, 2020.

These are the readings for the first day in Lent:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us how to practice piety and self denial through fasting: keep it quiet and never boast about it. Verses 19 through 21 will also be familiar to many.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our Lord addressed these verses to the scribes and the Pharisees, who made much public display of their notional devotion to God.

Yet, they were so hard-hearted that they rejected Jesus to the end, with all their hearts and all their minds.

Of these verses, Matthew Henry’s commentary counsels (emphases mine):

As we must do better than the scribes and Pharisees in avoiding heart-sins, heart-adultery, and heart-murder, so likewise in maintaining and keeping up heart-religion, doing what we do from an inward, vital principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be applauded of men; that is, we must watch against hypocrisy, which was the leaven of the Pharisees, as well as against their doctrine, Luke 12:1. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, are three great Christian duties–the three foundations of the law, say the Arabians: by them we do homage and service to God with our three principal interests; by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms-giving with our estates. Thus we must not only depart from evil, but do good, and do it well, and so dwell for evermore …

Take heed of hypocrisy, for if it reign in you, it will ruin you. It is the dead fly that spoils the whole box of precious ointment.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving done openly, with ostentation and/or public announcement, has its own reward on Earth, in front of other sinful people. Those who do such things are not pleasing God. God will not honour such actions.

Henry explains, referring to the Greek in the original text:

they have their reward here, and have none to hope for hereafter. Apechousi ton misthon. It signifies a receipt in full. What rewards the godly have in this life are but in part of payment; there is more behind, much more; but hypocrites have their all in this world, so shall their doom be; themselves have decided it. The world is but for provision to the saints, it is their spending-money; but it is pay to hypocrites, it is their portion.

The reason for doing these things in very public places is to impress others. God, on the other hand, remains distinctly unimpressed with such open expressions. Henry gives us the reasons for the Jewish hierarchy’s seeking out the most public places for their most ostentatious prayer displays and why God disapproves. It is not entirely wrong to do these things in the open, but when we become prideful and seek out more of the same, it becomes sinful:

Their pride in choosing these public places, which is expressed in two things: [1.] They love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed. Circumstances may be such, that our good deeds must needs be done openly, so as to fall under the observation of others, and be commended by them; but the sin and danger is when we love it, and are pleased with it, because it feeds the proud humour.

With regard to the scribes and Pharisees:

[2.] It is that they may be seen of men; not that God might accept them, but that men might admire and applaud them; and that they might easily get the estates of widows and orphans into their hands (who would not trust such devout, praying men?) and that, when they had them, they might devour them without being suspected (Matthew 23:14); and effectually carry on their public designs to enslave the people.

Henry says that the public forum is not the place for ostentatious devotion. Therefore, in church, we must be circumspect and not stand out. Furthermore, we make a mistake if the only time we pray is in church:

we must avoid every thing that tends to make our personal devotion remarkable, as they that caused their voice to be heard on high, Isaiah 58:4. Public places are not proper for private solemn prayer.

Furthermore:

Personal prayer is here supposed to be the duty and practice of all Christ’s disciples.

Henry has more on personal prayer:

Note, Secret prayer is to be performed in retirement, that we may be unobserved, and so may avoid ostentation; undisturbed, and so may avoid distraction; unheard, and so may use greater freedom; yet if the circumstances be such that we cannot possibly avoid being taken notice of, we must not therefore neglect the duty, lest the omission be a greater scandal than the observation of it …

Note, In secret prayer we must have an eye to God, as present in all places; he is there in thy closet when no one else is there; there especially nigh to thee in what thou callest upon him for. By secret prayer we give God the glory of his universal presence (Acts 17:24), and may take to ourselves the comfort of it.

Scripture cautions against repetition in prayer, yet, Henry explains that this is only when our minds wander as we repeat the same words over and over. Repetition, when done with reverence and thought, is acceptable:

It is not all repetition in prayer that is here condemned, but vain repetitions. Christ himself prayed, saying the same words (Matthew 26:44), out of more than ordinary fervour and zeal, Luke 22:44. So Daniel, Daniel 9:18,19. And there is a very elegant repetition of the same words, Psalms 136:1-26. It may be of use both to express our own affections, and to excite the affections of othersthe barren and dry going over of the same things again and again, merely to drill out the prayer to such a length, and to make a show of affection when really there is none; these are the vain repetitions here condemned. When we would fain say much, but cannot say much to the purpose; this is displeasing to God and all wise men.

As for fasting, it should be accompanied by prayer. Otherwise, it has no spiritual value. It’s just a diet.

Fasting does not mean gorging at night, either.

Henry, very much an Anglican clergyman whose theology aligned with Calvinism, lamented the loss of the centuries-old godly practice of fasting. This would have been in the late 17th and early 18th century. Fasting, accompanied by prayer, curbs the urges of the flesh for more food and focusses our minds on higher things:

We are here cautioned against hypocrisy in fasting, as before in almsgiving, and in prayer.

I. It is here supposed that religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, when God, in his providence, calls to it, and when the case of their own souls upon any account requires it; when the bridegroom is taken away, then shall they fast, Matthew 9:15. Fasting is here put last, because it is not so much a duty for its own sake, as a means to dispose us for other duties. Prayer comes in between almsgiving and fasting, as being the life and soul of both. Christ here speaks especially of private fasts, such as particular persons prescribe to themselves, as free-will offerings, commonly used among the pious Jews; some fasted one day, some two, every week; others seldomer, as they saw cause. On those days they did not eat till sun-set, and then very sparingly. It was not the Pharisee’s fasting twice in the week, but his boasting of it, that Christ condemned, Luke 18:12. It is a laudable practice, and we have reason to lament it, that is so generally neglected among Christians. Anna was much in fasting, Luke 2:37. Cornelius fasted and prayed, Acts 10:30. The primitive Christians were much in it, see Acts 13:3,14:23. Private fasting is supposed, 1 Corinthians 7:5. It is an act of self-denial, and mortification of the flesh, a holy revenge upon ourselves, and humiliation under the hand of God. The most grown Christians must hereby own, they are so far from having any thing to be proud of, that they are unworthy of their daily bread. It is a means to curb the flesh and the desires of it, and to make us more lively in religious exercises, as fulness of bread is apt to make us drowsy. Paul was in fastings often, and so he kept under this body, and brought it into subjection.

Henry summarises the biblical way to fast:

We are directed how to manage a private fast; we must keep it in private, Matthew 6:17,18. He does not tell us how often we must fast; circumstances vary, and wisdom is profitable therein to direct; the Spirit in the word has left that to the Spirit in the heart; but take this for a rule, whenever you undertake this duty, study therein to approve yourselves to God, and not to recommend yourselves to the good opinion of men; humility must evermore attend upon our humiliation. Christ does not direct to abate any thing of the reality of the fast; he does not say,”take a little meat, or a little drink, or a little cordial;” no, “let the body suffer, but lay aside the show and appearance of it; appear with thy ordinary countenance, guise, and dress; and while thou deniest thyself thy bodily refreshments, do it so as that it may not be taken notice of, no, not by those that are nearest to thee; look pleasant, anoint thine head and wash thy face, as thou dost on ordinary days, on purpose to conceal thy devotion; and thou shalt be no loser in the praise of it at last; for though it be not of men, it shall be of God. Fasting is the humbling of the soul (Psalms 35:13), that is the inside of the duty; let that therefore be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. If we be sincere in our solemn fasts, and humble, and trust God’s omniscience for our witness, and his goodness for our reward, we shall find, both that he did see in secret, and will reward openly. Religious fasts, if rightly kept, will shortly be recompensed with an everlasting feast. Our acceptance with God in our private fasts should make us dead, both to the applause of men (we must not do the duty in hopes of this), and to the censures of men too (we must not decline the duty for fear of them). David’s fasting was turned to his reproach, Psalms 69:10; and yet, Matthew 6:13, As for me, let them say what they will of me, my prayer is unto thee in an acceptable time.

Certainly, some people have problems gaining weight. Therefore, fasting would not be recommended for them.

However, for the rest of us, some physical self-denial, accompanied by prayer, would not go amiss.

It is hard to think of a better Gospel to lead us into Lent. For anyone observing this season, I pray that you be abundantly blessed in all your undertakings, especially those further enabling the Christian journey.

President Trump had a busy schedule at the end of May 2019, which included a return trip to Japan.

This time it was a State Visit.

As he and First Lady Melania would be out of the country on Memorial Day weekend, they visited Arlington Cemetery before their departure:

On May 25, the first day of the State Visit to Japan, Trump met with that nation’s business leaders, too many to list here:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie hosted the Trumps for dinner that night. Abe had not forgotten his guest’s favourite dessert:

Abe was delighted to welcome back his friend:

The next day, the two world leaders played golf:

Their wives toured the Mori Building Digital Art Museum:

The QTree explained the significance of the following day’s welcome by the new Emperor and Empress of Japan — a first for both couples:

… our President and FLOTUS become the first guests of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace.

There are three components to the state visit: (1) The guest arrival and formal greeting by the Emperor and Empress. (2) The ceremonial anthems of both nations and the presentation of the imperial guard.  (3) A “state call” or discussion of diplomatic matters between the Emperor, Empress and their honored guests.

During the official state call component there is an exchange of gifts.

1) Formal greeting by the Emperor and Empress …

2) The ceremonial anthems of both nations and the presentation of the imperial guard.

The ‘inside palace’ greeting and introduction was not covered by international media. However, due to the significance of the visit (first of imperial era of Reiwa) it was broadcast on local Japanese media (below).

Body language and facial expressions can’t be faked. They are all VERY PLEASED AND HONORED to meet one another. Such a proud moment for both nations.

(3) A “state call” or discussion of diplomatic matters between the Emperor, Empress and their honored guests in video below.

Then, there was the customary exchange of gifts. The Japanese emperor is an accomplished violin and viola player, as evidenced below in this video from 2007:

The accompanying press pool report states (emphases mine):

The President presented the Emperor an American-made viola in a custom case and a signed photo of American composer Aaron Copland. This vintage 1938 viola was handmade in Charleston, West Virginia. The President also presented the Emperor with a signed and framed photo of the President.

The First Lady presented the Empress with a custom White House desk set featuring a pen made of Harvard tree wood. The Empress herself studied Economics at Harvard. This fountain pen was handcrafted from a red oak tree that still stands in Old Harvard Yard. The First Lady also presented the Empress with a signed and framed photo of the First Lady.

The Emperor presented the President with a traditional Japanese pottery and porcelain bowl as well as a signed and framed photo of His Majesty the Emperor.

The Empress presented the First Lady with an ornamental Japanese lacquer box with traditional design as well as a framed and signed photo of Her Majesty the Empress.

Note: It is long-standing custom of the Imperial Palace that their Majesties the Emperor and Empress exchange signed, framed photographs with their guests on the occasion of a State Visit.

Afterwards, Trump and Abe held discussions on trade and security:

Their wives attended a cultural presentation:

Upon his return, Trump tweeted:

While the Trumps were in Japan, on May 25, actor Jon Voight tweeted:

The president faces the same threats as Lincoln did. He is in danger every day from people who desperately want to remove him from office, either by death or by impeachment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says Trump belongs in prison.

The Mueller Report left the door open to more scheming by Democrats.

The coup is not yet over.

Therefore, on May 30, the Revd Franklin Graham issued a national appeal for prayer for the president on Sunday, June 2:

That day, another friend of the president’s explained to Fox News that this appeal had nothing to do with politics but the real fight of good versus evil:

Other pastors on social media had to remind their detractors that they had prayed for past presidents, too:

On Friday, May 31, a mass shooting took place in Virginia Beach. After golfing on Sunday, June 2, the president visited the Revd David Platt’s McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he joined congregants in praying silently for the victims of the shooting.

The New York Post reported:

While he did not talk during the service, Trump stood behind pastor David Platt as he offered a prayer for the 12 killed in Friday’s mass shooting.

The president was there to “visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach,” said Judd Deere, the White House’s deputy press secretary.

Trump arrived at about 2:20 p.m. and his motorcade left a little over 15 minutes later.

DeWayne Craddock, 40, slaughtered 12 at Virginia Beach’s municipal building Friday — just hours after quitting his job as a civil engineer.

In turn, Platt prayed for the president:

I do not know where Platt stands on his stance of private redistribution of wealth he was promoting back in 2012, but I am grateful that he prayed for President Trump.

Considering the prayers, the threats that the president endures daily and Jon Voight’s comparison of him with Lincoln, it was amazing that he and the first lady went to Ford’s Theatre that night for an awards presentation. Ford’s Theatre was the site of Lincoln’s assassination:

I am very glad I was out of the country at the time. Otherwise I would have been worried about his safety.

Yet, thankfully, God continues to watch over President Trump, who flew to London that night with the first lady and his family (apart from Barron).

More on that trip tomorrow.

How many people know about the Battle of Lepanto?

In the 1970s, when Western education was still decent, I took a year of World History in high school. If we covered it, it must have been a footnote.

I read about it in depth only six years ago, when someone from the West Indies had a WordPress blog, since deleted. The writer was Catholic and explained the religious, historical and cultural significance of October 7, 1571, the date of the victory over the Ottoman Empire.

The victory was important to Mediterranean Europe. Inland, the Battle of Vienna took place just over a century later, on September 12, 1683, led by the indomitable King Jan (John) III Sobieski of Poland. Lepanto was to the Mediterranean what Vienna was to the rest of Europe.

On to the Battle of Lepanto and October 7, which Catholics venerate as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In 2017, Polish Catholics assembled nationwide to pray the Rosary on that day. The Daily Mail has more (emphases mine):

Hundreds of thousands of Polish Catholics are expected to descend Saturday on the country’s borders to recite the rosary “to save Poland and the world” from the dangers facing them, organisers say, but others claim the event is aimed at protecting Europe from what they term a Muslim onslaught.

The episcopate insists that the “Rosary to the Borders” is a purely religious initiative, but some Catholics view it as a weapon against “Islamisation.”

The date was not chosen at random. October 7 is when Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, marking the 1571 victory of Christianity over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto.

A victory attributed to the recital of the rosary “that saved Europe from Islamisation”, the Solo Dios Basta foundation said on the website of the event it is organising.

Many Poles see Islam as a threat. The conservative government, which enjoys the backing of a sizeable portion of the population, refuses to welcome migrants to Poland, which has very few Muslims of its own.

Twenty-two border dioceses will take part in the event, whose faithful will congregate in some 200 churches for a lecture and mass before travelling to the border to say the rosary.

The goal is to have as many prayer points as possible along the 3,511 kilometres (about 2,200 miles) that make up Poland’s borders with Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Baltic Sea.

Fishing boats will join in at sea, while kayaks and sailboats will form a chain along rivers and lakes. Prayers will also be said at the chapels of a few international airports …

The goal is to pray for world peace, according to Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesman for the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

“The initiative obviously received the approval of Poland’s bishops,” he told AFP, emphasising that it would be wrong to view the event as a prayer against the arrival of Muslim refugees.

“It is not a matter of closing ourselves off to others. On the contrary, the point of bringing the rosary to the borders is to break down walls and open ourselves up to Russians, Belarussians, Slovaks, Ukrainians and Germans,” he said

In 2018, on October 7, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, appeared on a talk show saying that the influx of immigrants arriving by boat are not true refugees. He estimates that only 10 per cent are. He recommends taking in only women and young children. He objects to turning Italy’s public housing over to immigrants arriving by boat and says that local and regional governments should continue to reserve these flats and houses for Italians. Currently, Angela Merkel is trying to transfer immigrants who had arrived in Germany via Italy back to Italy:

RMC (French talk radio) had a lengthy segment on immigration from Africa on the morning of Monday, October 8. Opinion was strongly divided as to whether and how many more immigrants France — especially Paris — should accommodate. It was a lively discussion with no conclusion. One point that did stand out was that French people were being pushed down the queue for social housing for recently-arrived immigrants. So, the French housing situation is like Italy’s, which is like Germany’s and Sweden’s.

Besides the religious and 21st century significance of the Battle of Lepanto, there is a historic one. It took place at a time when the invasion of hordes of groups of people — not just those from the Ottoman Empire — were invading not only Europe but also Asia.

I had always wondered how these groups had been stopped. A considered essay, ‘The Significance of Lepanto’, explains what happened from that point through to the 18th century.

First, we need to consider the main group of players in Europe’s Holy League. These nation-states also controlled various parts of the Mediterranean, including islands such as Corsica, Cyprus and Crete. Trade and strategic ports were important to the Spanish, the Venetians and to the Vatican, which also controlled territory in this part of the world:

The Battle of Lepanto has a major place in the symbolism of the Western-Islamic relationship, and Niccolò Capponi’s recently published Victory of the West: The Story of the Battle of Lepanto treats the battle as a major encounter between the Islamic Ottoman empire and the forces of Western Christendom.

Lepanto was the last great battle that could be described as a simple clash between Christendom and Islam. Fought on October 7, 1571, it saw the fleet of the Ottoman empire pitted against an alliance of Spain, Venice and various other minor players to form a Holy League under the leadership of Don Juan of Austria, the illegitimate half-brother of Philip II of Spain.

The battle was the response of the Christian powers to the invasion of the Venetian possession of Cyprus. At stake was control of the Mediterranean. If the Ottomans had won then there was a real possibility that an invasion of Italy could have followed so that the Ottoman sultan, already claiming to be emperor of the Romans, would have been in possession of both New and Old Rome. The Pope could have become as much a tool of the Ottoman sultan as his Orthodox counterpart the Patriarch of Constantinople already was.

Yet, as Capponi points out, the Holy League was hardly a model of Christian solidarity. The Spanish and the Venetians had different strategic objectives—the Spanish were concerned primarily with Italy, North Africa and the Western Mediterranean, while Venice was anxious to recover Cyprus and protect its interests in the eastern Mediterranean. The Spanish were not keen for a battle that might lose them precious resources, particularly as Philip II, with interests as well in northern Europe, was usually on the verge of bankruptcy. The Spanish were also concerned that the Venetians were in the process of cutting a deal with the Ottomans. Just a few days before the battle there was a conflict between the Spanish and Venetians that almost tore the fleet apart. Nevertheless the alliance held and the League fleet scored a stunning success.

Lepanto reshaped the religious bent of the Mediterranean:

The cultural shape of the lands around the Mediterranean was confirmed with a largely Islamic East and South staring across the waters at a Christian North and West.

The Ottoman Empire gradually lost territory and influence from that point until it collapsed with the Great War (1914-1918). That said, we are still dealing with the aftermath a century later:

The Ottoman empire, like the ancient Roman empire and the Byzantine empire before it, was left with the task of defending its ever diminishing borders over the next three centuries. When it did finally “fall” after the First World War the ramifications were enormous, and we are still attempting to cope with them from Bosnia to Iraq.

The Europeans defeated the Ottomans because of advanced naval battle tactics and weaponry. They also had more advanced trade and inventions, such as the printing press, which the Ottomans were slow to adopt:

The League won because it used innovative tactics. The usual form that galley warfare took was to ram the enemy ships and then take them by storm. The Venetian ships attempted a new and different tactic. Using a larger and modified form of galley known as galleasses, they filled these ships with cannons and attempted to blow as many of the Ottoman galleys as possible out of the water. League ships carried many more cannon and its troops made much greater use of firearms. Many of the Ottoman troops preferred to use bows, although these were not necessarily inferior to the clumsy arquebus of that time …

In the longer term, however, the future belonged to the new commercial instruments of the West rather than to the bureaucratic machinery of the Ottomans. In her study of seventeenth-century Crete, A Shared World, Molly Green demonstrates that the commercial techniques and practices used by the Venetians were much more sophisticated and developed than those of the Ottoman regime that replaced them in mid-century. It was also the case that the Ottomans were slow to take to make use of printing, with the “printing revolution” that swept the West in the sixteenth century not really taking off in the Islamic world until the nineteenth century.

Europe and Asia had been beset by invaders for centuries, especially during the perilous Dark Ages.

In Europe, during the latter days of the Roman Empire:

Rome, and the Roman empire, had to face an almost continuous set of threats, beginning with the Celts, then moving through to the Germans, Huns, Avars, Arabs and Turks. The Ottoman Turks simply delivered the coup de grâce to what had become little more than a living corpse.

In Asia:

China built its “great wall” to protect itself from nomadic predators, while the damage inflicted by the Mongols on the settled Islamic world, including the sack of Baghdad, was staggering.

These invasions happened because invading tribes of people envied the civilisation of settled societies:

A settled civilisation, by creating a measure of comfort and a settled way of life, makes itself a target for those living outside their boundaries who are drawn by what it has to offer.

Large-scale invasions ended in the 18th century, probably thanks to the Chinese:

the Qing Chinese empire in the eighteenth century successfully conquered and subdued the last of the great nomadic empires of Eurasia. For the first time in millennia no barbarian horsemen, no Huns, no Avars, no Mongols, surged across the great plains of Eurasia to sack and pillage Europe, China and the great civilisations of the Islamic world and India.

When a new barbarian empire emerged powerful enough to threaten the Ottomans, and by this I mean the Russian empire, it was successfully checked by the jealousy of the other European powers. It was also into this world … of empires that were not revitalised by new sets of barbarians, in the Middle East, in India and in China, that the European empires were able to make such inroads from the eighteenth century onwards.

Lepanto, as with so many other advances of that era, helped to usher in modernity to Europe with an emphasis on trade rather than war:

Lepanto can be seen as symbolic of that transition, described by the nineteenth-century French liberal philosopher Benjamin Constant, from the age of war to the age of commerce. Or as others might say, it can be considered as the birth of modernity. Even the overwhelming use of firepower can be found in the pages of Constant as a feature of the utilitarian approach to warfare favoured by commercial nations. The irony was that the somewhat ramshackle empires of sixteenth-century Europe, with their disorganised finances and administrative apparatuses much inferior to those of the Ottomans, would within 300 years come to dominate the world not because of their superior asabiya or virtue but because of their capacity to create modern efficient institutions far superior to the slave bureaucracy of the Ottomans, and because of their ability to deliver superior firepower.

This new European and commercial form of empire supplanted an older, more traditional imperial form. What this meant was that the old rules of empire, of an imperial expansion dictated by the need to conquer to attain booty and slaves and a decline governed by the need to protect its settled possessions from new predators, would give way to a new set of rules. These are the rules of the export and import of capital, as described by Niall Ferguson in his recent studies of the English and American empires.

Looking at present day developments in Europe, there does seem to be an envy of others to have what we Europeans have without contributing to our respective nations. When well-intended private and state generosity is met with Marxist-driven violence and disregard for the host citizenry, it is no wonder that many think of Lepanto.

As most of the world knows, Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been going through Hades during his nomination process to the American Supreme Court.

His wife, Ashley, and their two daughters have also been put through much unnecessary harassment and abuse.

Ashley Kavanaugh has asked people to pray for them and for the nation, specifically by praying Psalm 40. Some of my readers prefer the King James Version below:

Others might prefer the English Standard Version (ESV):

My Help and My Deliverer

To the choirmaster. A psalm of David.

40 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.

6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.[a]
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance[b]
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
12 For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

16 But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

O Lord, please thwart the attempts of the Kavanaugh family’s foes. May their pernicious deeds be brought to light and to justice, whether in the Senate chamber, at home or at school.

Please also preserve the Great Republic, the United States of America, today and always.

We ask this humbly through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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Forbidden Bible Verses, all being well, is planned for tomorrow.

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:36-38

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

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Last week’s entry discussed the preceding verses, which contained Paul’s instructions to the elders of Ephesus about their ministry. Wisely, he gave them that guidance after he recounted his own ministry in Ephesus.

Now it was time for Paul to leave Miletus, which is near Ephesus, and sail from Asia Minor to eventually reach his final destination, Jerusalem, to commemorate Pentecost.

The elders and Paul knelt for a final prayer together (verse 36). Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent analysis about prayer, not only in this situation but also for us as churchgoers (emphases mine):

no doubt, it was a prayer every way suited to the present mournful occasion. He committed them to God in this prayer, prayed that he would not leave them, but continue his presence with them. 1. It was a joint prayer. He not only prayed for them, but prayed with them, prayed with them all; that they might put up the same petitions for themselves and one another that he put up to God for them all, and that they might learn what to ask of God for themselves when he was gone. Public prayers are so far from being intended to supersede our own secret prayers, and make them needless, that they are designed to quicken and encourage them, and to direct us in them. When we are alone we should pray over the prayers that our ministers have put up with us.

Henry tells us about the humility of kneeling in prayer:

2. It was a humble reverent prayer. This was expressed by the posture they used: He kneeled down, and prayed with them, which is the most proper gesture in prayer, and significant both of adoration and of petition, especially petition for the forgiveness of sin. Paul used it much: I bow my knees, Ephesians 3:14.

This was likely to have been a prayer about Paul’s discourse on ministering to the church in Ephesus:

3. It was a prayer after sermon; and, we may suppose, he prayed over what he had preached. He had committed the care of the church at Ephesus to those elders, and now he prays that God would enable them faithfully to discharge this great trust reposed in them, and would give them those measures of wisdom and grace which it required; he prayed for the flock, and all that belonged to it, that the great Shepherd of the sheep would take care of them all, and keep them from being a prey to the grievous wolves. Thus he taught these ministers to pray for those they preached to, that they might not labour in vain.

It was also a parting prayer, one of farewell. Paul copied our Lord’s example:

4. It was a parting prayer, which might be likely to leave lasting impressions, as the farewell sermon did. It is good for friends, when they part, to part with prayer, that by praying together just at parting they may be enabled to pray the more feelingly one for another when they are separated, which is one part of our Christian duty, and an improvement of the communion of saints. The Lord watch between us, and watch over us both, when we are absent one from the other, is a good parting prayer (Genesis 31:49), as also that our next meeting may be either nearer heaven or in heaven. Paul here followed the example of Christ, who, when he took leave of his disciples, after he had preached to them, prayed with them all, John 17:1.

They all wept — including Paul. The elders embraced their spiritual leader and kissed him (verse 37). Henry lays out the scene:

He that was so often in tears while he was with them (Acts 20:19,31), no doubt shed many at parting, so watering what he had sown among them. But the notice is taken of their tears: They all wept sorely; there was not a dry eye among them, and it is probable the affectionate expressions Paul used in prayer set them a-weepingNote, Those that are most loving are commonly best beloved. Paul, who was a most affectionate friend himself, had friends that were very affectionate to him. These tears at parting with Paul were a grateful return for all the tears he had shed in preaching to them and praying with them.

St Luke, the author of Acts, points out that they were saddest because Paul told them he would not see them again (verse 38). Henry lists their other reasons for weeping. They feared the responsibility they now had in leading the church in Ephesus:

There were other things for which they sorrowed–that they should lose the benefit of his public performances, and see him no longer presiding in their assemblies, should have none of his personal counsels and comforts; and, we hope, they sorrowed for their own sin, in not profiting more by his labours while they had him among them, and which had provoked God to order his remove.

They then accompanied him to the ship (verse 38):

partly to show their respect for him (they would bring him on his way as far as they could), and partly that they might have a little more of his company and conversation; if it must be the last interview, they will have as much of him as they can, and see the last of him. And we have reason to think that when they came to the water-side, and he was about to go on board, their tears and embraces were repeated; for loth to part bids oft farewell. But this was a comfort to both sides, and soon turned this tide of passion, that the presence of Christ both went with him and staid with them.

John MacArthur’s closing prayer in his sermon is striking. He reminds us of what happened to the church in Ephesus:

Father, thank You for our time. We rejoice in the truth that we’ve learned. And our hearts are somewhat saddened, at least mine, as I think about the fact that by the time the letter of the Lord Jesus to Ephesus was written in Revelation, You had to say that they had left their first love. And that if didn’t something happen, You’d remove them as a church. And Father, we know historically that You did that, and there is no church at Ephesus.

We can’t understand it. We can’t understand how under the leadership of Paul and Timothy, so fast it could happen. But we know Satan works. Father help us to teach, to lead, to feed, to watch, to warn, to pray, to study. Protect the flock, that this may be a pure people till the day that Jesus comes, in whose name we pray, amen.

There are many churches today that are falling by the wayside because of the lack of doctrine and the influx of false teaching, i.e. social justice and sexual identity.

Social justice, politics and sexual variants are not in the New Testament as doctrine. In fact, quite the opposite. Yet, our seminaries and churches are full of clergy who continually preach about these things instead of the Gospel story.

It is no wonder that our houses of worship are so empty on Sundays. All the more reason for us to pray unceasingly in our own time and to study the Word of God privately.

Next time — Acts 21:1-6

I was of two minds as to whether to report on the royal wedding which took place on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

I turned off the television after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Harry and Meghan — took their preliminary vows.

A wedding not a blessing

I wondered why they were given a full wedding ceremony rather than a church blessing, since Meghan Markle had been married previously.

However, Sky News reported that the Church of England changed the rules well over a decade ago (emphases mine below):

The Church of England agreed in 2002 that divorced people could remarry in church, with the discretion of the priest.

The duchess, a former actress:

married American film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011. They filed for divorce in 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences”.

The Most Reverend and Honourable Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated at the service.

The Dean of Windsor, The Rt Revd David Conner, conducted the service and the initial vows (‘I will’), although rings were exchanged later in the service with the Archbishop of Canterbury officiating.

It was somewhat off-putting to hear the Dean’s words at the beginning, which included ‘the joy of sexual union’.

If people are getting married only to salve their consciences in that department, they’re headed down the wrong route.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that a marriage should be a partnership of equals — the best friendship a man and a woman can ever share with God’s blessing.

The second is that no one knows what the morrow will bring. I do know of young couples who were deprived of ‘the joy of sexual union’ early in their marriages because of sudden debilitating illness or accidents.

Friendship comes first in a marriage. The Dean would have been better placed to use the old American adage:

Kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do.

Prince Charles took the wise decision to walk his future daughter-in-law part way down the aisle:

The Duke’s aunt, Princess Diana’s sister, gave the one reading of the ceremony:

Here is Justin Welby formally joining the couple in matrimony. These video clips are excellent. No one does weddings like the Church of England (I’m so pleased to be a part of it):

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States gave an address. BT.com reported:

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, gained worldwide attention with his address at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday during which he evoked Martin Luther King and spoke of poverty and injustice.

Mr Curry, along with the gospel choir, brought a flavour of the American bride’s homeland with the speech at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

At the end of the ceremony, the happy couple left St George’s Chapel, Windsor:

Back story: Meghan’s Baptism and Confirmation

The Duchess of Sussex was baptised and confirmed privately prior to the wedding.

Sky News reported:

Prince Harry and Ms Markle announced their engagement in November. A day later Kensington Palace confirmed that Meghan, who identifies as Protestant, would be baptised and confirmed ahead of her wedding day.

Heavy had more:

According to Access, Markle has already been accepted into the Anglican faith, and Welby baptized her in a secret ceremony in March 2018.

The cake and reception

The Queen hosted the first reception:

Sir Elton John, who had sung at Princess Diana’s funeral, performed:

Thankfully, the cake was not the usual heavy fruitcake:

A filling made from Amalfi lemon curd and elderflower buttercream ties all the elements together. The cake is decorated with Swiss meringue buttercream and 150 fresh flowers, mainly British, and in season, including peonies and roses.

Then it was time for the second wedding reception:

Official wedding prayer

This is the couple’s wedding prayer from the Church of England:

But Heavy pointed out:

This stands in contrast to the previous royal wedding, between then-Prince William and Kate Middleton, who wrote their own prayer for the ceremony, as the Telegraph reported.

God our Father, we thank
you for our families; for
the love that we share and
for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on
what is real and important
in life and help us to be generous with our time
and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have prayed for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and hope that they grow together in the peace and love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 3, 2018 was National Day of Prayer in the United States.

People in other Western countries make fun of Americans for being religious, but independence, leading to nationhood, was gained thanks to prayer.

As President Trump said, in part, in the Rose Garden last Thursday (emphases mine):

On this National Day of Prayer, we join together to offer gratitude for our many blessings and to acknowledge our need for divine wisdom, guidance, and protection. Prayer, by which we affirm our dependence on God, has long been fundamental to our pursuit of freedom, peace, unity, and prosperity. Prayer sustains us and brings us comfort, hope, peace, and strength. Therefore, we must cherish our spiritual foundation and uphold our legacy of faith.

Prayer has been a source of guidance, strength, and wisdom since the founding of our Republic. When the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia to contemplate freedom from Great Britain, the delegates prayed daily for guidance. Their efforts produced the Declaration of Independence and its enumeration of the self-evident truths that we all cherish today. We believe that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Prayer sustained us and gave us the strength to endure the sacrifices and suffering of the American Revolution and to temper the triumph of victory with humility and gratitude. Notably, as one of its first acts, our newly formed Congress appointed chaplains of the House of Representatives and Senate so that all proceedings would begin with prayer.

The power of prayer makes the impossible possible.

Jesus Light of the World 616Christ the King Sunday — also known as the Feast of Christ the King and Stir up Sunday — was on November 26, 2017.

This feast day is the last Sunday of the Church year.

December 2, 2017, is the first Sunday in Advent. From then through the week following the next Christ the King Sunday, readings will come from Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Christ the King Sunday

Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 to combat secularism imposed by dictatorships around the world at that time. Until 1960, the feast day was the last Sunday in October. With Vatican II, it was moved to the end of November.

As Protestant denominations began using the Lectionary in the 1970s, more of them gradually adopted the feast. Wikipedia tells us (bold emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday as the final Sunday of their liturgical years.[12] These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran groups, United Methodist Church and other Methodist groups, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church. Some, such as the Uniting Church in Australia refer to it in non-gendered terms as feast of The Reign of Christ.

In the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously highlighting the final judgement, though after the Lectionary of 1983 the theme of the day was amended to the Return of Christ. In the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the 4 Sundays before Advent are called the “Sundays of the Kingdom” and Christ the King is observed as a season and not a single festal day.

The United Methodist Church website has details on the impact the feast had in Mexico in the 1920s (emphases mine below):

It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.”

In Britain, the feast is popularly known as Stir up Sunday, the time when women start making their Christmas cakes, which need the ensuing weeks in order to achieve maximum flavour and texture. The name comes from the traditional Collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Of course, in our postmodern era, some Christians object to the use of gender-oriented language, such as the word ‘king’. Therefore, some churches refer to it as Reign of Christ Sunday.

The aforementioned United Methodist Church article has a social justice tone to it regarding this particular feast day:

Here’s the part we may not like as well, but must pay attention to.

This shepherd takes sides.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves, those who made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still. This shepherd has no interest in their preservation. They are like a cancer, taking and consuming resources for themselves and their own purposes that were intended to be made available for the good of the whole body. If they will survive at all, it will be without the help of this shepherd.

This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.

That is what the Year A readings say, certainly, but there are different readings for the other two Lectionary years.

ChurchYear.Net understands our Saviour, the King of Kings, more broadly:

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

ChurchYear.Net explains Pius XI’s original objectives for establishing this feast day:

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service.

The site also has a separate page of prayers and hymns for Christ the King Sunday.

The readings for 2017 — Year A — are on the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site. The respective Epistle and Gospel follow:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

——————————–

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

First Sunday of Advent

The Epistle and Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent — Lectionary Year B — continue a similar theme, about being prepared for the Final Judgement.

Note that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mentions thankfulness, spiritual strength and spiritual gifts — all coming from God — and being called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus:

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read Jesus’s warning about not knowing when the time will come, therefore, be prepared — ‘keep alert’, ‘keep awake’:

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Most Christians observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. I will feature Advent posts and resources in the coming weeks.

Until then, readers might find Vanderbilt’s Advent resources and this page of Sunday readings useful.

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