As Christians we are commanded to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18).
This is my life verse, but as with so many things I had misunderstood the verse to mean “for everything give thanks”, which turned out to be impossible. With the meaning “in everything give thanks” that makes it possible to give thanks, no matter the circumstances.
So was the situation with the Prophet Jonah. God had told him to go to Nineveh and prophesy so that they would repent. Now Nineveh was the very enemy of the Jews, so Jonah refused and boarded a ship going the other way. A storm arose, and the crew wanted to know who to blame for the storm. The lot fell on Jonah, he confessed and told them to throw him overboard so the storm would end. They did and God had prepared a big fish that swallowed Jonah whole. Jonah stayed in the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah was in dire straits. What could he do? He did obey God and said:
“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.
7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:1-10)
The story goes on Jonah went to Nineveh (think ISIS), they repented, which displeased Jonah. Pouting Jonah sat outside the town and in one day a gourd grew up, gave him shelter. But in the evening the plant withered, which also displeased Jonah (he was not a good rejoicer)
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
This is the true meaning of thanksgiving; In everything give thanks.
1 Thess 5 continues: 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
This too is good advise, more than that, it is a command.
We woke up early this morning. The birds were already singing, and my Wife and I got dressed and walked down to the flagpole in front of the Military Museum in Boalsburg, the birthplace of Memorial day.
Tussey Mountain and Mount Nittany were both in the clouds, and thanks to five days of rain the leaves on the trees shone in all the different shades that can only be experienced for a few days in May before they all turn uniformly dark green. People came from the large parking lot where the Amish and other farmers sell their organic produce in season.
The Christian Business men’s Connection had organized the event, as well as four more events in State College during the day. At this gathering our congressman, Glenn Thompson was attending
and he spoke for all of 90 seconds after the CMBC spokesman had opened with a prayer from Thomas Jefferson. Thompson mentioned that the U.S. Congress opens every day with prayer. He stayed and prayed with us for the rest of the hour.
We split into small groups and prayed for our nation, our leaders, military, first responders, medical people, teachers, and other people entrusted with authority.
People kept joining our groups as they arrived, the clouds parted and the sun started warming our backs. God keeps His promises: ifmypeople, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. ( 2 Chronicles 7:14)
On the way back, we went back via the memorial of Decoration Day, as it was first called
In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington acknowledged a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. This has since been shortened to The National Day of Prayer and is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation“. Each year since its inception, the president has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
Gone is the humiliation aspect. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds nowadays, to Abraham Lincoln in 1863 it meant: Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people at all times to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God, to bow in humble submission to His chastisements, to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses…
On May 15, 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered:
“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant to be observed as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation; the General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress; that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”
Times have changed: The 2015 National day of prayer can be simplified to Obama asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world.
Today, the aspect of humiliation is gone. Well, not altogether.
During a speech to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Hillary Clinton lamented that white Americans have a long way to go in realizing all the ways they’ve been given unfair advantages over the nation’s minority populations.
“White Americans must do a much better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day,” she said. “We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility rather than assume our experiences are everyone else’s experiences.”
So, I guess humility is not totally dead, it seems to be one of her strong points.
But I wanted to discuss fasting.
Do we fast, and if so, why do we fast?
Let us see what scripture says about the subject. In Zechariah 7:4-5 the prophet wrote: “ Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?
This was a fast for a time. The Muslim world holds a hard fast every Muslim year during the month of Ramadan, their 9th month, and since Islam is a lunar based religion with 12 lunar months making one year, Ramadan occurs 11 days earlier every year. This fast is to commemorate the revelation of the giving of the five mandatory contact prayers to be prayed by everybody at very specific times. As an example, the noon prayer must be started 2 min after the sun is in its zenith. To start it any earlier might offend Allah. This is not really a true fast, it is corporate mind control.
So, what is a true fast? In Isaiah 58:3-6 the prophet writes:
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord?
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Jesus adds a new dimension to fasting. I Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Jesus says, when you fast, not if. We are urged to fast, individually, not as part of a group fasting in solidarity, but to seek God’s face, in other words, fast for a purpose.
As we fast, let us fast and pray for a purpose as is stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14
IfMypeople who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)
After becoming a follower of Jesus Christ many years ago but as a mature man I thought I already knew what love really was, having a real wife, two wonderful children with a third on the way, a good job and no known enemies. Yet I knew, and everybody kept telling of God’s love, especially around Valentine, saying that God’s love is different.
Having joined the choir in church it became my passion to sing as often as possible, even to waking up in the morning with a song in my heart. This was nothing new, but the words and the melodies changed. So I volunteered to sing solos, but they were hesitant to add me to the roster, and instead suggested that I sang once a month at the downtown rescue mission. I had made the promise to God that what He wanted me to do I would do if possible, so I went. One thing led to another, and I became responsible for the music, and also to select a preacher for the service.
I complained to God: Why do you insist that this is the only opportunity I have to minister, I don’t even like those down and out people? It was like I heard God answer: I never asked you to like them, I asked you to love them. So once humbled I persisted, and I did it faithfully for 15 years, until moving from the area. My pastor liked to coach a number of “preacher boys” and I got the privilege to present them one at a time as the featured preacher. The crowed really appreciated that since the boys only spoke for less than 10 minutes. We spent the rest of the time singing, and since I always had a good accompanist I took requests, trying anything they suggested. The audience was more than half black, some were good singers, and they sometimes laughed at me for my lack of rhythm. They thought me a lot about singing in the joy of the Lord, and they did it differently than I was used to. One time they asked to sing “Just a closer walk with thee” and I started in what I thought was a normal tempo, but was overruled by four young black men starting to sway and slap their legs in a very slow beat. Suddenly the song took on a whole new dimension, and I found the joy of the Lord in the song. Looking at the men, happily and triumphantly smiling that their way of singing won the day, I felt a love for the men I never thought possible.
I never learned to like the men, seeing them destroy their lives with drugs and alcohol, estranged from family, and with no ambition to change their position in life. Some were repenting of their ways, but were usually back in even worse shape after a few months. During the 15 years I found they went under at a younger and younger age. What usually took 10 years to make an alcoholic could be accomplished in 3 with drugs.
Yet, with God all things are possible, and rescue mission fulfils an urgent need, standing in the gap. The social agencies act too slowly and with a bureaucracy that sometimes makes matters worse. It is also far more cost effective than to involve the social agencies.
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
Watching the New Hampshire primary election the thought came to me. How many have prayed for their candidate to win, and if so, how many did it in faith, without doubting? Regardless of how many prayed for their candidate, there can only be so many winners in any election. The rest, having prayed in faith, not doubting will be disappointed. Some will be disappointed in God. Did God fail them?
Some will say yes, God failed them, but even more will question their faith, and acknowledge their doubts that God is capable of doing anything. So they blame themselves, the disappointments mount, and their prayer life takes a hit. Jesus’ half-brother James put it succinctly: You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3). It is enough to forget the whole thing.
Or is it?
Many people are careful to add to their prayers: If it is your will, but even this caveat shows we acknowledge we really do not really know God’s will, and we resign us to the fate that our most sincere prayers are probably useless anyway.
Nothing could be further from the truth. God commands us to “be continually in prayer” and the promise in Matthew is repeated in Mark11:23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. And in John 16:23 the apostle quotes Jesus: “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. These are words from the Lord Jesus himself, so they must mean something, or God’s word cannot be trusted.
The answer is found in the age old question: What is the purpose of our being here on earth anyway? Does God really care? At first glance with terror, war and lawlessness spreading all over the world, God no longer cares. As one who has been reborn from above I can attest that God cares very much, and He really desires to have fellowship with us. There is nothing that compares to knowing you are loved by God and having fellowship with Him.
But back to whatever. The promise is not as ridiculous at it seems at first glance; all factions cannot get their petitions fulfilled. We must dig deeper: Jesus said in John 14:13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. And in John 15:14 Jesus states: You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. Jesus doubles downs in verse 16: You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. And the answer to how we should live is found just above in John 15:9-12:
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
There it is: The greatest commandment, and if we abide in Him we can ask whatever, because it aligns with His perfect will.
Lest we be puffed up, this is still true: In Isaiah 55:8-9 God states:“For Mythoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And Mythoughts than your thoughts.
Yet, the Lord Jesus states in John 16:12-13 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
There we have it: The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, enough to give us grace and lead us day by day, but not so much that we can go forward all by ourselves.
Clouds have always been my fascination. They come and go, form and disappear, cool by day and warm by night. But most impressive of all are thunderstorms, forming when the temperature and humidity are high, transport a lot of water vapor to higher elevations, there condensing as rain or ice, coming down, cooling and watering the earth. Clouds and thunderstorms are the thermostat of the earth. Without it the earth would respond like climate models, predicting a sharp temperature rise as carbon dioxide levels increase. The models are all flawed, since they predict a hot spot in the troposphere over the equator, but there is none. The thunderstorms in the tropical doldrums take care of that. “Settled science” instead has settled on ignoring the lack of the hot spot, for to acknowledge it would make the global warming claim invalid.
I thank God for providing us with a thermostat that protects the earth from overheating, and especially for thunderstorms!
Such was the case in July 1885, when Carl Boberg, a 26 year young pastor of a small congregation of the Swedish Missionary society was the honored guest of the ladies’ auxiliary annual picnic, held in a meadow near Mönsteråsviken, (a bay of the Baltic Sea in southeastern Sweden). The day was perfect, the sky was clear, pleasant temperatures, the cows were grazing on the meadow, the birds were singing, in short, a pastoral idyll. Then it happened. In a few short minutes thunderclouds appeared out of nothing. There was no time to go home, so they all sought shelter in a barn close by. The rain came down hard, and lightning struck a nearby tree. Then as suddenly as it started the rain stopped and all was calm. In Sweden it turns much cooler after a thunderstorm, and the birds sing like they got a new lease on life.
They all went home, and the young pastor pondered the events of the day. He
heard the Coalthrush singing its melodic, beautiful drill and in a distance he heard the church bells ringing from Kronobäck’s church. The bay was calm like a mirror, and inspired he started penning the song “O store Gud”. Here is the first verse:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the works Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Refrain: Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art. Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
He continued to write and write of all the mighty works that God has made and what He has given us through His word, and continued long into the night. Before going to bed he had penned over twenty verses. The next Sunday he wove the poem into his sermon. They all loved it, but that was about it. Slowly the word got around the poem was pretty good, after much editing down 9 verses were published in the local newspaper Mönsteråstidningen in 1886. Carl Boberg didn’t make any efforts to publish it further, and was surprised when he heard it sung a few years later to a Swedish folk melody (in 3/4 tempo). This was then published in the periodical “Sanningsvittnet” (witness of the truth) in 1891.
It was translated into German by an Estonian, Manfred von Glehn. Five years later it was translated into Russian by Ivan S. Prokanoff, the Martin Luther of modern Russia. It was published in a book with the title “Cymbals”.
Later, while in the Carpathian Mountains of what is now Western Ukraine the English Missionary couple Hine heard the song sung in Russian, this time as a wandering song in march tempo. He got impressed by God’s great works in the Polish mountains, and as Stuart Hine heard the people singing it on their way to church he penned a translation. This become the second verse:
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
From now on the English version is different than the Swedish original. This is the origin of the third verse: It was typical of the Hines to ask if there were any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing; Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.
The second world war broke out, and the Hines were forced to return back to England, but they continued their ministry. The fourth verse was was added by Stuart Hine after the Second World War. His concern for the exiled Polish community in Britain, who were anxious to return home, provided part of the inspiration for Hine’s final verse. Hine and David Griffiths visited a camp in Sussex, England, in 1948 where displaced Russians were being held, but where only two were professing Christians. The testimony of one of these refugees and his anticipation of the second coming of Christ inspired Hine to write the fourth stanza of his English version of the hymn. According to Ireland: One man to whom they were ministering told them an amazing story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’:
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”
The complete song was soon published, not in England but in the Soviet Union (in English). The famous Gospel singer George Beverly Shea got hold of it, liked it a lot, but he wanted to change two words in the first verse: Instead of works, he wanted to use worlds, and instead of mighty he wanted to use rolling. Very reluctantly Stuart Hine agreed, but only for use in the Billy Graham Crusades. It was first sung in Canada in 1955. It became so popular that in Billy Graham’s 1956 New York Crusade it was sung at all 99 events, and from there the song spread out through all the world, even back in Sweden where the new version became the popular one.
There have been over seventeen hundred documented recordings of “How Great Thou Art”. It has been used on major television programs, in major motion pictures, and has been mentioned as the favorite Gospel song of at least three United States’ presidents.