And He told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)
Jesus was referring to a demonic spirit that had possessed and tormented a young boy and his father. The disciples had attempted to exorcise it, but had failed and were frustrated. Jesus got it done, the boy was delivered and healed, but the disciples were vexed. They couldn’t understand why their Lord could do something they couldn’t. It’s worth noting, these guys had walked with the Master, God Himself in-the-flesh, but they still couldn’t get it. I guess that’s the human condition. When it comes to spiritual things, we can be terribly obtuse. So, Jesus gave them a lesson: Some things can only be done after prayer and fasting.
OK, before I seem sanctimonious, I’ll say I’m not any better than Jesus’ band. In fact, I’m probably worse. I will admit that prayer–and especially fasting–are not the two things that first come to mind when I’m facing a big, daunting challenge. I prefer the “action” side to our ministry moniker, “Faith and Action.” Had I been among those first Christ-followers, I probably would’ve been most like Peter: Impetuous, too-quick-to-act, in need of cooling-off time. Of course, over time, Peter would mature and become one of the great figures in the worldwide advance of the Gospel and in church history. As for me, while not even close to the Petrine scale, things have changed, too, as I’ve grown older. (I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years, now.) During my spiritual sojourn, I’ve learned to be more contemplative, more reflective, more intentional. Still, I continue to prefer the “action” to the “contemplation,” so, prayer has never come easily or naturally to me. I’d rather someone else pray and I be dispatched as the answer to their prayers! Consequently, I’ve learned to be careful, deliberate, and well-planned about my prayer times, including the annual retreat I just finished this week.
Each year I plan a two- to three-day retreat during which I pray–and fast–for all the important people in my universe. These include the people I am called to minister to in Washington, DC, and the people that support me so that I can do that ministry year-in and year-out. While you may be tempted to think of this as a form of mini-vacation for me, I assure you it is not. It is actually a lot of work. First of all, to keep anything on our organization’s master calendar for any amount of time is a Herculean task in itself. There are constant demands made on me, on our ministry team, and even on our facility near the Supreme Court. Some days I walk into “the O. House,” (our nickname for the ministry center formally named , “The Honorable William J. Ostrowski House”) only to find a beehive of activity with people and groups I don’t even know! All this to say, I have to set this prayer retreat away from our building as a priority and fight for it to remain as such. Then there is the background work: I want to pray for people not as anonymous collections, as in “Lord, I pray for all those working in government,” but by name, individually, often with their photos in front of me. And this includes not only all those in Washington that are part of my mission field, but maybe even you, if you’re a part of what I call our “extended missionary family.” You are as important to me and to my team as is the President, or a United States senator, member of Congress, or Supreme Court justice. Without your friendship, prayers, encouragement, and financial support, I couldn’t do what God has called me to do. You are His provision to me and to our entire ministry.
All of this means that we must mine a data-base and our memories for the names of hundreds of government officials and Faith and Action supporters to put together long and exhaustive prayer lists for me to take on retreat. We also need to manage the calendar so nothing interferes with this time. We even need to adjust demands on me because, well–to be frank–I’m not at my mental best when I’m fasting. Consequently, I don’t want to be making complicated judgement calls during these three days–to say nothing of not wanting the distraction from the important work of prayer.
And, oh, by-the-way, prayer is work. Boy, did I ever learn that the first time I took one of these prayer and fasting retreats. Back then, I naively opened digital files of all of our important people–thousands of them–and just started praying aloud for them. (I’ll explain why I intentionally pray out loud a little farther down in this post.) It is tiring! Just the muscular work of reading so many names in wearying, but there’s also the eye-strain and mental activity of trying to remember exactly who this person is, and even how to pronounce unusual names! The greatest test in prayer and fasting, though, comes in the spiritual battle that ensues from it. If we really believe there is a devil, an evil one, and minions of demons, then we indeed have our spiritual work cut out for us, and I feel that every time I undertake one of these prayer exercises. But it’s not all This Present Darkness. There is also the marvelous, joyful, victorious, near euphoria that comes when you know the breakthrough has come–that indeed, “this kind can come out.” The deliverance, though, comes ONLY by prayer and fasting.
Look, if you know me at all, you know I’m a pretty practical guy. My father was a communications engineer. He raised me by teaching me that there is always a way to “manage the situation.” I like mechanical things. Just the other day I said to Cheryl, my wife, that since we moved from a house into an apartment three years ago, I really miss my tools. I like projects–and I love to fix things, myself. I’m a very earthy guy, and that’s usually where I’m looking–to earth–for how to “manage the situation.” It’s a discipline for me to look upwards, to Heaven, to solve “unfixable” situations–and if there’s anything that’s “unfixable” these days, it’s Washington, DC. At Faith and Action, my team and I do everything we can to take the Gospel to our top elected and appointed officials. We stage all kinds of events, sponsor all sorts of programs; literally run here and there to deliver literature; preach, teach, and lecture; lead discussion groups; sit down in one-on-ones; hold press conferences; gather crowds; whatever it takes. In the end though, some things, “come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”
So, we spent the last several weeks fighting to keep my “prayer and fasting retreat” on the calendar. We fended off all kinds of temptations to reschedule or cancel it. I got up on Monday morning and had to resist internal temptation to think there was something more urgent, something more effective, some better way to spend 72 hours than to shut myself away in a literal cloister, and pore over list after list of names and collections of faces. Then, once again, as I learn every year, when it’s all done–and I’ve called out the names of so many souls who are loved by God and that I care about deeply, and I have lifted up their deepest needs to the only Savior, and I have rebuked the Devil over them in the name of Jesus, and I have asked God to favor them with his saving, delivering generosity–and I have thanked God for each name that represents His generous provision for our work in Washington–every single financial supporter of Faith and Action–when I have done all that, it is the most fulfilling, satisfying, relaxing experience in faith that I ever know. It is done because God does it, and I’ve merely been present to watch, to feel, and to join with that finished work.
These are the things I learn again and again on my prayer and fasting retreats–and there is so much more to learn in the years ahead. Thank YOU for letting me pray with and for you–I’m so very grateful to God for that honor.
Oh–I said I’d tell you why I pray aloud for each of the thousands of names on my list: Because there is something intimate, something close, something very real and tangible about speaking out loud. I can actually hear the name myself, form it with my lips and tongue and facial muscles. It’s almost like laying hands on someone to pray for them; it’s tactile, palpable, personal. As I said to someone at the retreat center where I prayed, it’s like having all these people in the chapel with me–and it’s literally the only time they are all together with me in one place. They are all there just in the sounding of their names. I’ve come to call it my “sonic congregation.” Beautiful–and, now that it’s over, I already miss them.
I can’t wait until our reunion next year!
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
– Luke 9: 46-50
I guess we just can’t help it because it’s human nature, but competition often breaks out in the least appropriate situations. Hard to believe that those who literally walked with Jesus in person–kept company with God Himself in the flesh–still found a reason to bicker about which of should be closer to the Almighty! Unbelievable. Then again, maybe it’s not so incredible.
During my more than three decades in full-time Christian ministry, I’ve seen more than my share of rivalry in God’s work. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve also been a perpetrator of it. There have certainly been times when I’ve wondered why others seemed more favored than me, or more popular, or better provided for, or better known. When I first arrived in Washington, DC, and took on a type of pioneer evangelism I can say little about for reasons of confidentiality, I thought, “Man, everybody else talks about the ministry they’re doing, and they talk about it on television, and people get all excited, and it’s easy to raise the money they need, but I can’t say anything or tell anybody what’s going on!” Our fundraisers still feel that way when they tell me, “Just let us say a little bit about what just happened and we’ll raise you a million dollars!” I always simply shake my head, No.
All that to say, Jesus taught His disciples right from the start not to be jealous, competitive, or resentful of one another, or, of those who are working toward the same end. Instead, he explained that none of us in the Lord’s work is a threat to the other, but, instead, a compliment: “[F]or the one who is not against you is for you.” I’ve certainly learned that here in Washington. From the very beginning of our mission work among top government officials, going back twenty years, I knew to join hands with fellow laborers in the vineyard. While I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, back in my formative days as a minister, my mentor, Pastor Tommy Reid of the Tabernacle Church in Buffalo, New York, taught me that there simply wasn’t room for competition in God’s work; the challenge is just too great. So, from the very start of Faith and Action, I’ve joined hands with others so the Gospel can be advanced effectively and efficiently.
Today, Faith and Action has a number of what we call “allied ministries” with which we share prayer, information, resources, personnel, and facilities. This constellation of organizations covers a wide spectrum of Christian labels, denominations, and strategies. We are as different from one another as we are the same, but our objective is singular: to be witnesses of the Truth that is in Jesus Christ among those at the top levels of government in our nation.
Today, Faith and Action routinely joins hands with eight other ministries, and often works with several more. I also serve as a board member to five church-related groups. In this way we lend our gifts to one another so the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. I guess that’s just a complicated way to say we can get a whole lot more accomplished working together than we can working apart!
In talking about working together, I can’t, of course, leave you out, nor the many churches across the country for which we serve as a missionary extension. We rely on our individual and church supporters for your prayers, your encouragement, and your generosity. Without all three, we couldn’t do what God has called us to do here in Washington, DC.
I understand why the disciples fought with one another and with newcomers, but I have no desire to mimic that behavior. I believe God gives us to one another as gifts so that we can get His work done in an honorable and fruitful way. Thank you for being part of that great lesson in cooperation!
Your always grateful missionary partner for His glory and not our own,
Sometimes small things are big things–and that was certainly the case yesterday at the US Supreme Court. For the fourth year in a row, I took a small group of ministers over to the High Court to conduct a National Day of Prayer observance. The group’s size was by design: We had “cut a deal” with the Court (so-to-speak). I’ll explain:
Several years ago, after my friend and colleague, Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, was arrested and prosecuted for kneeling to pray on the steps of the Court, I decided enough-is-enough with the Court’s long-standing “no prayer zone.” After all, it wasn’t just public displays of prayer (which they explained as an illegal form of “demonstration”) that brought summary judgement–but even silent non-demonstrable prayer. In other words, not so many years ago, you could be arrested–or at least ejected from the Court building–simply for bowing your head in silent prayer! Well, with help from the American Center for Law and Justice, Pat and I approached the Court–and, through a complicated process–arrived at an understanding: So long as our group is small, we don’t command a lot of public attention, and we don’t tip off the media to what we’re doing–there will essentially be no problem with our prayer services on the National Day of Prayer.
So, once again, our delegation of pastors and ministry leaders formed a horseshoe under one of the flag poles on the Court’s celebrated and marbled plaza to conduct a prayer service for the Court and for our country. Below is the “liturgy” or written service we used. (That’s another part of our strategy: doing it in writing so that every word is documented.) Some of the prayers and statements are adapted from the historic Book of Common Prayer, others I wrote especially for this service.
I hope you’ll pray these prayers with me. As I pointed out yesterday at another National Day of Prayer event at the Capitol, prayers have no expiration dates–no “shelf-life.” Prayers go on into eternity–or until God sees fit to fully answer them in His own time.
Thanks for your support in all we do here as your missionaries to elected and appointed officials!
Daybreak Prayer on the National Day of Prayer
Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital
109 2nd St, NE, Washington, DC 20002 202-546-8329
www.faithandaction.org Faith & Action on Facebook
A reading from Daniel, Chapter 4, verses 34-35:
“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever,
for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”
Lord, we pray always that reason will return to our elected and appointed officials and they, too, will praise and honor You; in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Prayer of the Court
(Together) “God save the United States and this Honorable Court!”
#1 For our Nation
Almighty God, who has given us this great land for our heritage:
We humbly ask You that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Your favor and glad to do Your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.
Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kindreds and tongues.
Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Your law, we may show forth Your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in You to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
#2 For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to Your merciful care, that, being guided by Your Providence, we may dwell secure in Your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of the 50 States and of the territories, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do Your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve the American people in Your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
# 3 For the President by name
“Lord God Almighty, on this National Day of Prayer we bring before you Barack Obama, President of the United States. Grant to him a desire to know You fully, a humility to acknowledge Your rulership over his life, and an appreciation for Your great gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Enlighten the understanding of our President that he might receive Your wisdom, respect Your laws, and faithfully execute Your will through his public office and in his personal life. Grant our President wisdom, knowledge, insight, and understanding, for they are more profitable than silver and gold; cause him to always and in every way trust ultimately and absolutely in You. Convict our President of sin and of righteousness and turn his heart and mind to You in repentance and in humble obedience. Provide for and protect our President and his family as they look to you alone as their Defender. We commit President Barack Obama into your constant care and keeping, for we ask these things in the mighty name of Jesus; for just and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. Amen.”
#4 For the Congress
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is Truth: We ask You to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress as they assemble across the street, that they may enact such laws as shall please You. We ask that You would, in Your mercy, cause the people of the United States to elect to the Congress those who will hear and obey Your moral will for our American civilization; to the glory of Your Name and the welfare of this nation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
#5 For the Leaders of Congress by name
Holy God, we bring before Your throne the leaders of Congress:
Speaker of the House John Boehner
Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy
Minority Whip Steney Hoyer
We pray, also, dear Lord, for the leadership of the United States Senate:
President of the Senate Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
President Pro-tempore Patrick J. Leahy
Majority Leader Harry Reid
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin
Minority Whip John Cornyn
And, in a special way, we pray for the two leaders of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, charged with vetting nominees to this and other federal courts, Chairman Leahey and Ranking member Chuck Grassley.
# 7 The leadership of the Congress
We ask, O Lord, that You will inform the consciences of these leaders, imbue them with a desire to know and to obey Your will; Grant to them favor only as they do so. We ask these things in the Name of Christ, who always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. Amen.
#8 For Courts of Justice
Almighty God, who sits in the eternal throne judging right: We humbly ask You to guide the courts of justice and the magistrates in all this land; and give to them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth, and impartially administer the law in the fear of You alone; through him who shall come to be our Judge, Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
#9 For the leadership of the federal judiciary
O God, Who judges the earth and inherits the nations: We lay before You in particular all of the judges, justices, magistrates, special masters, and others that serve on the federal bench. We bring before You their clerks and administrators, marshals, and all those that assist in the conduct of the federal judiciary. We name specifically Judge Thomas F. Hogan, director of the Administrative Office and secretary to the Judicial Conference of the United States.
#10 Specific Prayer for the Justices of the Supreme Court
Lord, we bring before you now the nine justices of this court:
Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts, Jr.
Anthony M. Kennedy
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen G. Breyer
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.
#11 For the Direction of the Court
We ask, O Lord, that You would draw the Justices close to Yourself; guide them in the way of salvation, holiness, and righteousness. Cause them to do what is just under the Constitution of the United States and in conformity with Your ways that constitute the Highest Law of all. We ask in the Name of the One our Founders called the Supreme Judge of the World, Jesus Christ, Who reigns from Your right hand forever and ever. Amen.
#12 For Sound Government
O Lord our Governor, direct the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care. May the President and members of the Cabinet, governors of States, mayors of cities, and all in administrative authority, learn to fear and obey You. As they do, grant to them wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties. We ask these things through Christ the Lord. Amen.
Descend to the sidewalk
(Kneeling) The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
Forever and ever. Amen.
(Standing) The Pledge of Allegiance—stressing “under God.”
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
A lot of people ask me why we do the things we do in Washington. Why the annual events: National Memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers, Bible Reading Marathon, National Day of Prayer at the Supreme Court, and Live Christmas Nativity?
There are two simple answers that have to do with the “two sides” to our Faith and Action ministry: The public and the private.
The public side is exactly that: Special events and programs that are visible and accessible to–well–the public. Almost anyone can see them, experience them, respond to them–even participate in them. They’re meant to publicly telegraph a message, or, should I say THE MESSAGE. Our ministry is evangelistic. We are not lobbyists. That is, we don’t lobby or advocate for certain policies or laws. (On occasion we’ll support such efforts if we feel they’re good for what we call “the soul of the civilization,” but that is the rare exception to the rule.) We’re not lawyers. That is, we don’t sue people in court, or defend them. (Of course, on occasion we’ve been sued for ministry actions we’ve taken–and, we’ve joined in lawsuits if they involve our First Amendment and religious rights, but again, it’s very rare.) Our mission is to be evangelists–to announce the Good News that God has provided a way and issued an invitation to be reunited with Him through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and in His Resurrection.
The private side of our work is pastoral in nature and involves intensely personal ministry to individual souls and small groups. Because this type of work is built on a foundation of trusting relationships, we don’t say a lot about it. We certainly don’t publish or broadcast anything on it. To give this part of our work public exposure would betray the confidentiality and trust that makes it effective. I’ll explain more about this side to our ministry in another post, but for now, I’ll get back to the matter at hand: The annual US Capitol Bible Reading Marathon, April 28 – May 2.
The “Marathon” (as it’s affectionately nicknamed) is a four-day, 90-hour continuous and uninterrupted public reading of the Bible from the famous West Steps of the US Capitol. This is where the president swears the oath of office on Inauguration Day. It’s at the heart, or, seat of our federal government. The Capitol is where members of Congress stand on the floor of the their respective chambers (the US Senate chamber on the north end and the House of Representatives chamber on the south end) to debate proposed laws and to amend existing ones. It’s also where they meet for special committee conferences and other deliberative exercises, where they stage events such as awards ceremonies, speeches, even rare church services! The West Lawn of the Capitol, where the Bible Reading Marathon podium looks out to, is the site of countless demonstrations during the course of any year. It’s this side of the building, too, that is the iconic representation of the United States. The grand steps leading up to the various terraces and balconies, and all under the looming and luminously unmistakable columned and rotund dome capped by the statue of Freedom.
It’s this bedazzling architectural tableau that draws innumerable tourists and other site-seers from around the world.
It’s for these reasons that the Bible Reading Marathon is situated just in front of the central fountain at the base of the Capitol building’s West Facade. First, you can’t miss it; and second, it just can’t be ignored! But, back to the original question: Why a Bible Reading Marathon? Well, there’s two aspects to that answer, too. First, because I don’t believe anyone can improve on the message of the Bible. How can we improve on God’s Word as it is expressed in Holy Scripture? It’s far better than a sermon, a poem, or even the best Gospel song. And, in the Bible Reading Marathon, the whole redemption story is told, from beginning to end! This is the entirety of God’s written revelation to humankind. All the answers are found here. The second aspect to the answer is because reading the Bible in public at the US Capitol is a robust exercise of our God-given freedoms as protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution: Freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. These are our most basic and fundamental human rights, and the quintessence of those rights endowed to us by the Creator, as the Declaration of Independence so eloquently states. I often say rights are like muscles, if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them. It’s important to exercise our rights deliberately, dramatically, and frequently. Only then can we ensure they’ll remain strong!
So, I think we have some pretty good reasons to do a Bible Reading Marathon at the US Capitol this year, as has been done for the last 24 years. I hope you agree–maybe even enough to get personally involved! Why not come to Washington with your family, friends, or fellow church members to take a turn at reading the Bible from the podium on the famed West Terrace of the US Capitol? It’s very safe, very fun, and very satisfying! Check out our website for details: www.faithandaction.org . To sign up to read, visit www.dcbiblemarathon.org or write to email@example.com
I’ll post more on Marathon over the next few days, so keep checking in here at my blog. In the mean time, please herald the news everywhere you can: on all your social media, list serves, websites, in your church bulletin, via your e-mail lists–and even in in-person conversation! Spread the word and help Spread the Word!
Hope to see you sometime between April 28 and May 2!
If you’re like me, you want and need to do something in response to the evil and tragic events in Boston. And, if you’re like me, you know the best–and only–thing to do is pray. Here are some prayers I composed for this deeply distressing situation:
Today”s prayer for those recovering from injuries the attack on Boston:
“Heavenly Father, we pray today for those who are recovering from their wounds and injuries. Help them to know You today as Healer and Great Physician. Work through the loving care of their nurses, technicians, and therapists. Guide the minds and hands of the surgeons and other doctors that attend to the suffering. May all those that have been hurt feel Your loving care for them, and cause all of us who remain safe to be grateful for it. In the name of the One that came for the sick and to heal them in body and soul, Jesus Christ The Lord. Amen.”
Pray today for the pastors of Boston:
“Dear Lord, we pray for the pastors of Boston who are opening their hearts and their churches to the people of their city and especially to those deeply traumatized by the terror attack there. We thank you for the chaplains serving in hospitals, with the police departments, and in the military who will minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of victims, their families, and of the first responders so deeply affected by this pain. We ask that you be in a special way with the pastors who will bury the dead. Please encourage and strengthen your servants in Boston; let them be for the people they touch today the face, voice, heart, and hands of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, for we ask all these things in His holy and loving name. Amen.”
More prayers for Boston:
Let us pray: “Comforter, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace, be with all those harmed today in Boston and help them to heal. Be with those who lost their loved ones. Protect all who are at risk. Bring an end to this violence and mete out your justice to the perpetrators. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Let us pray today for law enforcement officials:
“God our Judge and Lawgiver, be with the law enforcement officials who are investigating the heinous attack in Boston. Grant them physical strength, wisdom, discernment, and clarity of thought. Help these brave men and women to act with precision so that the perpetrators of this evil may swiftly be held accountable for their crimes. Protect and provide for all those who bear the badge and who pursue justice at risk to their own safety; comfort and strengthen their loved ones during this ordeal. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, for just and true are your ways, King of the Nations. Amen.”
On the day last week that my wife and I both forgot our 36th wedding anniversary (April 9), something else happened that I also missed: A mentor of mine went home to heaven. His name was John, but the world of journalism knew him as McCandlish. He was 85. Thirty years ago, and over the course of only a few months, John’s counsel changed the course of my entire life and ministry.
John “McCandlish” Phillips was an extraordinary writer and journalist who
made a name for himself in what was an unlikely place for him, the newsroom of the New York Times. He was a passionate Pentecostal evangelical, a single man all of his life with a single devotion to serve the God he both loved and feared. Along the path he knew had been established for him from before he was conceived, he became a groundbreaking investigative reporter, authoring some of the most memorable Times stories ever published. He also had a hand in launching national name recognition for the all-time great American evangelist Billy Graham and The Cross and the Switchblade gang preacher David Wilkerson.
I was introduced to John by another of my mentors, the late Reverend Dr. Harald Bredeson, who had also made a name for himself in the journalistic world when he coined the phrase “Charismatic renewal” in an interview with famed 20th-century broadcaster Walter Cronkite. (Harald also helped guide Pat Robertson into his career as a Christian broadcaster.) Harald said to me one day, “There’s somebody I want you to meet who can help you use the media to your advantage.” Boy, was he ever right.
After a quick 3-way call with Harald and John Phillips, John and I agreed to meet on my next trip to Manhattan, where John lived most of his adult life. It was the late 1980s and I was making occasional trips to the The Big Apple to preach at churches I had worked with a few years earlier when I lived there and ran an urban ministry training program for college interns. It was on one of those preaching jaunts that John and I eventually rendezvoused.
Before I met John in person, I had researched his background and my due diligence paid off: After learning he was a not only a celebrated reporter and beloved writer, but also an elder in a “New Testament fellowship,” I knew he was the rarest of jewels and I should treat him as such. He would have none of it, though. As Union University journalism professor Julia Duin posted to John’s NYT obituary, “he was the humblest soul.” Though John had become something of a legend at the Times, and had been on an upward trajectory for all of his 21 years there, he had left it all behind to do full-time, and barely compensated evangelistic work. When I visited with him at his apartment across the street from Columbia University (one of his favorite mission fields), I was shocked at his Spartan–nearly monastic–living conditions. His personality and demeanor matched his modest lifestyle. He was as affable as a loveable uncle, and generous–enormously generous–with his advice. “If you learn how to use the media,” he instructed me, “you’ll never need to buy advertising.” John went on to give me his “Ten Commandments for Working with the Media.” Now, John would have never suggested that “his Ten” were anything comparable to “The Ten,” but his much lesser code was nonetheless hugely helpful to me. I put his ten to the test and discovered almost immediately that they worked just as he predicted they would. In the same spirit of generosity in which John shared the Ten with me, I share them with you. (Or at least the parts of them I managed to scratch down as they tumbled rapidly and effortlessly from his lips.)
1) Make reporters your friends not your enemies.
2) Everything is an excuse for news. Everything.
3) Reporters are lazy (he said lovingly). Do their work for them and they’ll repay you handsomely. Give them what they need and they’ll give you what you need: coverage.
4) Don’t worry about a bad story. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Those who are supposed to get the message will, even if it’s soiled by biased reporting.
5) A third-party story is always more credible. Let reporters do your PR work for you.
6) Always betray a healthy measure of self-doubt. Reporters don’t like subjects that are too self-assured, and worse yet, that are cocky. If you’re not already humble, they will make it their task to humble you.
7) Be able to tell your whole story in less than a minute. Just that skill alone generally warrants at least some serious attention.
8) Do bold things. Reporters like that and mostly find it irresistible.
9) Be honest with God, with yourself, and with reporters; they’ll all reward you for it.
10) Don’t ever be defensive with the media. Put yourself out there. Take the risk. God and others will come to your defense; you don’t need to do that for yourself.
Putting John’s “commandments” into practice has allowed me to effectively “use” the media as my “other pulpit.” I’ll always be indebted to John for the wisdom he so selflessly imparted to me.
Thank you, John, my good friend, esteemed mentor, and brother in Christ. God rest your soul. I’ll see you in that great newsroom in the sky!
PS: The Times obit on John is really worth a read:
Here’s more about the mark John made in Christian journalism:
This morning I was sitting in the prestigious Mansfield Room of the United States Capitol when I received a text message announcing that former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died of a stroke. I would later learn it was in that very same room that Mrs. Thatcher had first addressed U.S. lawmakers. Notwithstanding the importance of the meeting I was in at the time of the text, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the memories I have of the woman that came to be called ” The Iron Lady. ” They include sharing a special church service with her at Westminster Abbey in London.
What makes this relevant is the fact that Mrs. Thatcher was not just an extraordinary world leader, but she was also a woman of serious Christian faith. While you may not agree with her politics, it would be hard to say anything but that she was a deeply religious person. A colleague of mine, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, today released a statement on the Prime Minister’s robust public profession of faith. I saw this side of her for myself when I was in London for a visit with a friend.
It was 1983 and I was a guest of John Smythe, a barrister, or legal advocate, who was preparing to leave England with his family for Zimbabwe where he would serve as a missionary. While I was at the Smythe home, John was called into court and so was unable to attend a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in honor of the 17th and 18th Century British reformer William Wilberforce. John asked if I would take his place and represent him at the august gathering. I was delighted to oblige, but he didn’t tell me any details. The next day I took the train from Southampton to London, arriving early at the imposing Gothic Westminister that has been the site of royal coronations since 1066.
Finding John’s name card on a pew seat, I took my place. After the hall was filled, the dignitaries began arriving, including the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other “royals.” At some point, Prime Minister Thatcher was announced. I was already an admirer, and, frankly, I found her more interesting than even the Monarch. Throughout the 90-minute liturgy marking the 150th anniversary of Wilberforce’s death, I found myself constantly glancing over to watch Mrs. Thatcher. Her body language and facial expressions suggested she was quite sincere in her prayers, her contemplation of Wilberforce’s story, and even the telling of his conversion experience.
That image of Margaret Thatcher–just a few yards away from me in church–is indelibly impressed on my mind. She was among the few most powerful women in the world, yet she entered into prayer and worship like anyone else. I’ve been in church services with a number of potentates and it often feels awkward, contrived, even forced, but not with Mrs. Thatcher. It felt like she belonged there. My read was of a genuine Christian who admired the stalwart Christian testimony of Wilberforce and his commitment to the abolition of the slave trade, which he saw as his mission. I was honored to share a sanctuary with this woman that not only has a secure place in world history, but, I’m sure, just as secure a place in God’s heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
You’ve probably seen the sad news about the suicide death of the son of evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren, author of the blockbuster bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. 27-year old Matthew Warren apparently took his own life with a gun on Friday.
You may also know I’ve had my differences with Pastor Warren over his political opinions and activities. As one of America’s best known and watched evangelicals and mega-church pastors, Rick is a force in Washington. Politicians of every stripe want to know what he thinks of the big issues–and many want their picture with him. On more than one occasion, I’ve issued an opinion to those same politicians that is opposite to Rick’s. At times like these, though, all Christians are family, and we should act like it. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, we share a common humanity and the deepest form of brotherhood. In my capacity as the elected chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance International, I released this statement last night. I thought you might be interested in it.
Cheryl and I will be praying for the Warren family during this unspeakably difficult time. We hope you will be, too.
To be honest, it was a bit disconcerting: I was the first to the microphones in front of the largest pool of reporters I’ve ever faced. I had just stepped outside the Supreme Court building after arguments in the second day of cases on the question of same-sex marriage in America. Over a two-day period, I had listened attentively and taken careful notes–even paused to pray with my eyes and ears open–as lawyers for and against a constitutional right for homosexuals to marry presented their cases, seemingly without taking a breath–in front of the nine justices perched atop their imposing bench. All but one justice interrupted each of the attorneys numerous times, peppering them with questions–sometimes dry and academic–at others time acerbic and even denunciatory. In the nearly twenty years I’ve been monitoring the High Court, it was one of the most spirited courtroom exchanges I can remember.
Of course, I approached the whole exercise in strong support of marriage as defined by one man and one woman in a sacred and exclusive union before God and man–what I prefer to call these days, Holy Matrimony. Notwithstanding this deeply held conviction, I do understand the confusion in our culture over the element of love and bonds of affection, sometimes between persons of the same sex, and the longing to express those feelings in the form of marriage. While I seek, in a pastoral way, to appreciate those important feelings, I remain convinced Christian marriage is not an option for a man with a man or a woman with a woman. This is a pastoral challenge to me and to all my ordained colleagues, but that’s a different topic. Let me return to the matter at hand.
It was clear from the start of these two historic marriage cases that the proponents of same-sex marriage vastly outnumbered proponents of opposite-sex marriage, both inside and outside the courtroom. It was also easy to identify where each of the nine justices stand on the question: Clearly Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan are squarely for making some constitutional path for recognition of same-sex marriage. Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito clearly are not. While I expected Chief Justices Roberts to be ambiguous in his disposition toward the matter, he wasn’t during questioning. He seemed very skeptical of the claims made in both cases that limiting marriage to male with female violates the Constitution. That leaves Justice Kennedy, who at times sent firm signals of being pro-same-sex marriage rights, and at other times projected mildly skeptical ones, but, still, on the whole, appeared to be sympathetic to the argument that prohibiting gay marriage does violate equal protection. So, based on what I saw and heard, and considering other intelligence data I gathered from very good sources, here’s my prediction:
A slim majority will affirm that states retain the right to define for themselves what constitutes marriage, but only for now. In other words, the Court will reserve the right to step in again in the future–and at any time–if social progress on this issue lags too much. This will likely be a very narrow and limited allowance and one that is uncertain at best. In other words, they will punt on the question of the states, encouraging the continuance of “social evolution” through the democratic process, but not forever.
On the other hand, a slim majority will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an unconstitutional meddling of the federal government in the matter of legal marriage, thereby granting federal recognition to same-sex marriage and indirectly encouraging it along. In other words, by a slim majority, the High Court will likely assist in the acceptance an institutionalization of same-sex marriage in American public life–and they’ll do so as early as this spring.
Now, where does that leave Christians–and other religious believers–who hold strictly to marriage as defined only by one man and one woman in a sacred bond before God and man? Well, in the same place we’ve always been: as a minority in society. Because Christians (of every tradition) had gained the social and political ascendency in the US over as much as the last 200 years, we became spoiled. We started thinking of ourselves as the final arbiters of social mores, practices, and principles, but we have never really been that in world history. Even in the biblical record, believers have always been a minority. Jesus made this quite clear when He said,“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Becausenarrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Minorities must behave very differently than majorities, and we must re-learn what that means. We must also fully engage a new reality and prayerfully meet all of its challenges, as the church has always done. The new reality includes same-sex couples, married and otherwise, who are parents to children, who are growing up in a world that includes their same-sex parents and those of others. That’s the new cultural landscape in America. For those in Christian ministry, we must reach out to same-sex couples and to their children, just as we do everyone else. We must also find a new language through which to convey timeless truths. In all cases, we must do it with Christ-like love and Christian compassion.
The people of God have always been challenged in the world, and we must prayerfully rise to this challenge, not withdraw from it. I must admit, it’s a bit daunting. I felt that yesterday when I stood alone in front of scores of reporters at the Supreme Court. All the other proponents of traditional marriage had flown the coop and left me by myself to defend our position. At first, I resented it, but then I thanked God for it. It was a good rehearsal for what’s coming in the days ahead.
I’m old enough to remember days when Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims lived lovingly and peacefully with one another, when Christians in the West Bank had nothing to fear–and, in fact, laughed with their Muslim neighbors in cafes and invited them to their children’s christening parties. One special memory from those times is worshiping in an integrated evangelical fellowship where praise choruses were sung in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and German! Sadly, those days are gone.
Of course, war has been ever-present in the Middle East, but following the Peace Accords of the 1970s, there was period of calm that allowed the peoples of the region to feel safe and secure. While the core of Israel remains safe because of extraordinary intelligence and defense systems, life on the fringes is perilous. The same is true for the Palestinians, especially Christians, who have been caught in the crossfire. Of course, with terror tyrants like Hamas dominating certain areas, the future for Christians is bleak.
Still, I’m not one to say Israel is all right in this conflict, nor that the Palestinians are all wrong. I’ve been to Israel enough times and know enough Israeli leaders to tell you not every one has good intentions. The same, of course, is true on the other side. But there are good-intentioned Palestinians. In fact, virtually every one of them I have met over the years wants to live in peace with Israel, most have close Jewish friends, and even more favor an economy driven by Israel because they know it means their families and communities will be more prosperous.
This is the backdrop against which I will try to evaluate the President’s recent visit to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
At first, I viewed the whole exercise skeptically, and even cynically. I saw it as nothing more than window dressing. Here in the U.S., there’s no question Jewish-American support for the Democratic Party has been waning, in part, because of the Obama Administration’s Mideast policies. They need to shore that up for 2014. Was the President’s visit to Israel part of a political strategy? No doubt. Nothing on this scale would be undertaken without a full engagement of the political and election strategists and without incorporation of election-politics into the planning. But that’s what politicians do, so I don’t hold it against them.
What about the foreign policy part? What exactly is the President’s policy in the Middle East? Well, I’m no expert, but I am talking with a lot of them. It’s why for the first time in a long time, I’ll be leading a fact-finding mission to Israel this November. (You can join me–and I hope you will. For information go to http://rs.heritagestudyprograms.com) In the mean time, I’m asking this question of White House officials, people close to the President, and experienced analysts. It’s obvious the President doesn’t favor Zionism–the zeal for building a strong and expanding Jewish state. It’s more that he wants the Israelis to be able to hold on to what they won in their initial war for independence in 1947, but to give back any territory they’ve gained since then. Now, I haven’t read every word the President or his surrogates have spoken or published on this, and I could be wrong, but that’s the general impression I have from what I have processed. That, of course, is absolutely untenable for the Israelis. They need larger borders, if for no other reason, to allow greater response time to incursions by their enemies.
But I digress. Let me get back to the matter at hand, which is the President’s first visit to Israel:
There were many beautiful words spoken on both the American and Israeli sides. What was said on the Palestinian side was not quite as congenial. Still, this was a goodwill tour and the President appears to have mostly accomplished that much, but I predict the results will be short-lived. Sadly, conflict will soon bubble over. This will be due to two things: The continuation of settlement by Israelis and the continued terrorist missile launches by Palestinians. As Shakespeare said, here lies the rub:
The President appears to have done nothing to resolve any part of this crises. Now, I must make room for secret, behind-the-scenes deals that no one may know of, but so far, I don’t see any indication of that.
Part of the reason I think the President has been so ineffective here is because first, he doesn’t really know which side he wants to champion. In this type of conflict, you can’t straddle the fence. That sort of posture is seen as weakness and is simply not respected in that part of the world. The second reason is that Mr. Obama and the people that surround him just don’t get the religious dimensions of this situation. Alright, maybe I should say they don’t really get it. They have the academic information, but that’s not enough. Any party that presumes to enter the equation here must feel the immense historical, spiritual, and existential components. There is at least 3500 years of transcendence involved in the present situation. It will not be resolved like just another geopolitical conflict.
As my friend and colleague at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy points out in a recent op-ed, Mr. Obama did accomplish some things on this trip, and some of those were quite important. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shai-franklin/obama-israel-trip_b_2920175.html) But, with all due respect, Shai may be a bit too generous. I have reason to believe Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu isn’t feeling quite as convivial toward Mr. Obama as he appeared to in public, and Israeli President Shimon Peres, who gushed on Mr. Obama in very moving ways, holds only a symbolic post. (If not, at his age, a mostly “honorary” one. At 90, he will quickly pass from the scene.)
And may I add: I know my people. Jews have always outsmarted and “out-niced” their opponents in very effective ways. It’s one of the ways the Jews have survived. I admire this skill very highly and have employed it widely here in Washington. I actually believe it was the Israelis that got the most out of this trip. It is not in their interest to be at loggerheads with the U.S. They need us in many ways. Netanyahu, et al, did what they needed to do to smooth the rough edges and keep the good will (and other stuff) coming, as best as they can get it. That was very smart. They did what they needed to do.
On Mr. Obama’s side, he didn’t do nearly enough to assuage the concerns of Zionists in the U.S., an anxious Jewish population, or–and this may be most important–the people who elected him and had expectations of a radically different policy in the Middle East. His administration has a lot of damage control to do and a lot of reassurances to be given when it comes to the jaded young activists and American Muslims who saw this trip as pandering to the old Zionist power brokers.
So, I’ll wrap it up where I began: The smiles, hugs, warm words, and mutual toasts are better than scowls, smirks, and turned faces, but they don’t even approach a solution. Then, again, I’m not sure why we think we can really be part of finding a solution. Meddling in it just may be adding more to the problem than to a resolution. In the end, I think it’s best that the President, his administration, the Congress, and the American people stick to the biblical prescription:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! ‘May they be secure who love you!’”
Beginning and end. Amen.