Prayers of Thanksgiving After Hobby Lobby!

This was the news release we sent out immediately after the decision was announced from the bench. I was in the courtroom as a VIP guest and could hardly contain my joy. Outside I did something I’ve never done: I burst into singing!
More details at www.faithandaction.org
Prayer Service to Be Held at Supreme Court After Hobby Lobby Decision
Contact: Faith and Action, 202-546-8329; Peggy Nienaber, Faith and Action, 202-236-0953 on site cell
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — In response to the Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, the Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck (pronounced SHANK) of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital and minister to top officials in Washington, and other clergy will lead a prayer service of thanksgiving in front of the United States Supreme Court today, June 30 at 10:30 AM – 11:00 AM.
 
Event Details:
What:  Prayer service at Supreme Court in response to Hobby Lobby decision
When: Monday, June 30, 2014, 10:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Where: In front of west steps of the United States Supreme Court, 1 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20543

Contact on site: Peggy Nienaber, 202-236-0953

Rev. Schenck has known the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, for over a decade. On the day their case was argued at before the justices, Rev. Schenck led the Greens and the Hahn family, (owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties) for an unprecedented prayer service in the Supreme Court dining room just before they all entered the courtroom. Rev. Schenck sat through the oral argument and later held a prayer service outside the Court for the families and for the justices.
“It is a good day in America,” said Rev. Schenck, after listening to the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and examining a printed copy from the Court clerk’s office. “The highest court in our land has carried out its duty as the guardian of our most cherished, God-given, unalienable rights. The Court has rightly affirmed the liberty of two wonderful families to conduct their own businesses in a way that reflects their most deeply held convictions. God bless the majority of this court for doing right by the Greens and the Hahns, and for doing right by our country in affirming the religious freedoms of all American business owners. We must thank God for a good day in America and pray for His continued protection into the future.”

Why The Supreme Court Will Go With Hobby Lobby

Today the Supreme Court will announce its decision in the case known as “Hobby Lobby.” Without rehearsing again all of the details, I’ll simply say that at the heart of it is the question of whether corporations have religious rights, specifically as they are protected by a federal law called “RFRA” (Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

I believe corporations do have religious rights and ought to be governed by them. In the case of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, the corporation really boils down to one family, the Greens of Oklahoma City. There’s another family in this, too, the Hahns of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who, like the Greens, chose to incorporate their cabinet making business. The Court should have an easier time with these two entities because they’re not multinational operations with hundreds or thousands of stockholders. They’re made up of just two families that own each business, respectively, and entirely.

With each day I grow more confident the Court will rule in the favor of these two families, but I’m hoping it goes further. Christian investors typically want their business interests to reflect their most deeply held convictions, and the First Amendment protects them in doing just that.When someone starts a business it’s an extension of themselves–it’s a part of their being. For virtually all entrepreneurs, they and their businesses are one in the same. That’s equally true for conscientious investors of every stripe. There are even “socially responsible mutual funds” that assure clients their money will be used in ways that are consistent with their values. The Court should affirm all this in its ruling.

The Bible makes no distinction between someone’s private, personal life, and their business activities. Numerous passages address the moral and spiritual obligations that attend to business, such as Proverbs 11:1, “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” The Ten Commandments apply equally to businesses and individuals. In his book, Why Business Matters to God, author Jeff Van Duzer writes, “[F]or Christians interested in advancing God’s agenda of peace, justice and reconciliation, a focus on business and its role in society is critical.”

After sitting through the oral arguments in this case March, it was clear to me that several of the justices understand this important principle of Christian business ownership. Others do not get it. I’m convinced, though, enough of them are skeptical of the government’s claim that the new health insurance regime requires forcing businesses to comply with the contraception mandate that they will strike it down in these two instances. But, if the right justice authors the opinion, we might get something a little closer to the biblical mandate on business ethics. That’s the focus of my prayer today. In any case, after 20 years observing court decisions, even if today isn’t so good for the First Commandment, I think it will be a good day for the First Amendment.

Rob +

 

What Will Obama Do With This Democrat’s Prayer?

The House and Senate have passed a law directing that the famous D-Day prayer offered over radio by President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt be inscribed on the World War II monument here in Washington, DC.

Here’s the prayer:

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

President Roosevelt delivers his radio address and prayer on June 6, 1944

President Roosevelt delivers his radio address and prayer on June 6, 1944

As you can see, this prayer is no “quickie.’ This is a well thought out, well constructed, theologically deep orison. I suspect even the eloquent FDR had some help with it. If you know the older Episcopalianism of which Roosevelt was part, you may detect the ring of a bishop. Presidents rarely have time to craft their own words, especially presidents at war. Perhaps a call to the Washington Cathedral yielded a ready writer. In any case, Roosevelt did offer the prayer, in its entirety, and read it quite sincerely. It was a wonderful gift of faith and hope at the end of an exhausting, terrible, and very costly war.

I’m hopeful the current president (at war) will quickly sign the legislation and order up the engravers. There is a certain urgency about this. World War II veterans–the very ones the Commander-in-Chief prayed for in 1944–are passing away rapidly. They should be given the pleasure of seeing that beautiful presidential prayer for them incused on that breathtaking granite tribute to their many sacrifices.

The FDR prayer would also accomplish something else meaningful: It would telegraph a message that prayer is neither partisan (Democrats pray, too), nor alien. It has been part of the American experience and culture since before we were a Republic, and it has served us well in every way, particularly during times of crisis. Should the current president not sign this act, it will say something very different; something I’m sure he does not intend to say.

I add my “Amen” to the to the posting of the FDR D-Day prayer!

Rob +

P.S. You can listen to the prayer here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLnEmdXaFYE

 

On Right and Wrong, Numbers Don’t Matter

 

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It really grates on me. I cringe every time I hear a pundit or politician say, “An overwhelming number of Americans want this.” Equally irritating is, “The numbers are with us on this. It’s a no-brainer.” Maybe it’s because I spend my time on issues that are not numbers related. When it comes to questions of right and wrong, good verses evil, morality and ethics statistics are utterly irrelevant. This is even more true when it comes to the will and command of God. We don’t say something is right, or something is good, because a majority of the people think it is.

There are a lot of criteria for determining the right and the good, but they do not include, “Lots of people want this.” Jesus said, “For the gate is wide that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13b-14)

Often only a very few will represent the right and the good. In this country, the abolitionists were very small in number—until it became socially trendy to oppose slavery. The same was true of the patriots that advocated for separation from Great Britain. (In fact, as I read history, they remained a minority of the colonial population. Throughout the War for Independence, the vast majority either favored loyalty to the crown, or, at best, was apathetic.) Follow the patterns up to the present day: The temperance movement against alcohol and domestic abuse, campaigns against child labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights, pro-life causes—and now—religious freedom. All these have nothing to do with majorities of anything.

We can take for granted that majority numbers should certainly not concern ministers of the Gospel, but there are others for whom statistical advantage should be irrelevant. Among others, how about duly elected officials in a representative Republic? One of the biggest mistakes people make about our country, the United States of America, is to call it a democracy. It is not. Our nation is a republic—very different from a democracy. Democratic rule means majority rule. Majority rule can equate to mob rule. In a republic, we elect representatives that we the charge to use their best judgment to do what is right and good for the country—not simply do what we want. Just because the biggest numbers can get their way doesn’t mean they should get their way. And even if they manage to get their way, it doesn’t mean their way becomes is right way.

The rule on right and good and majority / minority applies everywhere, including at the United States Supreme Court. Observers like to say the federal courts are “non-political.” They are anything but non-political. If they aren’t the direct product of the political process, they most certainly have their own internal political dynamics. The majority / minority rule applies just as well to them as any other entity. Just because the majority says it’s right, doesn’t make it right—or good.

You may want to keep all this in mind as we await the big decisions of the Supreme Court this week and next. The two we’re most concerned about, McCullen v. Coakley and Hobby Lobby-Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, are about the right of free speech and religious liberty, respectively; two issues that are never decided by majorities of anything.

Watch for more as I explore this question of right and wrong, good and evil, yeas and nays.

Rob +

Even the high and mighty need help from friends . . .

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I grew up with the Beatles. That era wasn’t the best of times, but the Fab Four sure made it sound like it was. I still like the song that John and Paul wrote for Ringo, “With a little help from my friends.” Another British rocker–named Joe Cocker–took that tune way up the charts. What I liked so much about the lyrics is the simplicity of the message. After all, everybody needs help and everybody needs a friend. Even Jesus had friends. He told the disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends . . .” (John 15:15)

One particularly profound moment in the life of Jesus was when he approached the tomb of his friend, Lazurus, who had died in Bethany while Jesus was in Jerusalem. By the time Jesus reached the village, the man who was the brother of Mary and Martha had been dead four days. This is when we get the shortest but one of the most meaningful verses in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Based on Jesus’ complete life of holiness (Hebrews 4:15), everything He did was sacred. Jesus’ deep feeling at the loss of his friend was sacred. Jesus’ need for his friend was sacred. His healing of Lazurus, and His consequent raising of His friend from the dead were sacred.

Lazurus needed Jesus, but Jesus also needed Lazurus. Friendship, brotherly and sisterly love, the need for one another, are holy and powerful. These are the reasons why, here in Washington, my team and I practice what we call “the ministry of friendship.” Ironically, people that serve in high public office are often lonely and isolated. Washington is a difficult place to have friends. It’s highly competitive, combative, even cut-throat. People are often out to get others before others get them. It’s a tough place to trust anyone. So, my team and I spend a lot of time prayerfully building trusting relationships. Often, someone needs a Christian friend in order to discover that Christ is their friend. For my team, this friendship is an end in itself, but God often uses it for something even greater.

Last week we had a bunch of people in town that have invested themselves deeply in friendships on Capitol Hill, including in the Congress and at the Supreme Court. Over the twenty years I’ve been here, I’ve seen over and over again just how important this ministry of friendship is, especially in strengthening the resolve of those that hold to the principles and convictions that will truly benefit our country. We’ve seen the abundant fruit of this Christian bonding and will see more of it in the immediate days ahead.

Please pray for our friendly missionaries and for the friends they have made in this town. We’ll all soon feel the effects of their important work!

Rob +

It’s all about location, location, location . . .

Looking out the front door of our ministry center last week, a visitor who grew up in Washington, DC, and knows a lot about this town said, “Wow. You’re really right here where it all happens!”

The visitor was actually looking at the Supreme Court which sits almost diametrically opposite of our building. Just beyond it, by one block, is the United States Capitol. To the right, by two blocks, are the three U.S. Senate office buildings, and just a short walk to the left are the three office buildings of the House of Representatives. Ten minutes to the northeast is the White House, and the Pentagon is just a 15-minute ride over the Potomac. The avenues and streets in between all these points are lined with the headquarters for most of the various departments of government.

Our visitor was right. We are “where everything happens.” I’m grateful to God for that. So much of the ministry we do in Washington is based on proximity. Just like a church needs to be near the community it seeks to reach with the Gospel, we need to be near those we seek to reach with the truth of God’s Word. Most top-level officials in our federal government are within an easy walk of our front door–not to mention the hundreds of thousands of employees that assist these officials.

I’m especially reminded of the importance of our location when June rolls around. The Supreme Court is in session October to June. As an unofficial rule, cases heard by the justices are generally decided and published in the term in which they were argued. (Although, technically, a case may be held over to the next term, ordered to be re-argued, or simply ignored.) Generally speaking, June is the last month in this term for decisions to be released. The later it gets in June, the greater the tension over impending opinions. And that means my team must be ready to respond at literally a moment’s notice. (I think I’ve posted before on how there is no advance warning of any Supreme Court decision.)

My team and I respond to Supreme Court cases because it’s our obligation to “speak the truth.” (Ephesians 4:25) You’ll often see me in front of the Court, with a bank of microphones in my face, addressing the media. That’s not as easy as it seems. People on the opposite side of every issue try to crowd out our voices. To be heard we need to be first in position. To be first in position we need to be right “where everything happens.”

Maintaining a center of ministry activity immediately across the street from the highest court in the land, just a stone’s throw from the center of federal government at the US Capitol, and in the corridor traveled often by the President of the United States is not easy or cheap. It is, in fact, costly in every way. That’s why we need you and your generosity.

This week I will host several extraordinary friends to this ministry for a very unusual visit to the U.S. Capitol and to the Supreme Court. They will see and hear things no tourist to Washington will ever be exposed to, and they will meet some of the main players in Washington. We do this as a way to demonstrate to our top supporters that their efforts are bearing great fruit for the work of God in the nation’s capital city.

It’s always frustrating to me that we can only bring a very limited number of people to these events. I’d love to include every person that has ever prayed for us or has ever given a dime to help us, but the powers that be just won’t permit it. Please know, though, that you and every friend of Faith and Action counts equally in the plan and purpose of God for this Gospel outreach to our top government officials. As our group gathers today and tomorrow, we will take time to thank God for you as a member of our extended missionary team. Please pray for us as we represent you as your missionaries here in Washington. I’ll be sure to send you a complete report.

Always thankful for you in Christ,

Rob+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Memorial Day is a Holy Day?

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Here’s a sermon I preached on Memorial Day Weekend 2012 at Cornerstone Chapel, Leesburg VA. You can listen or watch at: http://cornerstonechapel.net/?page_id=21

Sacred Remembrance: Joshua 4: 1 – 7 (ESV)

Joshua 4 (ESV): Twelve Memorial Stones from the Jordan:

1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2  “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Remembering is a holy thing and a necessary thing. Remembering good things brings joy, which is a fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22), and thankfulness, which, according to Ps 100:4, is worship. Remembering bad things may make us sad; leave us crying; maybe even groaning in agony, as Jesus did over his friend Lazarus. (Read about it in Jn 11.) Today, we will find remembering is an attribute of God; our capacity to remember is an aspect to the image of God in man; and remembering is healthy for our minds, our souls, and our spirits.

A lot of remembering is spontaneous; it just happens. But that’s not the kind of memory we engage today, or tomorrow. Today, we examine the deliberate act of remembering, specifically, in the form of a national, very public observance.

The biblical sense of “memorial”has its root in the Hebrew word, זָכַר: “bring to remembrance,” “be mindful,” “make mention,” “take thought.”

Not a spontaneous, unintentional “flash back,” but a deliberate, willful exercise.

The memorial that Joshua was to establish on the other side of the Jordon took work; took some planning; certainly took willful execution; and at least a little skill.

This was not to be an accident, but a conscious exercise. And that’s why it dovetails with what we do as a nation each year on the last Monday in May:

History:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed–and the president signed into law– “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

Remembering is a sacred act. Throughout Scripture God’s people are commanded to “remember,” beginning with the Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day.” At the time of the Passover (Ex 13:3), “Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. The Psalmist (Ps 105:5) admonishes us to, “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered.” The writer of Hebrews (13) tells us, (v3) “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body,” and,  (v7) “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” And, in Revelation 2:5, The Lord commands the church at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

So what can we do in keeping with this Memorial Day; this solemn act of remembrance?

WE CAN BEGIN WITH WHAT THE DAY IS ALL ABOUT: OUR FIRST MEMORIAL STONE IS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN; WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN SERVICE TO OTHERS.

This part of Memorial Day has special and deeply personal meaning for me, because I’m named for a brave American who gave his life in service to his country, an uncle I never knew, Captain Robert L. Schenck, USAF, who died over the skies of Korea in 1952, after almost miraculously surviving a record number of bombing missions over the European Theater.

Jesus said there is no greater way to demonstrate the essence of the Second Great Commandment, “to love our neighbors,” then to, “lay down ones life for his friends.”

Men and women in uniform, those who swear the oath, who voluntarily place their lives on the line, who literally and figuratively interpose themselves between us and those who threaten us, and those who offer the ultimate sacrifice of their earthly lives, exquisitely demonstrate the meaning of love for friend and neighbor.

Our country has a long history of this kind of sacrifice:

In the last line of the Declaration of Independence, the delegates affirmed with their signatures, and, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [to} mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

This set the stage for an enduring “social compact,” a deeply held conviction in our society that we’re all in this together; that we’re “all for one and one for all.” We’re not just in it for ourselves. And that’s tough for highly individualist Americans. We can be real loners; the sort of pioneer spirit which is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness.

And it’s the church that should remember and exhibit that kind of selfless commitment more than anything else: Paul told the Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

But there is more to our remembering than even this: OUR SECOND memorial stone is THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD:

Our culture has a long-standing and shared consensus that a fundamental morality—a base-line ethics—is to inform, and animate, and orchestrate our national life—AND THAT THIS FOUNDATION IS NOT OF OUR OWN MAKING.

Deuteronomy 8:18 “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he that gives you the power to make wealth.”

Our founders, and every generation since, has derived this fundamental moral and ethical code from two sources:

Our acknowledgement of God as Creator and Supreme Judge of the World. In other words: We are not the final arbiters of right and wrong. There is a higher moral authority than ourselves. We are not the ultimate—and nothing of our own design is the ultimate. We—and all that we produce—are only part of the penultimate.

We must give an answer to a Higher Power—and there is no higher Power than the God who is revealed to us in Holy Scripture, manifested and exemplified in Jesus Christ--Immanuel--God-WIth-US--and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit.

Not all of our founders understood all the dimensions to this important truth. Some only got parts of it.

Among the signers was the full spectrum of belief and unbelief; from skeptics to passionate churchmen, but they all agreed on this: That the fundamental principles of Old and New Testament faith were the only sure foundation for an American civilization. No American historian explains this better--or in greater detail--than my good friend, Dr. Jim Hutson, Director of Manuscripts at the Library of Congress. Jim is a Christian brother, a consummate historian and scholar. I highly recommend him and his work to you. You can find out more at loc.gov or on Amazon.com.

Our founders believed that religion was a necessary governor of human behavior and that without it society would eventually degenerate into chaos.

This was the idea behind limited government: That the government can’t—in fact, is incapable of--reaching into the lives of every American citizen—neither did our founding generation want it to.  Even the most skeptical, Enlightenment intellectuals believed that a conscience informed by Christian convictions was far better than a body constrained my force.

Finally, WE NEED TO PLACE A MEMORIAL STONE FOR THE STORY OF GOD AND HIS DEALING WITH THE NATIONS:

Back to our text: V6: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

The prophetic role is so much more than predictive: that is, announcing future events; and it’s so much more than denunciatory-declarations of doom and judgment.

The prophetic office is also the graceful announcement of God’s redemptive love; his abundant forgiveness; his desire to have us as his own, heal us from our self-inflicted wounds; and save us from our tormenting sins:

The prophetic role is not so much embodied in individuals—as was largely true in the past (but not entirely: Israel was a prophetic people)—but it’s the church  (God’s people) that possesses a prophetic call. This is the “prophetic vision” of prov 29:18 “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” For meaning of this, look at context: “[B]ut blessed is he who keeps the law.” (moral law: divine ethics: God’s rule for right and wrong) The repository for that “vision” is to be “the people”—so it’s all of us, collectively.

It’s out of this collective vision that God’s people become the hidden conscience of human civilization.

In summary: so much for us to remember today:

-The selfless sacrifice as the quintesence of godly love; and because “God is love,” (1 John 4:7-8) it is a witness to the very nature of God himself. The covenent bond that holds us together as a human family, as a nation, as community: an knowledgement of God and His moral will for humankind and for human society; and a dependence on the only One who can supply all of our need and especially the most important ones.

Finally, the story of God and the nations: the word of the prophets, finalized in Christ; and the ongoing prophetic witness of the church now and througout the ages:

These are our memorial stones; this is our Memorial Day; this is our sacred Remembrance.

 

Why We Do What We Do So Publicly

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Every now and then I’m asked, “Why do you do it so publicly?”

The questioner is always referring to something they’ve seen me or or a member of our ministry team do covered in the media. Almost always whatever that thing was–prayer, preaching, commenting on an event or on an issue–happened in a very public space. A collection of media photos we keep in our Faith and Action office may indicate we are the most documented doers of things Christian in front of the United States Supreme Court.

There is a reason we do these things so publicly. First, because it’s good for everyone. After all, the Gospel is–well–the Gospel. “Gospel” comes from the Middle English, Godspel, meaning “Good News.” It’s important to point out that this term Gospel does not simply refer to the Gospels themselves, that is the four canonical books authored by the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel also refers to the entirety of God’s salvific plan for humankind as revealed through all of Holy Scripture. So, everything we know from the Bible is also Gospel, as in “Gospel Truth.” So, heralding the Gospel is, indeed, Good News for everyone. Jesus even admonishes us to shout this Good News from the housetops. (Matthew 10:27) Housetops are pretty public places.

Sounding forth the Good News is also good for those that do it. There’s something very healthy for our spirits in sharing this soul-saving message of truth. In the process of spiritually building up others we are ourselves built up spiritually. Sounding forth the Gospel reaffirms what we have come to know about it ourselves–that it is the way of hope and salvation (Colossians 1:23). Keeping the Good News only to ourselves is consummately selfish and is condemned by Christ Himself (Matthew 23:13-14) The old saying is true, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another where to find bread.” Sharing the truth about God, His saving grace, and the only hope of heaven is an act of generosity to our fellow human beings; and a generous person will be blessed (Proverbs 22:9).

Finally, we do public ministry because it’s good for everyone’s human rights. The free exercise of religion, as it is called in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is the manifestation of the most fundamental of all human rights. Faith is the locus of our deepest and most personal convictions; it is linked inseparably to the conscience, to personal philosophy of life, to the most intimate thoughts and beliefs. If we are intimidated or mandated into not sharing these deep, personal, and intimate thoughts and beliefs, than we cannot be truly free. Most countries, even the most repressive, afford the private right to religious belief. In these countries people may privately “believe” whatever they want, so long as they keep it to themselves. In some of these countries, believers may meet together behind closed doors, but cannot meet openly or publicly. Few Americans would consider any of this true “religious freedom.” Declaring the Gospel openly, praying publicly, airing our religious opinions in the public square, strengthens this fundamental human right for everyone–believer and non-believer alike.

So, now you know why we do what we do so openly. May God preserve our right to do so.

Rob +

 

 

“Hey, (Governor) Palin, You Don’t Want to Go There.”

Cheryl and me with the Palins at their home in Alaska

Cheryl and me with the Palins at their home in Alaska

My title plays on what Sarah Palin said in Indianapolis at the recent NRA convention about U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his proposition that gun owners wear bracelets to identify themselves. (But without inserting his proper title, as I have hers.) Now, I’ve always referred to the former governor of Alaska as exactly that, “the Governor,” out of respect for the office she held and the title she rightfully keeps for life. I would never refer to her publicly or privately by saying, “Hey Palin, you don’t want to go there, girly.” It would be demeaning, disrespectful, and ungentlemanly. So, instead of saying that about the Governor’s remarks on Baptism during her speech at the recent NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, I will say with all due deference, “Governor, your remarks were highly problematic and I take great exception to them.”

Before I outline my controversy with the Governor, let me place them in context. First, I admire Governor Palin. I was on the stage with her in Dayton, Ohio the day she was announced as GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008. Instead of immediately approaching her, I went to the Senator to congratulate him on picking her, telling him, “Picking Governor Palin is the best decision you’ve made in this campaign, Sir.” I meant it and still believe it. When my wife, Cheryl and I visited the Palins in their home in Alaska, we observed her as the consummate mother, a gracious host, and a very smart and fun person to be around. She and Todd doted on their young son with Down Syndrome and made us feel like family. On that day I came not only to admire her, but to like her as a person. More than all this, Sarah Palin is my sister in Christ, which makes her closer to me than blood kin. We share in the same inheritance of faith–and that’s why I have a serious controversy with her over her remarks at the NRA convention.

Before I detail that, though, let me say one more thing: I was at the NRA meeting because I am a new member of the NRA. And, because I was a Ring of Fire Co-Chair at the event, I was offered a complimentary Life Membership. I was delighted to accept and can’t wait to receive my credentials. Regrettably, I had left early to return to Washington, so I did not hear her in person, but I did watch the entirety of the speech on video.

Now you know I’m not writing this as a contrarian, a dupe of the liberal left, or a defector from the camp. I write this as a concerned citizen, brother in Christ, and minister of the Gospel, mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1. The Great Apostle instructs us that if we encounter a fellow Christian who is “overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” So, in meekness, and in the knowledge that I have made and will make the same kind of error Governor Palin made, I offer her these humble words of correction: On the doctrine of baptism, “Governor Palin, you don’t want to go there, Sister.”

If you don’t know what I am referring to, the Governor said in her talk about the treatment of enemy detainees, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

The Governor’s dark humor–if that’s what it was–is a serious fault indeed. It is theologically heretical, utterly sacrilegious, and supremely irresponsible. It contradicts the Gospel, it demeans Holy Baptism, and it possibly places the lives of Christians around the world at risk. I’ll explain . . .

First, baptism is a sign of the Gospel of mercy and grace, not punishment and coercion. “Waterboarding,” as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” is designed to extract confessions and information under frightful duress from prisoners of war. The tactic is meant to cause suffering and panic. In contrast, the Gospel comes from the Middle English, “Godspel,” a translation of the New Testament Greek word, “euangelion,” or, “Good News.” St. Paul says about this Good News,  “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) Baptism is our identification with this Good News, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Baptism is associated with the Good News; waterboarding is associated with the worst sort of bad news. Baptism is a sign of merciful forgiveness; waterboarding is a sign of punishing condemnation.

Secondly, baptism is in the sole purview of the church, administered by the people of God, principally pastors, or shepherds of souls, within the community of faith made of voluntary membership. Waterboarding is an instrument of the secular state, administered by marshals or agents of that secular state, whose job is to punish, not forgive, and to compel–not invite–offenders to surrender their confession. So, waterboarding is in every way the opposite of baptism, not the equivalent to it. To suggest that an agent of the secular state can use a form of baptism to frighten an enemy to surrender is to commit an historic error perpetrated by Christians. St. Paul instructed the Corinthian believers, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

Lastly, to equate waterboarding to baptism is to place Christian lives at risk. It plays right into the hands of the very jihadist murderers that the Governor rightfully decried in her remarks. Jihadis propagandize their target populations, deceptively purporting that Christians are out to forcefully convert Muslims,  compel them to become Christian Americans, and subjugate them to western imperialism. For Governor Palin to have made her reckless remarks against the backdrop of a gun convention that, among other things, asserts the rights of Americans to arm themselves against government, makes the message all that more confusing. I will not be surprised if her speech is used in jihadi videos to not only recruit more terrorists, but to declare “holy war” against Christians, especially in places where they are vulnerable minorities.

Governor Palin, my dear Sister in Christ, I admonish you in the name of the Lord to retract your comments about waterboarding and baptism and clarify what you were doing and trying to say.  In the future, when it comes to sacred concepts such as Holy Baptism, I remind you again of what you said about the Attorney General’s wrongly conceived idea, “Don’t go there.”

Respectfully submitted,

Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min, president and lead missionary, Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital.

(For identification purposes only, Rev. Schenck, who holds degrees in Bible, theology, and Christian ministry, is chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of independent evangelical ministers, missionaries, and military chaplains.)

 

 

Today is National Day of Prayer

The Reverend Jacob Duché offers the first "official" prayer in Congress, September 7, 1774, at Philadelphia.

The Reverend Jacob Duché offers the first “official” prayer in Congress, September 7, 1774, at Philadelphia.

Today, Thursday, May 1, is by federal statute, the National Day of Prayer. This observance has a long and storied history that predates the formal birth of our republic. Regardless of what one thinks about the actual practice of civic prayer, its long presence in American public life says something about its importance. The prominence of National Days of Prayer has waxed and waned through the years, depending on the exigencies of the day, but it remains an important observance on every level of government. Events associated with the National Day of Prayer include those held United States Capitol complex, in state houses, county courthouses, and in village greens across the country.

Our Faith and Action ministry team will host a group of pastors for three important events today, including the only National Day of Prayer observance at the United States Supreme Court. Because I’m marooned up north by the bad weather (all flights to Washington cancelled due to the big storms up and down the east coast), my identical twin brother, Rev. Paul Schenck, will lead our prayer service atop the High Court’s plaza. Until recent years, it had been illegal to as much as bow one’s head in silent prayer anywhere on the Court’s property, but after a very civil and cordial exchange with court officials, that ban was lifted. Ever since, we have conducted this annual prayer time, reminding the members of the Judicial Branch of the One whom our Founders referred to in the Declaration of Independence as, “The Supreme Judge of the World.”

The earliest national document related to a day of prayer was issued by the Continental Congress in 1775, calling for, “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” to be observed by the “English Colonies,” to, among other purposes, “bless our rightful sovereign, King George the Third…” (Well, sometimes you can’t even get prayer exactly right!)

George Washington called for National days of prayer and thanksgiving, and Presidents Adams and Madison, and, most famously Lincoln, recommended days of fasting, prayer, and humiliation. Most famously–or infamously–Thomas Jefferson refused to issue proclamations on prayer. Personal notes scrawled between the lines of his still controversial 1802 letter to the Danbury Association of Baptists (from which the Supreme Court poached the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”) reveal his motivations for opting out of national days of prayer. In his own hand, the third chief executive wrote, “I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect, confining myself therefore to the duties of my station, which are merely temporal. . . ” Jefferson thought it was not the business of secular political leaders to direct the spiritual affairs of the American people. Something that ought to give all of us pause.

Jefferson’s break with tradition didn’t last, however.  Many of his his successors took up the practice of issuing proclamations on prayer. Records indicate that presidents have issued 142 total calls to national prayer since 1789.

The matter of whether or not presidents called for national days of prayer was settled permanently in 1952 when Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President Harry Truman, that requires presidents to recommend national prayer days each year. Since then, every president has signed at least one National Day of Prayer proclamation. Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama signed multiple proclamations on prayer in the same year.

In 1988, Congress took an additional step and set the first Thursday of each May for observance of the National Day of Prayer. President Ronald Reagan signed the new law into effect and became one of its most avid proponents.

There are different feelings about government actors urging citizens to undertake sacred exercises. Some believe it is necessary, foundational to a good society, salutary, and in keeping with our American heritage and identity. Others believe it is an illegitimate imposition of religious belief on the citizenry; that it leads to bias on the part of government and marginalization of those who don’t conform to religious norms. Several major lawsuits have been fought over the National Day of Prayer. The most recent was initiated by the so-called Freedom from Religion Foundation. In 2010 a federal district court found in the group’s favor, striking down presidential proclamations on prayer as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, but a federal appeals panel overturned that decision on grounds that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit. The question is likely to return to the courts. Still, courts, Congress, and presidents consistently uphold the constitutionality of this practice.

For now, the United States leads North American nations in its regular call to its citizenry to seek the help of Heaven for challenges that face us, for the many needs among the American people, for the comfort of those suffering loss, especially from calamities, and for our brave men and women in uniform that defend our freedoms every day.

The very first prayer offered in Congress expresses the deep and abiding sentiment of our American civilization. By today’s standards, it’s very long, but it warrants a read by every American citizen. I hope you’ll take time to examine it below and prayerfully contemplate its implications.

Remember our Faith and Action team, too, as they participate in three major National Day of Prayer functions today. God bless you and all yours on this important day, and may God continue to bless the United States of America as we turn our hearts to Him.

Rob +

The First Prayer Offered in Congress, September 7, 1774:

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.

Amen.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.