1380) Inauguration Day Wisdom

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible, 1861

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Today Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States.  He has chosen to use for the oath the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used in his first inauguration 156 years ago.  The nation was then, as it is now, very divided.  In his first inaugural address, Lincoln spoke to a nation on the verge of civil war, pleading for peace and reconciliation.  Four years later, near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln called on the nation to work for healing and and a ‘just and lasting peace.’  Today’s meditation includes the closing paragraph of each of Lincoln’s inaugural speeches.  These words should be taken to heart by everyone, politicians and citizens, on both sides of our great political and cultural divide.

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March 4, 1861:

We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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March 4, 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Ephesians 4:31  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Luke 6:27b-28  —  (Jesus said), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Matthew 5:9  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

James 3:16-18  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Galatians 5:22-23a  —   The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I Timothy 2:1-4  —  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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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 this State, 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 this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

 –Book of Common Prayer

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace:  Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

–Book of Common Prayer

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1358) Religion is the Only Basis of Society

By William E. Channing (1780-1842); grandson of William Ellery (1727-1827), a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

I found this reading in another one of the McGuffey Readers (see yesterday’s meditation).  This one is from the 1879 edition of McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader.  The ‘fourth’ does not mean fourth grade, but fourth level.  There were Readers for six levels, so this fourth reader was probably written for ages 14-16, but the age group for the upper levels varied widely.    

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     Religion is a social concern for it operates powerfully on society, contributing, in various ways, to its stability and prosperity.  Religion is not merely a private affair.  The community is deeply interested in its diffusion, for it is the best support of the virtues and principles, on which the social order rests.  Pure and undefiled religion is to do good, and so it follows very plainly, that if God be the Author and Friend of society, then the recognition of Him must enforce all social duty, and enlightened piety must give its whole strength to public order.

     Few people suspect the extent of the support given by religion to every virtue.  Few are aware of how much our moral and social sentiments are fed from this fountain; how powerless conscience would become without the belief of a God; and how crippled would be human benevolence were there not the sense of a higher benevolence to quicken and sustain it.  Few comprehend how suddenly the whole social fabric would quake, and with what a fearful crash it would sink into hopeless ruin, if the ideas of a supreme Being, of accountability, and of a future life, to be utterly erased from every mind.

     Let people thoroughly believe that they are the work and sport of chance; that no superior intelligence concerns itself with human affairs; that the weak have no guardian and the injured no avenger; that there is no recompense for sacrifices to uprightness and the public good; that an oath is unheard in heaven; that secret crimes have no witness but the perpetrator; that human existence has no purpose and human virtue no unfailing friend; that this brief life is everything to us, and death is total, everlasting extinction;– once let everyone thoroughly abandon religion, and who can conceive or describe the extent of the desolation which would follow.

     We hope, perhaps, that human laws and natural sympathy would hold society together.  As reasonably might we believe, that were the sun quenched in the heavens, our torches would illuminate, and our fires quicken and fertilize the creation.  What is there in human nature to awaken respect and tenderness, if man is the unprotected insect of a day?  And what more are we if atheism be true?

     Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.  Appetite, knowing no restraint, and suffering, having no solace or hope, would trample in scorn on the restraints of human laws.  Virtue, duty, principle, would be mocked and spurned as unmeaning sounds.  A sordid self-interest would supplant every other feeling ; and man would become in fact, what the theory of atheism declares him to be– a mere animal and thus, a companion for brutes.

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Image result for god and nation images

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Psalm 33:12a  —  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

Isaiah 33:6  —  (The Lord) will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Titus 3:1-2  —  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,  to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

I Timothy 2:1-4  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Galatians 5:13  —  My friends, you were chosen to be free.  So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want.  Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.

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A PRAYER FOR THE NATION from The Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:  Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1218) Election 2016 and the Judgment of God

By John Stonestreet at http://www.breakpoint.org, August 9, 2016.

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     So, have you heard this one?  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat.  Who survives?  America does!  

     What a bizarre election year this has been.

     Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president.  The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.

     Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:  “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society.  Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”  Talk about prophetic!

     Folks, I might as well just say it:  I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.

     Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly.  (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina).  And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book God’s Judgments, it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.

     And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country.  Why?  As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”

     The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior.  This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture.  In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve.  Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.

    Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter:  “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people… to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”

     Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not– perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations.  Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.

     First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them.  Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.

     Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones.  The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.

     Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church.  Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do.  The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.

     And finally, but most important, we pray for God’s mercy.  He judges the wicked by leaving them to their own devices.  The sooner we abandon those devices and turn back to God, the better.   And, I am not speaking here only about “them,” those outside the Church.  No way.  As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “it’s time for judgment to begin in the house of God.”  

     May God have mercy, but if He brings judgment, so be it.

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“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, (and) that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

–Thomas Jefferson, 1781

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“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

–Abraham Lincoln, 1865, Second Inaugural Address, quoting Psalm 19:9

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Psalm 81:10-12  —  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt…  But my people would not listen to me…  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”

Job 8:3-4  —  Does God pervert justice?  Does the Almighty pervert what is right?  When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.

Romans 1:28-32  —  Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

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Look mercifully, O Lord, we beseech Thee, on the affliction of Thy people; and let not our sins destroy us, but let Thine almighty mercy save us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Altar Service Book, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House

507) Wisdom from George Washington (1732-1799)

No man has a more perfect reliance on the all-wise and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have, nor thinks his aid more necessary…  The man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf.

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It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.

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I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

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The propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.  

–Inaugural address 1789

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We have, as you very justly observe, abundant reason to thank Providence for its many favorable interpositions in our behalf.  It has at times been my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.  

–Letter to William Gordon, March, 1781

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Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

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Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

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Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.

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Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

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The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.

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To persevere in one’s duty and be silent is the best answer to calumny (slander).

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Ezekiel 12:1-2  —  The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people.  They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”

2 Chronicles 7:14  —  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

1 Timothy 2:1-3  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior…

Psalm 33:12a  —  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…

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O Lord, 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 this state, 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 this people in the fear of God.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

449) George Washington on Religion; Private and Public

 

George Washington (1732-1799)

PRIVATE:  A prayer at age 20:

    O Most Glorious God, in Jesus Christ, my merciful and loving Father; I acknowledge and confess my guilt in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day.   I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of my sins, but so coldly and carelessly that my prayers become my sin, and they stand in need of pardon.
    I have sinned against heaven and before Thee in thought, word, and deed…   I have likewise sinned by omitting what I ought to have done and committing what I ought not.  I have rebelled against the light, despising Thy mercies and judgment, and broken my vows and promises.   I have neglected the better things.   My iniquities are multiplied and my sins are very great.   I confess them, O Lord, with shame and sorrow…  I humbly beseech Thee to be merciful to me in the free pardon of my sins for the sake of Thy dear Son and only Savior Jesus Christ who came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.   Thou gavest Thy Son to die for me.
–From a 24 page authentic handwritten manuscript book dated April 21-23, 1752; quoted in George Washington, the Christian, by William J. Johnson (New York: Abingdon Press, 1919), pp. 24-35.
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PUBLIC– From Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796:
    …Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.  The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.  A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.  Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?  And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
    ‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.  The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of Free Government.  Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?…
    Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations.  Cultivate peace and harmony with all;– Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it?  It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous… example of a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.  Who can doubt that in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it?  Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue?  The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human Nature…
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Psalm 33:12a  —  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…  
 
Proverbs 29:18  —  Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. 
 
I Timothy 2:1-2  —  I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 
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    O Lord, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.  To the President and members of his cabinet, to governors of states, mayors of cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.  Give them courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations to the community of nations.  To the judges and officers of our courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.  And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trust-worthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.   AMEN. 

Book of Common Prayer

 

270) The Negro National Hymn

     

     James Weldon Johnson was born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida.  Though he is best known for his writing, he was gifted with many talents.  He was a poet, novelist, songwriter, anthologist, and newspaper publisher.  He was also an educator (high school principal at age 23, and for many years a college professor), an attorney (the first African-American admitted to the Florida bar since the end of Reconstruction), a diplomat (appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as U.S. counsel to Venezuela, and later to Nicaragua), politician (lobbying unsuccessfully for a law to outlaw lynching), early civil rights activist (Field Secretary for the NAACP), and one of the prime movers of the Harlem Renaissance.  His writings include the novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), and his best-known work, God’s Trombones (1927), a group of dialect sermons in verse.  This book was influenced by his impressions of the rural South, drawn from a trip he took to Georgia while a freshman in college.  It was this trip that ignited his interest in the African-American folk tradition.

     Johnson moved to New York in 1901 to write lyrics for songs written by his brother Rosamond (1873-1954).  The two collaborated on over 200 songs for the Broadway stage.  The brothers also worked together on the pioneering anthologies Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and American Negro Spirituals (1925, 1926).  Their most famous original song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written in 1900 for a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday at Stanton High School in Jacksonville, Florida where Johnson was principal.  Johnson said that after the brothers published the song, they let it “pass out of [their] minds.”  But the song was remembered by students, many of whom became teachers and taught it to their students throughout the South.  It became so well-known and loved that twenty years later it was adopted by the NAACP as the “Negro National Hymn.”  It’s popularity has continued to grow, and it is now found in many hymnals (Lutheran Book of Worship #562).  Johnson died in 1938.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

The music is as powerful as the words.  For a video of this powerful hymn go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya7Bn7kPkLo

 

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II Chronicles 7:14  —  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

1 Timothy 2:1-2  —  I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Psalm 33:10-12  —  The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.  But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.

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Almighty God, bless our nation that it may be a blessing to the world:  Grant us ideals and aspirations which are in line with your will; grant us sound government and just laws; grant us good education; grant us justice in our relations with each other; grant us a spirit of service for others and devotion to you; preserve us from all national wrongs and sins, and keep ever before us the faith and the trust of our nation’s founders.  O God, make this a land of Christian homes where you are ever loved and served and glorified.  We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  AMEN.  –adapted from the United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917