562) God’s Wrath on the Wrongdoer

        “I don’t get mad, I get even,” is what we used to say on the playground, trying to sound tough as we plotted our revenge.  The Bible, however, has a different approach to the matter.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you,” it says.

     But then it also says something else.  Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

     What’s this?  God will seek the revenge?  We should ‘leave room for God’s wrath’ and let God repay the evil?  Isn’t God supposed to be all-loving and forgiving?  What’s all this talk about wrath and revenge?

     First of all, the Bible is indeed clear– if someone does me harm, I should not try to get even.  Instead, I am to return good for evil and leave the paybacks, if there are to be any, to God.  In that same section it says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody…  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good…  and if your enemy is hungry, feed him…”

     These are nice ideals, but it is fair to ask, does any of this work in the real world?  Or do we just pay lip service to these kinds of nice thoughts on Sunday morning, knowing full well that it will have little application to our life on Monday morning?  Will thieves stop robbing us if we don’t stop them?  Will murderers cease killing just because we treat them nicely?  Will ISIS stop beheading people if we ask them politely?  Won’t evil run amok if we leave it unrestrained and unpunished? 

     The answer is, of course it will.  Sinners con’t stop sinning out of the goodness of their hearts, because for one thing, our hearts aren’t good.  So how can we who live in the real world follow Paul’s advice to never avenge ourselves, advice which seems so other-worldly and impractical?  If we don’t stop evil, who will?

     The answer to that question is in the Bible verse I began with.  Who will stop evil?  God will.  God will stop the evil.  And how does God do that?  Well, there are a few ways he does that, but this meditation will be about how God deals with evil through his designated representatives.  God’s designated representatives in the world to fight evil are described in Romans chapter 13, where Paul writes:  “Be subject to the governing authorities, because they are God’s servants, established by Him, to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.”  There’s that word wrath again, and Paul is telling us here is that one of the ways God brings his wrath upon the wrongdoer is through the governing authorities.  In other words, the government has something to do with stopping evil, by God’s own design.

     But as soon as one starts talking about government things get complicated, so I’ll illustrate this with a less complex setting– the family.  

     Let’s say little brother hits big sister.  Now big sister has at least three options.

     Option #1 is she can just ignore it.  If she does that, she runs the risk of little brother hitting her again– and again– and again.  That’s how these things work.  If the violence is allowed to work to bad guy’s benefit and go on without consequences, the aggressor will become bolder and even more wicked.  In time, little brother may really hurt big sister.  Obviously, that is not a good outcome.  Option one, to just ignore the injury, is not a good idea; not for big sister who is getting hit, and also not for little brother who, if unrestrained, will just get worse, and may turn out to be a thoroughly bad person.

     What else can big sister do?  Option #2 is that she can hit little brother back.  This is, of course, what the Bible says not to do.  ‘Do NOT avenge yourselves,’ it says.  But let’s say big sister doesn’t want to go by the Bible, and, since she is bigger, she is able to pound the daylights out of little brother, and perhaps even injure him.  This is not a good outcome either, and, goes to show why it’s not a good idea to leave vengeance in the hands of the wronged party.

     So what else could big sister do?  You already know what option #3 is because that’s what usually happens.  Big sister goes to Mommy and complains that little brother has hit her.

     Now Mommy probably doesn’t want to have to deal with this, but she must.  She would rather that her kids play without hitting, but when the hitting starts, she knows she has to get involved.  So what follows is a little trial.  Mommy asks the accused if he hit big sister.  Little brother insists that he did no such thing.  In a courtroom, this would be called, “pleading not guilty.”  In the family, its called ‘telling a big fat lie’ (at least in this case).  Mommy has already examined the forensic evidence, and she has seen the red mark of a chubby little hand on big sister’s cheek.  So, Mommy pronounces the sentence:  “Go to your room,” she says, or perhaps, “Sit in the corner,” or perhaps, worst of all in the mind of little brother, she might say, “Give your sister a big hug and apologize.”  Justice is done and the evil is stopped, at least for the time being.

     This is not Mommy’s favorite part of being a parent, but she knows she has to do it.  It is part of her job.  Mommy is, to use Paul’s words, “a servant of God, there to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Parents are the ‘governing authorities’ in their families, which is why the fourth commandment does not tell us to love our parents, but to HONOR them.  Honor includes love, but it is more than love.  It also means, as it says in the catechism, that we are to respect parents, obey them, and serve them.

     This little domestic situation is really a miniature of what government is supposed to do, according to the Bible.  If we as individuals are not to avenge evil, then who will stop it?  God will stop it through his designated representatives– parents in the family, and, in the larger society the governing authorities, who are servants of God to ‘execute wrath on the wrongdoer.’

     If some stranger on the street mugs you, you don’t run to Mommy.  You call the police, because they are the arm of government authorities appointed by God to deal with that kind of problem.  Police, judges, juries, soldiers, and armies– these are all servants of the government to restrain evil.  That is why, says Paul, we are to be subject to the governing authorities.  We don’t have to like them.  But we do have to respect, honor, and obey them.  Their job is to protect us from each other, and from outside threats.  It is not their job to forgive the wrongdoer, and we do not expect them to be non-judgmental.  Their job is to judge and punish the wrongdoer.

     Governments do many things.  Sometimes they do horrible things, like commit mass murder against their own citizens.  Those authorities who do that will have to answer to God.  Other times governments do very good things, like build roads and maintain schools.  And sometimes governments do downright silly things.  But God has authorized the governing authorities to do one thing above all else– to execute his wrath on wrongdoers so that evil may be restrained, and the citizens of that government be protected.

     It also must be said that the authority of a government is limited by God.  If the governing authorities tell us to do that which is contrary to the Word of God, then we must not obey.  In Acts chapter four Peter and John were told by the authorities to stop telling others about Jesus.  The disciples refused to obey them, saying, “We must obey God and not men.”

     As citizens under the authority of government we are called to vigilance and to virtue.  Virtue is more than just abiding by the law because we are afraid of what might happen to us if we don’t.  Virtue is doing the right thing freely and without coercion.  It is what the Lord wants from us, and the Founding Fathers of this nation said many times that liberty cannot survive without a godly and moral people.

     These are just a few words on just one aspect of what the Bible says about the governing authorities; and it doesn’t even begin to answer the question of why God doesn’t stop all the evil– except to say that He someday will.  In the meantime, the good news is that Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to us to lead us and to guide us into all truth and obedience.  Jesus, who was, you remember, crucified by the governing authorities, now lives and reigns in heaven.  All authority on heaven and on earth is now His, says the Bible.  And when Jesus comes again in glory, the kingdoms of this world will come to an end and our home will be in the kingdom of God, and Christ shall reign forever and ever.

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Romans 12:17-19  —  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 13;1a…4  —   Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…    For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

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Oh God, Almighty Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, grant that the hearts and minds of all who go out as leaders before us, the statesmen, the judges, the men of learning and the men of wealth, may be so filled with the love of thy laws and of that which is righteous and life-giving, that they may be worthy stewards of thy good and perfect gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Knights prayer, 14th century

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561) Will There Be Coffee in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn has written several books on heaven.  The following piece is adapted from his blog at  http://www.epm.org

     “Will there be coffee in Heaven?”  Someone may say, “I sure hope so.”  But it’s a statement that few would attempt to defend biblically.

     But consider the facts.  God made coffee.  Coffee grows on earth, which God made for mankind, put under our management, and filled with resources for our use.  When God evaluated his creation, he deemed coffee trees, along with all else, to be “very good.”  Many people throughout history have enjoyed coffee.

     God tells us that he “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).  Does “everything” include coffee?  Paul also says, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).  Again, does “everything” include coffee?

     Given these biblical perspectives—and realizing that caffeine addiction or anything else that’s unhealthy simply won’t exist in Heaven—can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking would not be in Heaven?

     Will heaven have fewer resources for human enjoyment than Eden did or than this fallen world offers?

     In Heaven, we will “drink . . . from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6).  God will prepare for us “a banquet of aged wine . . . the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25:6).  Not only will we drink water and wine, we’ll eat from fruit trees (Revelation 22:2), and there’s every reason to believe we’ll drink juice made from the twelve fruits from the tree of life.  So, along with drinking water, wine, and fruit juice, is there any reason to suppose we wouldn’t drink coffee or tea?  Can you imagine having a cup of coffee with Jesus in Heaven?  If you can’t, why not?

     If for health reasons you shouldn’t drink coffee now, then don’t.  But aside from personal preference, the only compelling reason for not having coffee in Heaven would be if coffee were sinful or harmful.  But it won’t be.  If drinking coffee would be unspiritual in Heaven, then it must be unspiritual now.   And unless someone’s a caffeine addict, under bondage to coffee and not to Christ, or if a person’s health is at stake, there’s simply no biblical basis for believing drinking coffee is sinful.  Those who shouldn’t consume caffeine now will be freed from addiction in Heaven.  Adverse health effects simply won’t exist.

     Those who for reasons of allergies, weight problems, or addictions can’t regularly consume peanuts, chocolate, coffee, and wine—and countless other foods and drinks—may look forward to enjoying them in Heaven.  To be free from sin, death, and bondage in Heaven will mean that we’ll enjoy more pleasures, not fewer.

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Genesis 1:31a  —  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

1 Timothy 6:17  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

1 Timothy 4:4  —  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

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A PRAYER BEFORE YOUR MORNING COFFEE:

Dear Lord, so far today I am doing all right.

I have not lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent.  I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate.  I have not charged anything to my credit card.

I will be getting out of bed in a minute, and I think that I will really need your help then.  

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560) Reduced Expectations

Stephen Hawking as a brilliant and healthy young man.

In 1963, when he was twenty-one, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS and given just two years to live.  It might be that Hawking’s illness helped him become the noted scientist he is today.  Before the illness, Hawking had been a lazy student.  He still did well because he was so intelligent, but because of the lack of time he spent on his studies he almost failed to get into Cambridge.   “I was bored with life before my illness,” he said.  “There had not seemed to be anything worth doing.”  With the sudden realization that he might not even live long enough to earn his Ph.D., Hawking poured himself into his work and research.

Hawking in 2011.  He is now seventy-two.

Stephen Hawking survived, finished his Ph. D., and went on to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663.  He retired in 2009 after 30 years in that position.  He is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

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Stephen Hawking is not a Christian, but his illness taught him somethings about gratitude and expectations that are very consistent with a Biblical approach to life.  He said, “My expectations were reduce to zero when I was 21.  Everything since then has been a bonus.”  Christians believe that all of life is a gift of God.  Each day and everything we have is a free and undeserved bonus.

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     When you expect nothing, a tree is gorgeous, and just looking at it is a privilege.  When you can’t even move your hands anymore, even tasting food becomes fantastic.  The sunset, or a butterfly, or anything that God made becomes wonderful.

      One of the reasons many people are depressed is that life so often disappoints us.  We are somehow led to expect 80 years of uninterrupted bliss, and if we receive anything less we feel cheated and that life is unfair.  Our level of expectations for life is so high that nothing in reality can ever measure up to it.

     Instead, we should, like Stephen Hawking, expect nothing; and then say, “Lord, whatever you will give me I will receive with joy and thanksgiving.”

     Instead, we expect a big house, no physical problems, that our children are going to get along without any difficulties, and so on.  We have allowed our level of expectations to color everything we have and do.  The Bible commands gratitude as the antidote to unrealistic expectations.

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James 1:16-17a  —  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

Philippians 4:11b-13  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 2:6-7  —  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

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Grant, Lord God, that in the middle of all the discouragements, difficulties and dangers, distress and darkness of this mortal life, I may depend on your mercy, and on this build my hopes, as on a sure foundation.  Let your infinite mercy in Christ Jesus deliver me from despair, both now and at the hour of death.  Amen.
–Thomas Wilson  (1663-1755)

559) An Agnostic Scientist Discovers the Creator

     

     Robert Jastow (1925-2008) was an American astronomer and physicist.  He was a leading NASA scientist, popular author, and futurist.  He said that although he was an agnostic and not a believer, he believed the accepted scientific theory of the big bang origin of the universe supported the Biblical view of a creation by something beyond nature as we know it.  He knew that was an unpopular view in the scientific community, but he had the courage to proclaim that inevitable conclusion to which the evidence pointed.  Below are some quotes by Robert Jastrow.

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“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth.  And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover.  That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.

–“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths,” An interview in Christianity Today, August 6, 1982

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“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world.  The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same:  the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

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“There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions [of scientists to evidence that the universe had a sudden beginning].  They come from the heart whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain.  Why?  I think part of the answer is that scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money.  There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe.  Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause, there is no First Cause…  This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover.  When that happens, the scientist has lost control.  If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized.”

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“Consider the enormity of the problem.  Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment.  It asks:  What cause produced this effect?  Who or what put the matter or energy into the universe?  And science cannot answer these questions, because, according to the astronomers, in the first moments of its existence the Universe was compressed to an extraordinary degree, and consumed by the heat of a fire beyond human imagination.  The shock of that instant must have destroyed every particle of evidence that could have yielded a clue to the cause of the great explosion.”

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“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation.  For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

–Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, (1981), p. 19.

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 8:1…3-4  —  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

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I thank you, my Creator and Lord, that you have given me these joys in your creation, this ecstasy over the deeds of your hands.  I have made known the glory of your deeds to people as far as my finite spirit was able to understand your infinity.  If I have said anything unworthy of you, or have aspired after my own glory, graciously forgive me.  

–Johannes Kepler  (1571-1630), German mathematician and astronomer; a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution; best known for his laws of planetary motion

Johannes Kepler 1610.jpg

558) God Shouting

     Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.  ‘We have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.  We then find God to be an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.”  Or as a friend of mine said, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.”  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

The Problem of Pain, by C. S.Lewis

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Pain insists upon being attended to:

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Job 1:21  —  (Job) said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither:  the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Hosea 6:1  —  Come, let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

Job 5:17-18  —  Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.

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 O Lord, let me not desire health or life except to spend them for you.  You alone know what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to you.  Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy  confidence, I may receive with gratitude and praise all that comes to me from you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

–Blaise Pascal  (1623-1662)

557) Running Toward the Plague

 

Another Ebola Death in Liberia

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Christians and Ebola, by Eric Metaxas, October 15, 2014 blog at:  

http://www.breakpoint.org

     Between 250 and 270 A.D. a terrible plague, believed to be measles or smallpox, devastated the Roman Empire.  At the height of what came to be known as the Plague of Cyprian, after the bishop St. Cyprian who chronicled what was happening, 5,000 people died every day in Rome alone.

     The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius.  Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague.  That claim was, however, undermined by two inconvenient facts:  Christians died from the plague like everybody else and, unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their pagan neighbors.

     This wasn’t new.  Christians had done the same thing during the Antonine Plague a century earlier.  As Rodney Stark wrote in The Rise of Christianity, Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.

     Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, notes that an “epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity.”  By their actions in the face of possible death, Christians showed their neighbors that “Christianity is worth dying for.”

     This witness came to mind after listening to a recent story on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.  Host Robert Siegel interviewed Stephen Rowden, who volunteered for Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia, Liberia.

     Rowden’s grim task was to manage the teams that collected the bodies of Ebola victims.  Rowden and his team retrieved 10-to-25 bodies a day.  Since close contact with the victims is the chief means by which the usually-deadly virus is spread, Rowden and his team members lived with the risk of becoming victims themselves.

     What’s more, living in the midst of this death and suffering took its toll.  Rowden recalled entering a house and finding the body of a four-year-old victim who had been abandoned by her family.  With the typical English understatement, he told Siegel,  “I found that a very sad case.”

     Rowden’s experience prompted Siegel to ask him if he was a religious man, to which Rowden replied, “I am.   I’m a practicing Christian.”  When Siegel then asked whether what he saw tested his faith, Rowden said that “No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family.”

     Nearly eighteen centuries after the Plague of Cyprian, Christianity still prompts people to run towards the plague when virtually everyone else is running away.

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Matthew 25:34-36  —  (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

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Lord, we entrust to you the people affected by Ebola– the families, communities, cities, and villages.

We pray especially for the health care workers, that you guide and protect them.

We pray that your Spirit inspire those researching and seeking for the drugs, medicines, and healthcare systems that respond to the suffering of the people. 

And in the midst of this, keep us strong in faith, hope, and love.   Amen.   –Charitas organization

556) Good Choices (part two)

MOORE AND MOORE

     (continued…)  In the year 2000, 22-year old Wes Moore achieved the pinnacle of academic success.  He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, the most prestigious post-graduate scholarship in the world.  He was given two full years, all tuition and living expenses paid, to study anything of his choosing at the oldest and most famous university in the world, England’s Oxford University.  This is an incredible honor and opportunity, and in every field of endeavor, in any place in the world, the doors swing wide open to a Rhodes scholar.

     On the very same day that Wes Moore was reading an article about his Rhodes scholarship in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, he also read an article about another young African-American man, this one also named Wes Moore.  This other Wes Moore was facing charges of first degree murder for the killing of a police officer.  The two young men were unrelated, and had never even heard of each other.  But both had roots in Baltimore, and they had similar stories of growing up in poverty without a father.  One graduated from college, had a Rhodes scholarship, and a world of opportunity ahead of him.  The other would spend the rest of his life in prison.  Out of curiosity, the successful Wes Moore contacted the ‘other’ Wes Moore in prison, got to know him and his story, and then wrote a book about their two lives, a book that powerfully demonstrates the importance of good choices every step of the way.

     Both boys grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, living in terrible neighborhoods.  There, the big money was in stealing and drug dealing, and where any attempt to do what is right– even making a positive effort at school– would result in being despised by all the other kids in the neighborhood.  Both boys were at first unable to resist temptation, and both ended up in hand-cuffs in the back seat of police cars.  Both received second chances, and that was where their stories began to differ.

     Both had absent fathers and caring mothers.  But the one mother showed her care by denying and then excusing her son’s drug addiction, making it easier for him to continue making his wrong choices.  It was when he was robbing a jewelry store for money to sustain his drug habit, that he killed the police officer, who was the father of five children.  This troubled Wes Moore now serves a life sentence with no chance for parole.

     The other mother showed her care by firm and persistent discipline, and by sending her son to a private school she could not afford.  She did all she could to encourage better choices, and when he continued to be a problem, she threatened to send him to a private military high school.  He thought she was bluffing, but she wasn’t, and off he went.  His grandparents mortgaged their home to pay the tuition.  He ran away five times in the first four days, but finally, the discipline wore him down, he made some friends, and decided to stay.  Four years later he graduated first in his class of 750, and was on his way to success.

     The successful Wes Moore writes in his book, “One of us is free, and has experienced things that he never even thought to dream about as a kid, but the other will spend every day until his death behind bars…  The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.  The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”  And while pointing out the right choices he made along the way, he acknowledges the role of the others in his life, along with the hand of God.

     The successful Wes Moore had a hard-working and successful father, but that father died when Wes was only three years old, and his mother was then forced to move into that poorer part of town.  But the mother had spoken often of that good man, and even in death, the father was an inspiration to the young boy.  The father of the troubled Wes was not dead, but had never been around much.  The boy rarely saw him, and his main memory of his father was seeing his father laying in a drunken stupor on a relative’s couch.  After waking him, the father looked into little Wes’s eyes and said, “Who are you?,” before passing out again.  That father’s example did little to inspire good choices.

     Without a father, the boys sought out other role models after which to pattern their decisions and choices.  The troubled Wes looked up to his older brother, a drug dealer who always had plenty of cash.  The successful Wes, after getting tired of trying to run away from the military school, found a friend and role model in an older student, the respected leader of the best drill unit in the school.  He decided that was a far better kind of respect than what he had seen of the tough guys back in the his neighborhood, and he chose to try and gain that other kind of achievement and respect.

     To what does the scholar Wes Moore attribute his ability to make the better choices?  He gives all the credit to the place of God in his life.  In response to an interviewer’s question about his faith he said, “My grandfather was a minister and so faith played a huge role in my life.  The experience has taught me that had it not been for divine intervention, the other Wes could have had my story and I could have his.  My faith is very important to me.  I recognize my blessings and because of my experiences, my faith has taken on a greater role in my life.”

Read more:   

http://theotherwesmoore.com/

Watch:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/udQWOfALwj4

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Deuteronomy 30:15  —  (Moses said), “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a  —  (Moses said), “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…”

Proverbs 3:5,6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

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Lord, you know what I desire, but I desire it only if it is your will that I should have it.

If it is not your will, good Lord, do not be displeased, for my will is to do your will.  Amen.

–Lady Julian of Norwich

555) Good Choices (part one)

     

   THE GOOD SAMARITAN’S CHOICE

(Verse 34b:  …He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.)

     What was it that made the Good Samaritan stop and help that poor beaten man on the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37)?  The Bible does not say that he knew the man, and, whoever beat up the man on the road might still be lurking nearby behind some rocks waiting for their next victim.  Common sense, safety, and self-interest were all on the side of passing by on the other side of the road, which is just what the first two travelers had done.  Why did this man stop?

     Jesus tells us very little in this parable about the man’s possible motives, saying only that ‘he took pity on him.’  This is a parable not about thinking the right thing, or even about believing the right thing.  There are certainly other parts of the Bible that talk about those things.  But this parable is about simply choosing to do the right thing.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” was the question that prompted the parable.  “DO THIS and you will live,” said Jesus after telling the man to love God with him whole heart, mind, and soul, and to love his neighbor as himself.  Then, after the questioner asked ‘Just who is my neighbor,’ Jesus told this parable.  It is the story of three men, each who made a choice.  Two men chose to do the wrong thing and ignore a man in need, and a third man who chose to do the right thing and go out of his way to help a stranger in need.  Jesus then said we should “Go and do likewise.”

     The words of Moses to the people in Deuteronomy 30 are also all about choosing, and about the consequences of our choices.  In verses 15-18 Moses, near the end of his life, said to the people on the verge of finally entering the promised land:

I set before you today life and prosperity, or death and destruction.  For I command you to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; for then you will live and increase, and the Lord will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and to worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.

     Sometime later, Joshua, the man who followed Moses and led the people into the promised land, repeated the challenge.  After they were settled on the land, and when Joshua was near the end of his life, he said to the people, “Choose this day whom you shall serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

     There are big and little choices.  Children make choices every day, but the consequences are usually short term.  Should I tell the truth or tell a lie?  Should I clean my room as I was told or should I continue to play and see if someone else does it?  Should I hit my little brother, or should I just tell my mom that he used his color crayons on the walls in my room?  These are small choices with short term consequences, except that in even those small choices, patterns begin to emerge, and character is being formed.  Lying might become a habit, or, hitting and anger might become the way to deal with everything.  On the other hand, the child might begin to learn that honesty is indeed the best policy, or that hard work and diligence brings its own rewards.  

     Before long there are bigger choices with lifelong consequences.  Should I go to work or go to college?  Should I take this job or prepare for that career?  Should I marry this one, or are there too many red flags in the relationship?  Choices are made and lives are set, and this is done on the basis of previous patterns of deciding and choosing.  We don’t need Moses or Joshua to tell us that choices are important.

     But we do need Moses and Joshua and Jesus and the rest of the Bible to put before us that most important choice of all, the choice of who we will ultimately believe in and who we will serve.  Moses said, “I set before you today life and prosperity, or death and destruction.”  And Joshua said, “Choose this day whom you shall serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  That is the most important choice of all, that choice has not only long term consequences for this life, but also for the eternal life which God offers beyond this world and this life.

     In the meantime, there are those day to day choices, and in those too we must be faithful.  The Bible tells us that our ultimate decision and choices about God and eternity will influence all those other, day to day, choices in our lives in the here and now.  (continued…)

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Luke 10:25  —  On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 10:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Joshua 24:15  —  (Joshua said), “…Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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Grant, O Lord, that what we have said with our lips, we may believe in our hearts and practice in our lives; and of thy mercy keep us faithful unto the end; for Christ’s sake.  Amen.  –John Hunter

554) Arturo Loves Jesus

Minneapolis, Minnesota based World Mission Prayer League director Charles Lindquist tells about an experience on a recent trip to the Holy Land.  This was in an April 3, 2014 article posted at:  www.wmpl.org 

     On our first day in the Old City of Jerusalem we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…  This mighty cathedral is ancient.  Here, we are told, we find the very rock of Golgotha (where Christ was crucified), and the tomb in which our Lord once laid.  Writing in the first years of the fourth century, Eusebius claimed that the site had been venerated and recognized as legitimate since the days of the apostles themselves.  Constantine built a church upon the site in 325.

     I was impressed by the layers of accretion that have accumulated through the years:  layers upon layers, in loud and gaudy array.  There were stone layers laid down through centuries of building and rebuilding, from Constantine’s day, to Byzantine times, through the Crusader period, and to modern times.  There were layers of silver and gold, candelabra and censer, kneeling rails, altar spaces, main chapels, side chapels, tapestries, plaques and engravings.  There were layers of footprints throughout the place:  millions upon millions of visitors have worn the floor smooth.  There was iron scaffolding to hold up failing stone, plywood barriers to conceal ongoing renovation, boxes for offerings, receptacles for votive candles, and rope lines to shepherd the immense crowd of visitors that press in day by day.  There were layers of worship, too:  praying, kneeling, anointing, chanting, and here and there quiet meditation.  There were Catholics and Coptics, Orthodox and Syriacs, Armenians, Ethiopians, and many more.  

   

Church of Holy Sepulchre

     

     Church of Holy Sepulchre, Site of Crucifixion

     Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Location of  Jesus’ Tomb

     Jerusalem Souvenirs

     Protestants seem to have added the largest accretion of all – an entire alternative site for Golgotha and the tomb, not far from the Damascus gate, outside the walls of the Old City.  There you will find additional layers of gift shops and chapels, long lines, narrow spaces, books, guides, pathways, interpretive inscriptions, and so on.

     In all the confusing flood of images, smells and sensations, one engraving leapt out at me, in particular.  It wasn’t chiseled in stone; it was engraved in magic marker.  It wasn’t a thousand years old; it could have been written last week.  A pilgrim named Arturo left the little artifact, on a stone in the floor just opposite the bathrooms and a few paces from Golgotha.  He drew a heart on the surface of the stone.  Inside he scribed, “Arturo loves Jesus.”  Here, it seemed to me at last, I could identify.

     Our missionary work through the centuries also accumulates accretions of one variety or another, almost irrepressibly.  We add (unwittingly, for the most part) cultural accretions, denominational accretions, layers upon layers that were not perhaps inherent to the first century church.  We add worship styles, preferred worship languages, confessions, institutes, regulations and constitutions.  Yet I wonder how much our many accretions lead us in the end to Jesus.

      But Jesus is precisely the point.

     There are so many very sophisticated ways to think about Christ’s death and resurrection, so many theories and theologies regarding what, precisely, happened at Golgotha and how, precisely, to get in on it.  There are so many competing layers.  They may become a blur for us.

     But the core of it all is really very simple.  Arturo seemed to capture it.  One can have all the sophisticated accretions in the world down pat and understood; all the philosophies, theologies, histories and archaeologies planted in one’s head; but if this simple core is absent in one’s heart, the whole lot gains us nothing.

     God loves you.  Enough to give his Son for you.  Enough to raise him from the dead “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

     I am not sure, frankly, that I will remember forever the dates of construction at the Holy Sepulchre, or its principal architects through the ages.  But I will remember Arturo.  Faith must be simple, I think, if it is to be deep.  Remember to keep things simple, as Arturo seemed to do.   The world doesn’t need our sophisticated theology, after all.   The world needs Jesus.

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John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 21:5  —  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

1 John 5:1  —  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his Child as well.

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Lord, help us to fear, love, and trust in you above all things.  Amen.

–Prayer based on meaning of the first commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism

553) Just Passing Through

By James Dobson, Love for a Lifetime: Building a Marriage that Will Go the Distance, 1987, pages 115-117 (a book of advice for newlyweds).

     In August, 1977, my wife and children joined me on a trip to Kansas City, Missouri, for a short visit with my parents.  We enjoyed several days of family togetherness before it was time to leave.  As we drove to the airport where we would say good-bye, I asked my father to pray for us.  I will never forget his words.  He closed with this thought:

Lord, we want to thank you for the fellowship and love that we feel for each other today.  This has been such a special time for us with Jim and Shirley and their children.  But Heavenly Father, we are keenly aware that the joy that is ours today is a temporary pleasure.  Our lives will not always be this stable and secure.  Change is inevitable and it will come to us, too.  We will accept it when it comes, of course, but we give you praise for the happiness and warmth that has been ours these past few days.  We have had more than our share of such good things, and we thank you for your love.  Amen.

     Shortly thereafter, we hugged and said goodbye and my family boarded the plane.  A week later, my father suddenly grabbed his chest and told my mother to call the paramedics.  He left us on December 4th of that year.  And now, my mother is paralyzed by end-stage Parkinson’s disease and lies at the point of death.  How quickly it all unraveled.

     Even today, so many years later, my dad’s final prayer echoes in my mind.  An entire philosophy is contained in that simple idea.  “Thank you, God, for what we have… which we know we cannot keep.”

     I wish every newlywed couple could capture that incredible concept.  If we only realized how brief is our time on this earth, then most of the irritants and frustrations which drive us apart would seem terribly insignificant and petty.  We have but one short life to live, yet we contaminate it with bickering and insults and angry words.  If we fully comprehended the brevity of life, our greatest desire would be to please God and to serve one another.  Instead, the illusion of permanence leads us to scrap and claw for power and demand the best for ourselves.

     A very good friend of mine left his wife and children a few years ago to marry a recently divorced woman.  They were both in their fifties.  I remember thinking when I heard the news, Why did you do it?  Don’t you both know that you will be standing before the Lord in the briefest moment of time?  How will you explain the pain and rejection you inflicted on your loved ones?  What a terrible price to pay for so short an adventure. 

     To young men and women on the threshold of married life, I hope you can bring your attitudes into harmony with this eternal perspective.  Try not to care so much about every little detail that separates you and your loved ones.  Have you ever tried to recall a major fight you had with a friend or a family member six months ago?  It’s very difficult to remember the details even a week later.  The fiery intensity of one moment is a hazy memory of another. 

     Hold loosely to life and keep yourself free of willful and deliberate sin.  That is the key to lasting happiness.

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James 4:1  —  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

James 4:13-14  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said), “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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Dear God, you have given to me wife, children, house, and property.  I receive these as you desire, and will care for them for your sake.  Therefore, I will do as much as possible that all may go well.  If my plans do not all succeed, I will learn to be patient and let what cannot be changed take its course.  If I do well, I will give God the glory.  I will say, O Lord, it is not my work or effort, but your gift and providence.  Take my place, O Lord, and be the head of my family.  I will yield humbly and be obedient to you.  Amen.  

–Martin Luther