477) Why the Pyramids?

     For the pyramid no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labor of the work.  The narrowness of the chambers proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures might have been deposited at far less expense with equal security.  They seem to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment.  Those who have already all that they can enjoy, must enlarge their desires.  He that has built for use till use is supplied, must begin to build for vanity, and extend his plan to the utmost power of human performance.
     I consider this mighty structure as a monument to the insufficiency of human enjoyments.  A king, whose power is unlimited, and whose treasures surmount all real and imaginary wants, is compelled to be solaced by the erection of a pyramid, to amuse the tediousness of declining life by seeing thousands laboring without end, and one stone, for no purpose, laid upon another.  Whoever thou art, that, not content with a moderate condition, imagines happiness in royal magnificence, and dreams that riches can feed the appetite of novelty with perpetual gratifications, survey the pyramids, and confess thy folly.
 –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Rasselas, pages 671-672 (edited)
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     So certainly does weariness accompany all of our undertakings, that every person, in whatever he is engaged, consoles himself with the hope of change.  If he has made his way in public employment, he talks among his friends of the delight of retreat.  If by the necessity he is secluded from the world, he listens with a beating heart to distant noises, longs to mingle with living beings, and resolves to take hereafter his fill of diversions…  
–Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, page 162 (edited)
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     Every man recounts the inconvenience of his own station, and thinks those of any other less, because he has not felt them.  Thus the married praise the ease and freedom of the single state, and the single fly to marriage from the weariness of solitude…  Whoever feels great pain, naturally hopes for ease from change of posture.
–Samuel Johnson, Rambler #45
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If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.
 –C. S. Lewis
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Ecclesiastes 1:8  —  All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.     
Ecclesiastes 2:4-11  —  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  In all this my wisdom stayed with me.  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. 
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476) In the Hour of Death

IN THE HOUR OF DEATH
by R. D. Blackmore (1825-1900)
In the hour of death, after this life’s whim,
When the heart beats low, and the eyes grow dim,
And pain has exhausted every limb–
The lover of the Lord shall trust in Him.
When the will has forgotten the life-long aim,
And the mind can only disgrace its fame,
And a man is uncertain of his own name–
The power of the Lord shall fill this frame.
When the last sigh is heaved, and the last tear shed,
And the coffin is waiting beside the bed,
And the widow and child forsake the dead–
The angel of the Lord shall lift this head.
For even the purest delight may pall,
And power must fail, and the pride must fall,
And the love of the dearest friends grow small–
But the glory of the Lord is all in all.
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    From a letter to James Boswell, June 28, 1777, included in Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson:  “Mrs. Williams is, I fear, declining.  Dr. Lawrence says he can do no more.  She is gone to summer in the country, with as many conveniences about her as she can expect; but I have no great hope.  We must all die.  May we all be prepared.
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Psalm 23:4  —  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 
Psalm 116:15  —  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
 
Isaiah 57:1-2  —  The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
 
I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
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A prayer from the diary of Samuel Johnson, September 1736:
I have this day entered upon my 28th year.  O God, enable me for Jesus Christ’s sake, to spend this year in such a manner, that I may receive comfort from it at the hour of death and in the day of judgment. Amen.
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 Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.
–Classic children’s prayer, 18th century, printed in the widely used New England Primer.

475) How Could You, Lord?

The Kärna Church, entry gate - Malmslätt
     Pictured above is the Karna Lutheran church in Malmslatt, Sweden.  Like many of the churches in Europe, this church is very old.  The present structure is no doubt the result of several expansions and remodelings of the old church, but the original part of the building is believed to go back over 800 years.  Among the villagers of Malmslatt there are many interesting stories about the beginnings of that church, and, of how it happened to be built on that spot.  The legends have their origin in a very old Swedish poem, the poem itself going back almost eight centuries.  The story is so very old, and there have been so many different legends that have grown up around it, that it is impossible to determine what really happened.  I would guess that, as in many old legends, there is at least of grain of truth in the tragic tale that is told.  It is the story of how one man dealt with his grief and his sin.  In 1959 the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman blended together some of these old legends to make an Academy Award winning movie, The Virgin Spring.  What follows is how Bergman told the story in his film.
     Peter Tyrsson was a godly man who led his family in faithful devotion to the church and its Lord.  He had a good wife and a teenage daughter, and, he was wealthy enough to have a few servants to help on his large farm.  One day, Peter and his wife sent their daughter on the half-day journey to the church in Vange, the closest large town, and the only church in the area.  She was to deliver the candles that her parents had bought for the sanctuary, and she was to be home that evening.  On the way, she was met by three wicked herdsmen.  Two of the herdsmen attacked the girl, raped, and then killed her.  The third looked on in horror.  The three then left their herd to escape to another part of the country.  They knew that the fine fabric of the girl’s dress, even though dirty and bloody, could be sold for a good price; so they took it along to sell to some farmer’s wife along the way.  Thinking they were far enough away from the crime, they stopped at the farm of what looked to be a wealthy man to offer the fabric for sale.  Unbeknownst to them, it was the farm of Peter Tyrsson, the father of the murdered girl.  Peter had by this time been informed of his daughter’s death, and he recognized the dress.  Peter was a big, strong man, and in a fit of rage, he killed all three of the herdsman.  He had no way of knowing that one of them was innocent.
     Peter got his revenge, but he was a godly man, and the killing of three men weighed heavy on his conscience.  He was deeply grieved over the loss of his daughter; and now, to his grief was added unbearable guilt.  Peter, who never even forgot to say his prayers every day, was now a violent murderer.
     Near the end of the movie Peter and his wife travel to the place where they were told his daughter was killed in order to give her a decent burial.  They find her body, and after holding her and crying, Peter got up and walked toward a clearing by a creek, where he collapsed in anguish.  He then spoke to God.  He said:  “You saw it, God.  You saw it all.  You saw the death of my innocent child, and then you saw my vengeance; and yet you allowed it all to happen…  I don’t understand you, God.  I will never understand you…”
     “And yet,” Peter went on, “Yet, still I ask for your forgiveness.  I know of no other way to make peace with myself.  I know of no other way to live.  I don’t understand you, God, but I do know how to work with my hands; and so here by the dead body of my only child, I promise that, as penance for my sin, I shall build you a church.  On this spot I shall build it, with mortar and stone and with these very hands.”  And so, the old stories say, the Karna church of Malmslatt, Sweden was built as an act of penance.
     We do not know how much of that actually happened, but true or not, the story of the Karna church gives some profound insights into struggles that we all face:  struggles between good and evil, struggles with the desire for vengeance but the need to forgive, struggles with the burden of guilt and the need for grace, and, the inability to understand the ways of God.   We have all, like Peter Tyrrson, wondered how God can stand by and watch as such terrible accidents, tragedies, crimes, and sufferings go on.   And we have all, like Peter Tyrrson, responded to sin by adding more sin.  And perhaps we have also, even though filled with confusion about God, said like Peter Tyrrson, “What else can I do?  Where else can I go?  To whom can I turn besides Jesus my Lord?”  Even the disciple Peter had to say one time when he was very much confused by Jesus, “Lord, where else should we go?  Only you have the words of eternal life.”
     Peter Tyrrson, like the disciple Peter, did not have answers to those impossible questions of faith.  But even without answers to their questions, they both had the right response, which was to continue to cling to the Lord in faith.  The disciple Peter had some huge failures, the most famous being on the night of Jesus’ arrest when in the courtyard of the high priest he denied even knowing Jesus.  But Peter returned to faith in Jesus and continued to obey and follow Jesus, even until he was put to death on a cross just like his Lord Jesus.
     Peter Tyrrson was not acting like much of a Christian when he killed three men without even waiting to find out if all three were guilty.  But then even though he was very much confused and was not understanding why God did not do something, he still asked God’s forgiveness.  And then he went to work in a very specific way to serve the Lord that he had so miserably sinned against.  The 800 year old Karna church stands as a testimony to the power of faith over evil.
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Daniel 9:18  —  Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name.  We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
Habakkuk 1:2-3  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
John 6:68   —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
 
Romans 12:19  —  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.
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 ‘A Prayer in Darkness,’ by Richard Foster:
O God of wonder and of mystery, teach me by means of your wondrous, terrible, loving, all-embracing silence.  Amen. 

474) Inadequate Bodies?

 

By Randy Alcorn, on his July 28, 2014 Blog at:  

http://www.epm.org

     If you frequent social media, perhaps you’ve seen singer Colbie Caillat’s  music video  for her song “Try,” in which she challenges society’s expectations of beauty for women.  The video, which features the singer and several other diverse women removing their makeup and ending the song as their natural selves, has gone viral since its release earlier this month, receiving over 13 million views.

     Colbie Caillat’s song has hit a nerve with many women who struggle to live up to looking like society says they should.  This issue is nothing new.  Psychology Today compared the results of 1972 surveys and 1985 surveys on how people felt about their bodies and overall appearance.  Over 50 percent more women were dissatisfied with their bodies in 1985 than in 1972.  Though I can’t find a subsequent update of these particular surveys, various studies confirm that the trend has only continued.  In our appearance-centered culture, where the appearance of youthfulness and outer beauty is held to with a white-knuckled grip, this increasing dissatisfaction is a major source of stress.

     The mainstays of the American economy are self-improvement products such as makeup, perfume, soap, deodorant, clothing and spa treatments.  Since women are the main buyers of self-improvement products, advertisements are geared to women.  Advertising’s one purpose is, of course, to sell.

     Ads must convince the consumer of her need.  To do this, they must first persuade her that she is inadequate and incomplete without a particular product.  Advertising preys upon, contributes to, and reinforces a woman’s poor self-image.  As a result, powerful and disturbing feelings of inadequacy tug at a woman’s mind—and her wallet.  She buys beauty in the form of body wash, attention in the form of perfume, romance in the form of shampoo.

     Age spots, split ends, graying hair, and cellulite are fates worse than death, if media propaganda is right.  Years ago, women, while conscious of their appearance, didn’t worry about age spots because, if they had them or even knew what they were, they weren’t bombarded with warnings about them.  Maturity was part of life, nothing to be ashamed of, and most often a badge of honor.  In many cultures gray hair is still regarded as a sign of wisdom.

     It’s not enough for women to wash and brush their hair.  Now they are expected to condition it, color it, perm it if it’s straight and straighten it if it’s curly, gel it, and cut it in fashionable ways.  Woman has been recreated in the image of the ‘media god.’

     Facial surgeries, breast implants, and other non-accident-related cosmetic surgeries often betray a sad insecurity that will continue to plague a woman after the procedures are done.  The woman who cannot accept her God-given features does not understand that God longs for her to cultivate her inner woman.  By focusing on appearance and image rather than character and spirit, many women live in a world of superficiality that ultimately dooms their self-esteem because beauty, as they have wrongly defined it (in outer terms), will inevitably diminish.

     Self-image should be based on what God’s Word says is true of us.  The world says you are worth a certain amount because you look a certain way or can perform a certain way.  God says you are valuable regardless of society’s standards.

     Remind yourself of the true basis of your personal identity.  Who you are is rooted in Christ and who He has made you, not in your outward appearance or performance.  Rehearse the fact that the most important part of your life is the part that only God sees.  His deepest concern is about the inner you.  True beauty is inner beauty, and it does not diminish but deepens as you grow older and your friendship with Him develops.

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I Samuel 16:7  —  But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height…  The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Isaiah 43:1  —  But now, this is what the Lord says—  he who created you…  he who formed you…,  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

Proverbs 20:29  —  The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.

Luke 6:45  —  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

I Corinthians 6:19-20  —  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.

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A Prayer from PSALM 139:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways…
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well…

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

473) Avoiding Greed

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606 from which this piece was taken. 

     The greedy man is the poorest of all men, because what he has fails him as much as what he does not have.  He is the most distressed of all, because he is good and helpful to no one, and worse to himself.   The beginning of all sin is pride, and the root of all kinds of evil is the love of money (I Timothy 6:10).  Pride draws the soul away from God; greed turns it toward created things.  Riches are held in possession in constant fear, they cause bitter pain if lost, and worst of all, they can have deadly effects on the soul.  And riches will always perish– either the riches will desert you, or you them.  If, therefore, your hope is placed in riches, what will become of that hope in the hour of death?  How will you trust your immortal soul to God, if you could not trust the care of the body to him now?

     The Almighty and most bountiful God cares for you; why do you doubt his power to sustain you?   Greed is the height of idolatry because it puts created things in the place of God the Creator.  The greedy man transfers the confidence that he ought to have in God to the things of the earth, which are the works of God’s hands.  Whatever is loved more than God is preferred to God, and is hence put in the place of God.  Many people, for the sake of mere worldly goods, will part with their heavenly inheritance which was bestowed on them by Christ himself.  Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), and the greedy likewise sell the grace of Christ for earthly riches.  How can one lift up his heart to God when they are seeking peace of soul in the riches of this world?

     Christ says that riches are as thorns (Matthew 13:22), and in many souls these thorns choke out the good seed…  As thorns pierce the body, so riches distract the mind with cares.  You too will perish if you gather together only such riches as will perish.   Those who lay up treasures upon the earth are like one who would store his fruit in a damp cellar, forgetting that there they will most quickly decay.  How foolish are they whose only desires are for worldly riches.  How can any material objects ever satisfy the soul, which is spiritual in its nature?  Your soul was created for eternity, and you would do it an injury if you should confine its desires to objects that are by nature temporary.  The more a soul rises in love to God, the less it will love riches.  It is a good indication that our souls are fixing their attention on things above, if we lightly value the perishing things of the earth.  And it is a certain sign that our souls have forsaken God when we are too much in love with riches and goods.

     A greedy man is very unreasonable, because he brought nothing with him into this world; and yet, he is bent upon the acquisition of worldly riches, as though he would carry with him out of this world as much as he can possibly lay hold of.  The greedy man is most ungrateful, because he enjoys so many of God’s blessed gifts, and yet never gratefully and trustfully turns his heart to the Giver of all these gifts.  He whose heart is bound up in these earthly things does not really possess them, but is possessed by them.

     The spirit of greed is not destroyed either by plenty or by need.  Dire need does not diminish it, for the inability to obtain what he wants merely whets the desires of the greedy man.  And neither does an abundance of the world’s good diminish it, for the more the greedy man obtains, the more he wants.  As soon as one desire is gratified, others immediately spring up, just as the more wood you put on a fire the more fiercely it burns.  Greed is like a mountain torrent, very small in its beginning, but enlarging and gathering new force as it rolls down the mountain side.  Set strict limits, therefore, to your desire for wealth, and avoid a greedy spirit.  Do not, O my soul, set your affections upon the things of this world, for the “world passes away” (I John 2:17; I Corinthians 7:31).  Love the good that is eternal so that you may live the life that is eternal.

    Why do you desire riches?  This life is only a pathway to our heavenly fatherland, so then of what advantage is great wealth?  It simply burdens the Christian pilgrim as a vast cargo does a ship.  Whatever you love most is your God.  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).  If you love most of all these material, earthly, perishing riches, then you cannot love those higher, spiritual, heavenly, eternal riches.  Why?  Because earthly wealth weighs upon a man’s heart as a heavy burden, dragging it down to earth, whereas spiritual riches and virtues lift it up towards heaven.

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Proverbs 23:4-5a  —  Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone…

Colossians 3:1-2  —  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

I Timothy 6:10  —  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

Mark 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” 

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O Lord, come to us and make use of our bread, silver, and gold.  How well they are applied, if we spend them in thy service.  AMEN. 

–Martin Luther

 

472) Mustard Seeds

     All but one of the seven parables in of Jesus in Matthew 13 begin with Jesus saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”; and then it is compared to a field full of weeds, or a mustard seed, or yeast, or a hidden treasure, or a pearl of great price.  As we hear the parables, it becomes clear that when Jesus says ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in this chapter, he is not just referring to that place we go to when we die.  He means that, too; but Jesus is also talking about the entire movement that he was beginning here in his earthly ministry, that whole movement which would continue on through history in the Christian Church and would then, one day, reach it final fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven.  These parables, then, are not so much about what happens when we die, but what happens here on earth as Jesus, and those after him, proclaim God’s Word and promise.

     So what will happen?  In the first two parables we find out there are going to be all sorts of problems.  All kinds of seeds will be scattered, but many will fall on the wrong kind of ground and nothing will come of it.  Those seeds that do get into good soil will have all sorts of weeds to contend with, making it quite a messy field.  In the other five shorter parables, however, the tone is more hopeful.  These do not contradict the other messages, but they give more information about the long-range future of this movement, beset as it will be by problems in the meantime.  So, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is ‘like a mustard seed,’ which is small and doesn’t look like much, but which in time grows and becomes very large.  Or, says Jesus, it is like yeast, which is only a small part of the recipe, but which works its way through all of the much larger dough and affects every part of it.

A  Mustard Seed

 A Mustard Tree

     Looking back over twenty centuries of church history it is easy to see what Jesus meant and how it was fulfilled.  The followers of Jesus certainly did start out as a small and insignificant group, but now it is a worldwide movement and one third of the world’s population claims to be Christian.  The movement Jesus started, this ‘kingdom of heaven,’ certainly did grow large, just like the parable said it would.  And it certainly has been worked into and influenced every aspect of our civilization, just like yeast in bread dough.  These parables are easy to figure out.

     But think about the situation of those who first heard Jesus tell these parables.  Jesus was just a small town boy in a small and weak nation.  Yes, he was a great teacher, and yes, his miracles amazed everyone.  And yes, no doubt anyone who believed in Jesus at all would hope that his movement would grow.  But no one then could have imagined what would follow, and how in just a few decades, Christianity would be on its way around the globe, while the great Roman Empire would be beginning its long decline.

     Even though we have a far different context today, the message of these parables can still speak to us.  Helmut Thielicke was a German pastor and theologian who was just beginning his ministry in the early 1930’s; the same time that Adolph Hitler was coming to power.  Thielicke was young and enthusiastic and he was determined to be courageous in the face of opposition.  He said he really believed in the words of Jesus to his first disciples when he sent them out to preach the Gospel saying, “All power in heaven and in earth is given unto me, and I will be with you always.”  So in his new church, young pastor Thielicke announced a Bible study in which they would learn how they must put their trust in God’s Rule and Kingdom, and not in worldly leaders who promised wealth and prosperity, but who also brought hatred and wickedness.  He was determined to be faithful, and bring this message of courageous faithfulness to the nation.  He knew this could be dangerous.  Informers were everywhere, so he expected trouble.  But what he did not expect was that in his large church, only three elderly people would come to his important Bible study.  Out in the streets, the soldiers were marching by the thousands and the crowds that came to hear Hitler gathered by the tens of thousands.   Thielicke’s Bible study turned out to be not dangerous at all.  It was too insignificant to be even noticed.

     But as time went on, things changed.  Two decades later, the ‘thousand year reign’ of the Third Reich was already over and Hitler was dead; and Helmut Thielicke was preaching all over Germany to huge crowds, now hungry for a word of true hope after all their false hopes had been devastated and their nation was in ruins.  And in one of those sermons, Thielicke told that story of his insignificant Bible Study, attended by only three people.  His text for that sermon was the parable of the mustard seed.  The parable applies not only to the worldwide growth of Christianity, but it is still, always coming true, all over the place, as God keeps renewing His Church, and, planting it in new places.  (For example, see Meditation #395 to read about how the church has been growing in China.)

Helmut Thielicke  (1908-1986)

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Matthew 13:31-33  —  (Jesus) told them another parable:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  He told them still another parable:  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Matthew 28:20b  —  (Jesus said)… “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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Gracious Father, we pray for your Holy Church.  Fill it with all truth and with all peace.  Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.  Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

471) The Bible is Full of Contradictions?

     Tony Campolo is a university professor and a respected sociologist.  He is also an ordained Baptist preacher.  Campolo does a lot of public speaking, both in churches and universities.  One time when he was speaking at Harvard he made it very clear that he was a Christian, a faith not shared by most of the students in the lecture hall that day.  After the lecture, one of the students had this question.  “Mr. Campolo,” he said, “you are well educated, well credentialed, and clearly very intelligent, yet you say that you believe the Bible is true.  How can someone with your academic background believe in the Bible?”

     “I believe in the Bible,” Tony said, “because I decided to believe in it.”  He then continued, “A long time ago I considered all the options available in the intellectual marketplace, and I made a decision to believe in the Bible.  Having made that decision, I have spent the rest of my life constructing arguments and gathering information that would buttress my beliefs.  But to be honest, I believed first.  All my thinking and philosophizing since then has been designed to support my prior faith commitment.”

     The young Harvard student was taken back a bit by Campolo’s blunt honesty, but then he smiled and rolled his eyes and said, “Ya, I thought so.”  Coming to faith first and then doing the research later did not sound to him like intellectual honesty.  The young man started to sit down.

     “Hold on a second, Sonny,” Campolo said; and then added, “Now I have a question for you.  Why don’t you believe in the Bible?  Isn’t it because you have decided not to believe it?  Have you read it from cover to cover, tested out what it has to say, and gained the empirical evidence to decide it is false?  Have you come to your conclusions with complete objectivity and without any presuppositions?”

     “Well, no”, stammered the student, “but everyone knows that the Bible is full of contradictions.”

     “Can you name for me even one of those contradictions?” Campolo shot back.

     “Ah…, no,” said the student.

     “Well it sounds to me,” said Tony, “like you have made up your mind ahead of time without giving this any thought at all.  You have complete faith in your uniformed opinion, and yet you want to ridicule me for my beliefs.”

Tony Campolo

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“One cannot simply read the Bible like other books. One must be prepared really to inquire of it.
Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer shall we receive it.”
–Deitrich Bonhoeffer

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Matthew 13:44-46  —  (Jesus said),  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Isaiah 29:14  —  (The Lord says),  “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

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.

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O Lord, heavenly Father, in whom is the fullness of light and wisdom, enlighten our minds by your Holy Spirit, and give us grace to receive your Word with reverence and humility, without which no one can understand your truth.  For Christ’s sake.  Amen.

–John Calvin (1509-1564)

470) Insights Into Human Nature

By Francois de La Rochefoucauld, French author and moralist (1613-1680)

     Francois de La Rochefoucauld was born into wealth and nobility.  He joined the army at an early age and was wounded several times.  He later fought with mutinous nobles against the crown and was again wounded, this time almost losing his life.  He recovered and decided to be done with fighting, turning instead to intellectual pursuits.  His wealth allowed him much time to read, and then to discuss life’s big questions with other aristocrats and intellectuals in the French salons.  He is best known for his Maxims, (five editions, 1665-1678), which consist of over 500 concise, but meaningful and powerful reflections on human behavior.  These maxims were distilled from his study, conversation, and abundant opportunities to observe human conflict, business, and pleasure.  His maxims are not unlike those Biblical proverbs which simply describe, rather than prescribe, our emotions and actions.

     The prevalent tone of La Rochefoucauld’s work is cynical, as one of his maxims declares, “our virtues are but vices in disguise.”  He would seem to argue that in human behavior “everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest.”  He never tires of pointing out the sordid motives behind our most virtuous actions.

     Though his maxims contain many true insights, La Rochefoucauld does not proclaim the whole truth.  His maxims are profound descriptions of the depths of human sin, but he has nothing to say about the redemption found in Christ Jesus or the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Reading La Rochefoucauld will not show you the way to believe in Jesus Christ and save your soul, but it might put you in mind to confess your sins, which is one of the first steps on the way to salvation.

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We would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of the motives that produced them.

We should not be upset that others hide the truth from us when we hide it so often from ourselves.

Many people despise wealth, but few know how to give it away.

If we had no faults of our own we would not take so much pleasure in noticing those of others.

There are few people who are more often in the wrong than those who cannot endure to be so.

Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it.

Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example.

Hardly any man is clever enough to know all the evil he does.

It is only persons of firmness that can have real gentleness.

Nothing is so contagious as an example.  We never do great good or evil without bringing about more of the same on the part of others.

Our enemies get nearer to truth in their judgments of us than we do of ourselves.

The refusal of praise is only the wish to be praised twice.

Small minds are much distressed by little things.  Great minds see them all but are not upset by them.

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.

When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.

We rarely think people have good sense unless they agree with us.

The truest mark of being born with great qualities is being born without envy.

We need greater virtues to sustain good fortune than evil fortune.

Our desires always disappoint us; for though we meet with something that gives us satisfaction, yet it never thoroughly meets our expectations.

Those who apply themselves too much to little things often become incapable of great ones.

The desire to seem clever often keeps us from being so.

True bravery is to do, without a witness, all that we could do with the world looking on.

It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.

We forget our faults easily when they are known to ourselves alone.

What is called generosity is usually only the vanity of giving; we enjoy the vanity more than the thing given.

We pardon to the extent that we love.

To safeguard one’s health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness.

As one grows older, one becomes wiser and more foolish.

Few people know how to be old.

Men give away nothing so liberally as their advice.

The intellect is always fooled by the heart.

How can we accept another to keep a secret if we have been unable to keep it ourselves?

True wisdom consists in a thorough knowledge of the real value of things.

We like to see through others, but we don’t like others to see through us.

Bodily labor alleviates the pains of the mind, and from this arises the happiness of the poor.

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Jeremiah 17:9-10a — The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.”

Job 13:9 — Would it turn out well if he (God) examined you?  Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?

I John 1:8  —  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

I Corinthians 3:18a — Do not deceive yourselves…

I John 1:9  —  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Romans 3:22-24  —  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 

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A PRAYER OF CONFESSION BY MARTIN LUTHER:  O Lord, I am your clay and you are the potter.  You have declared me a sinner, and I accept your Word.  I confess before you my godless condition and my sinful nature, in order that I may be humiliated and you be glorified.  I, and all people, are in sin and death; but you, are life and righteousness.  I, and all people, are full of evil, but you are the highest good.  I am led to this confession not by my reason, but through your Word.  Lord, I am in sin, but you are my righteousness.  Therefore, I am happy and without fear, for my sin cannot outweigh nor overpower your righteousness.  Neither will your righteousness permit me to remain a sinner.  Blessed are you, O faithful God, my merciful Redeemer.  In you alone do I trust, therefore I shall not be condemned.  Amen. 

469) Keeping an Eternal Perspective

Adapted from Randy Alcorn’s July 18, 2014 blog at:  http://www.epm.org

     Peter encouraged Christians to find joy by focusing not on the trial that will go on only “a little while” but on their heavenly inheritance that will never perish.  As missionary martyr Jim Elliot put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Why put all our effort into that which has no lasting value?  Why put all our hope into that which in the end will not matter?

     God tells us, “We have a priceless inheritance; an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4).

     In times of suffering, we must remember what is awaiting us in eternity with Christ.  Romans 8:18 says, “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”  II Corinthians 4:17 promises, “Our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!”

     Suppose I offer you $1,000 to spend today however you want.  Not a bad deal.  But suppose I give you a choice– you can either have that $1,000 today, or you can have $10 million if you’ll wait one year, and then $10 million more every year thereafter.  What will you choose?  Only a fool would take the $1,000 today.

     A year might seem a long time to wait for the payoff.  But after it passes, wouldn’t you be grateful you waited?  Likewise, won’t we be far more grateful in Heaven that we chose to forego earthly treasures in order to enjoy forever the treasures we sent ahead?

     This is delayed gratification.  Soldiers, athletes, and farmers all know that long-­term benefits justify short-term sacrifices (2 Timothy 2:3-6).  The same principle applies to those who live in light of eternity.  Only when we adopt an eternal perspective will we eagerly follow our Lord’s command to devote our brief lives on Earth to the pursuit of eternal treasure.

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2 Corinthians 4:17-18  —  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 Peter 1:3-6  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 

Romans 8:18  —   I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

1 Corinthians 2:9  —  But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

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Father, help us to remember in the course of this day, when so much of our work and planning is intended for this life only, that we must also fix our eyes on the life yet to come.  May that which we say, think and do reflect kingdom principles that store up treasures for us in our heavenly kingdom even while we serve here below.  We anxiously await that day when we receive the crown of righteousness reserved for those who have fought the good fight, finished the race, remained true to the faith, and whose greatest longing is for the glorious appearing of Christ.  Amen.

–From:   http://www.adailyprayer.wordpress.com

468) Quality of Life

     Kay Adams (See Meditation #458, A Lesson from Mama), along with her work for two presidential administrations, has been active in the Pro-Life movement.  She has spoken and debated in many different settings, and oftentimes the crowd has been unfriendly.

     Once during an abortion debate, a woman in the audience angrily told Mrs. James she was so obviously middle-class she didn’t have a clue about real African-American life.  “If you understood what these women were going through, you would realize that abortion is their only choice.”

     Mrs. James then asked the woman to consider a poor black mother on welfare.  She already has four children and an alcoholic husband who has all but abandoned the family.  Now she discovers another child is on the way.

     “How would you counsel that woman?” asked Mrs. James.

     “I would say that the most compassionate thing she could do for herself and the children she already has is to have an abortion,” the compassionate woman responded.  “If she brought that child into this world, it would have a very poor quality of life.”

     “I have a vested interest in your answer,” said Mrs. James.  “The woman I described was my mother.  I was the fifth of six children born into poverty.  And in case you’re interested, the quality of my life is just fine.”

–Adapted from the October 1993 issue of Focus on the Family

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Isaiah 41:10  —  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 139:14-15  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Job 10:12  —  You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.

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Make me remember, O God, that every day is Thy gift and ought to be used according to Thy command, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson

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O Lord God, grant us always, whatever the world may say, to content ourselves with what you say, and to care only for your approval, which will outweigh all worlds; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

–General Charles Gordon