508) Labor Day Meditation on Work (part one)

   

     I frequently visit people in care centers who are near the end of their lives.  Many of the residents just sit all day with nothing to do and nothing more to look forward than their next meal.  But if they have enough health and strength, some folks find things to do and a purpose for living even there.  One day I had completed my visits and was on my way to the exit.  I was about to push open the door when I heard someone say in a weak, but very emphatic voice, “Stop!”  I did as I was told, and just to my left I saw a frail old man in a wheel chair.  He had positioned himself by the big automatic door opener button.  As I waited, he slowly reached over, pressed that button and opened the door, saving me the effort of pushing the door open myself.  I thanked him, and he looked at me proudly and said, “That’s my job here.”

     People in their working years, especially if they are working too much, will often look forward to not working.  We look forward to weekends and to vacations when we have time off from work.  Many dream of retirement (or winning the lottery) and not having to work at all anymore.  There is a even chain of restaurants called TGIF, Thank God It’s Friday, celebrating by its name the end of the work week.  There is something is us that doesn’t want to work.

     There is also something in us that makes us want to work.  Care center residents don’t have to work at all, and many of them cannot do anything anyway; and that is a huge sadness and frustration for them.  This lack of purpose is even more difficult for some folks than their aches and pains.  These people used to be hard-workers and useful, and are now disheartened by having to just sit and do nothing.  That ‘official’ door opener at the care center had found in that little job something that still made him feel like his life was worthwhile.  He was still able to contribute something, and he was proud of his ‘job’ and the work he could do.

     Resting and relaxing is a pleasure only if you have been working and need to rest.  But if you only rest and relax, it is no longer a pleasure, but becomes a burden.  Have you ever been on a vacation that lasted just a little too long?  It is not uncommon for people to look forward to getting back to work just as much as they looked forward to going on vacation.  

      There is something in us that doesn’t want to work.  There is also something in us that has to work.

     In the first three chapters of the Bible there are two important references to work– one positive and one negative.  The second chapter of Genesis describes God’s perfect paradise, the Garden of Eden; and there was work to be done there.  Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it.”  Work has been from the beginning a part of God’s perfect plan.  That is why we want to work.  That is why that little old man at the care center needed to sit by the door all day to do ‘his job.’  We were created to work.  Work is good, and we feel worthless and lost and useless without it.  And this ‘work’ need not be limited to our jobs, but can also include our work at our hobbies (like gardening), or volunteer work to serve others, or working in our homes as we do things for our families.

     But as much as this desire for and need to work is a part of what we were created to be, we do not love every aspect of all our work with our whole heart– do we?  There is something is us that doesn’t want to work, and for good reason.  Work can be difficult, frustrating, useless, pointless, dumb, and stressful.  Worst of all, you often have to work with other people, and that can drive you crazy– if you are in charge, or, if you are taking orders.  Work was at first a part of God’s perfect creation– but then Adam and Eve sinned.  They rejected God and chose their own way, and God sent them out of the Garden of Eden.  And, as part of our punishment for sin, the work we do is now under a curse, as God said to Adam and Eve:  “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you and by the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.”  The ‘thorns and thistles’ apply not only to farm work, but are symbolic of all the troubles we have as we do our work.

     I am always amazed at the depth of truth and meaning in these ancient texts.  Here, at the very beginning of the Bible, we have the reasons for our love-hate relationship to our work.  We were created to work and so in our hearts we want to work; but because of our sin, the work that we do is under a curse and the source of endless frustration.  (continued…)

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Genesis 2:15  —  The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 3:17b-19  —  (The Lord God said), ““Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

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Lord, give me life until my work is done; and give me work until my life is done.  Amen.

507) Wisdom from George Washington (1732-1799)

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

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

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

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

–Inaugural address 1789

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

–Letter to William Gordon, March, 1781

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Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

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Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

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

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

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The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.

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

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

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

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

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

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O Lord, whose glory is in all the world:  We commend this nation to your merciful care, that being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace.  Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this state, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.  Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in the fear of God.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

506) A Thief in the Night

Matthew 24:42-44  —  (Jesus said),  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
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     Several years ago, the home of my Aunt and Uncle was broken into and robbed.  It was a disturbing experience, as you might well imagine.  Not only was there the financial loss of what was taken, but there were also items missing that no amount of money could ever replace, such as special family heirlooms or precious gifts from deceased loved ones.  Along with that was the irritating knowledge that someone was in their house, going through their personal belongings; someone who had no right to even being on their property.  And, there was also the loss of  security that stayed with them for a very long time.  Every time they left, they wondered if their place was safe.  Every time they came home, they wondered if someone had been there, or perhaps was still there.  If it happened once, it could happen again.  Having a thief come into your house is a very disruptive and disturbing experience.  And yet, in the above reading from Matthew 24, the merciful and loving Lord Jesus compares his return at the end of time to the coming of a thief in the night.  What does Jesus mean by that?
       As I pointed out, a robbery will affect you in several different ways.  Jesus does not mean that he will literally come and steal your jewelry and your cash.  What he means is that there are some aspects of his return that make it similar to a robbery.  It will first of all be unexpected.  No one will know when that time will be.  Therefore, you need to be prepared always.  Just as you would do your best to guard against a thief, you must do you best to guard against being unprepared for our Lord’s return.
     Secondly, although Jesus doesn’t specifically say it here, we might find His coming to be even more disturbing and disruptive to our lives and feelings and attitudes than a robbery.  His first visit to this earth certainly proved to be disturbing and disruptive to many folks, so much so that they had him killed.  We would surely be kidding ourselves if we thought that our lives right now are already so in line with God’s will that a visit from Jesus would not change a thing.  In the long run the return of Jesus will bring the greatest blessings possible.  But as in many other things, sometimes that which does us the most good, can also bring with it a certain amount of disruption and pain.
     But Jesus seems to be such a nice guy, how could his coming disturb us in any way?  Well, for just one example, consider our concept of fairness.  Every child has probably somewhere along the line said to his or her parents, “It’s not fair.”  In the same way, there probably has not been anyone who ever believed in God who hasn’t at one time or another entertained the thought that God was not fair.  One of the most common of all prayers is, “Why me, Oh Lord– why me?  What did I do to deserve this?”– or, in other words, ‘It’s not fair.’
     But what if Jesus came back to earth today and made everything fair all at once– that is to say fair throughout the whole world?  Well, if all of the world’s wealth was immediately distributed evenly and fairly among the world’s 6 billion people, most Americans, even the poorest among us, would stand to lose a great deal.  And if the size of all the houses in the world was averaged out and made fair, most of us would be living in far smaller quarters.  And just think if the average life expectancy throughout the world was all of a sudden averaged out and made the same and fair for everyone.  For one thing, Social Security and Medicare in this country would both be saved, because far fewer people would live long enough anymore to use either one.  If we had our choice, I think we would quickly decide that  it would be far less disruptive to endure an armed robbery than to endure the Lord’s return to make everyone in the world equal and everything in the world fair.  (I am not saying that is what the second coming of Christ will be all about.  I am just raising our own questions about fairness in this context.)
     Finally, if we were to be fairly and justly punished for all of our sins?  The Bible says a great deal about God’s justice, but it says even more about his mercy.  There are many prayers in the Bible for both.  Prayers for mercy are usually requested for the one praying, or, for his or her own people.  Prayers for justice are usually for the enemy, for the other guy.  When a crime is committed against someone, they are eager to see justice done and to see punishment come for the one who has wronged us.  But when we have made the mistake or committed the sin, we are not as eager for justice as we are for mercy.
     In the Bible, God is always going out of his way to extend mercy until the last possible moment.  Those who read the Bible from cover to cover in order to get the whole sweep of the story are often amazed at the patience and forgiveness of God.  So many times, warning after warning is not heeded and God is even openly despised; and yet God will delay the promised judgment and punishment.  And even when the punishment does come, the prophets always attach a promise, a promise that looks beyond the judgment to a merciful restoration.  Then, more and more in the Old Testament, those promises began to look forward to the coming of a certain individual, one who would make all things right again.
     That God would come at all to us on this little planet is a great wonder.  Martin Luther once said, “It would be spectacular if a king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness.  Yet the Son of God becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins.”  This is the greatest of all wonders and miracles.
     The way to God and to eternal life has been opened for us, so now it is for us to be ready for that day when Christ will come again.  “Understand this,” says Paul in Romans, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over and the day is almost here.  And so clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…”  With Christ as our hope, says Paul, our whole way of looking at life and death changes.  Without Christ, death is spoken of as that time when everything ends and the darkness closes in around us.  But with Christ, says Paul, we look towards death as the end of the night, and when Christ comes to us again, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives, the full light of day will be here.
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Make us, we beseech you, O Lord our God, watchful and alert in waiting for the coming of your Son Christ our Lord, that when he comes and knocks, he will not find us sleeping in sin, but awake and rejoicing in his praises.  Amen.  –Gelasian Sacramentary

505) Miscellaneous Quotes by Samuel Johnson (and a few others)

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Human life is everywhere in a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.  –Rasselas

We fail at happiness because we attempt to obtain it by means different from those which God has appointed.  –Sermon V (alt.)

A universal reformation must begin somewhere, and every man ought to be ambitious of being the first.  –Sermon V

That man can never be miserable, nor can his tranquility be interrupted, who places all his happiness in his prospect of eternity.  –Sermon V (alt.)

Fine clothes are good only as they might make up for the lack of other means of procuring respect.  –The Life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell (alt.)

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.  –Rasselas

Let us not forget that we are subject to the general law of mortality, and shall soon be where our doom will be fixed forever.

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People travel to wonder,
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the seas,
at the long courses of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and they pass themselves by without wondering.
–St. Augustine

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From my many years experience I can unhesitatingly say that the cross bears those who bear the cross.  –Sadhu Sundar Singh
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After the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box. –Italian proverb

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Psalm 50:15 — Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. 

Philippians 2:1-2 — If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Romans 6:23 — For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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TWO MEALTIME PRAYERS BY WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH (1861-1918)):
Our Father, we thank you for this food for our body, and, for the human love which is the food of our hearts.  Bless our family circle, and strengthen the love that binds together all who are gathered at this table.  Bless also the entire great family of humanity of which we are just a little part.  Give to all your children their daily bread.  Let our family enjoy its comforts not in selfish isolation, but with a willingness to share freely from the abundance you have given us.   Amen.

O God, we give you thanks for the abundance of our blessings, but we pray that our plenty may not mean want for others.  Do satisfy the needs of all your children.  Grant that the strength which we shall draw from this food may be put forth again for the common good; and that our life may return to humanity a full equivalent in useful work for the nourishment which we receive from these gifts, given by your grace.  Amen.

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A PRAYER FOR THE ELDERLY:
O God, our heavenly Father, whose gift is length of days, help us to make the noblest use of mind and body in our advancing years.  According to our strength apportion Thou our work.  As Thou hast pardoned our transgressions, sift the ingatherings of our memory that evil may grow dim and good may shine forth clearly.  We bless Thee for Thy gifts and especially for Thy presence and the love of friends in heaven and earth.  Grant us new ties of friendship, new opportunities of service, joy in the growth and happiness of children, sympathy with those who bear the burdens of the world, clear thought and quiet faith.  Teach us to bear infirmities with cheerful patience.  Keep us from narrow pride in outgrown ways, blind eyes that will not see the good in change, impatient judgments of the methods and experiments of others.  Let Thy peace rule our spirits through all the trial of our waning years.  Take from us all fear of death, and all despair or undue love of life; that with glad hearts at rest in Thee we may await Thy will concerning us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Author unknown; from Wings of Healing, ed. by John Doberstien

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AN EVENING PRAYER:  

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Book of Common Prayer

504) Death at Work / A Funeral Sermon

    The rapid progression of Evelyn’s disease shocked everyone who heard of it.  First, she wasn’t feeling well, and then she didn’t have an appetite.  Then, her skin turned a little yellow, and the doctor was called.  Test were taken, but even before the results were in, she had to be taken into the hospital by ambulance.  Then, there was the news that it could be life-threatening; and the next day came the word that nothing more could be done.  And then Evelyn died.
     And the main question everyone had during all of this, was, “What is wrong?  What is causing this rapid loss of health and life?”  For a long time, there was no answer– even from all of the very best specialists at a very good hospital.  The doctors knew from the start that the liver was not functioning, but the problem was figuring out why.  One by one, all the most likely causes were eliminated:  it wasn’t cancer, it wasn’t hepatitis A,B, or C, there didn’t seem to be any blockage, and so on.  But finally the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and it began to look like the liver failed because of a condition called “hemochromatosis.”  But by then, the deadly damage had been done, and there was no hope for Evelyn.
     The striking thing about ‘hemochromatosis’ is that Evelyn was born with it.  It is described as an “inherited disorder,” a “genetic defect,” an “inborn error in metabolism.”  It is not very common.  Less than one-percent of the population are born with it, and most of them will never even know they had the condition, and will die of something else.  But in some people, under the right circumstances, this weakness can lead to liver damage, and then liver failure, and then death.
     Hearing about all of that in the last several days, I was reminded again of an obscure little phrase in the New Testament.  In II Corinthians 4:12 Paul writes:  “So then, death is at work in us…”  Death is at work in us.  From the moment of Evelyn’s conception, her genes carried the weakness that led to her death early Tuesday morning.  In a very real way, from the very beginning, since 1925, she carried within every cell of her body that which would cause her death.
   
     And not only Evelyn.  I would guess even that as I say this, many of you sitting out there were reminded of something very similar in your own life or the life of someone you know.  One person inherits a tendency toward heart problems.  It is a weakness they were born with.  Others, have a lot of cancer in their family, so they inherit, from the beginning, a greater chance of getting that dreadful disease.  Others are born with an inherited tendency toward diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease, or whatever.  But in all of these, the weakness and the probability of future problems is there from the beginning.  And even if you do not inherit such a condition, you are born with a time limit on your body, and after a certain number of years, your body will start to wear out, as you well know.  We carry within ourselves the seeds of our own demise and destruction; or as Paul put it,  “death is at work in us.”  You might well wonder what it is that is already at work in you.  I have thought about that when meeting with grieving families, and hearing surprised exclamations of “he had it all these years and we never knew there was anything wrong.”  I hear that and I wonder what it is that might be going on inside of me ‘all these years’– going on right now– that will one day end my life.
     The Bible tells us that we should pay attention to these things.   Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, O Lord, and so apply our hearts to wisdom.”  Our days are indeed numbered.  Two verses early the Psalmist said:  “The length of our days is 70 years, or 80, if we have the strength.  Yet their span is but sorrow and trouble, and they pass away quickly… and we finish our days with a moan.”  In verses three and five it says, “You turn us back to dust, Oh Lord, and we are swept away in the sleep of death.”  The Bible does not hesitate to say clearly and directly what our problem is.  Death is at work in us, says Paul.  Our days are numbered, says the Psalmist. 
     But that same Bible is also as direct and as clear about the solution.  In that very same verse where Paul says “death is at work is us,” he finishes the sentence by saying that “life is also at work in us.”  And then just a few verses later he summarizes the Christian hope in some of the most wonderful verses in all of Scripture, II Corinthians 4:16-18.  I have read those verses with many folks in the hospital, where the death that is working within them has almost completed its job, and the body is about to quit functioning.  Here’s what Paul says about that:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary afflictions (now) 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.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
    This human body, that which we sit here with today, is an amazing piece of work.  But it is not made to last forever– not yet, anyway, not these bodies.  But as Christians we say in the Apostle’s Creed “we believe in the resurrection of the body.”  This body which we depend on for everything in this life will wear out.  There’s probably some thing or another going wrong right now in every one of us, and if nothing else, we are all aging.  So this body will wear out, or, as Paul puts it so bluntly, ‘outwardly we are wasting away.’  We know that.  We can see that.  We don’t need the Bible to tell us that.
     But what we do hear from the Bible and from no where else, is that there is more to life than what we see.  Paul tells us that not only death is at work within us, but so is life.  To believe in the promises of Jesus is to have that inner life renewed in us every day, so that when we die, we just make a little move.  We shuck off this old body and we receive a new body, and then, we go on living with God, as he sets on our feet again, in another part of his vast kingdom.  These BODIES will wear out, but WE can go on.  So Paul tells us to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for, as he says, what is seen is only temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  And that which is unseen is what is spoken of in the story of Jesus Christ who himself died in a most awful way, but then rose from the dead, and  promised us that by believing in Him, we too will rise from the dead and live for all eternity.  That is what we do not yet see, but that is the sure and certain promise of the life to come in a place yet unseen.
     From our limited perspective Evelyn died Tuesday morning, and in a little while we will commit her earthly body to the ground.  That is what we see.  But as we do that, remember what the apostle Paul said in II Corinthians, and fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  In John Chapter 14 Jesus describes what happened on Tuesday morning from a perspective that we can not see.  In the first three verses of that chapter Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in Me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I have gone on ahead to prepare a place for you.  And I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”  That’s the part we don’t get to see yet, but that’s the most important thing that happened for Evelyn Tuesday morning.  Jesus came back for her and took her to that place that he had prepared for her, just as he had promised.  That is the unseen world that Paul says we should fix our eyes on; especially on days like this.  
     
     Although death is indeed at work within you, so also, by God’s Grace, life is at work within you, and that is an eternal life.
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II Corinthians 4:12  —  …Death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
II Corinthians 4:18  —  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.
Psalm 31:24  —  Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.
Psalm 38:15  —  In Thee, O Lord, do I hope. 
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O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:  Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

503) Streets of Gold

The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl.  The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.  –Revelation 21:21 

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     There was a rich man who wanted to take his money with him beyond the grave.  When he was nearing death, he prayed fervently about the matter.  An angel appeared to him and said, “Sorry, you can’t take all your wealth with you after death, but the Lord will allow you to take one suitcase.  Fill it with whatever you wish.”  Overjoyed, the man got the largest suitcase he could find and filled it with pure gold bars.  Soon afterward he died and showed up at the gates of heaven.  St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here with you.”  The man explained how God had given him special permission.

      “OK,” said St. Peter.  “You can bring the suitcase in with you, but first I must check its contents.”  He opened the suitcase to see what worldly items this man had considered too precious to leave behind.  “I don’t believe it!” exclaimed St. Peter.  “You brought pavement?!”
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I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder.  The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.  –Revelation 14:2  
     There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want to “spend eternity playing harps.”  The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.  All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible.  Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity.  Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy.  Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it.  People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.     –C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity
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Revelation 21:1-5  —  Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
1 Corinthians 2:9  —  As the scripture says, “What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.”
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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

502) The Joy of Sex

This article was written by Jim Tonkowich and was originally posted at:   http://www.ReligionToday.com   

     The Joy of Sex was first published in 1972.  Written by Dr. Alex Comfort (Yes, that was really his name), it carries the subtitle A Gourmet’s Guide to Lovemaking.  According to the introduction:  “the people we are addressing are the adventurous and uninhibited lovers who want to find the limits of their ability to enjoy sex.”  The book advocates “sex as play” with the primary end being adult physical pleasure.

     There are chapters on all things sexual with one rather glaring omission.  There’s no chapter on pregnancy and childbirth.  Yet babies (how quickly we forget—assuming we ever knew) are the primary point of sex, which engages our “reproductive organs.”

     To the popular mind—perhaps even the popular Christian mind—that statement is, of course, ridiculous.  Babies, we think, are not the point of sex.  They along with venereal diseases are among the hazards of sex, things to be avoided.  Whether it’s fighting about laws governing abortion or arguing about the HHS Mandate concerning free contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization, or counseling couples about to be married (pastors take notice), we spend much more time and energy on the prevention babies than we do on welcoming them.

     But last week we welcomed a baby and I held Omie Louise Tonkowich for the first time a few hours after her birth.  Omie is our second grandchild and, along with her brother, a joy to hold and behold.

     Sitting with Omie in my arms, I thought of C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory. “There are no ordinary people,” he wrote, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

     He might have added that it is immortals whom we conceive (or strive with all our might to avoid conceiving), immortals to whom we give birth, immortals whom we swaddle and embrace, and immortals whom we nurture through childhood.

     Conceived by means of sex, Omie’s life dwarfs that of “nations, cultures, arts, civilizations” in duration, dignity, and value.  Theirs is to hers “as the life of a gnat.”  Dr. Comfort and our joy-of-sex culture that he helped create have a one-dimensional view of sex, focusing on pleasant activities with body parts and miss the larger and much greater point:  sex gives us a share of the creative power of God by involving us in the making of immortals.

     God’s command to Adam and Eve was, after all, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  It wasn’t, “Have a lot of fun with your body parts”—though He who designed and created the human body created sexual pleasure as well.

     Thus we can’t deny the good of pleasure and spousal unity that are part of sex.  The sexual coming together of a man and a woman as they give themselves to one another and receive one another is, in fact, an expression of our being made in the image of God.

     As George Weigel writes regarding John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” in Witness to Hope:  “…This yearning for radical giving of self and receiving of another, which Adam symbolically affirms by recognizing Eve as ‘flesh of my flesh,’ is at the foundation of our humanity.”  Then he goes on, “It carries with it, ‘from the beginning,’ the blessing of fertility, another way human persons are images of God, for procreation reproduces the mystery of creation.”

     Not long after The Joy of Sex came out, the National Lampoon satirized it in The Job of Sex.  If sex is a matter of proper technique, it will become—and has become—tiresome.  If sex is a matter of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, it will become—and has become—compulsive.  Worst of all, if sex is simply a bit of fun between adults, not unlike gourmet dining, it will become—and has become—trivial.  Stripped of procreation, it’s just another hobby—a fun, pleasurable, even exciting hobby, but just another hobby that people do together.

     Sitting in the hospital holding Omie, it was easy to see beyond the cultural blinders for there in my arms was the joy of sex.

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Genesis 1:27  —  God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:28a  —  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number…”

Genesis 2:23-24  —  The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

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THANKSGIVING AFTER THE BIRTH OF A CHILD from Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal:  Occasional Services Book (1958):

O Lord our God, Creator of all that exists:  We thank thee for the joy of a new life begun, and for the privilege bestowed upon us of being participants with thee in the ongoing stream of life.  Grant that these blessings may be continued to our children and our children’s children, that all generations may praise thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

501) Don’t Be a Follower!? (part two)

     
   We all need someone bigger than ourselves to follow.
     (…continued)  Life is too short and too complicated for everyone to figure everything out from scratch on their own, so it is inevitable that we will have to do a great deal of learning from others; that is to say, learn by following their example.  God gives us parents for the first several years of our lives for us to follow and learn from.  Then the time comes that young folks start to go out and make their own way, but again, they are not about to figure it all out from scratch; and so they are out looking around and choosing to follow what looks good.  Jesus says, follow me, and the Bible describes in great detail what that might all mean.  There are many other things out in the world that are not consistent with following Jesus, but may, at the time, look more appealing.  But as one decides whoever or whatever they choose to follow, they should at least put some thought into where that path will lead them.  In John 10, Jesus tells us where following him will lead us.  First he says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  And then in the very next verse, he said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; and no one can take them out of my hand.”  No other choice will get you that far– all the way into eternity.  And no other choice is that secure; “no one can take you out of my hand,” says Jesus.  Pleasure, success, wealth, prestige– all those things can be a part of life and used by the Christian.  But if any are made the primary goal of life, the pursuit of which is followed above all else, that path will lead only to disappointment.  Any path that does not include Jesus becomes, in the end, a very short path.
     Jesus says “Follow me,” and in many places he fills out what that will mean as it touches every area of life.  You cannot say “I will follow Jesus and no longer have anything to do with money.”  Money is a part of life, and this is not to say ‘it is either Jesus or money.’  But Jesus does say that you cannot serve both God and money.  One or the other will be most important.  And Jesus and the rest of the Bible has a great deal to say about how we should make and use our money.  Following Jesus in our making and handling of money, will have us be not greedy or conniving or jealous or desperate, but following Jesus will mean that we will be honest and fair and charitable and generous.  In all of these things, we do know the difference, but we do need to remember to keep in mind first of all obedience to Jesus.  That is what it means to follow him.
     And, following Jesus in our relationships means to be kind and forgiving and patient and humble.  Again, we all know that, but I would guess that we could all think of ways in just this past week that we did not follow Jesus in the way we handled our relationships.  
     And it goes without saying that following Jesus would mean at the very least paying some attention to Jesus– in worship and in prayer.  One cannot simply say, “Oh yeah, I guess believe in Jesus,” and then just leave it at that, without paying some attention to that relationship.  That would be as crazy as my first date.  When I was in the eighth grade, I asked a girl to the Annual Junior High Halloween Roller Skating Party; and she said yes, she would go with me.  I was excited about having a date, but it turned out to be a very puzzling evening.  I had told her that I bought her ticket, but when I went to the school to meet the buses, she was nowhere to be found.  Finally I saw her– on the other bus.  Then, she went into the roller rink ahead of me and did not use the ticket I bought her.  And she did not skate with me all night, nor did she talk to me.  She rode the other bus home, and I did not see her again until school the next Monday.  When I reached in my pocket and found her unused ticket, I threw it away and I said to myself, “This dating is not all that it is cracked up to be.”
      That is a crazy story, isn’t it?  But is it any crazier than to say, “Yes, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of the whole universe and all that is in it, who has given me life and breath and all that I have, including anything I hope for in the future; yes, I believe all that; but does that mean I have to pay any attention to God?”  That too is a crazy and puzzling and irresponsible approach to a relationship.
     What does it mean to follow Jesus?  Jesus was asked one time what the greatest commandments were, and Jesus replied there were two.  The first, he said, was to love the Lord your God, with all your mind and with all your heart and with all your strength.  And the second, Jesus said, was to love your neighbor as yourself.  And how do you do that?  Simple, Jesus said; apply one simple rule to all your dealings with everyone.  You’ve all heard it: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Treat others as you yourself would want to be treated.  Try to understand them as you understand yourself; try to explain their actions in the best possible light, as you would do for yourself.  And if you wonder whether or not you should help them, ask if you yourself would appreciate help in the same situation… and so forth.  That is how you follow Jesus.
     And the more you do follow Jesus, the more you will find that he is a friend who can be trusted, and that his way is the best way.  After all, people have been following him for almost 2,000 years.  Following him is the best way to live now, and as he said, he is the way and the truth and the life; that is to say, the way to eternal life.  There is no one else that you can follow that will get you that far.  No one else, not even any of the founders of any other religion.  No one else who has defeated death by dying and rising again from the dead.  Believe in Jesus, now and your whole life through; believe in Jesus and you will be saved.
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John 10:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
 
Matthew 22:35-39  —  …An expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 
Matthew 4:19a  —  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said…
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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

500) Don’t Be A Follower!? (part one)

     
     Little Jimmy said to his mother, “Mom, can I go to the park with David?”
      His mother immediately replied, “No, you cannot go to the park with David.  You know I don’t like that kid.  He’s nothing but trouble.”
     “But mom,” Jimmy whined, “we’re only going to the park.”
     His mother replied, “It would not matter if you told me you were going to church with that kid, you are not going with David.  The last time I let you play with David your dad ended up paying for six broken windows at the old Nelson place.  You aren’t going with David and that’s final.”
     “But mom,” said Jimmy, “all the other kids are going.”
     Then mom, starting to get angry, said, “I don’t care what all the other kids are doing.  If all the other kids were going to jump off the river bridge, would you want to do that too?  Don’t be such a follower all the time.”
     Most kids hear that same advice many times in their childhood.  It is a big worry for parents.  Kids are so very influenced by peer pressure and so much depends on the good or bad character of the kids they hang around with.  And one of the most important things kids need to learn is to be able to think for themselves and not just follow blindly wherever the crowd goes.
     The Bible gives the same advice, saying in Romans 12, “Be not conformed to the patterns of this world.”  And in Philippians chapter two, Paul writes, “Be blameless and pure as you stand firm and hold out against this wicked and depraved generation.”  Hold out, stand firm, do not conform– don’t be a follower.  It is good advice and if followed could save many people a lot of grief.  Many times on the news after yet another teenager is arrested you will see friends and family being interviewed, and they will often say the same thing; they will say, “He was a good boy, but then he started to follow the wrong crowd.”
     But sometimes it seems like Jesus has a different message.  In John 10 Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd, and to us as sheep who should follow the shepherd.  In other words, Jesus is telling us to be followers.  Jesus even tells us that we should be like sheep, saying in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they FOLLOW ME.”
     The difference is obvious.  It all depends on who you are following!  Jesus oftentimes uses this illustration of sheep following a shepherd.  And Jesus said of himself, “I am the Good Shepherd, follow me.”  And then Jesus warns us against following just anyone, like wicked shepherds who do not love or care about the sheep.  “Follow me,” Jesus said, “believe in me, trust in me.  I am the good shepherd.  I will lay down my life for my sheep.”
     Parents know this too.  It is not so much the following that they worry about, it is following the wrong person, the wrong crowd.  It is every parent’s wish that their children have good friends who can be trusted and who will be a good influence on them.
     On another day, Jimmy said to his mother, “Mom, Billy wants me to go with him down to the river to play.   Can I go?”
     “Yes,” said his mother, “Billy is a good boy and a sensible boy and I’m sure you will be all right with him.”
     Jimmy, surprised, says, “But mom, I said we are going down to the river to play.  You never let me go down to the river.”
     Mom said, “That’s because you always want to go with David, and David is a rascal and a trouble maker and a bad influence.  But you never before asked to go along with Billy.  Billy is a good boy and uses his head.  I’m just glad to see you want to play with someone other than David.”
     Jimmy, interested in seeing how far this would go, said, “But mom, we are all going to jump off the bridge.”
     And mom said, “I’m not worried.  Billy is a good boy.  I am sure that if you are with him, you will be careful.  Run along now and have fun.”
     That is, of course, an exaggeration.  But the point is Billy has earned the trust of Jimmy’s mother, and so she doesn’t mind it if Jimmy follows him.  Even with kids, following can be a good thing.  It all depends on who or what you are following.  It changes everything to know that the one you are following can be trusted.  (continued…)
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Romans 12:1a  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Philippians 2:14-16a  —  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
John 10:27  —  (Jesus said),  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

499) The Story Behind the Song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

     This story is from the book Why God, Why? by Dr. Peramangalam Job.  Dr. Job (1945-2012) was an internationally known evangelist.  He has been called the “Billy Graham of India,” preaching in 129 countries, sometimes to crowds of 500,000 people.  He also became a global voice for persecuted Christians in Muslim and Communist nations.  The story below speaks of faithfulness in the face of severe persecution, persecution which Dr. Job himself faced.  Hindu militants in India failed in an attempt on Job’s life in 1999, but in June of that year they killed his 21-year old son, Michael, by running him down with a car near the medical school where he was studying to become a doctor.  Job died of a heart attack in August of 2012 while on a preaching mission in Hungary.

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     About 150 years ago, there was a great revival in Wales, England.  As a result of this, many missionaries came from England to northeast India to spread the Gospel.  The region was known as Assam and comprised hundreds of tribes.  The tribal communities were quite primitive and aggressive.  The tribesmen were also called head-hunters because of a social custom which required the male members of the community to collect as many heads as possible.  A man’s strength and ability to protect his wife was assessed by the number of heads he had collected.  Therefore, a youth of marriageable age would try and collect as many heads as possible and hang them on the walls of his house.  The more heads a man had, the more eligible he was considered.  Into this hostile and aggressive community, came a group of Welsh missionaries spreading the message of love, peace, and hope of Jesus Christ.  Naturally, they were not welcomed.  One Welsh missionary finally succeeded in converting a man, his wife, and two children.  This man’s faith proved contagious and many villagers began to accept Christianity.  Angry, the village chief summoned all the villagers.  He then called the family who had first converted to renounce their faith in public or face execution.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man sung his reply, “I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back.”

     Enraged at the refusal of the man, the chief ordered his archers to arrow down the two children.  As both boys lay twitching on the floor, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith?  You have lost both your children.  You will lose your wife too.”

     But the man replied, again singing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.  No turning back.”

     The chief was beside himself with fury and ordered his wife to be arrowed down.  In a moment she joined her two children in death.  Now he asked for the last time, “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.”

     In the face of death the man sung, “The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.  No turning back.”

     He was shot dead like the rest of his family.  But with their deaths, a miracle took place.  The chief who had ordered the killings was moved by the faith of the man.  He wondered, “Why should this man, his wife and two children die for a Man who lived in a far-away land on another continent some 2,000 years ago?  There must be some supernatural power behind the family, and I too want that supernatural power.”

     In a spontaneous confession of faith, he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!”  When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

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Joshua 24:14-15  —  (Joshua said),  “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites,in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

John 6:68  —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

2 Corinthians 4:11-13  —  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;  when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

Revelation 14:13  —  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

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I HAVE DECIDED TO FOLLOW JESUS

I have decided to follow Jesus (3x)
No turning back, no turning back

Though none go with me, still I will follow (3x)
No turning back, no turning back

The world behind me, the cross before me (3x)
No turning back, no turning back.

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To hear this on youtube go to:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypi4jz2_sHk