1031) Past, Present, Future (b)

     (…continued)  This difference between looking back or looking forward is the very thing that the apostle Paul describes in Philippians chapter three.  Beginning with verse four Paul describes all the things in his past that molded him into the faithful Jew he had become:  he was born into the people of Israel, he was circumcised on the eighth day according to tradition, he was an expert in the law, enthusiastically faithful, and faultless in his righteousness according to the Jewish legal requirements.

     But now, Paul says in verse seven, he is glad to forget about all that for the sake of knowing Jesus.  What is more, (verse eight) he would gladly give up all in the past, “considering everything a loss,” in exchange for the greatness of knowing Christ as Lord and Savior.  Then, in verses ten through twelve, he is completely future oriented, saying, “I want to know Christ, I want to become like him, and I want to attain the resurrection from the dead, pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  This forward looking, future oriented approach is made even more clear in next two verses where he says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

     Paul had been proud of his past.  It was, in fact, his proud religious heritage that made him persecute the Christians who he believed posed a threat to his traditions.  But then Jesus appeared to Paul, and Paul became a believer.  Now Paul would live for Jesus and the future hope of seeing him again.  Now, everything Paul would do would be done with this future goal in mind, this heavenward call and promise of Christ Jesus.  So, says verse eight, he will gladly give up all things here on earth for that future hope.  He will gladly give up even life itself to proclaim and live for that promise, because as he says in Romans 14:8, whether we live or die we belong to the Lord.

     The stories men and women tell of time spent in the most desperate circumstances all point to the same truth– people can endure almost anything if they have at least a shred of hope for the future.  Jews in concentration camps, prisoners of war, and political prisoners held in solitary confinement, all have been able to endure years of hunger, mistreatment, and even torture, if only they were able keep alive the hope of a future release and a return to their homes and families and freedom.  But without that hope, the spirit dies and the body withers and fails.  People who find themselves together in those types of situations are often from a wide variety of backgrounds; but the determining factor for their survival was not their past, but what they hoped for in the future.  If they believed all they had to look forward to for the rest of their life was to die in that miserable prison, they had every reason to give up; and if they did, they died.  But if they were able to keep alive the hope that there would be a better life ahead, they would find the strength persevere, and were far more likely to survive.

     Most people do not have to live in such terrible conditions, but even the best of lives are far from ideal, filled with anxieties and troubles galore; and all to what end?  Remove our Christian hope and there is not much to look forward to in the long run.  But with this Christian hope, every day can be lived to its fullest.  To feel you must greedily grab all you can out of life because this is all there is, becomes a desperate way to live.  But if this life is only the opening act of a much longer play, we can be more able to, as the old saying goes, “Let go and let God.”

     It is a rather unusual historical fact that the African-American slaves so readily took to the religion of their white owners and masters.  Even in the midst of the worst cruelty, the slaves did not despise, but rather embraced the religion of their tormentors.  This is not what you would expect.  But the slaves saw in Jesus one who was himself oppressed, and who endured his sufferings with courage and strength; and could do so because he had his hope set on the future.  “In a little while you won’t see me,” he told the disciples, which is a fact of life.  In a little while none of us will see each other at all.  “But,” said Jesus, “then in a little while you will see me again.”  There was that future hope that changed everything.  There were 400 years of slavery in the South, and for all those generations of slaves this world offered little hope.  But Jesus gave them, and us, a future hope that can shape and influence and determine every part of this life.

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Philippians 3:12-14  —   Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have yet made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies aheadI press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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Almighty God, draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills, so that we may be wholly yours.  Use us as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg, 1978

1030) Past, Present, Future (a)

     In his ground-breaking work on the human mind, psychologist Sigmund Freud taught that by delving deep into your past life you could learn how your early childhood experiences created the person you are today.  While much of Freud’s work is no longer accepted, it is now assumed by many that what you are as a person today is largely a product of your past experiences.  Are you the hard-working, responsible type?  That is because you are an oldest child, and the oldest child is often given more responsibilities and more discipline and the expectations are higher; therefore, they turn out to be more responsible.  Are you likable but irresponsible, always trying to be funny?  That might be because you are the youngest in the family and you decided at an early age you had to act up if you wanted to get a little of the attention.  Are you fussy, neat as a pin, quick to go after even the smallest piece of dust?  Well, that’s because that’s how it was in your home, and to this day you can’t stand a mess.  Or, on the other hand, it could be because you were raised in a messy and unorganized house, and your neatness now is a reaction against how you were raised.  Either way, and in many other ways, this can be made to work, and whatever you are can be explained by how you were raised and other past experiences.  That, anyway, is the theory. We are a product of our past.

     While we know our minds are too complex to be explained by any one theory, we certainly do understand the importance of our past and the way we were raised.  After all, isn’t that the hope of all parents, that they do the right thing and raise their children in a proper way, so that they can have some positive influence on their children’s adult life?  As every parent knows, kids will go their own way, and there is no way you can perfectly pre-program the desired results; but we do have some influence.  Even so, parents can control only a part of what a growing child experiences.  And, no matter what experiences any one has, there is also, always the matter of one’s own God-given free will.  Certainly, your past is an important part of who you are, but it is by no means the only part.

     But another big part of what goes into making you who you are is your future.  This isn’t thought about as much, but we may, in fact, be shaped more by our future than by our past.  Let me illustrate how this happens.

     Brothers Peyton and Eli Manning are great NFL quarterbacks.  Their past probably had something to do with this, being the sons of a professional quarterback Archie Manning.  The Mannings were a sports minded family, always playing something out in the yard, and the boys learned much from their father.  Eli says that their father encouraged them, played with them, and taught them, but he did not force them to play any sports at any level.  The boys were allowed to make their own choices about school activities and future plans.  Did they want to pursue this interest in football as encouraged by her father, or, would there be other interests that they would want to pursue?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) NFL play...

Peyton, Archie, and Eli Manning

     Children don’t always move into something just because their parents are encouraging it.  I went to school with several farm boys.  Some wanted nothing more than to get done with school and go farming.  Others, couldn’t wait to graduate, go to college, get into some other kind of work, and never again have to look at another cow, pig, chicken, or bale of hay.

     The Manning boys chose to keep playing football, and somewhere along the line, after making that choice, the future began to be a more important influence than the past.  No longer were just playing football in the back yard because that is what their dad liked to do.  Eventually, they were playing football because out ahead in their future, they could see themselves in the NFL, just like their dad.  That future hope began then to shape and determine everything they did and every decision they would make– how to spend their free time, where to go to college, who to have as friends, what to eat, how to exercise, and everything else.  Their past experiences shaped them, but now, their future hopes were determining much of what they did.  In their past they were exposed to football and developed a love for it.  But it was the future hope of a career in football that turned the game into something more than the leisure-time activity that it is for most people.

     You don’t have to be a pro football player to know how this works.  Parents might encourage their teenage son to get a job.  Because of how he was raised, he might already be a hard worker and more than happy to do so.  Therefore, his past is a factor, and then with his own free will he chooses to go along with the idea.  But before long, something more important than anything else comes into play.  There is the future goal of a car that can be purchased, and while the boy is working, he is counting how fast the money is adding up and how soon his future goal will be realized.  His present life is being thus determined not so much by the past anymore, as by the future.  (continued…)

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 Philippians 3:12-14  —  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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O Jesus, fill me with your love, and I pray, and use me a little for your glory.  I pray that you accept me and my service.  Amen.

–David Livingstone  (1813-1873)

1029) What’s Important to You?

Joey+Rory

By Jeff Koch in World magazine ( http://www.wng.org ), February 6, 2016 issue, pp. 54-55.

     Many music stars wonder what they’ll wear to the Grammy Awards ceremony on February 15.  Joey Martin Feek of the Grammy-nominated country music duo Joey+Rory wonders whether she’ll be alive.

     The husband-and-wife team in 2012 released “When I’m Gone” (see below), the song of a dying wife who encourages her grieving husband and family.  Then the song came true:  Two years later, soon after the birth of their daughter Indiana, Joey learned she had cervical cancer.  Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy followed, but cancer won and Joey entered hospice care in October, with a forecast of six to nine months to live.

     Joey, 40, said in December that she hoped to survive to see the release of the Joey+Rory hymns album on Feb. 12, the Grammys, and Indiana’s second birthday on February 17.

     Joey and Rory, 50, first broke on the scene with their charming 2008 album The Life of a Song, which crackled with humor, sass, and finger-lickin’ good musical chops.  Joey’s silver-threaded voice mingled with Rory’s tangy harmonies to serve up pithy commentary on life and the music business.  Opening track “Play the Song” employed a bluesy country-shuffle to poke fun at music label executives who worry and nitpick, “It’s too fast, it’s too slow / it’s too country, too rock and roll / it’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long / Yeah, and it’s too bad they don’t just play the song!”

     The execs needn’t have worried.  Joey and Rory quickly captured the ears of critics and fans alike with witty and winsome songs that combined modern sensibilities with an unabashed love of classic country values like hard work, rugged independence, love of nature, and respect for family and faith.  Joey’s embrace of traditional female roles in “That’s Important to Me” (see below) bordered on downright counter-cultural when she crooned, “Having somebody to share my life / loving my husband and being a wife / and being the very best mother I can be / That’s important to me.”

     December’s surprise Grammy nomination was for the couple’s performance of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” (see below).  The music video shows the couple readying for the birth of Indiana, who was later diagnosed with Down syndrome.  On his blog, ‘This Life I Live,’ Rory explained: “During the pregnancy, we never did an ultrasound, or saw a doctor, nor would it have made any difference if we had.  We trusted that God would give us the baby He wanted us to have… and He has.  Out of all the parents in the world, He has chosen us to care for and raise this special gift.”

     The couple’s moving story and transparent blogging have attracted media attention from across the country.  In one post, next to pictures of Joey’s emaciated body and loss of hair, Rory reflected, “Though now, she can no longer get out of bed … you would think she’s her normal self.  Thinner.  Much thinner…  But she is beautiful.  When God begins to take the light from the outside … the light inside just shines all that much brighter.”

     Rory called the season’s first snow “manna from heaven,” because it brought comfort during one of Joey’s darkest moments.  “I want to raise our baby,” she had cried.  “I want to be the one to teach her.”  Yet the sight of snow shot a bolt of light into Joey’s heart as she admitted, “I didn’t think I’d get to see snow again.”  She then raised her eyes upward and said, “If this is the last snow I ever see, thank you, Jesus.”

     For now it’s one day at a time.  Christmas was a treasured milestone.  Rory wrote, “The prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us” for the holidays.  But Christmas Day came and a smiling Joey celebrated with the family— what Rory called “the best gift of all.”  He wrote, “We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.”

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THAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME by Timothy Jon Johnson, Rory Feek, and Joey Martin

 See and hear it at:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/795019008555/

Not planning our day around a TV set
Paying our bills and staying out of debt
That’s important to me

Opening the windows and letting in air
Holding hands when we’re saying a prayer
That’s important to me
Yeah, that’s important to me

Having somebody to share my life
Loving my husband and being a wife
And the very best mother I can be
That’s important to me

Telling the truth and being real
Feeding my family a home cooked meal
That’s important to me
That’s important to me

Planting a garden and watching it grow
Keeping it country on the radio
That’s important to me
Yeah, that’s important to me

Always having you to hold
Being beside you when we grow old
And they plant us ‘neath that big old tree
That’s important to me

Believing our dreams will take us somewhere
Still being ourselves if we ever get there
That’s important to me

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Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

I Thessalonians 4:11-12  —  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life:  You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —   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 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.

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 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

–Psalm 23:4a

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Here are three more songs by Joey + Rory:

This Song’s for You:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/vb.15044507815/752335671505/?type=2&theater

If I Needed You:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2WrfeHK3Yw

A video of daughter Indiana:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/vb.15044507815/10153170492687816/?type=2&theater

When I’m Gone:

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

1028) “I’m Not on This Earth to Play Basketball…”

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By A. Branch in World magazine, February 6, 2016 issue, page 58.  (www.wng.org )

     Andrew and Samantha Smith were always an unusual couple.  The shy but goofy Butler Bulldog basketball player was 6 feet 11 inches.  She was 5 feet 1 inch.

     But Andrew died on Jan. 12 at age 25 after a two-year battle with cancer that began soon after their marriage.  “Andrew peacefully passed away in his sleep and in my arms as I told him I loved him this morning,” wrote his 24-year-old widow.  The way the couple faced unusual circumstances with an unusual faith gained thousands of followers in the sports world and beyond.

     Andrew Smith is one of only three basketball players in Butler University history with more than 100 wins and 1,000 points.  He came into his own as a freshman off the bench in a 2010 Final Four run.  The next year, “Moose” helped lead the Bulldogs to a second straight title game.

     The cancer diagnosis came in January 2014, mere months after graduating and settling into Lithuania for European basketball.  The newly married high-school sweethearts began blogging at Kicking Cancer with the Smiths.  

https://kickingcancerwiththesmiths.wordpress.com/

     Then came the ups and downs.  Tense treatments had some success.  In July 2014, Andrew collapsed at work and his heart stopped beating for 22 minutes, yet he suffered no brain damage.  In the coming months, the couple rejoiced in healing, home-buying, and a little basketball coaching.  But the cancer returned in the spring of 2015.  A November bone marrow transplant failed with the news his lymphoma was now aggressive leukemia.  He had little time.

     “It has rattled our faith,” Samantha wrote.  “It has made us question the purpose in the past two years.  It has left us feeling completely helpless.  We have screamed and cried.  I can’t eat or sleep.”  With a blog readership now in the thousands, they admitted, “We struggle to believe that God has pulled us through the last two hellish years to only have it end here.”

     But Andrew and Samantha said they knew that God had a purpose for Andrew.  “I’m not on this earth to play basketball games.  I’m on this earth to share a story people can hear,” Andrew told CBS Sports in March.

     Before his death, Samantha wrote of continued love for the gospel in their pain:  “Truly, Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.”  His former coach, Brad Stevens, took leave from the Boston Celtics to say goodbye and visibly fought back tears after Andrew’s death.  “You get a lot more out of coaching than they do from you. … He set a great example.”

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From Samantha Smith’s blog:

May 16, 2014  —  (Not long after the initial diagnosis) Andrew has been praying for years to gain a testimony that can speak to the hearts of many and lead those to the Lord.  Did he EVER think it would come in the form of cancer?  I think it’s safe to say no.  And yet, the Lord has provided exactly what Andrew has spent the entirety of his blessed life praying for.

January 10, 2016 (Two days before Andrew’s death):  Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.  Andrew is the perfect example of what God has called us to do here on earth; to love one another at every opportunity, to glorify Him in all that we say and do, and to preach the Gospel to the masses.  But Andrew doesn’t even need words to do that preaching.  The way Andrew lives every single day preaches the Word of God.  One quote that Andrew and I have prayed over and try to instill in our lives together is “Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people ever read.”  Andrew and I strive to make our lives preach loudly instead of our lips and he has done that ever so beautifully.  I’m so proud of him and there aren’t words to describe the honor I take in being his wife.

January 15, 2016  (Third day as a widow):  Many ask “how are you doing?” and the honest answer to that is that I am awful.  I’ve lost the love of my life.  Every day gets harder because it’s a day more since the last time I’ve seen him or felt his arms around me.  But I am holding onto hope in our Lord and Savior for I know that He is good, no matter what.  I don’t believe that God orchestrated this devastation in my life, but I know that He will use it for the Kingdom.  I miss my love every single day and I cannot wait for the day that he greets me at the gates of Heaven, ready to give me one of his giant, crushing hugs.  As CS Lewis said, “I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.  I believe in love, even when I’m alone.  I believe in God, even when He is silent.”

From an early blog:  “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”

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Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Philippians 1:19-20  (Samantha wrote:  “Andrew has this verse underlined in his Bible and I know this is his heart and prayer every day.”) —    Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.

Romans 14:8-9  —  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

II Timothy 4:7-8  —  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For 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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Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

–Henry Lyte, written in 1847, three weeks before he died of tuberculosis

1027) Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

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WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN? by Ada Habershon, 1907; music by Charles Gabriel

There are loved ones in the glory
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?

Chorus:
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There’s a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky?

In the joyous days of childhood
Oft they told of a wondrous love
Pointed to the dying Savior;
Now they dwell with Him above.  Chorus

So remember those songs of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice.
Do you love the hymns they taught you,
Or are songs of earth your choice?  Chorus

You can picture happy gath’rings
Round the fireside long ago,
And you think of tearful partings
When they left you here below.  Chorus

One by one their seats were emptied.
One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted.
Will it be complete one day?  Chorus 

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The words were often rewritten; as in this 1989 recording by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, and many more– Tremendous video!:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bRJLkNqNXI

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     Will the family circle be unbroken?  Well, NO, it will not be unbroken.  It is most certainly being broken all the time by death.  That’s why the song is so sad:  “One by one, their seats are empty, one by one, they went away; now the family is parted; will it be complete one day?”  All of us have memories of that family circle of years gone by.  That line brings to my mind many empty seats at our family gatherings, and thinking about all those wonderful people that used to be here brings tears to my eyes.  

     But the song is singing about more than this little earth, as the refrain makes clear:  “Will the circle, be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by?  There’s a better home awaiting, In the sky, Lord, in the sky.”  So the song isn’t just sad, but it’s also hopeful.  It anticipates a wonderful future, even after death.

     So now, back to the question in the song’s title:  “Will the circle be unbroken?”; that is, there in that home in the sky.  But that raises another question; and the question is, why is this a question?  Don’t we all just automatically go to that better home in the sky?  Why the question?  

     Verse one says, “There are loved ones in the glory (that better home), whose dear forms you often miss, and when you close your earthly story, will you (there’s the question again) will you join them in their bliss?  How do we do that?  Well, says the second verse, remember what those old ones told you.  Verse two, “In the joyous days of childhood, oft they told of a wondrous love, they pointed to the dying Savior, now they dwell with Him above.”  That’s how you get there, and that’s how you keep the circle unbroken; by looking to the same Savior they looked to.  You get there by not turning your back on the one who offers you that better home above.  And so, says verse three, remember those old songs of heaven; so then, as the circle is broken here, it can again, one day be unbroken.  The song presents the good news of the Gospel in a wonderful way that speaks into our hearts and calls us to faith.

     A song is just a song:  it can stir our emotions, and make us smile or cry; songs can make us tap our foot and sing along.  But a song can’t do much more about that broken circle than just sing mournful words and make us sad.  That is, unless the song is based on something greater than itself– and this one is!  That better home awaiting isn’t just something to sing about.  Rather, it is something that is offered to us in God’s own Word, and prepared for us by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  

     In John 14:1-3 Jesus says he has gone on ahead to prepare a place for us.  And just like the old song says, we get there by looking to that Son of God, that Savior who says in verse six, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”  That home Jesus is talking about here is the Better home awaiting in the sky, as the song says.  Will you be there?  Will the circle again one day be complete?  The words of the song plead for an answer.

      Author James Dobson suffered a life-threatening heart attack when he was in his mid-fifties.  He survived, but as he lay there, thinking it could be time his last day, he thought about joining that family circle in heaven– his father and mother, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, many friends, and all the rest– and he was beginning to feel a bit of eager anticipation.  He also felt a bit of anxiety as he prayed for his own children, that they may keep the faith.  He hoped they too may be in that future home, keeping the circle unbroken.  Dobson spoke of his son, rushing to the hospital to see his dad for what could have been the last time.  Dobson told his son Ryan what he had been thinking about.  As he went into surgery, he left his son with just two words:  “Be there,” he said.  In other words, “Keep the faith son, so that you too will be there, in that better home awaiting; so that the circle in the next generation may also be unbroken.”

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John 16:22  —  (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me.  There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you.  I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.

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Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Henry F. Lyte  (1793-1847)

1026) Johnny Cash’s Mother’s Hymn Book

     Johnny Cash (1932-2003) recorded almost one-hundred albums in his long career.  Of all those many albums, he said his favorite was the last one he did, released just a few months before he died.  None of his best-known songs are on this album, none of the songs in that album were written by him, and there is no band behind him.  It is just Johnny Cash, now an old man with his voice not quite what it used to be, playing his guitar, and singing fifteen of his favorite old Gospel hymns.  The name of the album is My Mother’s Hymnbook, and it contains some of the first songs he heard as a child.  His mother, Carrie, would play these songs on her guitar and her piano, and sing them to her children.  The tunes led to Johnny Cash’s love of music and career; the words became the foundation of his faith.

     The name of Johnny Cash’s mother’s hymnbook was Heavenly Highway Hymns.  When she died in 1991, he got that old book— and it became one of his favorites.  He was almost sixty years old, and was starting to think about the end of this life and what was in store for him in the next life.  He returned again to those hymns, and those words of the faith that were instilled in him so many years before.  

     The focus of many of these hymns is on the life to come; hence, the title, Heavenly Highway Hymns.  These songs about about how to get on and stay on that road.

Carrie Carter (1904-1991)

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Johnny Cash, in the booklet that comes with the album My Mother’s Hymnbook:

     My mother had an old book called Heavenly Highway Hymns.  She used to sit and play those songs in it– old church songs, country gospel songs, dozens of them– all the way through, over and over in her lifetime.  My mother loved that book.  It’s mine now, and its kind of dog-eared and ragged, a little bit like I am, and I love that book too.  So when I started picking out songs for an album of my favorite church and gospel songs, I went to my mother’s hymn book, and I found the ones I wanted to record.

     The songs in that old book mean more to me than I can tell you, so I’ll just sing ’em, me and my guitar; simple, no adornment, knowing that God loves music and that music brings hope for a better tomorrow.  You asked me to pick my favorite album I’ve ever made and this is it, My Mother’s Hymn Book.  On that album I nailed it.  That was me.  Me and the guitar, and that’s all there was in it and all there was to it.  I’m so glad that I got that done.  

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More from the booklet, by album producer Rick Rubin:

     Its early morning in Hendersonville, Tennessee, July 2003.  Johnny Cash smiles as they wheel him through the front door and onto the porch.  He’s dressed all in black– black button-up shirt, black trousers, smart black shoes and socks, the odd black strand still visible in his wispy white hair…

     When I ask him if there’s anything in particular he’d like to talk about, he answers without hesitation, “I want to talk about My Mother’s Hymn Book.”  It’s an album he’s fiercely proud of– his favorite, he says, of anything he’s done.  These are songs that his mother Carrie taught him when he was a small boy living in their small cabin on a New Deal farm in Dyess, Arkansas, singing and playing them to him on her Sears Roebuck catalog guitar.  “They’re powerful songs,” he says, “They are my magic to take me through the dark places.”  They are songs he would sing to keep the terrors at bay as a frightened five-year-old walking home in the darkness, through the flat, black land, after working in the cotton fields.  Or when his father had one of his violent rages.  Or when, as a broken-hearted 12-year-old, he watched the coffin holding his beloved brother Jack lowered into the ground.

     He sang songs associated with good times too.  “My mother had always taught me that music was a joyful thing.”  And the songs ultimately gave him his career.  If Carrie had not taught him these hymn book songs, encouraged him to sing them and told him that his talent was a “gift from God” and he should not toss it away, he would likely not be here today, on the front porch of this big, beautiful house with guitars, country music trophies, and rock music awards.

     A short way off from here, in what Johnny calls his “compound,” there’s a cabin that reminds him of the one where he grew up.  Here, more than six decades after his mother first sang and played him these songs, Johnny sang and played them back to her.  The recording session was as intimate and personal as it sounds. Apart from Cash’s longtime friend and engineer David Ferguson, who sat quietly behind the board, it was simply Johnny and his guitar…

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More Johnny Cash quotes from the booklet:

“You know, I had my years in the wilderness, when the demons crawled up my back.  That was when the drugs started, but they’ve gone away now.  I don’t know how they went away, but they did.  And they don’t come back anymore.  I finally had to accept it, you know, that God thought I was something worth saving, so who was I to say, “You’re wrong?”  I had to accept it and go along with it, and so that’s what I did.”

“These are songs about hope for a better tomorrow, the hope that there’s got to be a better life than this, awaiting us with Jesus Christ.  God to me has always been a friend that I can call on, that was always there, ready to listen, and it was always my fault if I didn’t call on him enough.  I guess I might be a C-minus Christian, but I am one.”

“Even though the dark times, I always felt like I was bound for the Promised Land, especially singing these songs.  They take you to the Promised Land.”

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And one quote by Martin Luther:

“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.  The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

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Johnny Cash sings “I Am a Pilgrim” from his mother’s hymnbook:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00_c1SwPUjk

And also, “Where We’ll Never Grow Old”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9Q6uo5hOhc

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Psalm 96:1  —  Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Psalm 33:3  —  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Psalm 71:17-18  —  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

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Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

–Charlotte Elliot  (1789-1871)

1025) The Suffering God

By Alvin Rogness, The Word for Every Day, page 303, Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.

     If God is perfect, does he suffer?  If he is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present, holy and eternal, can we possibly cause him to suffer?  Would it not be beneath his dignity to let small people like us cause him pain?

     If, in addition to all these other sovereign qualities, he should be a God of love, then how can he escape suffering?  If we love someone, we give that person the power to hurt us.  To the degree that we love, to that degree we may have to suffer.  A loving wife who is betrayed by a faithless husband knows what suffering love is like.  A father and mother who lose a child know.  The only certain way to be spared suffering is never to love at all.

     God opened himself up for suffering when he created us to be his sons and daughters.  Had made us like all other creatures, beasts and birds and fish, he could have escaped the risk.  In the very first book of the Bible, we see him broken-hearted over the betrayal.  Adam and Eve chose the enemy of God instead of God.  And throughout the long chapters of the Old Testament, as he lavishes his love upon Israel, only to have them turn to other gods again and again, we watch him suffer.

     One would think his patience would run out.  It would have, had his love run out.  But he loves with an everlasting love.  Once committed to his children, he could not abandon them, though they grieved him a thousand times.  His anger would flare, but it was anger out of a broken heart.  Not only was it anger at his children, but more often high indignation over the evil that caused suffering for his children.  He wept for them and with them.

     Anyone who has lost a dear one in death, anyone who has watched a dear one in agony, anyone who has had his dreams shattered, anyone who has writhed in pain has known what great comfort there is in having a God who, in love, suffers with us.  If, when our son was killed, I would have had to think of God sitting detached as a spectator, I could not have prayed to him.  It is good to remember I had a Lord who wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  It is of great comfort to have a God who loves and suffers.

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Genesis 6:5-6  —  The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

John 11:35-36  —  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Hebrews 4:14-16  —   Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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Do not be far from me, O Lord,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

–Psalm 22:11

1024) Jealousy

I Samuel 18:5-9  —  Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army.  This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.  When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine (Goliath), the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing,with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.  As they danced, they sang:  “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”  Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly.  “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands.  What more can he get but the kingdom?”  And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

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WHEN GOD BLESSES OTHERS

     Jealousy is a destructive attitude that poisons the way you view life.  It is so harmful that God condemned jealousy in the Ten Commandments.  King Saul was a jealous and insecure man.  He had been elevated to the highest position in Israel.  He had been blessed in numerous ways.  But Saul saw that David was gaining the attention and praise of the Israelites.  The Israelites recognized Saul’s accomplishments, but they also praised David, whom God was using to accomplish even more.  Rather than rejoicing that God had empowered another to defeat their enemies, Saul became murderously jealous and sought to destroy David.

     Jealousy is an abomination in the life of a Christian.  God has made us His children.  None of us deserves to be God’s child, so there is no need to compare our blessings with those of other children of God.  Jealousy is self-centeredness at its worst.  Jealousy robs us of joy and chokes our contentment.  Jealousy hardens the heart and stifles gratitude.  Jealousy assumes that God’s resources are too limited for Him to bless another and still bless us.

     Watch over your heart!  If you find yourself unable to rejoice in the success of others, beware!  Do not let jealousy taint your heart.  Repent before it robs you of any more of the joy and contentment God desires for you.  When you are tempted to compare your success in life to that of another, ask God to remind you of all the ways He has blessed you undeservedly.

–From Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.  –William Penn

Don’t waste time on jealousy.  Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.  –Mary Schmich

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Exodus 20:17  —  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

James 3:16-17  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

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Lord, I perceive my soul to be deeply guilty of envy.  I would prefer your work not done at all, than to be done better by someone else other than myself.  Cleanse me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and turn my envy into gratitude, making me thankful to you for other people’s gifts, as well as for my own.  Amen.

–Thomas Fuller  (1608-1661), English clergyman and historian  (adapted)

1023) Doing Good Work

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By Dorothy Sayers, British writer (1893-1957), Creation or Chaos, 1949, pages 56-57:

   The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this:  that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.  By all means he should go to church, and he should certainly find for himself decent forms of amusement– but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?  No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare say, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.  Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth.  No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

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     Martin Luther was once approached by a man who happily announced he had recently become a Christian.  Eager to serve God, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?”  The man was probably expecting to hear he should abandon his old life, go to a monastery, and become a priest or a monk.

     “What is your work now?” Luther asked.

     “I make shoes,” the man replied.

     “Then make a good shoe,” Luther replied, “and sell it at a fair price.”

     The story may or may not be true, but it is certainly true to the spirit of what Luther taught about how to best serve our neighbor.

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Mark 6:3a  —  “Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son…?” 

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I Peter 4:10–11  —  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen. 

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A MORNING PRAYER FOR LABORERS:  O God, we thank you for the sweet refreshment of sleep and for the glory and vigor of the new day.  As we set our faces once more toward our daily work, we pray for strength sufficient for our tasks.  May Christ’s spirit of duty and service ennoble all we do.  Uphold us by the consciousness that our work is useful work and a blessing to others.  If there has been anything in our work harmful to others and dishonorable to ourselves, reveal it to our inner eye with such clearness that we shall hate it and put it away, even though it be at a loss to ourselves.  When we work with others, help us to regard them not as servants to do our will, but as brothers and sisters, equal to us in human dignity, and equally worthy of their full reward.  May there be nothing in this day’s work of which we shall be ashamed when the sun has set, nor in the evening of our life when our task is done and we to go our long awaited home to see your face.  We pray this in the name of Jesus our Lord.  AMEN.

–Walter Rauschenbusch (alt.), For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909

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O Lord, give your blessing, we pray, to our daily work, that we may do it in faith and heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.  All our powers of body and mind are yours, and we devote them to your service.  Sanctify them, and the work in which we are engaged; and, Lord, so bless our efforts that they may bring forth in us the fruits of true wisdom.  Teach us to seek after truth and enable us to gain it; and grant that while we know earthly things, we may know you, and be known by you, through and in your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

–Thomas Arnold (1795-1842)

1022) Sowing in Tears

By William Willimon, Pastor, pages 92-93, Abingdon Press, 2002:

     A woman in my church suffered from periodic bouts of depression.  These were described to me as times when she felt “down and depressed.”  During such times, she would often call me to come by her house for a visit.  I would have conversation with her, offer a prayer, and often she would say that she felt better.

     One day she called me to come to her house because, she said, “I’m feeling kind of down today.”  As Providence would have it, I was reading Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Jeremiah.  I told her that I would be by that afternoon.  After speaking with her, I returned to my study of Jeremiah.  Brueggemann says that among the prophets, one can discern a number of typical prophetic moves.  The first prophetic move is tears, as the prophet attempts a public expression of grief.  The prophet does this, not to leave people in tears, but rather so that people, through their grieving, might learn to be open to new arrangements of reality– to the will of God.  Vision (or, re-vision) is dependent upon letting go, and in the relinquishment there are tears.

     When I appeared at this parishioner’s house that afternoon, I had a different mode of care to offer.  I said to her, “I want to apologize.  I have been treating you as if you had some sort of illness.  But how do I know that?  Here you are, sitting in your half-million dollar house, with all that the world has to offer around you, and yet this doesn’t appear to be enough.  You seem to be in grief, as if you were expecting more.  I wonder why you think you deserve more, and that life could be even better for you than it is.  Many people think Greenville is a great place to live.  I wonder why you look for more.”

     This led to a wonderful conversation about her life.  We came to the conclusion that afternoon that God was indeed pushing her to some new place (and, I assume, some new endeavor –ed.).  Her grief did appear to be a kind of prelude to a more abundant life, a wider world.

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From A Godward Life, by John Piper, pages 89-90, 1997, Multnomah Press:

Psalm 126:5-6  —  Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

     There is nothing sad about sowing seed.  It takes no more work than reaping.  The days can be beautiful.  There can be great hope of harvest.  Yet Psalm 126 speaks of “sowing in tears.”  It says that someone “goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing.”  Why the weeping?

     I think the reason is not that sowing is sad or that sowing is hard.  I think the reason has nothing to do with sowing.  Sowing is simply the work that has to be done, even when there are things in life that make us cry.  The crops won’t wait while we finish our grief or solve all our problems.  If we are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed whether we are crying or not.

     This psalm teaches the tough truth that there is work to be done whether I am emotionally up for it or not, and it is good for me to do it.  Suppose you are in a season of heartache and discouragement, and it is time to sow seed.  Do you say, “I can’t sow the field this spring, because I am brokenhearted and discouraged”?  If you do that, you will not eat in the winter.

     Suppose you say instead, “I am heartsick and discouraged.  I cry if the milk spills at breakfast.  I cry if the phone and doorbell ring at the same time.  I cry for no reason at all, but the work needs to be done.  That is the way life is.  I do not feel like it, but I will do my crying while I do my duty.  I will sow in tears.”

     If you do that, the promise of this psalm is that you will “reap with songs of joy;” not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but simply because sowing produces reaping.  We need to remember this even when our tears tempt us to give up sowing.

     George MacDonald counseled the troubled soul:

Think of something that thou ought to do and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room or the preparing of a meal or a visit to a friend.  Heed not thy feelings.  Do thy work.

     Here’s the lesson:  When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness and the tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears.

     Then say, by faith in future grace on the basis of Gods Word, “Tears, I know that you will not stay forever.  The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing.  God has promised.  I trust him.”

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Luke 17:10  —  (Jesus said), “When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Revelation 21:4a  —  He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes…

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Eternal Father, who are the life and light of Thy children, we give Thee hearty thanks for all the blessings Thou has so abundantly bestowed upon us.  We commend ourselves and all who are near and dear to us to Thy care and protection.  Give us grace so to live that we may have insight to see what is right, inspiration to do what is right, and industry to keep on doing what is right at whatever cost.  Grant us strength for all our work, understanding with all our endeavors, good will amid all our relationships, and peace in all our hearts.  Amen.

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