1340) Luke’s Special Love

          The four Gospels all tell the story of the life of Jesus, but none of them begin with his birth.  The Gospel of Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, and Jesus is already an adult.  Matthew’s Gospel begins by tracing the family tree of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.  John’s Gospel begins with the creation of the world, and in lofty, theological language, John tells us of the existence of Jesus, ‘the Word,’ even before creation.

          The Gospel of Luke begins with the story of a country priest.  Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth lived out in the hills of Judea.  They were common folks, not the type you would expect to make history; and they would have been forgotten if it wasn’t for Luke.  None of the other Gospel writers even mention them.  They all make a big deal about this couple’s famous son, John the Baptist, but none of the others say a word about this simple country pastor and his wife.  And Luke would not have had to go into this part of the story either.  It is not an essential part of the life of Christ.  But Luke had a thing about common people.  He had a special love for them.  You can see this all the way through his Gospel.  Luke tells us details that none of the others include.

          For example, Matthew tells us about the Magi (Wisemen) who came to see Jesus.  These were important, upper class people.  They journeyed a great distance to see this newborn King.  They could afford to travel in an age when few people even dreamed of that.  They brought gold and other expensive gifts, and were even invited to the palace to visit King Herod.  Matthew tells us about these celebrities, but he has not one word about the humble manger. 

          Luke tells us of Jesus’ other visitors—shepherds, from the lower class, and not very trustworthy.  People often assumed that since shepherds were so poor, they were probably all thieves, so one had to be careful around shepherds.  It was, in fact, illegal to purchase anything from a shepherd, so certain were the authorities that anything in their possession must be stolen property.  And a shepherd’s testimony was not admissible in court.  Even their word was considered no good.         

         Yet, who did God select to be the first to hear about and proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus?  Shepherds.  Matthew doesn’t tell us that part, but Luke does.  And they apparently did a fine job of it, because it says in chapter two that the people were amazed when they heard the shepherd’s story.

          And, of course, it is Luke that tells us about the tough luck Mary and Joseph had the night Jesus was born—no room in the inn, the Savior wrapped in nothing more than strips of cloth, and a manger for a bed.  These were poor people, having a bad night, with no one to help them; and Luke wants to make sure we know that part of the story.  

     Luke did not ignore those in power.  He dated his story by telling us what Caesar ruled at the time, who the Roman governor was, and the name of the Jewish king.  But these big shots are mentioned only in passing.  The rulers were getting all the headlines then, but Luke knew where the real history was being made.  He knew that God was doing his main work that night not in Rome, and not even in Jerusalem—but in the small town of Bethlehem and out in the countryside, with Elizabeth and Zachariah, Joseph the carpenter, the young bride Mary, an innkeeper, and the shepherds.

          In fact, in one place in the story, God uses these powerful rulers simply to set the stage for the big plans he had for His little people.  In the first chapter we are told of the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, the son of David.  That is well and good, but everyone knew that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.  The problem is, Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth—60 miles away, and any good Jew would be wondering about that.  This birth had to be in Bethlehem, not Nazareth, and people in those days did not travel unless it was absolutely necessary.  And so we read in the opening words of Luke 2:  “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, and everyone was required to go to his hometown to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the house and lineage of David.”  Caesar Augustus probably went to his grave thinking he took that census to make sure he wasn’t missing anyone on the tax rolls.  But here we learn the real story.  God was using Caesar, way over there in Rome, in all his temporary glory, to make sure the Messiah would be born in the right place, Bethlehem, just like the prophet Micah, seven centuries earlier, said he would.

          Even in the way Luke tells the story, he is teaching us something.  John, in his Gospel, tells us that if he would have written down everything Jesus said and did, the whole world would not contain the books.  So all the Gospel writers had to select those parts of the story they most wanted to tell us about.  And by his selection and arrangement of these stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke is telling us some things about the importance of common people who obey God.  He’s teaching us something about power, and how all power is with God, and how God uses that power.  Luke is beginning to tell us about what kind of Messiah Jesus would be—one not born to royalty, but to common people.  As a man, Jesus would be very comfortable spending time with all sorts of people, even the worst of them—a habit that often got him into trouble in a society that was very strict about who one did and did not associate with.  Jesus spent his time not in big auditoriums, but with individuals—healing a leper here, giving sight to a blind man there, and then restoring a woman with a troubled spirit.  Jesus took the time to pay attention to these people. 

     Luke loves this about Jesus, and he never tires of telling this amazing story of how the God of the universe would have time to stop and talk to a beggar.

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Christ Healing a Leper, Rembrandt

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Luke 18:35-42  —  As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him.  When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.  Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

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Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.

Away in a Manger, verse three.

1339) Jungle Christmas Carolers

By Joseph Degi, Copperas Cove, Texas, in Guideposts magazine, December 1988.

     None of us sailors in the 119th Construction Battalion were in the mood for Christmas.  No wonder!  Two hundred of us had been stuck for months right in the steamy middle of the tropical jungle, installing fuel tanks that were supposed to figure, somehow, in the last stages of this war with the Japanese.  It was so hot we pitched our tents on platforms and slept in hammocks to catch any passing breath of air.

     The lonesome, muggy, homesick days were far removed from the traditional Christmases we remembered.  We didn’t even have a chaplain on hand to help us celebrate.  In fact, the only regular visitors we saw were jungle tribesmen who haunted the fringes of our camp.  Dressed only in loincloths, the small bronze-skinned men would suddenly materialize in the undergrowth, staring at us from the shadows of the New Guinea rain forest, vanishing as noiselessly as they appeared.  Short and stocky, with flat faces and kinky hair, they were said to have been ferocious warriors before the coming of the missionaries.  Even now, the sight of them made us uneasy.

     Certainly that was our reaction on that unforgettable Christmas Eve of 1944.

     Shortly before dusk that day, they were there again, peering from the forest edge.  We were standing around the mess tent in our fatigues, not doing much, not saying much, just hanging around, sweating and brushing away the insects, trying hard not to think about what day this was.  Suddenly from all around the clearing they began to advance, scores of scowling, nearly naked tribesmen.  Never before had they ventured beyond the cover of the Jungle, and instinctively we Seabees moved closer together.  There was nothing to fear from these solemn-faced unarmed men, but we couldn’t talk to them and we didn’t know what they wanted.

     The natives began to circle us.  Then they stopped and stood still.  The forest itself became very, very quiet, as if even the jungle was on alert.  Then, incredibly, the little men began to sing.  The words were strange and harsh-sounding in their native tongue, but the tune was unmistakably… “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…”

     Blinking back the sudden moisture in my eyes, I mentally supplied the familiar English lyrics.  When the former warriors finished, they launched into more songs in their deep guttural voices.  For half an hour these men sang us the songs of home, carols they must have learned from some unknown missionary in the brush.

     That night after our guests slipped back into the rain forest, I lay in my hammock, sweating, uncomfortable as ever, but no longer quite so melancholy.  Through their music and through their caring, these strangest of strangers had made us feel the familiarity and warmth of home.

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Psalm 68:32  —  Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord.

Isaiah 66:18-19  —  I…  am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.  I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations, …and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory among the nations.

Luke 2:10-14  —  The angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.   And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

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O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight…

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

–Phillips Brooks  (1835-1893)

1338) Hopeless?

By Bernie May, in the Wycliffe Bible Translator’s bimonthly publication ‘In Other Words,’ March 1986, p. 8.  Bernie May was Wycliffe’s United States Division Director.

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     It is easy to get discouraged these days.

     Sometimes I’ll come home in the evening and turn on the TV to watch the news.  It’s always bad.  Nations are threatening to blow each other up.  Terrorists are killing innocent people.  Drunk drivers are crashing their cars into helpless motorists.  People are being murdered, robbed, and beaten up.  Disease is rampant.  The world is filled with bad things, and it is discouraging.

     Even in church I sometimes get discouraged.  Attendance is down.  Offerings are off.  Church leaders are going bad.  Churches split.  People don’t seem to care about the things God cares about.

     What should Christians do when things seem hopeless?  We are the ones who are supposed to bring hope into this world.  But how can we spread hope when we, too, are discouraged?

     When the people of God grew discouraged in Bible times, God would often send a prophet to remind them of His faithfulness in times past.  Some Isaiah or David would show up to remind them of the God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, and who protected them from being wiped out by their enemies.  In the New Testament they talked about the resurrection of Jesus.  Prophets were messengers of hope.

     Millie Larson is that kind of prophet.  I have been reading her book Treasure in Clay Pots, and it has caused hope to spring up in my heart.

     One of my first flying assignments when I went to Peru as a jungle missionary pilot in 1956 was to bring Millie and her co-worker Jeanne Grover out to their remote mission post with the Aguaruna people.  I landed the little float plane on the Maranon River near a small Indian village and taxied up to the bank.  I helped the women crawl out and then carried their big, canvas duffel bags up the high, muddy bank to the village.  It was hot, the stinging insects were swarming, and we were covered with mud.  I made three trips up that slippery embankment, carrying their bags.  They also had a heavy radio.  After sweating and straining to get that up the bank, I had to climb two trees to string the antenna wire, so they could communicate with the home base at Yarinacocha, more than three hours flight across the jungle.

     I lingered under the thatched roof of the tiny hut with its dirt floor where these two wonderful young ladies were going to live– one a nurse, the other a translator.  I felt reluctant to fly off and leave them there.  I looked around at the Indians who seemed to glower at us.  They were known as killers.  When they talked, it was as though they were shouting at each other with deep, gutteral sounds.  The children were naked.  No one smiled.  I had not been in South America very long, and these Aguarunas pretty well fitted my childhood concept of “savages.”

     That night, back in Yarinacocha, I told my wife what I had been thinking.  “It’s a hopeless situation,” I said to her.  “Those two women believe they can make friends with those people, learn their language, form an alphabet, translate the Bible into their language, and then teach them to read.  I admire their courage and idealism, but it is hopeless.”

     Now here we are, thirty years later.  Not only did they finish the translation, but the greater miracle is what has happened to the Aguaruna people.  There are now churches in over 160 villages.  There are more than 8,000 believers.  There are 120 pastors.  More than 250 Aguarunas are now school teachers.  In fact, I recently talked to an Aguaruna man who has graduated from Peru’s National University with a degree in economics.  And this is all because two women heard God’s call, responded, and never gave up.

     Surely, that is the secret of overcoming hopelessness.  Millie and Jeanne had heard God, dedicated their lives to this task, and stuck with it.  As the story of the crossing of the Red Sea has given the Israelites hope through the ages, so the story of the Aguarunas give me hope.

     So when the news is bad, as it always is, be encouraged.  God is still at work.

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Millie Larson (1925- 2014), in 2012 at her retirement home in Bagley, Minnesota, 20 miles east of Bemidji where she graduated from high school in 1943.

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AN EARLIER BIBLE TRANSLATOR:

Englishman Robert Morrison (1782-1834) was the first Protestant missionary to China.  He had prayed “that God would station him in that part of the missionary field where the difficulties were the greatest, and to all human appearances, the most insurmountable.”  Morrison arrived in China in 1807 and spent the next twenty-seven years there until his death, returning to England only once in 1824-25.  Morrison translated the entire Bible into Chinese and wrote a dictionary and grammar of Chinese for use by Westerners.  In 27 years Morrison baptized only twelve converts, but his work paved the way for all future missionary work.  There are now over 300 million Christians in China (as many people as were in all of China during Morrison’s time).

The captain of the ship that brought Morrison to China asked him if he really expected to make an impact on the Chinese Empire.  Morrison replied, “No sir, but I expect God will.”

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Isaiah 57:9b-10  —  You sent your ambassadors far away; you descended to the very realm of the dead.  You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’  You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.

Romans 5:2b-4  —  We boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Hebrews 10:23  —  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

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Almighty God, who called the Church out of the world so that the Church might bring the world to Thee: Make us faithful, we pray, in the work that you have entrusted to our hands.  Stir up the hearts of your people here and everywhere, that by our prayers, gifts, and labors, we may do our part in the spreading of your Gospel over all the earth.  Raise up for this great work faithful and able men and women, who shall count it all joy to spend and be spent for the sake of your Son, and for the souls for whom he shed his blood.  Hasten the time when all the ends of the earth shall turn to the Lord, and all people of all nations worship Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958 (adapted).

1337) The Right to Interrupt

By Bernie May, in the Wycliffe Bible Translator’s bimonthly publication ‘In Other Words,’ sometime in the the mid-1980’s.  Bernie May was the U. S. Division Director of Wycliffe and one of his duties was to speak to groups to raise funds for Wycliffe’s work in translating the Bible for people around the world who do not yet have it in their own language.

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     I get a lot of invitations to speak in churches, to civic organizations, and special interest groups.  I turn down most of them because I simply don’t have time. But the ones I do accept have caused me to re-evaluate my entire concept of persuasion.

     One of the reasons I have been reluctant to speak is I know most people are simply not interested in what I have to say.  Oh, maybe the pastor has a heart for missions.  Some of the people may have the vision.  They may even be Wycliffe supporters.  But the vast majority of the people in the churches of America do not care about missions— much less about Bible translation.

     It’s not that they are intentionally uninterested in missions.  They just have other priorities.

     You know, it’s hard to be concerned about people you’ve never met, who live in a land you’ve never visited, and have names you can’t pronounce— especially when your only car has a broken transmission and you don’t have a way to get to work.

     Most of the people sitting in the pews today are simply trying to survive.  They have problems at home.  Their kids are rebelling.  They’ve been told their job is phasing out.  They have elderly, parents who have great needs.  Even the strongest of today’s Christians are bombarded with incredible pressures.

     The same is true with pastors.  Most pastors understand the Great Commission. They want their churches to be mission minded.  They believe the Bible is the Word of God and know it should be placed in the hands of every tribe and every nation— in their own tongue.  But it’s hard to keep up a mission emphasis when U.S. Steel has just closed down its plant and 30 percent of the congregation are suddenly out of work.  Or the associate pastor has just confessed he’s been having an affair with the secretary.  Or the deacons have just had a secret meeting to discuss the recent shenanigans of the pastor’s teenage son.

     So, I’ve been asking myself:  Do I have the right to break into someone’s thoughts when his car won’t work or he’s just learned his father is dying?  Or the right to talk about something which he feels does not even apply to his situation?  Something like Bible translation?

     Yet I know if a man is going to be blessed by God, he has to start thinking as God thinks.  God’s concerns need to become his concerns. If he is ever going to tap into the resources of God, which I believe are for all men— happiness, health, prosperity, peace with self and all mankind— he has to do it God’s way and by thinking God’s thoughts.

     What are God’s concerns?  I think God is deeply concerned about this world, and about the people of this world.  He gave His only Son so the people of this world could have eternal life.  If that message is not taken to the world, then God’s will is not done.

     Whom does God want involved in taking the message?  Whom does He call?  He calls the man who has just learned his father is dying.  He calls the woman whose car has just broken down and she can’t find a ride to work.  He calls the preacher whose family is having problems.  He calls us all.

     The Bible says the way we find the answers to our problems is through concern for others.  The man who loses himself in caring for others finds himself, Jesus said.  When I give up my concerns for the sake of others, I find the answers I need for myself.

     I realize it doesn’t make sense.  In fact, it doesn’t make sense to me.  But I know it’s right because every time I put it into practice in my own life, remarkable things happen.

     For instance, Nancy and I have learned that when we begin to have financial problems, we start looking for something we can give money to.  And invariably God meets our need.

     What I’m saying is, it is right for me to invade the lives of people with great problems and challenge them with the needs of the world.  The finest way I can help people is to get them thinking God’s thoughts.  And God is always thinking about the people who don’t even have the Bible.

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THE GREAT COMMISSION:  Matthew 28:19-20a  —  (Jesus said), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

JESUS INTERRUPTS FOUR MEN:  Matthew 4:18-22  —  As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Isaiah 6:8  —  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I.  Send me!”

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Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10

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Two women from Papua New Guinea show their new Bibles in their own language provided by Wycliffe translators.

1336) No Mutts

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“NO SUCH THING AS A MUTT” by Roy Borges

     The first time I laid eyes on my brother’s dog, I didn’t like him.  He was a mangy old mutt.  As far as I was concerned, he was utterly worthless.  He didn’t know any tricks.  He picked the most inconvenient times to have to go out.  And he wasn’t a very good watchdog.  In fact, if anybody ever tried to break into our house, I’m sure this dog would have helped him.

     My brother’s dog knew how much I disliked him.  That’s why he made it his mission in life to torment me.  For example, he never chewed up anything that belonged to my brother.  But that lousy dog chewed up everything I owned.  One day he chewed up the title to my car.

     I despised this mutt.  But I loved my brother very much.  So, one afternoon, I agreed to help him out by babysitting his dog.  But as I worked around the house that day, I soon forgot about the dog.  And when someone – maybe me – left the front door open, that sneaky mutt ran right out into the street.  Suddenly I heard the screeching of tires and a sad, mournful yelp.  I ran to the door.  There in the middle of the road lay my brother’s dog.  I knew he was dead.  I’ll never forget the pain on my brother’s face when he came home and found the dog he loved lying dead on the living room floor.  I’d never seen my brother cry, not even when I smashed up his brand new car.  But he cried that day.  I cried inside as I watched my brother suffer.

     Suddenly I realized that just because I didn’t see anything good about this mutt didn’t mean there wasn’t anything good about him.  My brother saw this dog with a different set of eyes than I did.  He loved him a lot.

     Sometimes it’s like that with people.  We meet others who look like mutts to us.  They have irritating personalities.  They do things we don’t like.  They cause us problems.  All in all, they seem pretty worthless.  We just don’t like them.  Maybe we even hate them.

     So it’s hard to understand what God could possibly see in them.  But God looks at each of us with a different set of eyes.  He loves every one of us very much.  In fact, He loves every one of us so much that He sent His only Son to die on the cross for us so that we could know salvation and spend eternity with Him.  There are no mutts in God’s eyes.

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     Roy Borges, the author of this little story, has a reason for wanting to write about mutts.  He says, “I’ve been a mutt for much of my life, someone looked down upon as a worthless person, someone nobody wanted; and for good reason.”  Roy is 68 years old, and in his 32nd year of a 45 year sentence at the Florida State Prison after being found guilty of committing several burglaries.  He was 36 years old when he was sent up for that long sentence on the three strike law.  He had been in and out of prison several times before that, and the judge decided that the Florida court system had had enough of him.

     In between his previous times in prison, Roy had gotten married and fathered a child.  But he lost both his wife and daughter after a pattern of abuse and abandonment.  When he wasn’t robbing homes, he was using drugs.  He learned both habits as a child from his heroin addicted ex-con father.  Roy Borges admits he was worse than his brother’s worthless mutt.  After all, the dog just laid around all day, and at worst chewed up shoes or other items.  But Borges left behind a path of pain and misery wherever he went.

     In December of 1989 Roy’s life was changed dramatically.  He went to the prison chapel service on Christmas Eve.  He heard a fellow inmate talk about his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ and the tremendous impact that had on his life, even though he was still in prison.  Roy decided to give his life to Christ, and he has not been the same since.

     Roy began to spend all his free time reading to learn more about his new faith.  Then, he began to write about it.  He said this was a great surprise to him, because English was his worst subject in school, and now, he wanted to read and write all the time.  God has blessed his efforts.  Several of his articles have been published, first in the prison newspaper, and then in national magazines.  He has won several writing awards and has written two books.

     Roy Borges remains in prison.  The article I read did not say when he was eligible for parole, but he is sentenced to be in prison until he is over eighty years old. So his time is divided between writing and working at his job in the prison kitchen. He says, “My greatest desire is to write for other prisoners.  So many of them are lost, like I was for so long, and I know how to speak to them. This writing has given my life meaning and purpose even here.  God has given me this gift and this work so that I can serve him.”

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Roy Borges, inmate #029381, Florida State Prison system

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Genesis 39:20-21a  —  Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.  But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him…

Luke 4:18-19  —  (Jesus said), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Psalm 119:141  —  Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.

Psalm 22:23-24  —  You who fear the Lord, praise him!…  For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.

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Almighty and most merciful God, we call to mind before you all those whom it would be easy to forget:  the homeless, the destitute, the sick, the aged, those in prison, and all who have none to care for them.  Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy.  Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg, 1978, prayer #181, (adapted)

1335) God Is Not Mocked

From The Scarlet Thread, by Gardener C. Taylor (1918- 2015), p. 100f. Preaching on Galatians 6:7-9

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     We are willing and ready to admit to the presence of law, governing law, in every area of our existence except in the part we call moral and spiritual.  It would take a prize fool, indeed, to argue that there is no law of gravity.  “What goes up, must come down” is a common way of putting it.  Now, you would  consider somebody really off their rocker who would argue that there ‘might’ be a law of gravity, or that it does work ‘sometimes,’ or that certain people do not have to obey the law of gravity.  

     The law of gravity works everywhere and for everyone all of the time.  Let anybody, without regard to station or position, go to the top of an eighty foot building.  Such a person is free to jump or not to jump.  But if that person chooses to jump, then that person’s freedom is gone.  Then the law of gravity is in effect.  There is no use for that person once he or she has jumped to file any petitions.  It makes no difference who the person is, where he or she was born, who are the parents, what is the social status, or how many honors the jumper possesses.  The law of gravity is in effect and the mangled body on the sidewalk on the street below will give the evidence that the law of gravity cannot be avoided, appealed, suspended, seduced, or discounted…

     We accept this law.  

     But when we move into the moral and spiritual realm, we act as if we are on our own.  So many of us seem to think that we have things exclusively in our hand.  What we do is our business, and nobody has anything to do with it.  This is the philosophy of our generation– and our neuroses and psychoses run away with us, and our nerves crack, and our jails are full, and our marriages are hardly more in number than our divorces, and our liquor and drug bills soar.  Everywhere people are wringing their hands.  Thugs mug, legislators steal and rob, business executives plunder– and we wonder why.  What has happened?  What has gone wrong?

     Well, Paul tells us in Galatians that what we have forgotten is that there is a law governing the moral and spiritual affairs of life.  Indeed, it would make no sense if the God who put the physical world under the governance of regulations would leave the moral and spiritual life lawless and loose.  Could this be the case when the attributes, the qualities, of God are moral and spiritual?  Not at all, says Paul to the Galatian Christians.  Let nobody fool you.  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, he shall also reap.”  This is the law.  It is written into the structure of things.  It is inscribed in the stuff of life, the makeup of the universe.  This is God’s Law.

      “Be not deceived.  God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  This is a warning to those who need to be warned.  Live for your flesh, invest only in your flesh, and at the end you will have nothing but your flesh— fat, diseased, inflamed, corrupt, fevered, dead, and decayed.  Sow corn and you get corn, sow tomatoes and you get tomatoes.  When we invest lavishly in our physical comforts and luxuries, and starve our spirits, do not think that the Lord will understand and will see to it that we are not hurt.  Mark my words, not even God can save us from the consequences of His law.  We are not so much punished for our sins as we are punished by our sins.

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Galatians 6:7-9  —  Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Jeremiah 2:17  —  Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way?

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Forgive me my sins, O Lord:  the sins of my present and the sins of my past; the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have labored so to hide that I have hidden them even from myself.  Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all; for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  –Thomas Wilson (d. 1775)

1334) Not Understanding… Yet

Two quotes from The Key Next Door, 1959, by Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976), Anglican pastor of City Temple in London.

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     Can we really hope to understand all that our heavenly Father does?  Can a toddler, whose father is a surgeon, understand that his father must make people unconscious, lay them on a table, and cut them with knives?  Can a child watching a building site, covered with cranes and cement and stones and rubbish, understand what the architect is going to do with it?  Can a child, confronted with a batch of black dots on a sheet of paper, realize that it is the music of Beethoven which will thrill the world as long as the world lasts?

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     Let us remember that we shall never feel so defeated, so depressed, so beaten, so cheated, as eleven men felt on Good Friday night.  Jesus had promised them the world!  They were going to rule in a kingdom.  Some of them were going to sit on His right and on His left.  Life was going to be marvelous.  They had become important.  They were going to do big things…  And then Jesus was arrested, tortured, and crucified.   We shall never feel as they felt then.  No, not even crippling disease, financial failure, the broken heartedness which comes from the loss of love, the desertion of friends, the death of dear ones, the injustice and disappointments of life— none of these could bring us so low as the Cross brought those eleven men.  

     And then—Easter dawn, a voice, a testimony, an appearance, and a certainty, and they knew that even His death did not matter as much as they thought.  But then again, in a very different sense, it did indeed matter gloriously, and became a new beginning instead of a dismal end.

     Do you remember that night when you were only a little child and somehow your doll got smashed, or your favorite teddy bear got burnt in the kitchen fire, or someone stepped on your toy train?  I doubt if we can really recover now the anguish of spirit we felt then.  The adults who looked on said that we should get over it, or they would buy us another doll or another teddy or another train.  But we did not believe we should ever get over it, and in the darkness of our despair we sobbed ourselves to sleep.  And yet, now, we know it did not matter as much as we thought.

     The day will come when we shall look back on disease and war, on disaster and misery, on pain and sorrow, or, deprivation and frustration, and say, “Well, it was awful at the time, but it didn’t matter as much as we thought.”  That moment will come.  We shall then adjust our perspective.  We shall then see those things—even death—as the little things, and the big things will be the hands of God that sustained you, the purposes of God that never let you go, and the love of God that will bring you at last to the place where you understand and are content; the place where in unbroken joy we will bless the hand that guided us and restored all that was lost.

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Romans 8:18  —  I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

II Corinthians 4:16a…17-18  —  So we do not lose heart…  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Luke 19:42  —  (Jesus said), “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but for now it is hidden from your eyes.”

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Dear Lord, help us to get our perspective right so that we may see what matters most, and put our faith, trust, and hope in you alone.  Amen.

1333) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb15)

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From A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949, by John Baillie, Church of Scotland pastor and theologian, (1886-1960); containing a morning and evening prayer for thirty-one days (adapted)

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MORNING PRAYER  (Twentieth and Twenty-second day):

Almighty God, who in infinite wisdom determined that I should live my life within these narrow bounds of time and circumstance, let me go forth into the world with a brave and trusting heart.  It is your will to withhold from me a perfect knowledge; therefore deny me not the grace of faith by which I may lay hold of things unseen.  You have given me little power to mold things to my own desire; therefore use your own power to bring your desires to pass within me.  You have willed it that through labor and pain I should walk the upward way; be then my fellow traveler as I go.
Let me face whatever you send with the strength you supply.
When you prosper my undertakings, let me give heed so that your word may prosper in my heart.
When you call me to go through the dark valley, let me not persuade myself that I know a way around.
Let me not refuse any opportunity of service which may offer itself today, nor fall prey to any temptation that may lie in wait for me.
Let not the sins of yesterday be repeated in the life of today, nor the life of today set any evil example for the life of tomorrow…
O Lord Jesus Christ, who bids your disciples to shine as lights in a dark world, in shame and contrition of heart do I acknowledge before you the many faults and weaknesses of which we in the church today are guilty; and especially do I acknowledge my own part in the same.  Forgive me for the feebleness of my witness, the smallness of my charity, and the slackness of my zeal.  Make me to be a more worthy follower of Him who cared for the poor and the oppressed, and who could never see any kind of human need without turning aside to help.
Let your power, O Lord, be in us all, as we seek to serve you in this suffering world.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER:  (Tenth and Twelfth day)

O Lord, grant that through fellowship with you the true graces of Christian character may more and more take shape within my soul:

The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart;

The grace of courage, whether in suffering or in danger;

The grace to endure difficulties with patience as a good soldier of Jesus Christ;

The grace of boldness in standing for what is right;

The grace of preparedness and discipline, lest I enter into temptation;

The grace of strict truthfulness;

The grace to treat others as I would have others treat me;

The grace of love, that I may refrain from hasty judgement;

The grace of silence, that I may refrain from hasty speech;

The grace of forgiveness towards all who have wronged me;

The grace of tenderness towards all who are weaker than myself;

The grace of steadfastness in continuing to desire that you will do as now I pray.

And now, O God, give me a quiet mind as I lie down to rest.  Dwell in my thoughts until sleep overtakes me.  Let me rejoice in the knowledge that, whether awake or asleep, I am still with you.  Let me not be fretted by any anxiety over the lesser interests of life.  Let no troubled dreams disturb me, so that I may awake refreshed and ready for the tasks of another day…

Dear Father of all, make me the human channel, so far as in me lies, through which your divine love and pity may reach the hearts and lives of those who are nearest to me.  Amen.

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John 14 :1  —  (Jesus said), “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”

Galatians 6:16a…22-23  —  Walk by the Spirit… (and) the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Psalm 4:8  —  In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lordmake me dwell in safety.

1332) In Sickness and in Health

“I, Benjamin take thee Annie, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

     In 1876 when Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield made this vow to his bride, Annie Kinkead, he meant it with all of his being.  Warfield was born in 1851 near Lexington, Kentucky.  His father was a farmer and a published expert on raising cattle.  His mother was the daughter of Rev. Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, a theologian at the Presbyterian seminary in Danville, Kentucky.

     As a boy, Warfield made a public profession of his faith in the Lord Jesus and joined the Second Presbyterian Church of Lexington at the age of sixteen.  His mother wanted him to be a minister, but while he was a student at Princeton University, his main academic interests were mathematics and science.  He graduated with highest honors at the age of just nineteen and went off to Europe for graduate study in science.  To everyone’s surprise and his mother’s delight, he wrote home in 1872 to announce that he had decided to enter the ministry instead.

     He returned to the United States and entered Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with the class of 1876.  That summer he married Annie Kinkead, the daughter of a prominent Lexington attorney who had once represented Abraham Lincoln in a trial.

     For their honeymoon the happy couple went to Europe, where Warfield was to study at the University of Leipzig.  One day while they were hiking in the Harz Mountains of Germany, they were caught in a violent thunderstorm.  Annie suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.  She remained to some degree an invalid for the rest of her life.

     Back in America, Warfield served nine years as professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  In 1887 he was called to Princeton Theological Seminary as professor of Theology.

     At Princeton, Warfield became his generation’s leading exponent of Calvinistic theology in general and the authority of Scripture in particular.  He was an outspoken critic of the liberal scholarship of his day and a prolific author.  His collected works fill ten volumes.

     In the midst of all his teaching and writing, Warfield was simultaneously caring for his beloved Annie.  At first she was able to go on walks through the town of Princeton with her husband.  When this became too difficult for her, they would walk together back and forth across the front porch of their home.  Eventually she became bedridden and was seen by few others than her husband.  By his own choice, Warfield spent nearly all of his non-teaching hours at home.  Even with a busy academic schedule, he reserved time every day for reading to Annie.  He was almost never away from his wife for more than two hours at a time.

     During the last ten years of Annie’s life, the Warfields only left Princeton once, to go on a vacation that he hoped would improve her health.  In spite of the limitations placed on his life by her condition, no one ever heard one word of complaint from Warfield.  In describing him a friend once said, “He has had only two interests in life—his work and Mrs. Warfield.”

     When Annie Warfield died on November 18, 1915, her husband had lovingly cared for her for thirty-nine years.  Warfield himself died five years later.

     In spite of all the hours spent as caregiver to his wife, no other theologian of his time is as widely read today or has had his books in print as long as those of Benjamin Warfield.  God blessed his faithfulness to his marriage vow.

The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon O. Rusten, Tyndale Publishing House, 2003, pages 646-647.

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Benjamin Warfield  (1851-1921)

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Philippians 4:12-13  —   I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Corinthians 13:7-8a  —   Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails…

Matthew 19:5b-6  —  (Jesus said), “‘A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh;’ so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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A PRAYER FOR MARRIED COUPLES:

O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City

1331) “Bah! Humbug!”

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Ebeneezer Scrooge and his nephew Fred  (1938 movie A Christmas Carol)

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From “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens  (1812-1870):

     “A merry Christmas, uncle!  God save you!” cried a cheerful voice.  It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

     “Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

     He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

     “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew.  “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

     “I do,” said Scrooge.  “Merry Christmas!  What right have you to be merry?  What reason have you to be merry?  You’re poor enough.”

     “Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily.  “What right have you to be dismal?  What reason have you to be morose?  You’re rich enough.”

     Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

     “Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

     “What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this?  Merry Christmas!  Out upon merry Christmas!  What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?  If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.  He should!”

     “Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

     “Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

     “Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew.  “But you don’t keep it.”

     “Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you!  Much good it has ever done you!”

     “There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew.  “Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round— apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that— as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

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Luke 2:10-14  —  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

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Joy to the world!  

The Lord is come.

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart

Prepare Him room. 

–Isaac Watts, 1719