815) Using Your ‘But’ (part one of two)

(This is a repeat of Emailmeditation #428.  I am using it here with a different title as a preface tomorrow’s Emailmeditation #816, which is new.)

     Though BUT is a simple and common word, it is one of the most wonderful words in the Bible.  As you remember from your grammar lessons in school the word ‘but’ serves as a conjunction in sentences.  Conjunctions are words that join together other words or phrases.  The two most common conjunctions in the English language are the words ‘and’ and ‘but.’  The word AND combines similar words or thoughts, like “Jim and Jack and Tom are all going to the ball game.”  The word BUT, on the other hand, introduces something new, or different, or contrary, into the sentence; such as, “Jim and Jack are going to the game, BUT Tom has to stay home because he is sick.”  The word BUT signals that the sentence is about to go off into another direction.

      In the beginning pages of the Bible (Genesis 15:1) God repeats to Abram a wonderful blessing he had given before.  “But,” says Abram, introducing a problem, “what good are all these blessings when I don’t even have an heir?  Where are all these children you have been promising me?”

     “But,” the Lord replies, introducing something different, “you will have an heir,” adding that Abram should look at the stars in the sky, because that is how numerous his descendants will be.  That was not only a different thought, but it was also unexpected since Abram and his wife were already middle-aged, and would be well into their old age before the child would be born.

     In those few verses from the earliest chapters of the Bible we see a pattern that will repeated throughout the pages of God’s Word.  First, there is a problem.  The person in the text is in some kind of trouble or distress, BUT then, there is always a way out provided by God.  Faith always has an answer.  God never fails.  So we see these ‘buts’ all over the place in the Bible, as God is always introducing something new and different and unexpected into every situation in order to bring the people through whatever situation they are in. 

   This is a message we all need to hear, because every person on earth is in at least one of three predicaments.  There are those who are in the midst of trouble, and there are those who are just coming out of trouble, and, there are those who are on their way into trouble.  Everyone falls into one of those categories, and maybe even all three at once.  We’ve all been through troubles, some of you are in the midst of sorrow or trouble right now, and everyone has more trouble ahead of them.

      BUT the Bible has something to say to us about our troubles.  Look at what God’s Word says in I Peter 4:12:   “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you; BUT rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  The trouble will not last, says Peter, BUT there is a solution.  There is another, better day coming, and if not in this life, then in that day when you will be with Jesus in his home, and then you will rejoice, says Peter.  In I Corinthians 6:9 Paul writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, not the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor thieves nor the greedy nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God–which is just what some of you were,” he says.  “BUT” Paul goes on, “You were washed, you were forgiven, you were justified in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”  We have all not only been in trouble, we have also caused trouble for ourselves and for others, or, as the Bible puts it, ‘we have all sinned and have fallen short’ of God’s expectations of us (Romans 3:23).  BUT, the Bible also says, Jesus has died for us and forgives us and has saved us from ourselves.  So in Romans 6:23 we read, “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

     Psalm 103 talks about how fast this life gets away on us.  We are like the flowers of the field, he says, here one day, and gone the next, BUT, it says, “from everlasting to everlasting the love of the Lord is with those who fear him.”

      One could go on and on with Bible verses because the Bible is filled with these kinds of ‘buts.’  This message is also in many of our best hymns.  Think of that most favorite of all hymns, Amazing Grace, which begins with these words:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, BUT now am found, was blind, BUT now I see.

     Think that other old favorite, How Great Thou Art.  The hymn starts out singing about the awesome wonders of God– the stars, the mighty thunder, the forest glades, and the lofty mountain grandeur; and then the first word of verse three is BUT:  “But when I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in; that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died, to take away my sin…”  God is so great and so awesome, BUT still he cares about little me and my troubles, and He has even sent his Son to die for me.

     Everybody has a story to tell of trouble in their life, and everyone who keeps looking to God also has a story to tell of how God has been with them in that trouble and brought them through, or, will bring them through.  These stories will frequently contain the word BUT:

“I was down in the pit of despair, BUT God brought me up…”
“I was sick and almost died, BUT God made me well…”
“I didn’t know what I would do, BUT God provided a way out for me…”
“I didn’t think I could go on, BUT God was with me and strengthened me…”

     Even when our stories end in the very worst way, as they all indeed will with death, even then, with God, we can say BUT, because we believe in the resurrection from the dead.  Faith prays, faith trusts, faith hopes, and then, no matter what happens, faith is always able to adjust to the new reality.  No matter how bad it gets, God always has another move to make.  As it says in Romans 14:8, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”  This kind of faith is shown by Martha in John chapter 11.  She had been praying that Jesus would come and make her brother well, but Jesus did not arrive in time and Lazarus died.  Even then she did not give up on faith, saying to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, BUT but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”  And Jesus went to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead.  Not even death can keep us from God, or keep God from fulfilling his promises to us.  

     Keep the faith– and keep looking for, praying for, and waiting for the ‘buts’ in your story.  (continued…)

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Genesis 50:19-20  —  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

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.

Hebrews 11:13-16  —  These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

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“Lead us not into temptation, BUT deliver us from evil.”

–Jesus, Matthew 6:13

814) Joseph’s Dysfunctional Family (b)

 

Joseph Receives his Brothers, by Gustav Dore  (1832-1883)

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     (…continued)  Sold by his brothers into slavery, Joseph is carried away to Egypt.  There, he spends many years as a slave, and then, in jail after being falsely accused of a crime.  He, of all people, could blame his misery on his childhood; and there were plenty to blame– his brothers, certainly, and also his father, and, Joseph himself contributed to the conflict.

     But blame never becomes the central element of this story, because there are far more interesting things going on.  Joseph’s thoughts on the whole matter are not revealed until the very end, fourteen chapters later.  In the meantime, the writer tells us nothing of what Joseph is thinking, only what he is doing.  In spite of the poor hand he was dealt by his brothers, Joseph makes the best of a bad situation.  Joseph works hard, rises through the ranks of slaves, and is soon in charge of all his master’s business.   Then, there is a setback.  He is falsely accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, and is sent to prison.  There, he also works hard, does well, and, is soon in charge of the administration of the entire prison.  Joseph, who was an arrogant brat at age seventeen, grew and matured, and in the chapters following this first chapter of the story, his behavior is noble in every way.  God is with Joseph, and he is given the ability to interpret dreams.  Pharaoh, the ruler over all of Egypt, hears of this gift, and sends for him.  The king is pleased with Joseph, and Joseph, in just one day, is promoted from being a prisoner in the dungeon, to being second in command over all of Egypt.  But again, we hear nothing of what Joseph thought of all this.  Earlier there was not a word of his despair or frustration, and now, not a word of his joy or gratitude.  We hear only what Joseph does; and he continues to do great things, serving his masters well, and being extremely productive and successful in all his work.

     In the end Joseph is reunited with his ten older brothers, and only then do we begin to see some of his emotions.  He asks about his father Jacob and his little brother Benjamin.  He has not seen either one for many years, and he weeps when he hears of them.  Soon, Jacob and Benjamin join the happy reunion.  

     Not until years later, at the very end of the story, do we find out what Joseph thought of his life’s journey.  Jacob has just died, and the brothers fear that Joseph will now seek revenge on them.  But Joseph says to his brothers:

Do not be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, do not be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.

     In those few words, Joseph expresses his thoughts on his incredible life.  There are two amazing things about this reply.  First of all, Joseph forgives his brothers.  That is a godly act, considering how much suffering they caused him, and how he now had complete power over them.  But not only does Joseph decide not to punish them, he chooses to continue to treat them and their children with all the finest that Egypt had to offer for the rest of their lives.  The second thing Joseph does is he views his whole life from the perspective of his faith in God.  Joseph does not even mention his own suffering, only the fact that God was able to work out his greater purposes through him.  In all the previous chapters, the writer focuses on what a good worker Joseph is and all the great things he is able to accomplish.  But here at the end, Joseph attributes everything to God’s grace.  Joseph believed God was able to use the suffering in his life to accomplish a far greater good, working through him to save many lives.  That is an amazing act of faith and good will.

     As we look over the events of our own lives, we can view them from many different perspectives.  I began by pointing out how popular it is nowadays to find someone else to blame.  Another approach might be to blame God for what we believe is lacking or goes wrong.  We might even consider our own blame or credit, although we usually get this all wrong too.  Some folks are far too hard on themselves, and others refuse to take any responsibility for anything.  

     Joseph gives us a far better example.  Joseph could have taken all the other approaches.  He could have blamed his brothers.  They sold him into slavery and were the most obvious culprits.  Or, Joseph could have blamed his father for favoring him and turning him into such a brat.  Or, he could have been hard on himself and blamed himself for flaunting his favored status and irritating his brothers.  Or, he could have taken all the credit for working so hard and doing such wonderful things.  Or, at the end, he could have just as easily blamed God instead of giving him credit, and he could have had his brothers killed.  Joseph’s remarkable life could have been viewed in so many different ways.  But Joseph chose to focus on God’s grace, and not on his own works.  Joseph chose to view all what happened to him with gratitude, and not with resentment.  And Joseph chose to forgive those who mistreated him, and not blame them.

     Hearing and believing in God’s Word may not get you more money or better luck than your neighbor who pays no attention to God’s Word.  But hearing and knowing and applying God’s Word to your life will give you something far more valuable than good luck or a comfortable life.  It will give you the wisdom to understand life, and then to live life with gratitude, love, patience, faith, and, an eternal hope; rather than with blame and resentment and envy.  If we, like Joseph (and like Clarence Thomas in yesterday’s meditation), can see things from the perspective of God’s grace, everything will look completely different.  We will see life as it truly is and we will be able to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Genesis 50:19-21  —  Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

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Lord God, in whom we live and move and have our being, open our eyes that we may see your fatherly presence ever about us.  Teach us to be anxious about nothing, and when we have done what you have given us to do, help us, O God, to leave the outcome to your wisdom, knowing that all things are possible to us through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

–Richard Meux Benson  (1824-1915)

813) Joseph’s Dysfunctional Family (a)

 

  

     My Grandfather’s Son is the autobiography of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.  Justice Thomas was raised by his grandparents, and his story reminded me of the Old Testament story of Joseph.  Both were raised by flawed, but powerful and good men.  Both overcame tremendous obstacles in their youth.  And both went on to great careers, rising fast through the ranks, and reaching to the heights of governmental power.  The careers of both were marred by accusations of sexual misconduct.  And, both had a deep faith in God and a profound gratitude to God.  Both men thanked God for what they had been given, and for the ways God brought them through all their troubles.

     Clarence Thomas has often thought back to the lessons his grandfather taught him, lessons that seemed harsh at the time.  But it was those harsh lessons gave him the strength and the wisdom to work hard, endure adversity, and succeed.  Old grandpa had a rough, old school approach to raising kids, and in the 1960’s, Thomas, like so many others, rebelled against it.  But then over the years, he returned to his grandfather’s ways, and now, he gives his grandfather the credit for his success.  The years of rebellion were tough on the relationship, and a great sadness for Thomas is that they never really had a chance to be fully reconciled before his grandfather’s death.  Grandpa remained harsh and hard, and Clarence was too proud to bend, and that’s how things stood when grandfather died.  But now, years later, in this book Clarence expresses his appreciation for his grandfather’s influence.

     Many people take an opposite approach, blaming all their adult troubles on their childhood.  There are things in everyone’s past that could tempt us to do that.  There is that popular image of the patient lying on the psychiatrist’s couch, going deep into his or her childhood to bring back painful memories of things that have led to their current problems.  There are the tell-all biographies of celebrities or celebrities’ children that describe truly terrible stories of neglect and abuse.  Some of the stories Clarence Thomas told about his grandfather could have been told from that perspective.  Grandpa’s firmness was never abusive, but it could seem very mean, especially by today’s standards.  It is easy for anyone to find hurtful things in their past, no matter how wonderful their parents or how privileged their birth.  It is an imperfect world we live in, and if one wants to dwell on it long enough, or think back hard enough, they can think of all kinds of things that went wrong as they were growing up– mistakes parents made, teachers that were mean, other kids that were brutal, and all sorts of other reasons why one just could not help turning out as troubled as they now are.  This is not to deny or downplay that many childhoods are extremely abusive and damaging, and it does, for some, become too much to overcome.  But even in less traumatic situations our memories can be very selective, and we can choose to color our remembrances of the past in whatever way we want.  I have heard siblings who grew up in the same home, recalling the very same situations; and for one, the memories are filled with gratitude, and for the other, the memories are filled with bitterness and resentment.  If we want to find someone else to blame for all of our troubles, we can do it.

     It would be hard to find someone with a childhood as complicated as Joseph’s in the Bible.  The story is told in chapters 37-50 of the Old Testament book of Genesis.  The first few verses of chapter 37 are already filled with conflict, and we see from the very beginning that there is trouble.  Joseph, the second youngest boy in the family, is out tending flocks with his brothers, and “he brings his father a bad report about them” (verse two).  Back when I was a kid, someone who did that was called a ‘tattle tale’ or a ‘squealer.’  That is what they were, even if they were your own flesh and blood.  So Joseph was a tattle-tale, and you can be quite sure Joseph’s ten older brothers did not much care to have him around.  But that’s not uncommon.  Many children even today do not always appreciate having their little brother or sister around.  On the other hand, there is also enough in the story to suggest that the other brothers were mean and irresponsible troublemakers, provoking other tribes in the area and causing difficulties for their father.  It may even have been for the sake of the family’s safety that Joseph wanted to keep his father informed.

     In verse three, we see more trouble, this time caused by the father of the 12 boys.  Jacob was a wise and godly old man who should have known better, but the Bible says, “Jacob loved Joseph MORE than any of his other sons.”  Everyone knows that’s not a good way to be a parent.  Not only did Jacob love Joseph more, he made it very clear to everyone that Joseph was his favorite by having a richly ornamented robe made for him, that famous ‘coat of many colors.’  That kind of favoritism will inevitably bring of conflict, and it did in Jacob’s family.

     In the popular television program Everybody Loves Raymond, Raymond is obviously loved more by his mother than is Robert, the other son in the family.  On TV this can generate a lot of laughs, but in real life that kind of favoritism will bring a lot of conflict.  And it did in Jacob’s family. Verse four says, “When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”  Today we would call this a dysfunctional family.  It gets worse.

     In verse 14, Jacob the father, sends Joseph the favorite son, out to check on the rest of the brothers who are tending the flocks.  Jacob apparently doesn’t trust these boys, and is no doubt hoping that Joseph will do some more tattling.  The brothers plan to see to it that he doesn’t.  The solution they propose is to murder Joseph and deceive their father.  Rueben, the oldest son, prevents this drastic solution.  Then Judah, another one of the older sons, comes up with a different plan, convincing them all get rid of Joseph by selling him as a slave to a caravan going to Egypt.  That, they believed, would certainly be the end of Joseph for them.

     They would, however, still have to deceive their father.  So in verses 31-32, the brothers smear the despised ‘coat of many colors’ with animal blood and take it home to their father.  Jacob is heartbroken, and decades grieves for the loss of his favorite son.  (continued…)

Joseph’s Coat Brought to Jacob, Giovanni de Ferrari, 1640

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Genesis 37:2-4  —  This is the account of Jacob’s family line.  Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

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Deliver us, good Lord, from the excessive demands of business and social life that limit family relationships; from the insensitivity and harshness of judgment that prevent understanding; from domineering ways and selfish imposition of our will; from softness and indulgence mistaken for love.  Bless us with wise and understanding hearts that we may demand neither too much nor too little, and grant us such a measure of love that we may nurture our children to that fullness of manhood and womanhood which you intended for them, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Charles S. Martin (b. 1906), Headmaster of St. Alban’s School, Washington, D.C.

812) Morning Prayers

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O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning:  Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day:  Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This is another day, O Lord; I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

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MARTIN LUTHER’S ORDER FOR MORNING PRAYER (Small Catechism, 1529):
In the morning, when you rise, make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  Then, you may say this prayer:
“I give Thee thanks, heavenly Father, through thy dear Son Jesus Christ, that Thou hast protected me through the night from all harm and danger. I beseech Thee to keep me this day, too, from all sin and evil, that in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may please Thee. Into thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine. Let thy holy angel have charge of me, that the wicked one may have no power over me. Amen.”
After singing a hymn or whatever your devotion may suggest, you should go to your work joyfully. 

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Lord, I shall be verie busy this day.
I may forget Thee, but do not forget me.

–Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652) on October 23, 1652
before the battle of Edgehill in the English Civil War.

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Make us remember, O God, that every day is your gift, to be used according to your command.  Amen.

 –Samuel Johnson

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Since it is of thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to thee and thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life:  in which resolution, do thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London (d. 1748)

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The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties. Help us, O Lord, to perform them with laughter and kind faces, and let cheerfulness abound with industry. Give to us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and contented and undishonored, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep.  Amen.

–Robert Louis Stevenson

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As we go into a new day we thank Thee, O Lord, for the refreshment of sleep and food and for all thy mercies, and we beseech Thee that this day
Thy strength would pilot us,
Thy power preserve us,
Thy wisdom instruct us,
Thy eye watch over us,
Thy ear hear us,
Thy Word give us sweet talk,
Thy hand defend us,
Thy way guide us. Amen.

–St. Patrick

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Dear God, help me today to watch my mouth so what goes in and what comes out won’t make me regret or hang my head with shame; so that at eve I can say, thank you, God, for helping me again.  Amen.

–Hilda Nelson

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O God, Lord of all power and might, preserver of all thy creatures:  Keep us this day in health of body and soundness of mind, in purity of heart and cheerfulness of spirit, in contentment with our lot and charity with our neighbor; and further all our lawful undertakings with thy blessing.  In our labor strengthen us; in our pleasure purify us; in our difficulties direct us; in our perils defend us; in our troubles comfort us; and supply all our needs, according to the riches of thy grace in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House

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Lamentations 3:22-24  —  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Psalm 5:3  —  In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 88:13  —  I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

811) Humility

Pride is concerned with WHO is right.  Humility is concerned with WHAT is right.

–Ezra T. Benson

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Pride is a spiritual cancer; it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

–C. S. Lewis

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Being humble means recognizing that we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others.

–Gordon Hinckley

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We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.

If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.

These are the few ways we can practice humility:  To speak as little as possible of one’s self.  To mind one’s own business.  Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.  To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.  To pass over the mistakes of others.  To accept insults and injuries.  To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.  To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

–Mother Teresa

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It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. 

–St. Augustine

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Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.

–Jonathan Edwards

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Better to gain humility through defeat than to grow arrogant through victory.

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Humility opens the door to gratitude.

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Humility is a strange thing– the minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.

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It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.  It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

–Mahatma Gandhi

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Talent is God-given; be humble.  Fame is man given; be thankful.  Conceit is self-given; be careful.

–John Wooden

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Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.

–Thomas Merton

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Life is a long lesson in humility.

–John Barrie

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Proverbs 11:2  —  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 15:33  —  Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lordand humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 18:12  —  Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor.

Micah 6:8  —  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 23:11-12  —  (Jesus said), “The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I Corinthians 10:12  —  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

James 4:6b…10  —   God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble…  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

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810) The Worst People on Earth (b)

     (…continued)  Two messages from this amazing story.  First of all, this is an extraordinary story of forgiveness.  Every day the news is dominated by accounts of death and destruction in the Middle East, where centuries old disputes go on and on and on with revenge upon revenge.  Without forgiveness, the cycle of violence never ends.  The Waorani themselves were disappearing as a people, destroying themselves because they knew nothing of forgiveness.  The story of the forgiveness given by these grieving missionary families, and the impact that had on the tribe that inflicted the pain, is an illustration to the whole world of the power of forgiveness.  These missionary family members did not seek revenge, but instead still desired to serve the Waorani.  In doing so, they gave them tangible proof of the truth and power of the message of the Gospel which they proclaimed.  This transformed the entire tribe; changing their beliefs and their whole way of life.

     The second message in this story has to do with how those five men died, for it was how the missionaries responded to the attack that eventually prepared their killers to be receptive to the Gospel.  You see, those five missionaries had guns along that day that they were killed.  The jungle is filled with dangerous animals, and you don’t want to be there without a gun.  But not one shot was fired at the attacking Waorani.  Five men with guns could have certainly put up a fight against any number of tribesmen armed only with spears.  They all could have probably even survived the attack and escaped with their lives and returned to their families.  But they did not use their guns on the Waorani, because all five had decided ahead of time that they would not.  Why?  Because, as they had explained to their families, they, the missionaries, knew Jesus and were ready for death.  The Waorani, however, did not yet know Jesus, and were not ready to die.  So they did not use their guns.  They did not defend themselves and faced the spears of the attackers, perhaps even praying as Jesus himself prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     This had an impact on those vicious warriors.  Not only that, but the attackers learned later that they were lied to by their own tribesman, and that the missionaries had not done anything to provoke the attack.  At this point, the Waorani were not yet Christians, and so they promptly killed that member of their tribe that lied to them.  But something about how those missionaries died made them receptive, and not violent, when the other missionaries came to stay.  They had enough contact with the outside world to know what guns were for and what they could do.  They were fearless, and carried on the attack despite the presence of guns.  But it startled them that the guns were not used, and they wondered about what kind of men these were that they killed.

     On one level, there is something crazy about not defending yourself.  One might even say it was unloving and uncaring to leave those five wives as widows and those many children fatherless.  But in all I’ve read about this story and these families, I’ve never seen any hint of regret.  Sadness, of course, but no regrets or second thoughts.  As married couples, those missionaries had gone to Ecuador with some eternal goals in mind.  Their goal was not just an interesting and exciting and long life here, but they had in mind doing something that would make an eternal difference in the lives of those to whom they would bring the message of Jesus.  They could have fired their guns that day, and they could have saved their own lives.  And they could have no doubt ended the lives of Mincaye and the others with him.  But then those Waroani would have been dead and lost, and it would have been a long time before any other outsider could have gotten close.  But by willingly giving up their lives, those men opened up that entire tribe to the message of Jesus; and in the last 60 years, their sacrifice has led to the salvation of thousands of the Waorani.  In addition to that, tens of thousands of people around the world have been influenced and inspired by this story.  The story is well known among missionaries, and it is said to have inspired a whole generation of new missionaries in the 1960’s and 70’s, and yet today. Only in heaven will the effects of that sacrifice be fully known.

     Jim Elliot, one of the five men who were killed, prayed for six years for the salvation of the Waorani, and all that while, it was impossible for him to even get close to them.  And then, he was killed the very first time he did make contact.  But it was then, even though he was dead, that his prayers began to be answered!  

     Elliot knew the risks involved in his work, and he knew he could be killed by these dangerous people.  But he wanted the Waorani to learn about Jesus.  Acknowledging the possibility that he could lose his life, he once wrote: “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  This life cannot be kept anyway.  Our eternal salvation cannot be lost by dying here.  Jim Elliot needed to obey the call of God on his life.

     We may not have the same calling as Jim Elliot and those he died with, but we have that same promise, and can have that same eternal perspective on life and that same hope.

     Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of Jim Elliot.  She was one of the women who went back to live with and serve the Waoroni.  She is the one who took her five year old daughter along into the jungle.  After leaving the Waorani, she was the one that told this story to the world in two books; Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and The Savage, My Kinsman.  Elisabeth Elliot died June 15th at the age of 88.   

     The Bible teaches the faith and inspires faith in many ways– sometimes by proclaiming promises, sometimes by teaching theological truths, and sometimes by telling us how we ought to live.  But the main way the Bible teaches and inspires faith is simply by telling stories of the lives of faithful people– Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Noah, Daniel, David, Mary, Joseph, John, Peter, Paul, and so many more.  And we can teach the faith and inspire faith by telling more stories of faithful people– people like Nathan Saint and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and even Mincaye, the former murderer.

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The 2006 movie.

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“We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings (the Bible).  Then, seeing His carvings and following His good trail, now we live happily and in peace.”

–Mincaye

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“What the Waorani meant for evil, God used for good.  Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”

–Steven Saint

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Mincaye and Steven Saint

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Genesis 50:19-20  —  Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Luke 23:34a  —  Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

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Loving Lord and Heavenly Father I offer up today all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer, to be Yours today and Yours forever.  Give me grace, Lord, to do all that I know of Your holy will.  Purify my heart, sanctify my thinking, correct my desires.  Teach me, in all of today’s work and trouble and joy, to respond with honest praise, simple trust, and instant obedience, that my life may be in truth a living sacrifice, by the power of Your Holy Spirit and in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, my Master and my all.   Amen.

–Elisabeth Elliot

809) The Worst People on Earth (a)

     Anthropologists have called the Waorani tribe of Ecuador one of the most violent groups of people ever discovered.  A magazine article one time called them ‘the worst people on earth.’  This tribe, which only recently began to emerge from the stone age, was on the verge of extinction in the 1950’s.  About half of all Waorani tribe members that reached adulthood died at the hands of other Waoranis.  If you were a Waorani, it was almost certain that you had a close family member who had been speared to death by other Waorani.  They had only the most primitive tribal government, and disputes were not handled by courts or even by chiefs.  Rather, if someone felt wronged they would simply kill the other person.  If the family of the murdered man or woman felt the killing was unjustified, they would seek revenge by killing the killer, and the cycle of revenge would continue.  To do anything but seek revenge was to show yourself to be weak.  Sometimes, these individual killings would erupt into attacks by entire villages on other villages.  This tribe was so remote and so feared that they were seldom approached by outsiders.  They were far from any control by the government authorities, who were simply allowing them to kill each other off.  By the mid-1950’s there were only a few hundred living members.

     And then, in 1956 some missionaries risked their lives to contact these murderous people.  The Waorani, like almost every people on earth, had a belief in God, but they did not know much about God.  The missionaries told the Waorani that God had a son named Jesus who visited our world; and Jesus told people that God did not want them killing each other, and so it was wrong for the Waorani to do so.  Eventually, the Waorani believed the missionaries and they obeyed what Jesus said, and, they quit killing each other.  And now, there are about two or three thousand Waorani, six times as many as in the 1950’s.  Sometimes, a Waorani will kill another Waorani, just like sometimes a Minnesotan will kill another Minnesotan.  But it is rare there, as it is here.  And on Sunday morning in Ecuador, just like here, many of the Waorani are in church, hearing the Word of God, and praying to Jesus.

     Missionaries not only risked their lives to reach these people, but several died in the effort.  The first five missionaries who made contact with this tribe in their own territory were killed the very first day they made contact.  These five men were in their 20’s and 30’s, and all were married and had children.  They had been dropping gifts by plane, and had reason to believe it was safe to land.  They did land on a sand bar on the river near one of the villages, and the initial contact was friendly.  Then something went wrong.  One of the tribesmen that had been with the missionaries on the sand bar, ran back and told the rest of the men of the village some lies about what had happened.  Then, the men of the village ran to the river, attacked, and killed all five men.  Days later, soldiers went in to recover the bodies. The story was featured in Life magazine.

     One would think that would be the end of the story.  One would think everyone would certainly leave the Waorani to themselves now, allowing them to continue to kill each other.  

     But this was only the beginning of one of the most amazing stories in the history of Christian missions.  Not long after the deaths of their husbands, some of the missionary wives began talking about how they might still reach these people.  They were, after all, missionaries, and they were there to tell these people about Jesus.  And who needed to hear more about the love of Jesus than the Waorani?  And who could better show them the power of forgiveness better than the wives of the men that had just been killed?  Of course it was dangerous, but they did not think that the tribesmen would kill unarmed women and children.  So some of the wives and children and other family members went up the river to contact, and then, to live with the Waorani.

     One of the women, an unmarried sister of one of the slain men, stayed for almost forty years, until she died of cancer in the early 1990’s.  Another, the wife of one of the men killed, went with in with her five year old daughter, and stayed two years.  Others, came and went over the years.  The Waorani built for them primitive homes like their own.  The missionaries brought medical supplies, matches, metal knives and axes, pot and pans, and other miracles from the modern world.  And, they brought the Gospel.  In time, a large number of the Waorani came to believe their message.  One of them, Mincaye, eventually became a missionary, and traveled around the world telling his story.  He traveled with Steven Saint, the son of Nathan Saint, the missionary pilot were brought the five men to that river bank where they all died.  Mincaye himself killed Nathan Saint with a spear in 1956 when Steven was just seven years old.  Mincaye died just a couple years ago, but had become like a father to Steven and like a grandfather to Steven’s children.  (continued…)

Nathan Saint on the sand bar where he was killed later that same day.

Steven Saint and Mincaye, the Waorani who killed Steven’s father.  See and hear them at:

http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/29/mincaye-walk-gods-trail-video/

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Romans 5:8-10  —  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

2 Peter 3:9  —  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 33:8  —  Let all the earth fear the Lordlet all the people of the world revere him.

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Prayer of Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries killed by the Waorani in 1956.  He was 29 years old:

I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.

808) “If You Hear I’m Dead, Don’t Believe It”

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“Some day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will have gone up higher, that’s all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, eternal in the heavens; a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint.  I was born  of the flesh in 1837.  I was born of the spirit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die.  That which is born of the spirit will live forever.”

–Dwight L. Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th century  (1837-1899)

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A young Benjamin Franklin wrote this little verse in 1728 to serve as his epitaph.  Franklin made copies of this verse for friends at various times in his life.  This plaque appears on a wall near Franklin’s grave.

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     “Good morning, and how is John Quincy Adams today?” asked an old friend as he shook the former president’s trembling hand.

     The retired chief executive looked at him for a moment and then replied, “John Quincy Adams is quite well, sir, quite well.  But the house in which he lives at the present is becoming dilapidated.  It is tottering upon its foundation.  Time and the seasons have almost destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are much shattered and it crumbles a little bit with every wind.  The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy will have to move out of it soon.  But he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.”

     It was not long after that he suffered his second and fatal stroke.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848)

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John 11:25-26  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

John 14:18-19  —  (Jesus said), “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (Contemporary English Version)  —  Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth.  But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live.  These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.  While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.  We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.  These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan.  But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die.  It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.  God is the one who makes all of this possible.  He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.  So always be cheerful!  As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord.  But we live by faith, not by what we see.  We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.  But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.

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Father in heaven, draw our hearts to you, that our hearts may be where our true treasure is found, and that our minds and thoughts may look to your kingdom, whose citizens we are.  Thus, when you shall call us hence, our departure may not be a painful separation from this world, but a joyous meeting with you.  

Perhaps a long road still lies before us.  Sometimes our strength is gone, and a faintness overcomes us, and we are in darkness; we become restless and impatient and our heart groans in anxiety about what is to come.  O Lord our God, do then teach us, and strengthen in our hearts the conviction that in life, as well as in death, we belong to you.  Amen.

–Soren Kierkegaard  (1813-1855)  Danish philosopher and theologian

807) Abraham and Adamou (part two of two)

Robert Pindzie

Adamou, one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’

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     (…continued)  Thirty years ago, the congregation I was serving sent money to help in the construction of a church building for a congregation in the African nation of Cameroon.  Two years later, I met Adamou, the pastor of that congregation, who was then doing graduate work for three years at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He spoke at my church a few times and we became good friends.  He then went back to Africa to teach in a seminary and we lost touch.  Twenty years after that, he was again in Minnesota.  He called me, and we got together and renewed our friendship. 

     Adamou is from a remote village in the middle of Africa.  His father, Monga, was the village chief, and was raised in the traditional tribal religion of his ancestors.  Monga converted to Islam in 1920, and the whole village was converted with him.  That often happens in Africa, where such decisions are made as a community.  

     In the area of the jungle where Adamou lived there were 35 villages, but only one village had a public school.  Education is not a government priority there like it is here.  However, there were Lutheran mission schools in all 35 villages, schools financed and staffed by Lutheran missionaries.  Parents, eager for their children to receive an education, would send them to these Lutheran schools.  Muslim children were welcome, but it was made clear that the children would hear stories from the Bible.  

     Adamou started school when he was six, and he loved to learn.  He especially loved the Bible stories.  His favorite story was the story of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph.  At first he loved those stories like school children love stories of Daniel Boone or Laura Ingalls Wilder; as interesting stories of other times and places, but without religious significance.  He, like his father, was a faithful Muslim, praying five times a day, and fasting at all the proper times.

     But when he was 14 years old, Adamou heard something that would change his life.  What he heard was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This promise of eternal life had a profound impact on Adamou.  Life was hard in his primitive village, and death was always a threat.  Six of his eleven brothers and sisters died in childhood, and he wanted to know more about this assurance of eternal life in Jesus.  There was no such assurance in his Muslim faith, in which he had to just do his best and then accept his fate from Allah.  There was no assurance of going to heaven.

     Adamou already knew and loved the Bible’s stories, but now he read the Bible for faith and assurance.  Eventually, he came to believe in Jesus as his Savior.  But now what could he do?  His father was the chief of the village and a Muslim, and there was not one other Christian in the whole village.  For several weeks, Adamou said nothing about his new faith, and continued in his daily prayers to Allah.

     He finally decided he could no longer pray to Allah, so he ended his prayers and all other the religious duties and practices of Islam.  His father saw this, and called him in for a talk.  The old chief, old enough to be Adamou’s grandfather, did all the talking.  “Son,” he said, “I see you are no longer praying to Allah.  I know you are going to that Christian school, but I do not see you praying to or worshiping in that way either.  Be careful, son.  No one should live without God.”  That was all he said, and Adamou took that as permission to become a Christian.  The next Sunday he walked ten miles to go to worship at a Lutheran missionary church in another village.  Muslims and Christians live together peacefully in his area, and his conversion was accepted without any trouble.  Many other conversions soon followed.

     Later on that same year Chief Monga died, and Adamou’s older brother became chief.  A few years later, that brother died, and now Adamou is the chief of his village.  He is also a respected member of the council of chiefs, and a good friend of the Muslim king of the entire Bamoon tribe, a tribe of over a million people.  Adamou’s work as a pastor and seminary professor means that he must live in the big city, but he often returns to his village for his duties as chief.  45 years ago when he became a Christian, he was the only one in his village.  Now, his village is 75% Christian.  That is the kind of church growth that has been happening throughout Africa.  The Genesis 12 blessing upon Abraham continues to reach around the world.  Abraham, and then his descendants, were “blessed, so that they could be a blessing.”  All over the world, in places far from the land that was promised to Abraham, his family of ‘spiritual descendants’ continues to grow.

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and 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.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Galatians 3:26-29  —  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise.

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PRAYER FOR AFRICA (www.educationforjustice.org):

O Lord, Creator of the entire world,
O Loving God,
This prayer is for Africa.

Bless the plains, rivers, trees
And all the African lands.
Bless the birds, fish and animals
That bring beauty and abundance to Africa.

Bless O Lord,
Your children in Africa.
Dry their tears,
Bring hope into their hearts,
Health and safety to their lives,
Food and water for their nourishment.
Bring peace to their countries
And still the guns of war.

Bless us, O Lord,
And heal your continent of Africa.
Renew the land, renew the spirit
Of all those who are wounded in any way.
May justice roll down like water
On the parched ground of your beloved Africa.  Amen.

806) Abraham and Adamou (part one of two)

“Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through you.”

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Genesis 12:1-3…6  —  The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you….”  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 22:17a  —  (The Lord to Abraham)  “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

Romans 4:16  —  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring– not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.

Romans 4:23-24  —  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

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     Arabs and Jews have been having a major disagreement about who has a right to live on a narrow strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  Ever since 1948 when the United Nations set aside that land for the Jews, many Arabs have been attempting to eliminate the Jews from that part of the globe.  The Palestinians say, “You can’t just give them that land.  We were here first; long before 1948.”  But the Jews say, “No, we were here first.  In fact, God gave this land to our ancestor Abram, later called Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago.”  They point Genesis chapter 12:1-3 where God himself said to Abraham, “Go to the land that I will show you,” and God led him to the land that is now Israel.  But Arabs say, “Not so fast.  Abraham is our ancestor too.  We are descended from his other son, Ishmael, who also got a piece of land way back then (Genesis 17:19-21).”  And then many Christians (not all) say, “You are both wrong.  God’s promise to Abraham no longer has anything at all to do with property rights, but now has to do with something much bigger.  God’s promise was extended to all the people of the world through Abraham’s descendant Jesus Christ, who was the fulfillment of what was promised in verse three where it says, ‘all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.'”

     Three of the five great religions of the world trace their ancestry back to this man Abraham and the call of God to him in Genesis 12.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in one God, the God who called Abraham to leave his country and his people and his father’s household and go to a new land.  After that, there are many significant differences between those religions, the most important having to do with what each says about Jesus Christ, “The way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  But all three start here, with this story, and the one God, who calls the one man, Abram.

     I cannot here even begin to deal with this whole story and all it means.  And, I will not get into the question of who has the divine right to the land.  That, after all, is more of a Jewish and Muslim concern.  Christians are not very interested in that, because we read the story of Abraham through the lens of the New Testament.  Paul said in Galatians  3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant,” and, “those who have faith are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with him.”  The descendants of Abraham are now spiritual descendants and not by nationality, said Paul (himself a Jew).  And Jesus himself renewed and revised the promise made to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”  In Matthew 28 Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you always, to the very end to the age.”  Christians aren’t as interested in deciding the short term questions on the inheritance of these property rights in the Holy Land.  We are more interested in Jesus and his promise of the inheritance of eternal life in heaven for all who hear and believe the Gospel.  

     There is a clear progression in the call of God to Abraham in Genesis 12.  It begins with a specific call of God to one man to leave his homeland and move to a new place.  Then the Lord begins talking about blessing other people– first, a whole nation that would descend from Abraham, and then, how that blessing would be extended to the whole world.  Even way back then it seems to be about much more than property rights.  This is not only a call to a new land, but primarily a call to a new faith– faith in a promise that Christians believe was fulfilled Jesus Christ.

     Ever since the day that God called Abraham, that call to faith has been reaching outward around the world and down through the generations.  In the 8th century it reached my ancestors in what is now Germany.  Forty-five years ago it reached my friend Adamou in the middle of Africa, one of Abraham’s descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’  (continued…)  

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45