1204) Steve Jobs’ Question for His Pastor (b)

    (…continued)   Now, back to Steve Jobs.  Jobs gave Buddhism credit for helping him focus his life and simplify his approach to technology, two of the things that led to his incredible success.  He was an intensely focused problem solver and innovator, and, his goal was to make his very complex products simple to use.

     But what did Buddhism do for Steve Jobs’ concern for his fellow human beings?  Remember, he walked away from Christianity, disappointed with God’s lack of concern for starving children in Africa.  But Jobs’ Buddhist beliefs provided little incentive for him to do anything about the suffering of others.  He was not known for his generosity.  Bill Gates has established a foundation to help the needy of the world in a variety of ways, has donated tens of billions of dollars to it, and invited other billionaires to join him in the effort.  Warren Buffet, among many others, has joined with Gates.  But Steve Jobs refused.  The company Jobs helped start, Apple, does some significant work by sharing a percentage of its profits with charities, but it seems Jobs did not give away very much of his own vast personal wealth to help the starving, or anyone else in the world.

     I am reminded of a comment I heard many years ago about world hunger by Sam Kinison.  Kinison was a stand-up comedian who died in a car accident in 1992 at the age of 38.  I did not like his humor.  He was crude, vulgar, abrasive, and went out of his way to ridicule religious faith.  He was not the kind of person I ever expected to be quoting in a meditation.  But he did say one thing that struck me with its practical honesty and truth.  He referred to a photograph of a starving child in Africa (probably much like the one Steve Jobs saw), and he said in his loud and abrasive way, “Why is that guy taking a picture?  Why doesn’t he brush the flies off that poor kid’s face and give him a sandwich?”

     Good question.  In the same way we could ask:  “Why spend our time discussing the theological problem of hunger; why not just feed the hungry?”  Sam Kinison’s question leads us back Salee’s question.  Salee was frustrated with his Buddhist religion that sought only to teach the individual how to transcend his or her own suffering.  Salee wanted to get to know the people who were handing out the sandwiches.  He wanted to find out what they believed in.

     Salee learned that Christians feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and we do so because our Lord Jesus has commanded it.  Sam Kinison wondered why the photographer didn’t just give the child a sandwich.  That is what Christians are always doing, all over the world, through international relief organizations and in each congregation.  In my own congregation we, in fact, do make sandwiches, hundreds of them, one night a month.  The boxes of sandwiches are then picked up and handed out to the homeless and hungry on the streets of Minneapolis that very night.  We also host and manage the local food shelf, offer a free clothing day each week, and help support an orphanage and school in Haiti.  Our congregation is not unique.  This is what Christians do.

     Of course, we also spend some time looking at what God’s Word says about the problem of evil and suffering.  God has told us a few things about that, some things that might have helped Steve Jobs when he was 13 years old if he would have stayed around long enough to ask a few more questions.  But Christians don’t just search for abstract answers.  We try to be a part of the answer.  All of those sandwich makers, clothes sorters, and contributors in our congregation are like Steve Jobs in that they don’t know either why children have to suffer in a world made by a loving God.  But we do what we can, and one by one, people are fed and clothed in the name of Jesus.

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Matthew 25:34-40  —  (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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John 21:15b  —  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

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We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us.  Deliver the oppressed, pity the insignificant, raise the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the sick, bring back those who have gone astray, feed the hungry, lift up the weak, and take off the chains of those in bondage.  May every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people, the sheep of your pasture.  Amen.

–St. Clement of Rome, First century A. D.

1203) Steve Jobs’ Question for His Pastor (a)

Steve Jobs  (1955-2011)

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     Steve Jobs was truly one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known.  He has been called the Henry Ford of our time.  Not only was he a brilliant inventor and innovator, he was also an incredible businessman, marketer, and leader.  Along with a couple friends, he started the Apple Computer Company in his parents’ garage in 1976.  Nine years later, after a falling out with Apple’s Board of Directors, Jobs left Apple and became a pioneer in computer generated animated movies.  He was co-founder Pixar, the film company that has produced such popular films as Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, Toy Story 1,2,&3, and many more.  In 1996, Apple was near bankruptcy and the Board asked Jobs to come back.  Jobs did go back, turned the company around, and by 2011 Apple was the most valuable company in the world. Jobs had engineered what has been called the biggest comeback in business history.  Steve Jobs was involved in the development of the iMac, iTunes, iPhone, iPod, iPad, and much more.  By the time he died in 2011 at the age of 56, he had amassed a personal fortune of eight billion dollars.

     As a boy, Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents.  At age 13 he asked his pastor, “Does God know everything?”  The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”  Jobs then showed his pastor a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Africa and asked, “Does God know about this?”  The pastor answered, “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”  Jobs then declared that he did not want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.

     For Steve Jobs, that unanswered question revealed an open and shut case against God.  What else is there to consider?  What kind of God would allow innocent children to starve to death?  So Jobs walked out and, being the brilliant man that he was, the story could raise doubts about God in the minds of many others.  But let’s continue to follow the story.

     Where did Steve Jobs go, spiritually, after he walked out of church?  Well, like a lot of young people, he went nowhere for a long time.  But then during a time of personal crisis, he turned to Buddhism, which he said became a huge influence in his life.  Remember, Steve Jobs turned away from Christianity because he believed it had an inadequate response to the problem of suffering.  Therefore, it is only fair to ask what Buddhism has to say about suffering.

     First of all, belief in God is optional for a Buddhist.  Buddhism is more of a philosophical system and way of life, than a religion that worships a supreme being.  Therefore, there is not necessarily a God to be disappointed in.  But even a philosophical system has to deal with suffering.  So what does Buddhism have to say about that?

     Well, it turns out that the question of suffering is at the very center of this religion.  There is at the core of Buddhism four noble truths:  #1– We all suffer; #2– Suffering is caused by desire; #3– Get rid of your desires and you get rid of suffering; and #4– The path to enlightenment has as its goal to learn how to get rid of desire.  So how then should we respond to suffering?  By living without having any desires, and transcending all desire.

     There is much truth in this.  Let’s say you are depressed because you cannot afford the new boat you have been wanting.  Well, abandon the desire, forget the boat, be satisfied with what you have, and you won’t be depressed about it anymore.  Right?  This can work quite well for many things.

     But what would a Buddhist say to the starving child?  Same thing.  They would say, “Transcend your desire for food.  Your problem is not that you don’t have food.  Your problem is your desire for something you cannot have.  Get rid of that desire, and you won’t be frustrated.”

     “Well,” says the child, “then I will die.”  “Yes,” says the Buddhist, “so now your problem is that you desire to live.  Get over your desire to live, and you will not suffer.”

     “Yes,” says the child, “but it hurts to be hungry.”  “Well now,” says Buddhism, “your desire is to be without pain.  You must transcend that desire too.  So, just get rid of all your desires, and then you will not suffer.”

     Got that?  The fourth of the noble truths tells you how to do that, and that can indeed lead to a real inner peace and strength.  Desire nothing and expect nothing, and you will be able to handle anything.  

     This is a huge oversimplification, of course, but it is the gist of it, and this does have significant real life consequences.  One of the results of that kind of thinking is that Buddhists are not very interested in relieving the suffering of their fellow human beings.  After all, they also believe in ‘karma,’ which means that the bad things that happen to someone are the inevitable result of the bad things they have done– so why should anyone interfere with law of the universe by relieving suffering that is deserved?

     I once knew a Cambodian refugee named Salee.  Salee was a young man when Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia in 1975.  Pol Pot was a ruthless tyrant, and over the next four years, two million Cambodians were dead as the result of his rule, many of them murdered in the infamous ‘killing fields.’  Salee, simply because he was from the educated class, was arrested and marched out of the city into one of these killing fields.  There he, along with a thousand other people, were shot and left for dead.  Salee was severely wounded, but survived. He laid quietly among the hundreds of dead bodies until darkness, and then crept away.  He was a medical student and knew how to treat and bandage his wounds.  He then made his way to a refugee camp in Thailand, and after living there two years, was able to come to the United States.

     Salee is a Christian, one of only a few in Cambodia.  Cambodia is 95% Buddhist, the faith in which Salee was raised.  I asked him how he came to believe in Jesus.  He said that even before the civil war there was much hunger and suffering in Cambodia.  But the poor and suffering people received no help from the government, and they recieved no help from the Buddhists.  

     Salee did notice, however, that American Christian missionaries were helping everyone they could, in whatever ways they we able.  Salee asked himself, “Why do these Christians come here from the other side of the world to help my people, when my people do not even help their own neighbors?”  He went into one of the mission churches to find out.  The pastor told him about Jesus, about the compassion Jesus had for the poor and suffering, and how Jesus told his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Salee said he learned none of that from Buddhism.  Salee wanted to know more about Jesus.  Before long, Saly came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, Savior of the world.  I met him at a Ministry Training School for immigrants that I was volunteering at.  Salee’s goal there was to learn enough about Christianity to go back to Cambodia as a missionary to his own people.

     It is interesting to note that the question which led Saly out of Buddhism and into Christianity, is very similar to the question that led Steve Jobs out of Christianity and eventually toward Buddhism.  Both wondered about the problem of hunger.  Steve Jobs wondered how God could allow it.  Salee wanted to find out about the God that inspired people to do something about it.  (continued…)

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Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Galatians 5:14  —  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 10:42a  —  (Jesus said), ” If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

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 O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business:  grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name.  Amen. 

1202) Land of the Free (c)

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     (…continued)  Europe today has total religious freedom, but very little religious conviction anymore.  Muslim nations have strong religious convictions, but very little sense of religious freedom.  The First Amendment has helped the United States maintain this delicate balance, but there are dangers now as there always has been.

     First of all, there are those who despise religious faith, and want to use the First Amendment to discourage any and all religious expression or influence.  We are seeing more and more of that these days.  There are many who celebrate the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage not only because it allows gay marriages, but also because they believe it will lead to further restriction on the influence of religion in our society.    But restricting this positive and necessary influence on our society is something we, as a free nation, must not do.  So said the Founding Fathers who created our terrific form of government, this beacon of light to the whole world; and, as Abraham Lincoln put it, ‘the world’s last, best hope.’

     Secondly, there are those, even in the church, who want to say that religion should be kept private, and need not influence one’s life outside the walls of the church, such as in political discussion or decision-making.  Both are dangers which must be avoided.

     There is much more to be said about all this, but let’s hear a word from George Washington.  He talked about his very thing in his Farewell Address in 1796 at the end of his presidency.  He said: “Religion and morality are indispensable supports of political prosperity, and no true patriot would oppose them.  Where would the security for property, reputation, or life be without the sense of religious obligation?  Morality cannot be sustained in a nation without religion.”  Similar quotes by other Founding Fathers could fill a huge book.  Those men had a wide variety of religious beliefs, but all believed in the importance of the moral base that religious faith gives to a nation.

     Os Guinness tells of a speech he gave to Christian businessmen in China.  Afterwards, one of the Chinese businessmen had a question.  He said: “We see in the United States a country that works, and we want to learn from you.  So we have been reading about history and political science and your Founding Fathers, and we have seen how important religion is to your success.  But then we see in your newspapers how so many people in your country are trying to get rid of religion.  Are we missing something, or what is the matter with those people?” 

     The Chinese are trying to learn from the success that we take for granted, and they are learning the clear lessons from our history that we have neglected.  From what I have read, a student can major in History in most of the colleges in this country, and in four years, not hear one word of any of this.  That’s how it is in today’s anti-religious culture.  But this is our heritage and what has formed the fabric of our society.  If we lose this moral foundation, everything else with unravel, and we will not remain strong or safe.

     To say that the Founder Fathers tried to build a government that encouraged virtue in its citizens is certainly not to say our government or citizens have always been virtuous.  No government action can guarantee virtue, but the goal is to enhance and encourage it.  The Founding Fathers were well aware of the sin in every person, and also worked to establish a government that provided checks and balances to restrict the sinful ambitions of those who ruled– but that is another story.  One can argue about how well that has worked.  But what cannot be argued or denied is that people from all over the world dream of coming here; and very few dream of leaving here, even among those most critical of what this nation stands for.

     I started with the words of Paul in Galatians, and I will let him have the last word.  The book of Galatians was written to clarify for the people of Galatia how we are made right before God by the Gospel and not by the Law.  It is a very religious question, and Paul’s argument is theological and not at all political.  But as I said, a by-product of religious faith is moral behavior that makes good citizens.  With that in mind, read these words from Paul:  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then…  You were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire Law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  So I say, live by the Spirit… and the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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To hear Os Guinness give his speech Can Freedom Last Forever? go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw6BQXOHod4

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A PRAYER ON INDEPENDENCE DAY, from The Prayers of Peter Marshall, page 186:

 God of our fathers, whose Almighty hand has made and preserved our nation, grant that our people may understand what it is they celebrate today.  May they remember how bitterly our freedom was won, the down payment that was made for it, the installments that have been made since this Republic was born, and the price that must yet be paid for our liberty.  May freedom be seen, not as the right to do as we want, but as the opportunity to want to do what is right.  May it ever be understood that our liberty is under God, and may our faith be something that is not merely stamped upon our coins, but expressed in our lives.  To the extent that America honors Thee, wilt Thou bless America, and keep her true as Thou hast kept her free, and make her good as Thou hast made her rich.  Amen.

1201) Land of the Free (b)

 

     (…continued)  As the government of this new nation was being formed, there was much talk about the three legs of a golden triangle, like three legs of a stool.  All three legs are needed, and each depends on the other.

     The first leg of the stool, the first principle, is that freedom requires virtue, a free nation needs people of virtue.  John Adams said, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue.”  Ben Franklin said, “As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have need of more masters.”  If you must have harsh laws strictly governing every move anyone makes, and multitudes of law enforcement people to enforce all those laws, you will not have a free society.  In order to have a relatively free and open society, you have to have people of good character and good will who obey the law even when the police are not watching, who freely help each other out, and who can, for the most part, get along without constant government interference.  In no society will everyone always be like that, as we all remain sinners.  But if a society is going to be free and open, it must have a majority of the people who are of basically good character (of course, this is not in the sense of being justified before God by our good works, but that we behave as good citizens).  Freedom requires virtue.

     The second leg of this school is that virtue requires faith.  People will have a better chance of being good even when the police are not watching, if they truly believe that someone else is watching, which is to say they believe in a God who sees everything.  Atheists can, of course, be good people.  But overall, there is a better chance of people being of good character if they truly believe they are accountable to a greater power.  The most effective inspiration to virtue is faith.

     Therefore, freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith, and then, in order for faith contribute its part, faith needs to be free.  That is the third leg of the golden triangle:  faith requires freedom.  Churches need to be free to do their work, teaching about God and about living good and holy and productive lives for God, because if people are living good and godly lives, they are better citizens.  Again, this doesn’t always work for everyone, but for the most part, people of faith don’t steal, they don’t cheat, they try to keep their families together, and they help their neighbors– and all of that helps build a better nation.

     So the Founding Fathers said, “We want a free nation, and in order to have and keep a free nation, we need good and virtuous people, and to enhance that there must be freedom of religion;” thus, the three legs of the stool– virtue, faith, freedom.  Religion needs freedom and freedom needs religion.  

     Therefore, the very first words in the Bill of Rights are:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  This was never meant to restrict the practice of religion, but was intended to encourage its practice in every way possible.  Two things are included.  First, the government must not establish any one religion.  Second, the government must not restrict the practice of religion in any way.  The history of Europe before 1776 had shown the Founding Fathers what many Muslim nations are showing us now– that when religion and government are too closely tied together, there will be trouble.  Therefore, any religion could practice freely without restriction, and, no one religion would be favored.

     This was a new and brilliant concept in government.  This First Amendment brings together strong religious conviction, which is necessary, while at the same time, encourages good will among the many religious differences.  Good Christians, good Hindus, good Muslims, and good Buddhists, can all live by the American rules and help build good citizens.  We are Christians, and our job as people of faith consists of more than making good citizens.  We want to talk about truth and faith and eternity and prayer and piety, and so much more.  Making good citizens is just a by-product of what we do.  And the government says, “Good, we want you to do what you do, and we’ll take the good people as the side benefit.”  But says the government, “Do your work as a church, but don’t expect Congress to make any laws requiring everyone to be Lutheran, or forcing them to give money to your church.”  The Founding Fathers knew the history of Europe after the Reformation, with war after war fought over what religion the government would support.  They wanted to keep and encourage strong religious conviction, and they wanted to allow for the freedom of all religions.  Thus, the First Amendment, which is a huge part of our freedom and our success as a nation, and we can thank God for it.

     Europe today has total religious freedom, but very little religious conviction anymore.  Muslim nations have strong religious convictions, but very little sense of religious freedom.  The first amendment has helped the United States maintain this delicate balance between conviction and freedom.  (continued…)

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Romans 13:1a  —  Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…

I Timothy 2:1-2  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Psalm 119:44-45  —  I will always obey your law, for ever and ever.  I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

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Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.  Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action.  Make us who came from many nations with many different languages a united people.  Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.  We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978, (#169).

1200) Land of the Free (a)

     In Galatians 5:1 the Apostle Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.   Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Paul got this idea from Jesus, who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free; and if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  And the freedom Jesus was talking about was already a big part of God’s activity in the Old Testament in which the central, defining event was when the Hebrews were freed from the years of slavery in Egypt.  Freedom is a big theme in the Bible.

     Freedom is also a big theme in the United States of America.  On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed, declaring our freedom and independence from British rule, and, the intent to build our own government, one based on freedom for all.

     The spiritual freedom described in the Bible, and the political freedom we try to maintain as a nation, are not the same thing.   But they are not totally unrelated.

     In Galatians 5:1 Paul warned that freedom may be lost.  Stand firm, he said, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Spiritual freedom can be lost, is what Paul implied by giving that warning.  The political freedom that we have come to take for granted can also be lost.  In a 2012 speech Christian scholar Os Guinness asked, Can Freedom Last Forever?  He was referring to political freedom, and his warning was that yes, indeed, that freedom can be lost.  But the most interesting part of what he says is that political freedom is best maintained by allowing religious freedom. 

    In fact, Guinness said that the main thing to remember about politics is that politics is not the main thing.  Religion, he said, is the main thing.  Politics is necessary and useful for our brief time on earth, but religion– our faith in God– is necessary for all eternity.  Religion is also necessary for our political freedom and life together as a nation.

    Guinness then described political freedom.  There are three parts, he said, to a nation’s freedom.  First of all, there is the winning of that freedom.  That fight to win that freedom began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and lasted until George Washington defeated General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.  It was an extremely difficult five years for the colonists, but in the end, the Revolutionary war was won, and freedom was achieved, and the United States of America was born.

     The next part of freedom was to prove even more difficult.  The second part is the ordering of that freedom; the formation and establishment of a government in which people could live and work together with freedom for all.  After the war, the thirteen colonies were free from Britain, but now those thirteen independent colonies had to find a way to maintain their freedom while at the same time work together.  The ordering of freedom was accomplished in the writing and ratifying of the United States Constitution, that document which orders our free life together.  That was another long and difficult process, taking more time to complete than it took to win the war.  But it was completed in 1787, ratified over the next two years, and life as a nation under the new president George Washington began in 1789.

     The third part to freedom in a nation, and by far the most difficult, is the sustaining of that freedom.  First, freedom had to be won for the colonies; then the new nation had to order itself; and then, if done well, that ordering would sustain that freedom for many years to come.  In 1789 the French won their freedom from an oppressive government, and in 1917 the Russians overthrew their corrupt government.  But in both cases, the quest for freedom failed and chaos resulted, because the freedom was not properly ordered or sustained.  After 240 years we Americans are still free, but it remains a challenge to sustain that freedom amidst the many challenges and threats from within and without.

     The Founding Fathers knew their history, and they knew that one of the basic lessons of history is that nothing ever lasts.  Nations, empires, kingdoms, and governments all come and go.  But the founding fathers set as their goal to defy history, and to do something that had never been done before.  They wanted to create something that would last.

     The new nation had one big advantage and one great danger.  The great advantage was they were relatively free of enemies.  They had just defeated Great Britain, the most powerful nation on earth.  They were able to do so because a great ocean separated them from Britain, and for the time being, that same ocean would keep all other threatening nations at a safe distance.  The United States was able to develop as a nation without threatening enemies.

     But the Founding Fathers knew that not only did nations fail because of outside enemies, but the even greater danger was that successful nations would be corrupted and rot from within.  This, after all, had been the fate of the Roman Empire, the greatest empire the world had ever known.  The hard-working, loyal, noble, and just Romans who had built that great empire, deteriorated into spoiled, greedy, immoral pleasure-seekers, who lived only to be entertained, caring not at all for character, courage, justice, or loyalty.  If the United States of America was to remain a free nation, it would depend a great deal on the goodness and virtue of the people who were being given such freedom. 

     This is where Os Guinness’s discussion turns to religion, and this is the most important part.  (continued…)

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John 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Galatians 5:1  —  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

II Corinthians 3:17  —  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

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Almighty God, we give you thanks for giving us a land in which we are free to read and hear your Word, to confess your name, and to labor together for the extension of your kingdom.  We pray that you grant that the liberty given unto us may be continued to our children and our children’s children, and that the Gospel may here abound, to the blessing of all nations of the earth, and to your eternal glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ  our Lord.  Amen.

–Adapted from an old Lutheran hymnal

1199) Living ‘the Good Life’ (b)

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It is you alone who are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet, when you, God, rose up to judge.  –Psalm 76:7-9a

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     (…continued)  The Psalmist was terrified at the thought of such an accounting before God and said, “Who can stand before you, O Lord?”  The disciples shuddered at the thought of Christ’s demands and asked him, “How can anyone be saved?”  

     Jesus once told a parable about a settling of accounts (Matthew 18:23-35):

(Jesus said), “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him.  ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.  But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  But he refused.  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in.  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

     This king wanted to ‘settle accounts’ with his servants, and one man was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents– an impossible sum of money.   One talent was the equivalent of 15 years of a common man’s labor, and this man somehow owed ten thousand talents.  So “since the servant was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.”  We might well feel that our accounting before God would be just as hopeless and impossible.  But then comes a huge surprise.  The servant begged for mercy and “the master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.”

     What an amazing and unexpected reversal!  This is the kind of reversal of fortune that Jesus himself was here to bring for all sinners.  Who, after all, could hope for anything after giving an account of himself before God?  Who could proudly and confidently stand before God and say, “Yes, I have done all you have expected of me and obeyed you in everything and now I can stand before you without shame or regret.”  No one could say that before the Holy and Almighty God– except by the forgiveness won on the cross for us by Jesus Christ.  It is now Christ who stands with us at our accounting and declares that our sins have been forgiven and our debt is cancelled.  On our own we deserve nothing, but by faith in Christ we can stand before God with confidence and hope.

      There is one more important thing to take note of in the parable.  That king certainly was a gracious king, and he gave that servant’s life back to him by cancelling that debt and giving him that wonderful word of mercy and release.  But sadly, that was not the end of the parable.  That word of mercy comes in the middle of the parable, and then the servant was sent back out into the world.  The gracious word of the king did not mean there were no more worries or obligations for that servant; and God’s word of grace for us does not mean we can now ignore anything else God might have to say to us.  We are still living in the world, and God still expects us to live like his loved and forgiven people.  That means that we must be willing to also love and forgive others, living in obedience to God’s commands.  The fact that we face our day of reckoning with Christ at our side, does not mean that we may take advantage of that grace and disobey God’s commands.  In the last verses of the parable, the king was shocked to hear that his servant, who had been forgiven so much, went out and had a fellow servant thrown into prison for a far smaller debt.  God expects that we will forgive others as we have been forgiven.  God expects that we show to others the kindness that we have been shown, and that we love others as God has first loved us.  Yes, we have received grace upon grace from God, and with that in mind, we will want to live grace-filled lives.

     Captain Miller’s sacrifice and last words inspired Private Ryan every day to live a good life, worthy of that sacrifice.  In a far deeper way, the thought of Jesus Christ, and his love and sacrifice for us, ought to inspire us to want above all else to live a live worthy of such love.

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 O Lord, I give myself to thee, I trust thee fully.  Thou art wiser than I, more loving to me than I myself.  Fulfill thy purposes in me whatever they be, working in me and through me.  I am born to serve thee, to be thine, and to be thy instrument.  I ask not to see, and I ask not to know.  I ask simply to be used by thee.  Amen.

–John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal and theologian  (1801-1890)

1198) Living ‘the Good Life’ (a)

     The 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan begins with an old man walking through a military cemetery.  It is the American cemetery at Normandy in France where the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the D-Day invasion are buried.  The old man, full of emotion, stops and kneels at one of the graves.

     At this point, the movie goes back in time a half century to June 6, 1944, the day of the invasion.  Over half of the men who were the first to hit the beaches that day were killed, and the movie vividly portrays the horrific barrage of bullets and bombs they faced.  Bodies and parts of bodies were scattered all over the beach, and the sand and water were red with blood.  But those who survived kept going.  The whole world was depending on them, and eventually the beach was secured.  The war would go on for another year, but Allied victory in the second World War depended on the success of that invasion.

     The scene then shifts to a little farm in middle America, where a mother receives word that two of her sons died on that beach, and another son had just been killed in action in the Pacific.  Only one of her four sons was still alive.  He was a paratrooper on D-Day, and if still alive, was somewhere behind enemy lines.  General George Marshall heard about this poor mother, and decided that she had suffered enough.  He ordered that this Private Ryan be found and returned home.  Captain John Miller and a squad of seven men were given the task of finding and ‘saving Private Ryan.’

    This would be a dangerous mission.  Private Ryan, if even still alive, and if he could be found, was deep behind enemy lines, and the Americans had not yet been able to do much more than secure the beach.  They do learn where Private Ryan might be, but on the way to him, they are ambushed, and two of Captain Miller’s squad are killed.  When they do find him, they again come under attack.  This time, three more members of the squad are killed, including Captain Miller.  But the battle was won, Private James Ryan was saved, and he would be going home.  However, five men had to die in order to save Private Ryan.

     In his dying words, Captain Miller said to Private Ryan, “James, earn this.”  Private Ryan knew what he meant, and already felt it in his heart.  Five young men had given their lives so that he might have a life.  Now, it was up to him to live a good and worthy live so that that great sacrifice was not wasted.

     The movie ends by going back to the opening scene.  It is the 1990’s again, and we learn it is Private Ryan in the cemetery, now an old man, kneeling at the grave of Captain Miller.  Overcome with emotion, he stares at the grave marker, and speaks to his long dead Captain.  He tells him that he thought of the Captain’s last words to him every day of his life.  He tells him he tried to live a good life, and hopes that he has.  He says he hopes that the life he got to live was worthy of the sacrifice made by Captain Miller and the four others in his squad.  But still he wonders how any life, however well lived, could have ‘earned,’ or could be worthy of such a sacrifice.  

     The elderly Private Ryan stands up, and his wife is there by him.  He looks at her and he says, “Tell me, I’ve lived a good life.”  She reassures him the best she can, Private Ryan turns for one last salute to Captain Miller, and the movie ends.

     That scene is not only a profound look at one man’s story.  For the viewer, it also becomes a profound look at one’s own life.  We are prompted to ask that same question of ourselves and our own life.  Have I lived a good life?

     This leads one on to other questions.  How do we define a good life?  What does a good life consist of?  What is good enough?  There is a difference between ‘living the good life,’ and living a good life.  

     The phrase ‘living the good life’ brings to mind time off of work, plenty of money, rest, recreation, and relaxation; as in, “Ahhh– this is the life!”

     But when the old soldier in the cemetery asked his wife, ‘Have I lived a good life?’ that is not what he was talking about.  Living a good life means something far deeper than sitting on the beach all day with your feet up as you empty the beer cooler.  Living a good life means living an honorable life, being good to other people, making an honest living, keeping your promises, paying your bills, helping those who need help, being kind, keeping the faith, and so on.  And certainly, if you believe in God, you would want to know what God would have to say about ‘living the good life.’

     God’s Word in Romans 14:7-8 says:  

None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.

     I read those words almost every time I do a funeral.  At the time of death, they are words of great comfort.  We are not alone in death.  Even then, God is with us and we belong to Him.  But the words also say something to the living about how to live our lives.  In life also, it says, we belong to the Lord.  Our lives are not our own to live however we want.  None of us lives to himself alone, it says.  If we live we live to the Lord, and belong to Him.  And then Romans 14:12 says:

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

     Do you shudder when you read that?  We all should tremble at the thought.  Can you imagine what that means to give an account of our lives to God, who sees everything, and who knows everything, even your most secret thoughts; that God on whom you depend for everything?  And this God is going to demand an accounting from you!  Are you eager to give God an account of your life?  Are you ready to face his cross-examination?  Are you anxious to explain to God about those times when you should have told the truth, but did not; and those times when you should have said a kind word, but instead said a harsh word? Are you anxious to explain every wicked thought, every grudge held, every bit of forgiveness withheld, every selfish deed done, every good deed neglected, and every opportunity missed?

     God gave you everything you have.  Are you anxious to explain to him about those times when you could have been generous, but was not?  In that accounting, God might ask you why you spent so much time complaining and so little time giving thanks.  God might ask why you so often looked with envy at what others had, and failed to see your own blessings.  And what will you say if God asks you if you used what He gave you to serve only yourself, or if you sought to find ways to serve Him with what you were given?  

     Romans 14:12 says that each of us will one day give an account of ourselves and our lives to God.  How do you think that will go for you?

     Private Ryan was overcome by emotion at the grave of Captain Miller who gave his life so that he might live, and then told him to live a life worthy of the sacrifices made for him.  Captain Miller did not live to demand such an accounting, but Private Ryan’s own conscience moved him to demand it of himself.

     We owe so much more to God, and He too demands an accounting of what we have done with the life and the gifts he has given us.  Have you lived a ‘good life?’  Is it in your heart and in your soul to want to live a good life of virtue and faith?  Or, are you more concerned about living ‘the good life’ of ease and pleasure?  (continued…)

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Ephesians 4:1b  —  I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Philippians 1:27a  —  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Colossians 1:9b-10  —  We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

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O Lord, let me not live to be useless.

–Bishop Nicholas Stratford, Church of England  (1633-1707)

1197) Learning Patience

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Chapter Five, John Ploughman’s Talks: Plain Advice for Plain People, 1869, Charles Spurgeon, English preacher and author, (1834-1892)

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     Patience is better than wisdom: an ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains.  All men praise patience, but few enough can practice it.  It is a medicine which is good for all diseases…  When one’s flesh and bones are full of aches and pains, it is as natural for us to murmur as for a horse to shake his head when the flies tease him, or a wheel to rattle when a spoke is loose.  But nature should not be the rule with Christians, or what is their religion worth?  If a soldier fights no better than a plow-boy, then off with his uniform.  We expect more fruit from an apple tree than from a thorn, and we have a right to do so.  The disciples of a patient Savior should be patient themselves.  ‘Grin and bear it’ is the old-fashioned advice, but ‘sing and bear it’ is a great deal better.  After all, we get very few cuts of the whip, considering what bad cattle we are; and when we do smart a little, it is soon over.  Pain past is pleasure, and experience comes by it…

     Impatient people water their miseries and plow up their comforts; sorrows are visitors that come without invitation, but complaining minds send a wagon in which to bring their troubles home.  Many people are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed; they chew the bitter pill which they would not even know to be bitter if they had the sense to swallow it whole in a cup of patience and water.  They think every other man’s burden to be light and their own feathers to be heavy as lead… no one’s toes are so often trodden on as theirs, the snow falls thickest round their door, and the hail rattles hardest on their windows.  Yet, if the truth were known, it is their fancy rather than their fate which makes things go so hard with them,… and they would be well off if they could but think so.  A little sprig of the herb called ‘content,’ if put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor’s turtle soup…

     To be poor is not always pleasant, but things can always be worse.  Small shoes are apt to pinch, but not if you have a small foot; if we have little means it will be well to have little desires.  Poverty is no shame, but being discontented with it is.  In some things, the poor are better off than the rich.  A poor man’s table is soon spread…  Plenty makes one expect perfection, but hunger finds no fault with the cook.  Hard work brings health, and an ounce of health is worth a sack of diamonds.  It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.  It is not the quantity of our goods, but the blessing of God on what we have that makes us truly rich…  ‘Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith’ (Proverbs 15:16).  A little wood will heat my little oven; why, then, should I murmur because all the woods are not mine?

     When troubles come, it is of no use to fly in the face of God by hard thoughts of providence; that is kicking against the pricks and hurting your feet.  The trees bow in the wind, and so must we.  Every time the sheep bleats it loses a mouthful, and every time we complain we miss a blessing.  Grumbling is a bad trade, and yields no profit, but patience has a golden hand.  Our evils will soon be over.  After rain comes clear shining; every winter turns to spring; every night breaks into morning…  If one door should be shut, God will open another; if the peas do not yield well, the beans may; if one hen leaves her eggs, another will bring out all her brood.  There’s a bright side to all things, and a good God everywhere.  Somewhere or other in the worst flood of trouble there always is a dry spot for contentment to get its foot on…

     Friends, let us be patient, and not then catch ‘the miserables.’  And let’s not give others the disease by wickedly finding fault with God.  The best remedy for affliction is submitting to providence.  What can’t be cured must be endured.  If we cannot get bacon, let us bless God that there are still some cabbages in the garden.  Whatever comes to us from God is worth having, even though it be a rod.  We cannot, by nature, love trouble any more than a mouse can fall in love with a cat, and yet by grace Paul found glory in tribulations also.  Losses and crosses are heavy to bear, but when our hearts are right with God, it is wonderful how easy the yoke becomes.  We must go to glory by the way of the Cross; and as we were never promised that we should ride to heaven in a feather bed, we must not be disappointed when we see the road to be rough, as our fathers found it before us.  All’s well that ends well; and, therefore, let us plow the heaviest soil with our eye on the harvest, and learn to sing at our labor while others murmur.

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Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense .

Colossians 3:2  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

James 5:7  —  Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

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Dear Father, give us our daily bread, favorable seasons, and health.  Preserve us from war, disease, and poverty.  If your will is to test us a little by withholding your blessings for a while, then may your will be done.  When our time and hour comes, deliver us from all evil.  Until then, give us strength and patience.  Amen.  

 –Martin Luther

1196) On Not Becoming a Cranky Old Church Member

“Five Things I Pray I Will Not Do as a Senior Adult in the Church”

by Thom Rainer, July 18, 2016 at:  www.ThomRanier.com

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     I received my first AARP material in the mail six years ago.  I turned 61 years old two days ago.  I am a senior adult.
     Have I noticed any differences in my life at this age?  Certainly.  I move more slowly.  My idea of a mini-marathon is running to the kitchen from the family room.  I see things differently.  I don’t know if I am wiser, but I certainly have different perspectives.
     And I have to admit I view church life differently.  In fact, I sometimes scare myself with my rigid attitude.
     I have five specific prayers.  They are for me.  They are for my attitude about my church.  They are reminders I will need to review constantly.
#1)  I pray I will not feel entitled because I am a key financial supporter in the church.  This attitude means I consider the money my money rather than God’s money.  That means I am giving with a begrudging heart.
#2)  I pray I will not say “I’ve done my time” in the church.  Ministry through the local church is not doing your time, like serving a prison sentence.  It is an outpouring of joy and thanksgiving to God.  I love those churches where senior adults are the most represented among the nursery workers.  I need to be among them.
#3)  I pray I will not be more enthused about recreational trips than ministry and service.  There is nothing wrong about me getting on a bus and going to Branson, Missouri, or Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  But there is something wrong when that is my dominant involvement in ministry in the church.
#4)  I pray I will not be more concerned about my preferences than serving others.  I’ve already blown it on this one.  I did not like the volume of the music in the service at my church a few weeks ago.  I complained about it to my wife.  And then I was reminded of all the young people in the church that Sunday worshiping and praising God during the music.  I was more concerned about my preference than seeing others worship God.
#5)  I pray I will not have a critical spirit.  I attended a business meeting of a large church some time ago.  The total attendance at the meeting represented fewer than five percent of the worship attendance.  One of the men who recognized me approached me before the meeting, “We come together at these business meetings to keep the pastor straight,” he told me.  In reality, they came together to criticize the pastor and staff.  I pray I will not become a perpetual critic.  I don’t want to grow old and cranky; I want to grow old and more sanctified.
     Now that I am a senior adult in my own right, I need to make certain I am not a stumbling block or a hindrance to health and growth in my church.  May the Lord grant me wisdom and service all the days of my life, including my senior years.
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Psalm 71:17-18  —  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
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Ephesians 4:29  —  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
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I Thessalonians 5:10-13  —  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.
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O Lord, without whom our labor is lost, and with whom thy little ones go forth as the mighty; be present in all the works in thy church which are undertaken according to thy will (especially…); and grant to thy workers a pure intention, patient faith, sufficient success upon earth, and the bliss of serving thee in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
–William Bright  (1824-1901)
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O God, deliver us from all sloth in thy work and all coldness in thy cause; and grant us, by looking unto thee, to rekindle our love, and by waiting upon thee, to renew our strength; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
–Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958.

1195) Praying the Catechism

Prayers using the Words of Martin Luther’s 1529 Small Catechism Explanations to Each Petition; adapted from the 1929 Intersynodical Translation

Martin Luther  (1483-1546)
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 OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN.
      Our heavenly Father, you tenderly encourage us to believe that you are truly our Father and that we are truly your children.  Give us the faith to believe this, so that we may boldly and confidently come to you in prayer, even as beloved children come to their dear father.
 
HALLOWED BE THY NAME.
     Holy God, your name is indeed holy in itself, but we pray that it may be hallowed among us.  Grant that your Word may be taught in its truth and purity among us, and that we may honor your name by living holy lives in accordance with that Word.  Preserve us from false teachings, and keep us from profaning your name by living lives contrary to your Word and command.
 
THY KINGDOM COME.
     Heavenly Father, we pray that your kingdom may come to us.  Send to us your Holy Spirit, so that by your grace we may believe your Word, and live a godly life here on earth and in heaven forever.
 
THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.
     Your good and gracious will is done indeed without our prayer, but we pray, O Lord, that it may also be done among us.  Almighty God, we pray that you destroy and bring to naught every evil scheme and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own flesh, which would hinder us from hallowing your name or prevent the coming of your Kingdom.  Strengthen us and keep us steadfast in your Word, even unto our end.
 
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.
     Gracious God, you give daily bread to all people, even to the wicked, without our prayer.  We pray that we may have the faith to always remember that everything we have is from your hand, so that we may receive all things with thanksgiving.  You have given us everything that is needed to satisfy our daily needs, including food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and goods, family and friends, good government, seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor, good neighbors, and the like.  We give you thanks.
 
AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.
     We pray, Lord, that you would not regard our sins nor because of them deny our prayers, for we neither merit nor are worthy of those things for which we pray.  By your mercy, we pray that you grant us all things through grace, even though we sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment.  And certainly we, on our part, will heartily forgive, and gladly do good to those who may sin against us.
 
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.
     Good Lord, we know that you tempt no one to sin.  But we pray in this petition that you would so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not deceive us, and lead us into error and unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.  And we pray that even when we are so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.
 
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.
     Heavenly Father, we pray that you would deliver us from all manner of evil, whether it affect body or soul, property or reputation;  and, at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to yourself in heaven.
 
FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, AND THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, FOR EVER AND EVER.
     We can be assured, Lord, that these petitions are acceptable to you and are heard by you, because you yourself have commanded us to pray in this manner, and have promised to hear us.  We pray in the name of the One who taught us this prayer, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
AMEN.
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Matthew 6:6-9  —  (Jesus said),  “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  This, then, is how you should pray:  ‘Our Father in heaven…”  
 
Luke 11:1-2  —  Now it came to pass, as (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  
 
Colossians 4:2  —    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 
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O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  Thou knowest what it is.  For it we pray.  AMEN.  

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India