1865) Not Smiling

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By Joshua Rogers, posted May 19, 2018, at http://www.foxnews.com.  Rogers blogs at http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     I sat in the Fox News Washington studio last fall and waited to be interviewed on “Fox & Friends” about a heart-warming op-ed I had written for Fox News headlined “What happened when my daughter saw me kiss my wife.”

     My body was exhausted from an intense treatment for a chronic illness; a doctor had just reported that my dad would probably be dead in six months; and I felt like I was failing as a dad because I was spending too much time at work.  I was lost in sea of depression and I couldn’t find my way home.

     When I heard the hosts’ voices in my earpiece and I knew the camera was rolling, I did the same thing I had been doing for months: I put on a smile.  And when the interview was over, I looked into the camera and concluded with a relaxed grin.  All appeared to be well.

     I pulled out my earpiece, thanked the producer, left the studio and felt the weight of the world creeping back onto my shoulders.  I wasn’t smiling anymore.

     I went back to the grind of putting one foot in front of the other — just doing the next thing.  It would be a couple of months before I began emerging from the heaviness of depression, thanks to what can only be described as divine intervention.

     These days, I’m a lot more aware of the silent suffering of others and I’m less likely to assume the worst about people who are hard to be around.  Along those lines, I posted a tweet last week that said, “We’ll all meet someone today who‘s being crushed by life.  We won’t know who it is, so we might as well be gentle with everyone we meet.  Because you never know.”

     Shannon Bream from “Fox News @ Night” shared the tweet and said, “So true.  I remember being back on the treadmill at the gym a couple weeks after my Dad died suddenly.  It was all I could do to hold it together and it made me look around and think: who else here is in that kind of pain?”

     A lot of people are.

     I know a man who’s waiting to find out if his third round of chemotherapy worked.  I know a woman who had three siblings die in less than a year.  I know a woman whose husband puts her down all of the time.  I know a man whose beloved son started hanging out with the wrong crowd and is now a drug addict.

     These people just keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next thing — working, attending church, standing in line at the grocery store.  They’re not telling many people how they’re feeling.  It’s too personal, too painful — they might start crying if they try to talk about it.

     There’s no way to know who’s hurting the most, so we can take care of others in practical ways.

We can ask people how they’re doing, follow up and give them a chance to respond honestly.  We can avoid assuming our friends are doing well just because they’re smiling and saying they’re fine.

     I can tell you from personal experience that it means a lot when you’re depressed just to get a thoughtful text or email.  So let’s be good to the cashier, our child’s teacher, the person driving poorly in traffic, our co-worker and/or our parents.  Let’s give others the grace we all need.

     As it was once said, “Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” — and those who are fighting the hardest battles may be right in front of you.

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A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.

 –Joseph Joubert

When I was young, I admired clever people.  Now that I am old, I admire kind people.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel

Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.  

–Samuel Johnson

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

 –Aesop

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Ephesians 4:31-32  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Galatians 5:22-23a  —  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Colossians 3:12  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

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O Lord, your kindness changed us forever.  Your love broke into our lives most unexpectedly.  We give you thanks, and pray that you empower us to be kind.  Amen.

–James Dobson

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1864) Wisdom of Children

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A story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) 

     It was an early Easter; snow still lay in the yards; and water ran in streams down the village street.  Two little girls from different houses happened to meet in a lane between two homesteads, where the dirty water after running through the farm-yards had formed a large puddle.  One girl was very small, the other a little bigger.  Their mothers had dressed them both in new frocks.  The little one wore a blue frock the other a yellow print, and both had red kerchiefs on their heads.

      They had just come from church when they met, and first they showed each other their finery, and then they began to play.  Soon the fancy took them to splash about in the water, and the smaller one was going to step into the puddle, shoes and all, when the elder checked her.

     ‘Don’t go in so, Malásha,’ said she, ‘your mother will scold you.  I will take off my shoes and stockings, and you take off yours.’  

     They did so, and then, picking up their skirts, began walking towards each other through the puddle.  The water came up to Malásha’s ankles, and she said, ‘It is deep, Akoúlya, I’m afraid!’

     ‘Come on,’ replied the other, ‘don’t be frightened.  It won’t get any deeper.’

     When they got near one another, Akoúlya said, ‘Careful, Malásha, don’t splash.  Walk carefully!’  She had hardly said this, when Malásha plumped down her foot so that the water splashed right on to Akoúlya’s frock.  The frock was splashed, and so were Akoúlya’s eyes and nose.  When she saw the stains on her frock, she was angry and ran after Malásha to strike her.  Malásha was frightened, and seeing that she had got herself into trouble, she scrambled out of the puddle, and prepared to run home.

     Just then Akoúlya’s mother happened to be passing, and seeing that her daughter’s skirt was splashed, and her sleeves dirty, she said, ‘You naughty, dirty girl, what have you been doing?’

     ‘Malásha did it on purpose,’ replied the girl.  At this Akoúlya’s mother seized Malásha, and struck her on the back of her neck.  Malásha began to howl so that she could be heard all down the street.  Her mother came out.

     ‘What are you beating my girl for?’ said she; and began scolding her neighbor.  One word led to another and they had an angry quarrel.  The men came out and a crowd collected in the street, every one shouting and no one listening.  They all went on quarrelling, till one gave another a push, and the affair had very nearly come to blows, when Akoúlya’s old grandmother, stepping in among them, tried to calm them.

     ‘What are you thinking of, friends?  Is it right to behave so?  On a day like this, too!  It is a time for rejoicing, and not for such folly as this.’

     They would not listen to the old woman and nearly knocked her off her feet.  And she would not have been able to quiet the crowd, if it had not been for Akoúlya and Malásha themselves.  While the women were abusing each other, Akoúlya had wiped the mud off her frock, and gone back to the puddle.  She took a stone and began scraping away the earth in front of the puddle to make a channel through which the water could run out into the street.  Presently Malásha joined her, and with a chip of wood helped her dig the channel.  Just as the men were beginning to fight, the water from the little girls’ channel ran streaming into the street towards the very place where the old woman was trying to pacify the men.  The girls followed it; one running each side of the little stream.

     ‘Catch it, Malásha!  Catch it!’ shouted Akoúlya; while Malásha could not speak for laughing. 

     Highly delighted, and watching the chip float along on their stream, the little girls ran straight into the group of men; and the old woman, seeing them, said to the men:  ‘Are you not ashamed of yourselves?  To go fighting on account of these lassies, when they themselves have forgotten all about it, and are playing happily together.  Dear little souls!  They are wiser than you!’

     The men looked at the little girls, and were ashamed, and, laughing at themselves, went back each to his own home.

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Matthew 18:3 — (Jesus said), “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 6:12 — “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

1 John 4:7a, 11 — Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…, (and) since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

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As we are forgiven by you, O Lord, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.  –Martin Luther

1863) Teach Your Children the Cost

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Vietnamese Christians worshiping (photo from Voice of the Martyrs)

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From the May 10, 2018 Standing Strong Through the Storm devotion at:  http://www.opendoorsusa.org

     One of the costs of following Jesus is the impact on our children.  Our children need to understand that there will not be a victorious life in Christ without following the footsteps to the cross.  Not around the cross, as we often desire, but through the cross.

     A co-worker once asked a Christian in Vietnam how he introduces the gospel in the villages where people have never heard about God.  Without hesitating he answered “Oh very easily.  I simply say, ‘I have good news for you but it might cost you your life; would you like me to continue?  People want to hear good news and most of the time they eagerly ask me to tell them.  But the introduction is always that there will be a cost involved because for us in Vietnam, being a Christian means a life of self-denial.  When they are persecuted and imprisoned they are not surprised.  They expect it.”

     The co-worker went on to say, “It sometimes amazes me how we find it suitable to counsel our children regarding the costs involved in buying a new bicycle or starting a new hobby but we never sit down and discuss the cost of following Jesus.  We need to train our children in no uncertain terms that being ridiculed at school, being rejected and facing mockery, is part and parcel of being a Christian.  It comes in as a package and you cannot have the one without the other.  We need to train our children to sacrifice; we need to train our children to count the cost; we need to train our children that they do not belong to themselves.

     “Our lives are often based on our expectations.  If we are confronted with the unexpected, we seldom know how to react.  If we neglect to teach and expose our children to the reality of the cross, difficulties will come as a surprise. 

     “But, once again, if we as parents cannot testify through our lives by being examples of living sacrifices, our teachings will be futile.  When was the last time you were ridiculed for the name of Jesus?  When was the last time you sacrificed your time and money to work among the lost?”

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Luke 9:57-60  —  As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:22-26  —  (Jesus said), “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Acts 21:10-14  —  After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”  When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart?  I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

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Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1862) Items From My ‘Saved’ Folder

C. S.  Lewis in a letter to his friend Bede Griffiths, April 29, 1938:

I have been in considerable trouble over the present danger of war.  Twice in one life—and then to find how little I have grown in fortitude despite my conversion.  It has done me a lot of good by making me realize how much of my happiness secretly depends on the assumption of at least tolerable conditions for the body; and, I see more clearly the necessity which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted– so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.

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

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It is from God that parents receive their children, and it is to God that they should lead them.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Proverbs 22:6  —  Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts. 

–Winston Churchill

Philippians 3:12  —  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

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Biblical Christianity is the most ‘pluralistic, tolerant, and embracing of other cultures’ religion on earth.  In fact, Christianity is very pluralistic — it is the one religion to embrace other cultures, and has the most urgency to translate the Scriptures into other languages.  A Christian can keep their native language and culture, and follow Jesus in the midst of it.  An early ‘criticism’ of Christianity was the observation that they would take anybody!  Slave or free; rich or poor; man or woman; Greek or Barbarian.  All were accepted, but on the common ground of the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ.  To leave that common ground is spiritual suicide, for both now and eternity.
–David Guzik

Colossians 3:11  —  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Matthew 22:9  —  (Jesus said), “God to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”

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“Since it is God we are speaking of, you do not understand it.  If you could understand it, it would not be God.”

–St. Augustine

Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

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Edward Gibbon in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire described the attitude towards religion in the last days of the Roman Empire, attitudes remarkably like our own today:
· The people regarded all religions as equally true
· The philosophers regarded all religions as equally false
· The politicians regarded all religions as equally useful.

Zephaniah 1:12—At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”

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If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.
–Chinese proverb

Proverbs 14:29  —  Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

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A PRAYER BY JOHN BAILLIE:

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

The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart;

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

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

The grace of boldness in standing for what is right;

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

The grace of strict truthfulness;

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

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

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

The grace of forgiveness towards all who have wronged me;

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

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

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

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1861) A Sermon for Kids (part two of two)

A sermon given last Fall to fifth graders and their families at a special worship service for their first communion.

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     (…continued)  Donny was a kid I went to school with.  He moved to our school when we were in the fifth grade.  Donny never made very many friends.  He was little, and not in any sports.  He wasn’t very smart, and struggled to pass his classes.  He was shy and quiet, and the girls never paid any attention to him.  He just rode the bus to school, and then rode it home again, and worked on his dad’s farm.

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     I was nice to Donny and took the time to get to know him.  He was a good guy and could be really funny.  And because of me, he got to know some other guys, and wasn’t quite as lonely.  And that was good of me.  But then I did something that wasn’t good.  I gave Donny a nickname.  It was a funny nickname, but it was one of those mean names.  It was a nickname that made fun of him.  He was a good-natured guy, and never seemed to get mad about it.  But looking back now, I realize he probably did not like it.  That was a sin for me to give him a mean name, and it was a sin to not even think about how it might have hurt him.

     You know how it is in school.  Some kids are mean to you, and you are mean to some kids; maybe without even thinking about it.  When I was in fifth grade, I thought about kids that were mean to me, and sometimes I worried about it, and I tried to avoid them.  I thought about them a lot.  But do you know what I think about now, still, all these years later?  I don’t think about those kids that were mean to me.  I think about the kids I was mean to, and I feel bad about that.  And feeling bad reminds me of my sin, and of my need for the forgiveness of Jesus.  Jesus, who died on the cross for me– because of my sins.

     Donny never finished high school, and I did not see him for many years.  A few years ago a friend called and asked me if I knew Donny had cancer.  I hadn’t heard.  My friend said the doctors could not do any more for him, and they sent him home to die; home to the same farm he rode home to on the bus.  All his life he worked there with his dad.  He never married, still didn’t have many friends, and about the only place he went was to church. He had friends there.

     I went to visit Donny one day.  He was in bed and in a lot of pain.  But was the same old cheerful, good-natured guy, and we had a great talk.  And all the while I wanted to say, “I’m sorry Donny, really sorry about that nick-name.”  But I didn’t.  I didn’t want to ruin the good conversation by bringing it up.  The situation was sad enough.

     But I have told God that I am sorry about it.  When my kids were little and someone was mean to them, I didn’t like it.  And God doesn’t like it either when his children are mean to each other, so I did tell God I was sorry.  In fact, sometimes when I receive Communion I still think about Donny—not because I haven’t had plenty of other sins to feel bad about, but there was something about being mean to someone who was my friend, and who I had been so good to.  It was like I betrayed him.

     “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed… took the cup and said, this is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

   When you come forward in a few moments for your first communion there might be someone you will be thinking about, and something you did to them for which you need to be forgiven.  That is why Jesus died for you, and that is why you come forward for communion.

     And when receive communion you will hear these words:  “The body of Christ, given for you.  The blood of Christ, shed for you.”  For you.  Amen.

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Psalm 51:3  —  For I know my transgressions, and my sins are ever before me.

Jeremiah 17:9-10a — The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.”

Job 13:9 — Would it turn out well if he (God) examined you?  Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?

I John 1:8  —  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

I Corinthians 3:18a — Do not deceive yourselves…

I John 1:9  —  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Romans 3:22-24  —  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 

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Merciful God, I confess to you that I have sinned.
I confess the sins that no one knows and the sins that everyone knows.
I confess the sins that are a burden to me and the sins that do not bother me because I have grown used to them.
Father, forgive me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1860) A Sermon for Kids (part one of two)

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A sermon given last Fall to fifth graders and their families at a special worship service for their first communion.

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           Once a person gets to a certain age they start saying things like, “What is the matter with the kids nowadays?  Why can’t they be hard-working, respectful, and decent like I was when I was kid?”  My dad said it to me, and I said it to my kids, and I hear the same sort of thing now.  When I was a kid, if I smarted off to my dad, he would tell me that he never talked to his dad that way.  I always felt like saying, “Well ya dad, but I never tipped over any outhouses like you guys did.”  That didn’t exactly make me a saint, since there weren’t any outhouses around anymore when I was a kid.  It is something different in every generation.  “What’s the matter with kids nowadays?” people say, “All they know how to do is look at their phones.”

            But I do wonder, are kids worse nowadays than they used to be?  Sometimes I think so.  Sometimes I see an incredible lack of respect for parents, teachers, and others in authority that would never have been tolerated when I was a kid.  When I was young, even the worst kids knew how to respect their elders.  So I think, yes, kids are worse. 

            But then again, sometimes I’m not so sure.  I’m not an expert on today’s youth, but in my work at the church I see a lot of really good kids.  Many of them are kinder and more polite than any of the kids I grew up with, myself included.  

            Another thing that I think kids are better about now days is nicknames.  When I tell my own children, not to mention my grandchildren, about some of the nicknames kids had when I was in school, they are appalled.  I am too, now when I think about it.  Nicknames were often designed to draw attention to a feature in that person’s appearance or personality that was most embarrassing, and they would most want to hide.  And once a kid had a good (or I should say bad) nickname, it stuck, and that was all they were known by.  I could rattle off a couple dozen of those wicked names right now, but I’d be ashamed.

            So maybe kids are better now days than back in the good old days.  I think at least there is more of an awareness of how such meanness can hurt and discourage other children, and so I don’t hear as many mean nicknames.  And, I hear more talk about teaching kids not to be bullies, and that’s a good thing.

            But then again, whatever lessons are learned on the playground, seem to be forgotten when it comes to social media.  I am no expert social media, and I am not a part of that world, but I hear that can get pretty nasty.

            But really, the problem isn’t social media, or nicknames, or outhouses.  The problem is something we talk about a lot in church; and that is SIN.  Ministers are sometimes criticized for being negative and judgmental because we are always talking about sin.  But it is sin that we live with every day of our lives, and it is sin that can make us so miserable.  The meanness, disrespect, bullying, and put-downs; and the troubles in homes between parents and kids, and between brothers and sisters—all of that is the result of sin—as other people sin against you, and you sin against them.

            Now, of course, that isn’t the whole picture.  We are here today for the fifth graders.  It’s great to be a kid.  Your whole future is ahead of you, you live in a great part of the world with all kinds of blessings and opportunities, you go to good schools, and you have family and friends.  It’s great to be a kid.

            It is also tough to be a kid, isn’t it? 

            We are here today for your very first Communion.  Listen close to the words that Jesus said as he gave the disciples Holy Communion for the very first time ever.  And when was that?  It was on the night he was betrayed.  And the next day he was crucified, put to death in a most horrible way.  And in those next hours Jesus would be betrayed by one of his own disciples and friends.  Maybe you know already what it is like to have one of your friends let you down.  And then Jesus’ very closest disciple, Peter, denied even knowing Jesus.  Maybe you know what it is like to be ditched by your good friend.  Then all of Jesus disciples abandoned him and he was left all alone.  Maybe you know what it is like to be all alone.

            And it was on the night before all of that, when Jesus took the cup, offered it to his disciples, and said, this cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for the forgiveness of you sins.  Sins.  There is that word again.  Do you have any sins that need to be forgiven?  I know I do.  (continued…)

1859) One Tough Mother

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A Standing Strong Through the Storm devotion, posted May 13, 2018, at:  http://www.opendoorsusa.org

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     Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983), Nazi concentration camp survivor and Christian evangelist, was well-known for her statement: “When God has a task to be done, he calls a man. When He has a DIFFICULT task to be done, he calls a woman!”

     Motherhood is often one of those difficult tasks for women.  I can remember how difficult it was for my own mother in the 1950’s to raise a family with four active, hungry boys on a total budget of twenty-five dollars a week.  Yet, she was an example to us of sacrifice, commitment, and faithfulness.  W e knew she would give everything she had for us and our father.

     The Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonian church that the apostles could have become a burden to them, but instead they treated the new growing church gently, like a mother caring for her little children, willing to give everything—even their lives.

     Today mothers in the Persecuted Church continue to reflect the example of Jesus in sacrifice, commitment and faithfulness.  I think of the wife of Santiago, a dynamic church pastor in one of Colombia’s deeply troubled areas.  Santiago’s life is threatened because has an intense love for God’s people, and a deeply ingrained sense of justice.  His strength comes from the Lord.  But his second source of strength is his wife, Deborah, who stands by him no matter what.

     Recently, she opened up her heart to a small group of visitors.  “I feel a profound emptiness and fear that can only be mitigated by the Lord.  Although many people claim that the war here has dwindled, I cannot agree because I still see what the people here go through.  Just yesterday four people were murdered in our town, two of them very close to our church.”

     At that point, the tears flooding Deborah’s eyes reveal one of the deepest fears of her heart.  “I beg my Lord not to take Santiago away from us, as it would be an extremely painful blow.  I remember having the doors locked, believing that at any moment they would come looking for Santiago to kill him.   Every time he left for church, my children also waited for someone to arrive bearing the horrible news that he had been murdered.  The children beg him, ‘Daddy, please quit the church.  We know that people in the area are speaking badly of you, and you know that several other pastors have been murdered.’”

     Deborah continues, “God changed our plans to leave.  It is not His will that we run away, and our brothers and sisters would not allow us to do so either.”  Then she pleads, “I request your prayers for the Lord to heal the wounds of my heart, to remove the fear, so that I can continue fighting.  But, more importantly, that I will know how to pray according to His will.”  Deborah’s deep devotion to her husband and children is obvious.  She is also their tower of strength.

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I Thessalonians 2:7b-8  —  Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.  Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Luke 12:4  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.”

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Grant us, O Lord, grace to follow thee…  In little daily duties to which thou callest us, bow down our will to simple obedience, patience under pain or provocation, strict truthfulness of word or manner, humility, and kindness.   In great acts of duty, if thou shouldst call us to them, uplift us to sacrifice and heroic courage, that in all things, both small and great, we may be imitators of thy dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.     –Christina Rossetti

1858) Resilience

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Hold on!

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By Rick Warren, posted December 28, 2017 at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

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     Faith unlocks the promises of God, it shows us the power of God, it turns dreams into reality, and it gives us the power to hold on in tough times. 

     God doesn’t always take you out of the problem.  He stretches your faith by taking you through the problem.  He doesn’t always take away the pain.  He gives you faith-filled ability to handle the pain.  And God doesn’t always take you out of the storm because he wants you to trust him in the midst of the storm. 

     I remember reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, a young Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust before being sent to Nazi concentration camps.  After World War II ended, she said that the people who lived through those camps were those who had the deepest faith.  Why?  Because faith gives you the power to hold on in tough times.  It produces persistence. 

     Study after study has shown that probably the most important characteristic you could teach a child (and that you need in your own life) is resilience.  It’s the ability to bounce back.  It’s the ability to keep going.  Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes.  Everybody has failures and mistakes.  We all embarrass ourselves.  We all have pain.  We all have problems.  We all have pressures.  The people who make it in life have resilience. 

     Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to resign as pastor at Saddleback Church?  Just about every Monday morning!  I say, “God, it’s too big.  It’s too many people, too much responsibility.  I’m not smart enough.  What am I supposed to say to that many people?  Get somebody else who can do a better job than this.”

     Yet God says, “Keep going.” 

     Where do you get the resilience to keep going?  Faith.  It’s believing God could do something at any moment that could change the direction of your life, and you don’t want to miss it, so you keep moving forward.  It’s believing that God will give you exactly what you need when you need it as you learn to rely on him to accomplish his purpose in you. 

     This is the testimony of Paul, a great man of faith: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

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Joshua 1:9  —  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

James 1:2-4  —  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Psalm 145:14  —  The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

James 4:9-10  —  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Jeremiah 29:11  —  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Isaiah 41:10  —  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Micah 7:8  —  Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said),  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Matthew 11:28-29  —  (Jesus said),  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Philippians 4:13  —  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

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Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    until the destroying storms pass by.

–Psalm 57:1

1857) Finish Line Just Ahead

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By Randy Alcorn, Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Eternal Perspectives, http://www.epm.org

    Life in this world—the way it is now and the way we are now—can be difficult, can’t it?  It’s easy to become burdened, discouraged, depressed, or even traumatized when you suffer the loss of a loved one, when your health is failing, or when your dreams—your family, career, or lifelong ambitions—have crumbled.  Perhaps you’ve become cynical or have lost hope.  Some seasons of life can seem like a series of twists, turns, and dead ends.

     God gives each of us a race to run.  To finish well we must develop perseverance.  The Christian life is not a hundred-meter dash but a marathon, requiring patience, endurance, and discipline.  But how do we find the strength to finish our race well?

     When the apostle Paul faced hardship, beatings, and imprisonment, he said, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).  What gave Paul the strength and perspective to “press on toward the goal”?  A clear view of Heaven.

     A study was done in which one group of Israeli soldiers was told it would go on a march, but was not told if or when the march would eventually end.  Another group was told the length of the march.  Both groups were tested for their stress response.  Although they marched not one foot further than those in the other group, those who didn’t know if or when the march would end registered a much higher level of stress.  Why?  Because they felt helpless—hopeless—wondering if they would ever be allowed to rest.

     We do not know exactly when, but as followers of Christ, we do know there is a finish line.  We will not run forever.  We will rest.

     Think of it:  Jesus, at unfathomable cost to Himself, purchased for us a happy ending.  A happy “ending” that will never end.  Anticipating our future with Christ can empower us to persevere in a difficult marriage, remain faithful to the hard task of caring for an ailing parent or child, or stick with a demanding job.  Samuel Rutherford wrote, “Our little time of suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to Heaven.”

     If you believe this, you won’t cling desperately to this life.  Your solid hope will give you strength to persevere when things get tough.  You’ll lift your face, stretch out your arms, and continue running in anticipation of the greater life to come.   

     Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” creating the mental picture of the Greek competitions, which were watched intently by throngs of engrossed fans sitting high up in the ancient stadiums.  The “great cloud of witnesses” refers to the saints who’ve gone before us, whose accomplishments on the playing field of life are now part of our rich history.  The imagery may also suggest that those saints, the spiritual “athletes” of old, are now watching us and cheering us on from the great stadium of Heaven that looks down on the field of Earth.

     The author of Hebrews goes on to admonish us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The following verse commands us:  “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2–3, NIV).

     Jesus Christ, the Rock of salvation, is the One who has promised to prepare a place for those who put their hope in Him, a place where they will live with Him forever. If we can learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, to picture our eternal home in our mind’s eye, it will comfort and energize us, giving us a clear look at the finish line.

     It’s not only the anticipation of seeing our Savior that should propel us forward; it’s also the joy of pleasing Him.  Jesus has promised reward for those who’ve faithfully served Him:  “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

     Moses remained faithful to God because “he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26, NIV).  Likewise, Paul ran his race with his eyes on Heaven’s prize, which motivated him to run hard and long.  He was unashamedly motivated by the prospect of eternal reward, and acknowledged it freely and frequently (1 Corinthians 9:24-252 Corinthians 4:16-185:9-102 Timothy 4:7-8).  “Run in such a way as to get the prize,” he said, and on the verge of death he spoke longingly of the crown the Judge would award him in Heaven.  He encouraged believers with these words:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

     Jesus tells us that one day His faithful servants will hear their Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).

     Think about those incredible words:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  They are the words we were made to hear.

     What changes might you need to initiate today so that you may one day hear those words from God?  If you don’t yet know Jesus, it’s not too late.  Confess your sins and humbly accept the gift of His atoning sacrifice on your behalf.  If you do know Him, make your daily decisions in light of your destiny.  Run your race of life to honor Him.

     When we hear Jesus say “Well done,” we’ll know that any sacrifice we made, any difficulty along the way, was nothing.  Meanwhile, we can rejoice in suffering in the same way that Olympic athletes rejoice in their workouts—not because we find it easy, but because we know it will one day result in great reward.

     So are you weary in life’s race?  Ask your Savior for His empowerment to finish strong, and keep your eyes on the heavenly finish line.  By His sustaining grace, you’ll make it.

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1856) Faith That Transforms

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By Eric Metaxas and Anne Morse, announcing the winner of the 2018 Wilberforce award, Robert Woodson, April 30, 2018 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

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     Recently, Robert Woodson (1937- ), an African-American sociologist, visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.  A display there, he later wrote, “stopped me in my tracks.”

     The 1980s were, according to the exhibit, “years of paradox.”  While many blacks pursued advanced degrees and entered the professions, others existed in poor neighborhoods filled with drugs and violence.  Who or what was to blame?

     The museum’s answer:  Ronald Reagan, a president who cut many social programs.

     Woodson doesn’t buy it.  “Is it truly institutional racism and heartless policies that have resulted in conditions today?” he asks.

     “If the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws are responsible for the decline in marriage and the rise in poverty and out-of-wedlock births in the black community,” he writes, “then why, during the Great Depression, did blacks have the highest marriage rate?”

     And why, during the decades when blacks “had little political power and faced legalized discrimination, did they still make significant economic progress?”

     Prior to the 1960s, Woodson writes, African Americans “tapped their internal capacity . . . Hard work, cooperation, academic performance and moral excellence were elements of a strategy to achieve.”

     He points to the history of black churches and civic institutions as models of what African Americans could achieve.  When denied access to banks, they built their own.  When insurance companies turned them away, black churches created “burial societies” and mutual-aid societies to assist the poor.

     Tragically, Woodson says, that “rich history of self-determination” was “abandoned” in the 1960s.  What black America needs today, he concludes, is “a return to a culture based on self-determination, personal responsibility, and strong moral values.”

     Which is why Woodson founded the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (now known as the Woodson Center), to help the poor become self-sufficient.  This is best achieved, Woodson believes, by placing control of community development, not in the hands of faraway bureaucrats, but in the hands of community leaders.

     Woodson Center programs have spread all over the country, including the Violence-Free Zone, which sends young adult advisors into schools to mentor youth.  When VFZ volunteers began work at one Richmond, Virginia, high school, arrests of students dropped 38 percent.

     In Dallas, Woodson would report at a congressional hearing, one high school recorded 133 gang incidents before bringing in VFZ and zero the following year.  Woodson Center programs have also transformed the lives of former drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless.

     Why does Woodson succeed where so many others have failed?  His answer is simple but sturdy: “Faith in God transforms the inside and that faith transforms the outside.”

For his tremendous work helping the poor and downtrodden, the Colson Center is awarding Robert Woodson the 2018 William Wilberforce Award, which recognizes those who exemplify the qualities of the British abolitionist and statesman, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, more than any other single person, brought an end to the British slave trade and the reformation of morals in British society.

SEE ALSO:

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/woodson-sr-robert-l-1937

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Paul tells us to each “carry our own load” (Galatians 6:5).  In the same paragraph, Paul also tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).  Robert Woodson’s life work has been to ‘bear the burdens of others,’ serving them by helping them learn to be independent and ‘carry their own load.’

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Galatians 6:2-5  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.  All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.  For all must carry their own loads.

Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Proverbs 29:7  —  The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Galatians 5:13  —  You were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

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You are never tired, O Lord, of doing us good; let us never be weary of doing you service.  But as you have pleasure in the well-being of your servants, let us take pleasure in the service of our Lord, and abound in your work and in your love and praise evermore.  Amen.  

–John Wesley