1262) The ‘Good Enough’ Marriage

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American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

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By Mark Regnerus in the December 4, 2014 issue of First Things.  Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

     I have a good marriage.  Is it a great marriage?  I don’t know.  Do we squabble?  Plenty.  Do either of us feel shortchanged?  With regularity.  Might we be happier had we married other people twenty-one years ago?  It’s certainly possible.  Should I reconsider my marriage?  Heavens no.

     Amid well-intentioned efforts to reinforce or rebuild a disappearing marriage culture, there remains a persistent hazard— that in belaboring the ‘beauty of marriage’, many people in challenging unions will feel more discouraged, not less.  Their marriages haven’t felt wonderful for a very long time.  Or the dismal follows the wonderful in a predictably cyclical fashion.  Or misunderstanding seems chronic.  Bedrooms become battlegrounds.  It’s not how marriage was intended to be, but it is how many turn and how some remain.

     A measure of relational trial is, of course, endemic to the human condition.  “Interaction breeds conflict” is as close as sociologists can come to identifying a ‘Law of the Social Universe.’  And yet conflict can be productively harnessed.  Marital difficulty and challenge can, as the recent Humanum film series illustrates, reveal a “hidden sweetness” (see link below)…

     I have documented the long-term benefits of having grown up with a married mother and father who have hung in there, in comparison to every other combination.  (Even the death of a parent proved far less consequential than a divorce.)  And I didn’t evaluate marital happiness in my surveys and analyses, only marital status.  Some stable households were no doubt more blissful than others.  But an unsightly building can still provide shelter.

     A friend of mine recently left his wife after nearly thirty years of marriage, reinforcing the dismal data on “gray divorce.”  While I don’t know the particulars, and his exit seems to have no obvious logic, I know theirs was neither a simple nor an easy marriage, and that both spouses had high expectations for it.  One observer lamented this human habit, which extends well beyond marital hopes to simpler ones about work, health, material goods, vacations, even tonight’s dinner:

That happens with so many things in life.  We inject them with poetry in our imaginations, we idealize them, and come to believe they are the epitome of happiness and beauty.  But then when we have them in front of us, and see them just as they are, our hearts sink to our boots.

     I and a few other friends of his got together in an effort to ask him to reconsider his departure.  One of us wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be better to limp to the finish line, with the help of others, than quit the race?”  After all, if marriage is a marathon, our friend was probably nearing the twenty-mile mark.  The rest of us concurred, but to no avail.

     My late colleague Norval Glenn discovered that even so-called “good” divorces are consequential.  Amicable divorces, he noted, foster disorientation in children, who feel at a loss to explain what they’ve witnessed, much less improve upon it themselves someday.  Such divorces, he concluded, are worse than maintaining a mediocre marriage.

     I maintain that my friend was wrong about his decision to exit his “good enough” marriage.  Perhaps new information would change my mind, but it’s unlikely.  There are precious few scenarios in which his children would be better off for his having left.  Perhaps my confidence seems the height of arrogance.  All I know is that his wife would like him to come home.

     What should we do?  A trio of simple commitments is a good start.

     First, be wary of taking sides.  Remember that when we offer comfort by belittling someone else’s spouse, we do damage to their marriage— an entity that we did not create, and one that exists independently of each.  The temptation to do this is very strong (and often fed by one of the spouses).  I myself am guilty.  To be sure, some marriages must end— but not so many as we’ve witnessed.

     Second, be gentle.  We harm our brothers and sisters not when we display affection, respect, and sacrifice for our own spouses— they need to see that.  We do harm when we fail to esteem others’ unions, fragile though they may be.  Praise those aspects of others’ marriages that merit it.  A bruised reed we ought not break.

     Third, be observant and courageous.  If in fact many mediocre marriages don’t deserve the death penalty, then you must speak up.  Twenty percent of married Americans report having thought about leaving their spouse in the past year.  Undisciplined children seldom turn out well; so too the marriages in our social orbits.  It is a vigil of love that we must keep.

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See HUMANUM FILM SERIES (part 4); “A Hidden Sweetness:  The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship” (12 minutes):

http://www.loveandfidelity.org/resources/a-hidden-sweetness-the-power-of-marriage-amid-hardship-part-4-of-6-of-the-humanum-series/

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Isaiah 42:3-4a  —  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged.

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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Temple Gairdner (1873-1928), before his marriage:

O Lord, Jesus Christ:  that I may come near to her, draw me nearer to Thee than to her; that I may know her, make me to know Thee more than her; that I may love her with the perfect love, cause me to love Thee more than her.  Be Thou between us, O Lord, every moment, so that nothing else may be between me and her.  Amen.

1261) Nothing Left?

From The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, 1952,  p. 20-22 (ed.):

     A man 52 years of age consulted me.  He was in great despondency.  He said he was all through.  He informed me that everything he had built up over his lifetime had been swept away.

     “Everything?” I asked.

     “Everything,” he repeated.  “I am through.  I have nothing left at all.  Everything is gone, and I am too old to start all over again.  There is no hope.”

     I said, “Suppose we take a piece of paper and write down what you have left.”

     “There’s no use,” he sighed.  “I told you I haven’t a single thing left.”

     I said, “Let’s see anyway.”  Then I asked, “Is your wife still with you?”

     “Why, yes, of course,” he said, “and she is wonderful.  We have been married for 30 years.  She would never leave me no matter how bad things are.”

     “All right, let us put that down– your wife is still with you and she will never leave you no matter what happens.  Now, do you have any children?”

     “Yes,” he replied, “I have three and they are certainly wonderful.  I have been touched by the way they have come to me and said, ‘Dad, we love you, and we’ll stand by you.’”

     “Well, then,” I said, “that is number two– three children who love you and who will stand by you.  Got any friends?”

      “Yes,” he said, “I have some really fine friends.  I must admit they have been pretty decent.  They have come around and said they would like to help me, but what can they do?”

     “That is number three– you have some friends who would like to help you and who hold you in esteem.  How about your integrity?”

     “My integrity is all right,” he replied, “I have always tried to do the right thing and my conscience is clear.”

     “All right,” I said, “there’s number four– integrity.  How about your health?”

     “My health is all right,” he said, “I have had very few sick days and I guess I am in pretty good shape physically.”

     “So let’s put that down as number five– good physical health.  How about the United States?  Do you think this is still the land of opportunity?”

     “Yes,” he said, “”It is the only country in the world I would want to live.”

     “That is number six– you live in the United States, land of opportunity, and you are glad to be here.”  Then I asked, “How about your religious faith?  Do you believe in God and that God will help you?”

     “Yes,” he said.  “I do not think I could have gotten through this at all if I hadn’t had some help from God.”

     “Now,” I said, “let’s list the assets we have figured out:  1.  A wonderful wife, married for thirty years;  2.  Three devoted children who will stand by you;  3.  Friends who will help you and hold you in esteem;  4.  Integrity; nothing to be ashamed of;  5.  Good physical health;  6.  Live in the U. S., the greatest country in the world;  7.  Have religious faith.”  I pushed the list across the table to him.  “Take a look at that.  I guess you have quite a lot of total assets.  I thought you told me everything had been swept away.”

     He grinned ashamedly.  “I guess I didn’t think of those thing.  Perhaps my life isn’t so bad at that,” he said pensively.

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     In his book The Lord God Made Them All English country veterinarian James Herriot tells of being called out on a particular Sunday night to a couple’s home some ten miles away to look at their dog.  When he got there, the wife of the family invited him into a shabbily furnished room, one end of which was partly curtained off.  She drew back the curtain and introduced her husband whose name was Ron.  Ron was in bed, a skeleton of a man with hollowed out eyes set in a yellow looking face.

     “That’s the patient” she said, pointing to a dachshund sitting by the bed, “He’s gone funny on his legs; he can’t walk.”

     The vet was struggling all this time with irritation for being called out on a Sunday for a case which could easily have waited a couple of days.  Then Ron said in a husky voice, “I was a miner.  Roof fell in on me.  I got a broken back.  Doctor says I’ll never walk again.”  After a pause he continued, “But I count my blessings.  I suffer very little and I’ve got the best wife in the world.”

     The vet couldn’t help wondering what those blessings were– the wife, obviously, the dog who provided companionship when his wife was out, and the marvelous view across the Yorkshire Dales where he used to tramp for miles.  That was all, but that was enough.  

     By then the irritation had seeped away.  Driving the ten miles home across the Dales, Herriot felt very humble.

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“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

–Charles Dickens

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(After Stephen commented on how Levin always seemed to be so happy):  Levin replied, “Perhaps that is because I rejoice in what I have and do not bother about what I don’t have.”    –Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

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     I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for 21 days, hopelessly lost in the Pacific (after his plane was shot down in WW II).  He said, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.”  

–Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

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Psalm 103:1-2  —  Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

James 1:16-17a  —  My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you– every good and perfect gift is from God.

Psalm 136:1  —   O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

–Johnson Oatman, Jr.  (1856-1922)

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1260) Overcome Evil With Good (part three of three)

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GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS(1872)  (part three)

 By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)  (1907 Maude translation)

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     (…continued)  One night as he was walking about the prison,  Aksyónof noticed some earth that came rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the prisoners slept.  He stopped to see what it was.  Suddenly Makar Semyónitch crept out from under the shelf, and looked up at Aksyónof with frightened face.  Aksyónof tried to pass without looking at him, but Makár seized his hand and told him that he had dug a hole under the wall, getting rid of the earth by putting it into his high-boots, and emptying it out every day on the road when the prisoners were driven to their work.

     “Just you keep quiet, old man, and you shall get out too,” Makar said.  “If you blab they’ll flog the life out of me, but I will kill you first.”

     Aksyónof trembled with anger as he looked at his enemy.  He drew his hand away, saying, “I have no wish to escape, and you have no need to kill me.  You killed me long ago.  As to telling of you– I may do so or not, as God shall direct.”

     The next day, when the convicts were led out to work, the convoy soldiers noticed that one or other of the prisoners emptied some earth out of his boots.  The prison was searched, and the tunnel found.  The Governor came and questioned all the prisoners to find out who had dug the hole.  They all denied any knowledge of it.  Those who knew, would not betray Makar, knowing he would be flogged almost to death.  At last the Governor turned to Aksyónof, whom he knew to be a just man, and said, “You are a truthful old man; tell me, before God, who dug the hole?”

     Makár stood as if he were quite unconcerned, looking at the Governor and not so much as glancing at Aksyónof.  Aksyónof’s lips and hands trembled, and for a long time he could not utter a word.  He thought, “Why should I protect him who ruined my life?  Let him pay for what I have suffered.  But if I tell, they will probably flog the life out of him and maybe I suspect him wrongly.  And, after all, what good would it be to me?”

     “Well, old man,” repeated the Governor, “tell us the truth: who has been digging under the wall?”

     Aksyónof finally said “I cannot say, your honor.  It is not God’s will that I should tell!  Do what you like with me; I am in your hands.”

     However much the Governor tried, Aksyónof would say no more, and so the matter had to be left.

     That night, when Aksyónof was lying on his bed and just beginning to doze, some one came quietly and sat down on his bed.  He peered through the darkness and recognized Makar.

     “What more do you want of me?” asked Aksyónof.  “Why have you come here?”

     Makar was silent.  So Aksyónof sat up and said, “What do you want?  Go away, or I will call the guard!”

     Makar bent close over Aksyónof, and whispered, “Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof, forgive me!”

     “What for?” asked Aksyónof.

     “It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things.  I meant to kill you too, but I heard a noise outside; so I hid the knife in your bag and escaped out of the window.”

     Aksyónof was silent, and did not know what to say.  Makár Semyónitch slid off the bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground.  “Aksyónof,” said he, “forgive me!  For the love of God, forgive me!  I will confess that it was I who killed the merchant, and you will be released and can go to your home.”

     “It is easy for you to talk,” said Aksyónof, “but I have suffered for you these twenty-six years.  Where could I go to now?  My wife is dead, and my children have forgotten me.  I have nowhere to go.”

     Makar did not rise, but beat his head on the floor.  “Forgive me!” he cried.  “When they flogged me with the whip it was not so hard to bear as it is to see you now.  Yet you had pity on me, and did not tell.  For Christ’s sake forgive me, wretch that I am!”  And he began to sob.

     When Aksyónof heard him sobbing he, too, began to weep.

     “God will forgive you!” said he.  “Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.”  And at these words his heart grew light, and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.

     In spite of what Aksyónof had said, Makar Semyónitch confessed his guilt.  But when the order for his release came, Aksyónof was already dead.

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Romans 12:17-21  —  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Revelation 2:9-10  —  (Jesus said), “I know your afflictions and your poverty— yet you are rich!…  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Hebrews 6:9b-11  —  We are convinced of better things in your case— things that have to do with salvation.  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

–Jesus, Luke 23:34a

1259) Overcome Evil With Good (part two of three)

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GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS(1872)  (part two)

 By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)  (1907 Maude translation)

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      (…continued)  For 26 years Aksyónof lived as a convict in Siberia.  His hair turned white as snow and his beard grew long, thin, and grey.  All his mirth went; he stooped; he walked slowly, spoke little, and never laughed, but he often prayed.

     In prison Aksyónof learnt to make boots, and earned a little money, with which he bought The Lives of the Saints.  He read this book when there was light enough in the prison; and on Sundays in the prison-church he read the lessons and sang in the choir; for his voice was still good.

     The prison authorities liked Aksyónof for his meekness, and his fellow-prisoners respected him.  They called him ‘Grandfather,’ and ‘The Saint.’  When they wanted to petition the prison authorities about anything, they always made Aksyónof their spokesman, and when there were quarrels among the prisoners they came to him to put things right, and to judge the matter.

     No news reached Aksyónof from his home, and he did not even know if his wife and children were still alive.

     One day a fresh gang of convicts came to the prison.  In the evening the old prisoners gathered round the new ones and asked them what towns or villages they came from, and what they were sentenced for.  Among the rest Aksyónof sat down near the new-comers, and listened with downcast air to what was said.

     One of the new convicts, a tall, strong man of sixty, with a closely-cropped gray beard, was telling the others what he had been arrested for.   “Well, friends,” he said, “I only took a horse that was tied to a sled, and I was arrested and accused of stealing.  I said I had only taken it to get home quicker, and had then let it go; besides, the driver was a personal friend of mine.  So I said, ‘It’s all right.’  But they said, ‘No, you stole it.’  But once I really did do something wrong, and by rights I ought to have come here long ago.  But that time I was not found out.  Now I have been sent here for nothing at all.”

     “Where are you from?” asked some one.

     “From Vladímir,” he said.  “My family are of that town.  My name is Makar, and they also call me Semyónitch.’

     Aksyónof raised his head and said:  ‘Tell me, Makar, do you know anything of the Aksyónof family?  They were merchants in Vladímir.  Are they still alive?”

     “Know them?  Of course I do,” Makar said.  “The Aksyónofs are rich, though their father is in Siberia– a sinner like ourselves, it seems.  As for you, Gran’dad, how did you come here?”

     Aksyónof did not like to speak of his misfortune.  He only sighed, and said, “For my sins I have been in prison these twenty-six years.”

     “What sins?” asked Makar Semyónitch.

     But Aksyónof only said, “Well, well; I must have deserved it!”  He would have said no more, but his companions told the new-comer how Aksyónof came to be in Siberia; how someone had killed a merchant and had put a knife among Aksyónof’s things, and Aksyónof had been unjustly condemned.

     When Makar heard this, he looked at Aksyónof, slapped his own knee, and exclaimed, “Well, this is wonderful!  Really wonderful!  But how old you’ve grown, Gran’dad!’

     The others asked him why he was so surprised, and where he had seen Aksyónof before; but Makar Semyónitch did not reply.  He only said: “It’s wonderful that we should meet here, lads!”

     These words made Aksyónof wonder whether this man knew who had killed the merchant, so he said, “Perhaps, Makar, you have heard of that affair, or maybe you’ve seen me before?”

     “How could I help hearing?  The world’s full of rumors.  But it’s long ago, and I’ve forgotten what I heard.”

     “Perhaps you heard who killed the merchant?” asked Aksyónof.

     Makar laughed and replied, “It must have been him in whose bag the knife was found.  And if some one else hid the knife there, well, as the old saying goes, ‘He’s not a thief till he’s caught.’  How could any one put a knife into your bag while it was under your head?  It would surely have woke you up?”

     When Aksyónof heard these words, he felt sure this was the man who had killed the merchant.  He rose and went away.  All that night Aksyónof lay awake.

     He felt terribly unhappy, and all sorts of images rose in his mind.  There was the image of his wife as she was when he parted from her to go to the fair.  He saw her as if she were present.  Her face and her eyes rose before him, and he heard her speak and laugh.  Then he saw his children, quite little, as they were at that time; one with a little cloak on, another at his mother’s breast.  And then he remembered himself as he used to be– young and merry.  He remembered how he sat playing the guitar in the porch of the inn where he was arrested, and how free from care he had been.  He saw, in his mind, the place where he was flogged, the executioner, and the people standing around; the chains, the convicts, all the twenty-six years of his prison life, and his premature old age.  The thought of it all made him so wretched that he was ready to kill himself.

     “And it’s all that villain’s doing!” thought Aksyónof.  And his anger was so great against Makar Semyónitch that he longed for vengeance, even if he himself should perish for it.  He kept repeating prayers all night, but could get no peace.  During the day he did not go near Makar, nor even look at him.

     A fortnight passed in this way.  Aksyónof could not sleep at nights, and was so miserable that he did not know what to do.  (continued…)

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Proverbs 20:22  —  Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!”  Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.

Isaiah 30:18  —  The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!

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Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Luke 11:4a

1258) Overcome Evil With Good (part one of three)

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GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS(1872)  (part one)

 By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)  (1907 Maude translation)

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     In the town of Vladímir lived a young merchant named Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof.  He had two shops and a house of his own.  Aksyónof was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing.  When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much.  But after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.

     One summer Aksyónof was going to the Nízhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family his wife said to him, “Iván, do not start to-day.  I have had a bad dream about you.”

     Aksyónof laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on the spree.”

     His wife replied:  “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream.  I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite gray.”

     Aksyónof laughed.  “That’s a lucky sign,” said he.  “I will sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.”  So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.

     When he had traveled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night.  They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.

     It was not Aksyónof’s habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.  Then he paid his bill and continued his journey.

     When he had gone about 25 miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed.  Aksyónof rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch and got out his guitar and began to play.

     Suddenly a carriage drove up with tinkling bells, and an official stepped out, followed by two soldiers.  He came to Aksyónof and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came.  Aksyónof answered him fully, and said, “Won’t you have some tea with me?”  But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him, “Where did you spend last night?  Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant?  Did you see the other merchant this morning?  Why did you leave the inn before dawn?”

     Aksyónof wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he described all that had happened, and then added, “Why do you cross-question me as if I were a thief or a robber?  I am traveling on business of my own, and there is no need to question me.”

     Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, “I am the police-officer of this district, and I question you because the merchant with whom you spent last night has been found with his throat cut.  We must search your things.”

     They entered the house.  The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped Aksyónof’s luggage and searched it.  Suddenly the officer drew a knife out of a bag, crying, “Whose knife is this?”

     Aksyónof looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag, he was frightened.

     “How is it there is blood on this knife?” asked the police-officer.

      Aksyónof tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only stammered:  “I… I don’t know… it’s not mine.”

       Then the police-officer said, “This morning the merchant was found in bed with his throat cut.  You are the only person who could have done it.  The house was locked from inside, and no one else was there.  Here is this bloodstained knife in your bag, and your face and manner betray you!”

      Aksyónof swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after they had had tea together; that he had no money except eight thousand roubles of his own, and that the knife was not his.  But his voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled with fear as though he were guilty.

       The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksyónof and to put him in the cart.  As they tied his feet together and flung him into the cart, Aksyónof crossed himself and wept.  His money and goods were taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest town and imprisoned there.  Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladímir.  The merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days he used to drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man.  Then the trial was held.  He was charged with murdering a merchant from Ryazán, and robbing him of twenty thousand roubles.

     His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe.  Her children were all quite small; one was a baby at her breast.  Taking them all with her, she went to the town where her husband was in jail.  At first she was not allowed to see him; but, after much begging, she obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him.  When she saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves and criminals, she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a long time.  Then she drew her children to her, and sat down near him.  She told him of things at home, and asked about what had happened to him.  He told her all, and she asked, “What can we do now?”

     “We must petition the Tsar not to let an innocent man perish,” he said.

     His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Tsar, but that it had not been accepted.  Aksyónof did not reply, but only looked downcast.

     Then his wife said, “It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had turned grey.  Do you remember?  You should not have started that day.”  And passing her fingers through his hair, she said, “My dearest, tell your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?”

     “So you, too, suspect me!” said Aksyónof, and hiding his face in his hands, he began to weep.  Then a soldier came to say that the wife and children must go away; and Aksyónof said good-bye to his family for the last time.

     When they were gone, Aksyónof recalled what had been said, and when he remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself, “It seems that only God can know the truth, it is to Him alone we must appeal, and from Him alone expect mercy.”  And Aksyónof wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only prayed to God.

     Aksyónof was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines.  So he was flogged with a heavy whip, and when his wounds were healed, he was driven to Siberia with other convicts.  (continued…)

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Micah 7:7-8  —  But as for me, I watch in hope for the LordI wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  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.

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 PSALM 38:15:

Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.

1257) A Grandfather’s Love

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Mr. and Mrs. D. L. Moody and grandchildren

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From The One Year Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003, pages 670-1.

     Dwight Lyman Moody, (1837-1899), was the greatest evangelist of his day.  He preached to more people than any of his contemporaries, and was the catalyst of great revivals, not only in the United States and Canada, but also in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

     Yet what meant more to Moody than even his evangelistic ministry was his family.  He had three children, Emma, Will, and Paul Dwight.  The arrival of his grandchildren brought Moody special joy.   The first two, Will’s daughter, Irene, and Emma’s daughter, Emma, were born in 1895 (above photo).  Moody loved them dearly.

     The arrival of his namesake, Dwight Lyman Moody, in November, 1897, added to his delight.  But no one could foresee that his beloved grandchildren would soon precipitate his final crisis.

     On November 30, 1898, while in Colorado, Moody received a telegram that stunned him.  Little one-year-old Dwight, his pride and joy, had died.  Heavy with grief, Moody wrote to the sorrowing parents:

I know Dwight is having a good time, and we should rejoice with him.  What would the heavenly mansions be without children?  He was the last to come into our circle, and he is the first to go up there.  So safe, so free from all the sorrow we are passing through!  I thank God for such a life.  It was nearly all smiles and sunshine, and what a glorified body he will have, and with what joy he will await your coming!  God does not give us such strong love for each other for a few days or years, but it is going to last forever, and you will have the dear little man with you for ages and ages, and love will keep increasing…

I cannot think of him as belonging to earth.  The more I think of him, the more I think he was only sent to draw us all closer to each other and up to the world of light and joy.  I could not wish him back, if he could have all earth could give him…  Dear, dear little fellow!…  I have no doubt that when he saw the Savior he smiled as he did when he saw you.  The word that keeps coming to my mind is this:  “It is well with the child.”  Thank God, Dwight is safe at home, and we will, all of us, see him soon.

Your loving father,

D. L. Moody

     The following March little Irene fell ill with tuberculosis, and by August she was wasting away.  Moody brought Will, his wife, May, and little Irene into his home to offer any help he could, but nothing could be done to save her.  To their great sorrow, Irene died just eight months after her baby brother.

     At the funeral Moody unexpectedly rose and spoke of Elijah “waiting in the Valley of Jordan so many years ago, for the chariot of God to take him home.  Again the chariot of God came down to the Connecticut Valley yesterday morning about half-past six and took our little Irene home.”

     Grief weighed heavily on this grandfather’s heart, and just four months later D. L Moody himself was the one who was dying.  He revived momentarily and said, “What does this all mean?  I must have had a trance.  I went to the gate of heaven.  Why, it was so wonderful, and I saw the children!”

     His son, Will, asked, “Oh, Father, did you see them?”

     Moody answered, “Yes, I saw Irene and Dwight.”  Moments later he was with them.

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Deuteronomy 5:29  —  Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.

II Kings 4:26b  —  “Is it well with the child?”  And she answered, “It is well.”

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Let not your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you…  I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.  You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you.  Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.  So death is only an horizon and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.  Open our eyes to see more clearly.  Draw us closer to you that we may know that we are nearer to our loved ones who are with you.  You have told us that you are preparing a place for us.  Prepare us also for that happy place, that where you are we may also be always, O dear Lord of life and death.  Amen.

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

1256) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb4)

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

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MORNING PRAYER  (Thirty-first Day)

O Lord my King!  Reverently would I greet Thee at the beginning of another day!  All praise and love and loyalty be unto Thee, O Lord, most high.

Forbid, O Lord God, that my thoughts today should be wholly occupied with this world’s passing show.  Thou hast given me the power to lift my mind to the contemplation of things unseen and eternal, so forbid that I should remain content with the things of sense and time.  Grant, rather, that each day may do something to strengthen my hold upon the unseen world, to increase my sense of its reality, and to attach my heart to its holy and eternal interests.  Then, as the end of my earthly life draws ever nearer, I may not grow to be a part of these fleeting earthly surroundings, but may rather yearn more and more for the life of the world to come.

O Thou who sees and knows all things, give me grace to see and know Thee, that in knowing Thee I may know myself even as I am most perfectly known of Thee, and in seeing Thee may see myself as I verily am before Thee.  Give me today some clear vision of my life in time as it appears to Thine eternity.  Show me my own smallness and Thine infinite greatness.  Show me my own sin and Thy perfect righteousness.  Show me my own lovelessness and Thine exceeding love.  Yet in Thy mercy show me also how, small as I am, I can take refuge in Thy greatness; how, sinful as I am, I may lean upon Thy righteousness; and how, loveless as I am, I may hide myself in Thy forgiving love.  Cause my thoughts to dwell much today on the life and death of Jesus Christ my Lord, so that I may see all things in the light of the redemption which Thou hast granted to me in His name.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Thirty-first Day)

O Thou who art the Lord of the night as of the day, in this hour of darkness I submit my will to Thine.

From the stirrings of self-will within my heart:

From cowardly avoidance of necessary duty:

From rebellious shrinking from necessary suffering:

From discontentment with my lot in life:

From jealousy of those whose lot is easier:

From thinking lightly of the one talent Thou hast given me, because Thou hast not given me five or ten:

From uncreaturely pride:

From undisciplined thought:

From unwillingness to learn and unreadiness to serve:

O God, set me free.

O God my Father, who art often closest to me when I am farthest from Thee, and who art near at hand even when I feel that Thou hast forsaken me, mercifully grant that the defeat of my self-will may be the triumph in me of Thine eternal purpose.

May I grow more sure of Thy reality and power:

May I attain a clearer mind as to the meaning of my life on earth:

May I strengthen my hold upon life eternal:

May I look more and more to things unseen:

May my desires grow less unruly and my imaginations more pure:

May my love for others grow deeper and more tender, and may I be more willing to take their burdens upon myself.

To thy care, O God, I commend my soul and the souls of all whom I love and who love me; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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I Chronicles 23:29-31  —  They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord.  They were to do the same in the evening.

Psalm 55:16-17  —  As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.  Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.

John 20:19-20  —  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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1255) Jesus Visits a Muslim Persecutor

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From Jesus Freaks, pages 52-55, published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, 1999.

   “When you catch the infidels, beat them!  Allah will be pleased,” Zahid encouraged them.  The crowd of young men, the youth group of his mosque, waved their sticks and iron bars and cheered in agreement.  Zahid’s arrogance and hatred swelled.  He felt he was doing well as a young Muslim leader.  His parents would be proud.  He had rallied a rather large group for this outing and they were nearly ready to go.  Within minutes they would be combing the streets of their village for Christians to ambush.

     Zahid had a proud heritage in Pakistan.  His father and older brother were both leaders in the local mosque.  As expected, Zahid had followed in their footsteps.  His hatred for Christians began to show itself as he rallied his followers against them.

     To Zahid, as to many Muslims, Christians are heretics and should be punished.  His government is becoming more influenced by Sharia law in some provinces.  Sharia law calls for the death of anyone found guilty of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.  To these Muslims, rejecting Mohammed’s teachings by becoming a Christian is the highest form of blasphemy.

     When their fervor peaked, Zahid led his group into the streets.  It was not long before they found a group of young Christians to attack.  As the mob descended upon them, the young boys ran, one of them dropping his Bible.  One of Zahid’s group stopped, picked up the Bible, and opened it to rip out its pages.  Zahid had always told his followers to burn all the Bibles they collected, but this time Zahid felt strangely compelled to keep it and study it in order to expose its errors to the people of his mosque.  He quickly snatched the book from the man, encouraged him to chase the fleeing Christians, and tucked the Bible into his shirt for later.

     Zahid reported in his own words what became of keeping that Bible:

I was reading the Bible, looking for contradictions I could use against the Christian faith.  All of a sudden, a great light appeared in my room and I heard a voice call my name.  The light was so bright, it lit the entire room.  Then the voice asked, `Zahid, why do you persecute Me?’  I was scared.  I didn’t know what to do.  I thought I was dreaming.  I asked, `Who are you?’  I heard, `I am the way, the truth, and the life.’  For the next three nights the light and the voice returned.  Finally, on the fourth night, I knelt down and I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

     Zahid’s hatred was suddenly gone.  All he wanted to do was share Jesus with everyone he knew.  He went to his family members and those in the mosque and told them what had happened to him over the last four nights, but they didn’t believe him.  His family and friends turned against him.  They called the authorities to have him arrested so he would leave them alone about this Jesus.  According to Islamic teaching, Zahid was now considered an apostate, a traitor to Islam, a man who had turned from his faith and accepted stupid lies.  Thus, he was a criminal.

     Zahid was locked up in prison for two years.  The guards repeatedly beat and tortured him.  One time, they pulled out his fingernails in an attempt to break his faith.  Another time, they tied him to the ceiling fan by his hair and left him to hang there.  Zahid said:

 Although I suffered greatly at the hands of my Muslim captors, I held no bitterness towards them.  I knew that just a few years before, I had been one of them.  I too had hated Christians.  During my trial, I was found guilty of blasphemy.  According to the Sharia law, I was to be executed by hanging.  They tried to force me to recant my faith in Jesus.  They assured me that if I cooperated there would be no more beatings, no more humiliation.  I could go free.  But I could not deny Jesus.  Mohammed had never visited me; Jesus had.  I knew He was the truth.  I just prayed for the guards, hoping that they would also come to know Jesus.

     On the day Zahid was to be hanged, he was unafraid of death as they came to take him from his cell.  Even as they took him to his execution and placed the noose around his neck, Zahid preached about Jesus to his guards and execu­tioners.  He wanted his last breaths on earth to be used in telling his countrymen that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Zahid stood ready to face his Savior.

     Suddenly, loud voices were heard in the outer room.  Guards hurried in to tell Zahid’s executioners that the court had unexpectedly issued an order to release Zahid, stating that there was not enough evidence to execute him.  To this day, no one knows why Zahid was suddenly allowed to go free.

     Zahid later changed his name to Lazarus, feeling that he too had been raised from death.  He traveled in the villages around his home testifying of his narrow escape from death.  Many of the Christians did not trust him at first.  But soon they saw his sincerity and received him into their family.  They now assist him as he travels from village to village preaching Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”

     “I live in a land ruled by the false teaching of Islam” Zahid said.  “My people are blinded, and I was chosen by God to be His voice.  I count all that I have suffered nothing compared to the endless joy of knowing Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.”

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John 14:6a  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Acts 9:4-5  —  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

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 Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart, that the barriers which divided us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#167).

1254) The Man Who Led the Attack on Pearl Harbor Meets Jesus

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Captain Mitsuo Fuchida  (1902-1976)

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     Mitsuo Fuchida was born on December 3, 1902 in Nagao, Japan.  Thirty-nine years and four days later he led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  His story, told in his own words, tells of the mark he left on history— and the mark God left on him.

     I must admit I was more excited than usual as I awoke that morning at 3:00 a.m. Hawaii time.  As General Commander of the Air Squadron, I made last minute checks on the intelligence information reports in the Operations Room before going to warm up my single-engine three-seater plane.

     The sunrise in the east was magnificent above the white clouds as I led 360 planes towards Hawaii.  I knew my objective:  to surprise and cripple the American naval force in the Pacific.

     Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive-bombers, and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury.  It was the most thrilling exploit of my career…

     Four years later, when the war ended, it was the end of my military career.  I became more and more unhappy, especially when the war crime trials opened in Tokyo.  Though I was never accused, General Douglas MacArthur summoned me to testify on several occasions.

     As I got off the train one day in Tokyo’s Shibuya Station, I saw an American distributing literature.  He handed me a pamphlet entitled “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.”  What I read eventually changed my life.  On that Sunday while I was in the air over Pearl Harbor, an American soldier named Jacob DeShazer had been on K.P. duty in an army camp in California.  When the radio announced the sneak attack which demolished Pearl Harbor, he shouted “Japs, just wait and see what we’re going to do to you.”

     One month later he volunteered for a secret mission with the Jimmy Doolittle Squadron– a surprise raid on Tokyo.  After the bombing raid, they flew on towards China but ran out of fuel and were forced to parachute into Japanese-held territory.  During the next 40 long months in confinement, DeShazer was cruelly treated.  After 25 months the U.S. prisoners were given a Bible to read…  There in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, he read and read— and eventually came to understand that the book was more than a historical classic.

     After DeShazer was released, he returned to Japan as a missionary, and in God’s providence gave Fuchida the tract he had written.  Fuchida continues:

     The peaceful motivation I had read about in the pamphlet was exactly what I was seeking.  Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one myself, despite my traditional Buddhist heritage.

     In the weeks that followed I read this book eagerly.  I came to the climactic drama— the Crucifixion.  I read in Luke 23:34 the prayer of Jesus Christ at His death: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed.  The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not yet know anything about the love of Christ  that he wishes to implant within every heart.

     Right at that moment I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time.  I understood the meaning of His death as a substitute for my wickedness; and so in prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins, and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living…

     I believe with all my heart that those who will direct Japan— and all other nations— in the decades to come must not ignore the message of Christ.  He is the only hope for this troubled world.

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For Jacob Deshazer’s story  go to:

http://www.emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/1013-forgiving-the-enemy/

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I Timothy 1:13-14  —  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Romans 5:10  —  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

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“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

–Jesus, Luke 23:34

1253) Duck Hunters Finding Jesus

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By Phil Robertson, in Happy, Happy, Happy, pages 189…195f, Copyright, 2013.  

Phil Robertson began making duck calls in 1972 and has built the Duck Commander Company into a multi-million dollar international family business.  He is the patriarch of the Robertson family which is featured on the popular A&E television reality show Duck Dynasty.  He graduated from Louisiana Tech where for a while he was the starting quarterback.  But he got tired of missing out on duck hunting season to play football, so he quit the team in his junior year.  This gave second string quarterback Terry Bradshaw a chance to show what he could do.  Phil Robertson also does a little Gospel preaching.  

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     For the first twenty-eight years of my life, I didn’t know the gospel and I didn’t know Jesus Christ.  Now I’m trying to make up for lost time.  Jesus said all the authority was given to Him, and He told us to go preach the gospel and make disciples of all the people we baptize.  Basically, Jesus is telling me to share with people what I didn’t know until I was saved.  So I’ve been sharing everything I’ve learned since I was converted.  Nowadays, I get asked to speak to churches, colleges, hunting clubs, and other groups around the country… 

     One of the first opportunities I had to speak to a large crowd was at the Superdome in New Orleans in the early 1990s.  I was invited to speak and demonstrate duck calls during a hunting and fishing show.  I had a crowd of about one thousand people listening to me, and I blew my calls and gave them some hunting tips.  Then I reached into my bag and pulled out a Bible.  I told them, “Folks, while I’m here, I think I’m gonna preach you a little sermon.”  I thought I owed it to them to share the gospel.

     “I’m standing under a sign that says, ‘Budweiser is the king of beers,’ and everybody’s got their beers here today,” I told them.  “But I’m here to talk about the King of Kings.  I know I might look like a preacher, but I’m not.  Here’s how you can tell whether someone’s a preacher or not:  if he gets up and says some words and passes a hat for you to put money in, that’s a preacher.  This is free.  This is free of charge, which proves I’m not a preacher.”

     I preached for about forty-five minutes, and afterward several men came up and thanked me for sharing my story.  A few of them even invited me to preach at their churches, so that’s kind of how my road show started…  Because of the success of Duck Dynasty, I’m getting more opportunities to speak to larger audiences now.  But I don’t care if I’m talking to one person or one thousand; if I can help save one lost soul and bring him back to Jesus, it’s well worth it to me.

     The good Lord leads us to lost souls in many different ways.  We meet some of them at our speaking engagements, others at church, and some simply stop by the house.  I’ll never forget the time when someone called my house to order duck calls, back when Duck Commander was still being run out of our living room.  The man kept using the Lord’s name in vain during his conversation with me.

     “Let me ask you something,” I told him.  “Why would you keep cursing the only one who can save you from death?”

     There was silence on the other end.

     “You got my order?” the man asked.

     “Yeah, I got your order,” I told him.

     Click.  He hung up the phone.  A few minutes later, the phone rang again.

     “Mr. Robertson, I’ve never thought about what you said,” the guy told me.

     “Well, you ought to,” I told him.  “Let me ask you something:  Where are you from?”

     “Alabama,” he said.

     “You’re about ten hours away,” I said.  “You ought to load up and head this way.  I’ll tell you a story about the one you’ve been cursing.”

      About a week later, there was a knock on the front door.  This young buck stepped in the house and asked, “You know who I am?”

     “I don’t reckon I do,” I told him.

     “I’m that fella from Alabama who was cursing God,” he said.

     The man had a buddy with him, and I told them the story of Jesus Christ.  By the time I was finished, they were on the floor crying like babies.  I took them down to the river and baptized both of them that night.

     I remember another time when I gave a duck-call demonstration at a sporting goods store… I blew on some duck calls and then preached from the Bible.  When I was finished, I concluded with what I always tell my audience:  “Where else can you go on a Friday evening in America and get first-rate duck-call instruction and a gospel sermon at the same time?”

     Well, about five years later, a guy who was there wrote me a four-page letter.  He said he went to the sporting goods store to listen to a duck-call guru because he wanted to become a better duck hunter.  However, he wasn’t prepared to listen to what I had to say about the Bible, about how we’re all sinners, and we’re all going to die.  He thought I’d taken advantage of him.  When the man went home, he burned every one of my duck calls, and for the next several years told anyone who would listen to him that I was the sorriest, most low-down man he’d ever met.

     He shared that story on the first two pages of the letter he sent me, but I didn’t hold it against him and kept on reading.  On the third page, he told me he woke up one morning and realized he couldn’t get what he’d heard out of his mind.  He couldn’t forget me telling him that God loved him, his sins had been paid for, and that he could be raised from the dead.  After a couple of years of romping on me so badly, he asked himself why he was so mad at someone who loved him enough to tell him that story.  So he picked up a Bible and started reading it himself.  It confirmed everything I’d told him.  He told me his wife was thrilled, his kids were happy, and they were a much closer family now.  He felt guilty because he thought I knew he’d been poor-mouthing me, which, of course, I didn’t, and he wanted to apologize for being an idiot.

     Here’s the point of his letter:  if you really love someone and want to tell them about what God’s done for us, there’s no way to escape without being persecuted.  I usually tell anyone I talk to that I’m going to share the gospel because I love them.  I tell them it’s not contingent on how they feel about me.  If they hate me, I’m not going to hold it against them.  If they don’t like me, they can walk away.  But I have to love my enemies.  

     If anyone has a better explanation as to how I can be resurrected, I’m open to listening to new ideas.  I’m all ears when it comes to an alternative, but I’ve never found another way in which I’m going to make it out of here alive.  I don’t know any other way, so I’m sticking with what I know to be the gospel.

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Phil and his family tell their story at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjqccYmx13w

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Acts 16:30-31  —  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and your household.”

Joshua 24:15b  —  (Joshua said), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins,
and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all
goodness, and bring us to life everlasting. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, Scotland