869) Ask and It Will Be Given You?

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  –Psalm 37:4 

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     Psalm 37:4 is one of those verses that Christians can twist to suit their own fancy.  I have heard some preachers claim, on the basis of this verse, that God will give us anything we want.  If we simply “claim it,” God will give us mansions, yachts, luxury cars, and, well, you name it.  To be sure, God can and does bless us materially.  But if we argue from Psalm 37:4 that “God will give you anything you want,” we miss the whole point of the verse.

     Yes, this verse does promise that the Lord “will give you your heart’s desires.”  But notice the context.  That promise comes after a command:  “Take delight in the Lord.”  If we put our delight in God, THEN he will give us the desires of our heart.

     How does this happen?  It isn’t some kind of divine system of rewards.  Psalm 37:4 does not mean that if we enjoy God, he will decide to reward us by giving us all the luxuries we want.  Rather, if we delight in God, if we focus on God’s nature, if we love God with all that we are, we’ll discover that the desires of our heart will be transformed.  We will stop being so concerned about our own “stuff;” even about our own well being.  Instead, we will start to yearn for the things of God, for his truth and peace, for his justice and mercy.  Our desires will begin to reflect God’s own desires for us and for this world.  Thus we will want what God wants, and he will give that which is according to his will.

     Moreover, the more we take delight in the Lord, the more we will discover that what we desire most of all is a truer and more vital relationship with him.  Strangely enough, a closer relationship with God both satisfies our deepest longing and intensifies that longing.  So as we learn to know God better, our heart’s desires will be increasingly focused on God.  We will seek him above all and, by his grace, find him.  Thus, in this way, God will give us the desires of our heart.

–By Mark Roberts, Daily Reflections, March 5, 2011 Blog at: http://www.thehighcalling.org (adapted).

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Matthew 7:7-8  —  (Jesus said),   “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Psalm 37:1-5  —  Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this.

James 4:1-3  —  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:8a  —  Come near to God and he will come near to you.

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I ask you, Lord, to align my desires according to the ways of your own heart.  May I want what you want.  May I seek that which is consistent with your will.  Let your will guide my prayers, my actions, my words, and my desires.  All praise be to you, gracious God, because you give me the desires of my heart.  Most of all, you give me the gift of close relationship with you.  Amen.

–Mark Roberts

868) Funeral Sermon for a Confident Man (b)

     (…continued)  The Bible has a great deal to say about confidence.  There is a little bit there about self-confidence, a little bit more about having confidence in others, and quite a few verses about confidence in God.  Proverbs 3:25-26 says, “Have no fear, for the Lord will be your confidence;” and Proverbs 14:26 says, “The fear of the Lord gives strong confidence, and his children shall always have a place of refuge.”  Psalm 27 says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, — of whom shall I be afraid?  Even though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; even though a war break out against me, even then, I will be confident... I am confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Isaiah 30:15 says, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”

     The New Testament builds on those Old Testament expressions of confidence.  In Philippians chapter three, Paul speaks of Christians as those who glory in Christ, but put no confidence in the flesh; this ‘frail, frail flesh’ as Shakespeare described it.  We do have to depend on this frail flesh for a while.  You wouldn’t be sitting here today without it.  But we can’t depend on it for very long.  75-80 years, or perhaps a few more, and that’s all.  So Paul says, it’s no use putting much confidence in such a temporary thing as that.  Those of you who watched Ray die saw in these last few weeks saw how ‘frail‘ this flesh really is, and what happens when it does fail.

     But Paul has more to say on the subject.  In II Corinthians chapters four and five he wrote: “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away… (that’s what happens to flesh), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles here, are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…  Therefore, WE ARE ALWAYS CONFIDENT.”  Paul goes on to say that when we leave this body, we go home to be with the Lord.  That is our ultimate confidence.  That is the confidence that will get us not just a long ways, but all the way to our eternal home.

     “If a man die, shall he live again?” asked the desperately ill Job in the Old Testament.  ‘No problem,’ says the Lord.  The Lord who put our soul and our spirit into this body and this flesh, can certainly have for us another body ready to go when this wears out.  In that same passage from II Corinthians that I referred to above, Paul said, “Now we know that if this earthly tent (this body) is destroyed, we have a building from God, (another body), an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”  Even when weakened by old age, riddled with cancer, and finally destroyed by death, the Bible tells us there will be a building for us, a body, from God, an eternal house in heaven.  And so God says, we can be confident.  This, says Romans 5:5, is a hope that will not disappoint us.

     Ray died at home last Friday afternoon with his family around him.  When it was looking like the end was near, someone started praying the Lord’s prayer. Right after they all said ‘Amen’ Ray breathed his last.  The very last words Ray heard on this earth were the words of that wonderful prayer of Christian confidence: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven… for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”  Even in death we are in the hands of that God, and that is a good and safe place to be.  As the New Testament says, nothing, not even death can separate from the love of God.  Believe that and you will have a hope and a confidence that will never be disappointed.

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II Corinthians 3:4  —  Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

II Corinthians 5:8  —  Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Hebrews 10:35-36  —  Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

Romans 8:38-39  —  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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AMAZING GRACE, John Newton, verses 4-6:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

And when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

867) Funeral Sermon for a Confident Man (a)

CONFIDENCE

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     Whenever I think of Uncle Ray, there is one particular memory that comes to mind.  I remember a hot summer afternoon, perhaps about 15 years ago, when Ray and Laverne were living on East Silent Lake.  Many family members were there for a weekend visit.  We swam, went boating, did some fishing, and had many good conversations.  On the afternoon that I remember best, all the men were sitting on lawn chairs in a circle on the driveway talking about the good old days; and for the longest time, all the attention was on Ray.  He was in his finest story-telling form that day, and he told story and after story.  Stories of childhood, stories of his days in the military, stories of the truck driving days, stories of loved ones long gone; on and on he went.  I remember thinking, “This guy can really tell a story;” and he had so many to tell.  He never ran out.  I recall thinking back to seminary classes where I was taught how to tell stories and use them effectively in sermons.  But as I listened to Ray I realized that to be able to tell stories like that isn’t something you learn in a class.  It’s a gift, and either you’ve got it or you don’t.  Ray had that gift.

     The part of Ray’s personality that impressed me the most was his self-confidence.  Maybe that is part of what it takes to be a good storyteller– you have to be confident enough to believe you have something to say.  And Ray was confident of his opinions and confident of his decisions and confident about everything he said and did.  He was a bold, forward moving guy, who didn’t spend any time hemming, hawing, or having second thoughts about anything.  That doesn’t mean he was always right.  And that doesn’t mean that such bold confidence is always the best way to be.  Every personality trait has its advantages and disadvantages.  I am not saying any of this to flatter or to criticize, but simply to state a fact.  Ray went at life with a great deal of zest and drive and an unshakable confidence.

      I have been wondering these past few days where such confidence came from.  Ray was the baby of the family, his mother died when he was only 14, he grew up during the depression and then the war, and he was poor.  When he was seventeen he came to live with my grandparents.  He was grandmother’s little brother and was going to work for my grandfather; and so he was going to stay with them for a while.  My dad, a young boy at the time, remembers how Ray arrived at the door carrying everything he owned in a paper sack.  Ray had a humble start in life.

     So where did Ray’s powerful self-confidence come from?  I don’t know.  I do think God makes us in a certain way, not only physically, but also on the inside.  And then, I believe it is up to us to make something of what God has given us, by making our own good decisions.  Ray had to depend on himself and he had to work hard, and that can build confidence.  We can make some guesses about why people are the way they are, but we really can’t say for sure why some lack confidence, and others, like Ray, are filled with self-confidence.

     And that self-confidence, that ‘depending on yourself’ can get someone a long ways in life.  It served Ray well, and he enjoyed great success in all that he did.  But such confidence can only get you so far.  That ‘self’ we have to depend on does eventually get old, and it can get sick, and it will weaken and die.  And that ‘self,’ no matter how strong and confident and self-sufficient, may well, in the end, have to depend on everyone else for everything.  And then death comes, when no one help you any more.  Self-confidence can get you only so far.

     That is why it is of such great comfort today to remember that Ray had another, deeper confidence, a confidence that relied not upon himself, but upon God.  Romans 14:7-8 says, “None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone; whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”  We do not have to depend only on ourselves.  We belong to the Lord.  And that is what gives us hope and confidence on a day like today.  Our deepest confidence comes in knowing that death does not get the last word.  God gets the last word, and his word is a word of life for all who will believe it.  We give thanks today for that good word and promise of God, and we give thanks because we know that Ray knew and believed in that Lord of life.  God gets the last word over us, and God says that because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, we are forgiven of our sins and we will live again.  We express that deeper confidence ever time we say the Apostles Creed when we say we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  (continued…)

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II Corinthians 11:17  —  In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

Romans 14:7-9  —  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Jeremiah 17:7  —  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him.

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For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lordmy confidence since my youth.  From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.  I will ever praise you.

–Psalm 71:5-6

866) The Problem of James (b)

 

     (…continued)  One of the keys to this is in our understanding of faith.  Here too there is a tension in how the Bible defines and presents faith.  Is faith itself something we do, or, is it a gift of God?  We can find Bible passages that seem to describe it both ways.  Ephesians 2:8 says that even faith is God’s gift, and not “from yourselves.”  Luther included this truth in his catechism explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s creed when he wrote, “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”  But in many other places, including many of Jesus’ own words, we are commanded to have faith, and to be faithful, implying that faith is something that we do.

     Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is “the gift of God.”  But a gift can be rejected.  A gift can be ignored.  A gift can be left on the table and not even picked up.  So even though faith is a freely given gift, we still have to be faithful.  And this brings us back to what James is saying in his little book.  He says faith without works is dead.  Another way we might say that is to say that faith without works WILL DIE.  

     The faith is freely given.  Salvation is ours “without any merit or worthiness on our part,” as the catechism says.  But if one repeatedly refuses to pay any attention to God, carelessly disobeying God without any regret or any confession or even any thought of God; if one insists on turning away from God; then the gift is rejected and faith will die.  The Bible does not spell out exactly how and when that happens.  In fact Jesus says that on the last day there will be many surprises among the saved and the unsaved.  The Bible doesn’t give the specifics.  But the Bible is constantly going back and forth between the promises and the warnings.  The promises are wonderful:  the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting– all freely given.  Salvation is all by God’s grace, so we can have complete assurance.  We can know without a doubt where we stand with God.  But at the same time, the Bible issues warning after warning, and command after command:  don’t turn away, don’t disobey, believe, have faith, and stand fast.  

     It is not that God will reject and turn away from us, but by continued disobedience and unbelief, we may, in time, turn our backs on God.  God has given us the awful freedom to be able to do that.

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John 14:12a  —  (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”

I Corinthians 16:13  —  Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

James 5:8  —  Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

I Peter 5:8-10  —  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Revelation 14:12-13  —  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

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Almighty God,
You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:

Grant Your people grace to love what You command and desire what You promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

865) The Problem of James (a)

     The New Testament book of James has been a source of controversy ever since it was written almost 20 centuries ago.  Martin Luther, for example, did not like it at all.  When he published his first German translation of the Bible, James was not in its usual place right after the book of Hebrews.  Rather, Luther put it at the end, along with a couple other books he wasn’t too wild about.  In later editions he changed his mind and included all the books in their usual order, but Luther never grew very fond of James.  He called it a ‘straw Gospel,’ criticizing it for hardly ever mentioning Jesus.  The name of Jesus appears only twice in five chapters.

     But the primary problem for Luther and many others is the emphasis in James on the place of good works in the Christian life.  All would agree that God expects us to obey his Law.  Many books in the Bible contain all kinds of laws and rules and admonitions to obey.   But Martin Luther rediscovered the grace of God, and proclaimed that we are saved by faith and not works.  Yes, we are expected to obey God’s Law, just like children in the home are expected to obey their parents.  But a child’s place in the home is not dependent on the number of rules that are obeyed, and neither is our place as God’s children dependent on our goodness.  It’s all by the Grace of God, said Luther, pointing to Ephesians 2:8, where Paul wrote “For it is by grace you have been saved, THROUGH FAITH, and this is NOT from yourselves, but it is the gift of God, NOT by works so that no one can boast;” and Romans 3:23,  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we are justified FREELY by his grace;” and Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     But James seemed to say something else, and thus has been a thorn in the flesh for many theologians and preachers.  Paul seems to put all the emphasis on God’s grace through faith, but James created confusion by saying “What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such a faith save him?  No, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is DEAD.”  

     But what is the alternative?  Shall we say that it doesn’t matter what we do?  Is that Christianity?  Someone once said to me after a sermon on God’s grace, “You preachers make it all sound too easy; it can’t be like that.”  James would say the same.

     There has always been this tension in Christianity between faith and works, because the tension is in the pages of the Bible itself.  In terms of strict logic, this may look a contradiction; but we are not here dealing with logic, we are dealing with a relationship.  And when one looks at this in the context of a relationship, this is no more a contradiction than it is for a mother to know in her heart that she will love her children forever no matter what, while at the same time be saying to them, “You better do what I tell you to do, or else!”  Or else what?  Well, of course there might be consequences, but total abandonment and rejection of the child forever is usually not one of them.  In the same way, in God’s infinite wisdom and providence, there may well be consequences for our disobedience, as God seeks to bring us back to faith and obedience.  But we can talk about that without saying that our salvation is dependent on our obedience; just as we do not say a child earns his or her place in the family home by their obedience, good will, or completion of daily chores.

     The Bible tells us these two different things at the very same time.  It says, “You are saved by grace– it is all God’s doing and none of your own.”  And at the same time the Bible says, “Everything you do matters.”  Martin Luther did not like how the book of James talked about faith and works.  But when Luther preached about the Christian life, he could sound very much like James, emphasizing the importance of an active and obedient faith that does indeed work.  Luther would do both, sometimes proclaiming God’s grace, and other times proclaiming what we MUST do in obedient response to that grace.  

     James and Paul did not contradict each other, but merely emphasized two different aspects of the same truth.  Paul comforts us with the unconditional love and acceptance of God’s grace, and James reminds us of how we ought to respond to that Grace with faithful and obedient lives.  (continued…)

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Ephesians 2:8-9  —  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 6:23  —   For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

James 2:14  —  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?

James 2:17  —   Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2:26  —  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

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Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.

–St. Augustine

864) Helping Yourself by Helping Others

From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo, copyright 2000, page 91

     The story is told by M. Scott Peck, the famous psychologist and author, of a woman patient who was suffering from extreme depression.  One day, when she was due for an appointment with him, she called on the telephone and told him that her car had broken down.  Dr. Peck offered to pick her up on his way into work, but he explained to her that he had to make a hospital call before he got to the office.  If she was willing to wait in the car while he made the call, they could have their appointment.  She agreed.

     When they got to the hospital, he had another suggestion.  He gave her the names of two of his patients who were convalescing there, and told her that each of them would enjoy a visit from her.  When they met again, an hour and a half later, the woman was on an emotional high.  She told Dr. Peck that making the visits and trying to cheer up those patients had lifted her spirits, and that she was feeling absolutely wonderful.

     Dr. Peck responded by saying, “Well, now we know how to get you out of your depression.  Now we know the cure for your problem.”

     The woman answered, “You don’t expect me to do that every day, do you?”

     That’s the tragedy of our lives.  Doing what Jesus would do lifts us out of our doldrums into a higher quality of life.  And yet, we often think that imitating Jesus is something burdensome.  It’s not!  Doing what Jesus would do feeds us emotionally and lifts our spirits.  One experiences the flow of the Spirit in the context of serving others.

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II Corinthians 1:3-7  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Philippians 2:1-5 — If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… 

Deuteronomy 32:46-47 — (Moses) said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you– they are your life.  By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

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This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

863) A Good Role Model

2007

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2014

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By John Stonestreet, August 20, 2015 blog at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     Scarcely a week goes by that the NFL doesn’t make more news for what’s going on off the field than on it.  Just in the past few weeks, we learned the 49ers released former Pro Bowl defensive end Aldon Smith after his third arrest for driving under the influence.

     And then we found out that the Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith will miss 6-10 weeks with a fractured jaw after being sucker-punched by a teammate.

     NBA legend Charles Barkley once came under fire for a commercial in which he said, “I’m not a role model . . . Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

     Well, given the contemporary professional sports climate, he would simply be stating the obvious today.  But there are exceptions.  There are athletes who our kids would do well to emulate.

     One of them—Ryan Broyles, a receiver for the Detroit Lions.  Drafted in the second round in 2012, he signed a contract worth nearly $3.7 million, including a $1.1 million signing bonus.  But unlike many other players, Broyles didn’t splurge on a new car or a fancy home.  He still owns the 2005 Trailblazer he drove in college.  And though he and his wife recently bought a new home, they bought far less home than they could have afforded.

     I know this, because as ESPN reported, Broyles and his wife “have lived on $60,000 a year, ‘give or take,’ throughout his career.”  And, he told ESPN, he knew that NFL players and athletes in general tend to go bankrupt after their playing days are over.  That story has been fully told in the ESPN Films documentary appropriately titled “Broke.”

     Not to be another broke ex-jock though, he came up with a budget to live on and decided that everything else would go into savings and investments.  “I studied as much as I could,” he told ESPN and “talked to people wealthier than me, smarter than me.”

     And what’s more, he’s working with “VISA and the NFL on promoting a Financial Football video game in classrooms to help teach financial security and planning.”

     Broyles wasn’t always this responsible.  Although he grew up in a Christian home that taught him right from wrong, by his own admission he didn’t really know God.  Instead he took the blessings he enjoyed for granted.  In fact, as a college freshman, he was arrested for stealing gas from a gas station.

     But the arrest and its consequences got Broyles to thinking about all the things he took for granted in his life.  And then a trip to Haiti fully transformed his ideas about God into a relationship with God.

     As Broyles told the Oklahoma News, he went to Haiti with two dozen other Oklahoma University athletes who volunteered to work with Mission of Hope, a group dedicated to “meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the Haitian population.”

     During that trip, Broyles “witnessed poverty unlike anything he’d ever seen.”  Everywhere he looked, he saw “people with nothing—nothing but their faith.”  And yet they were joyful.  As he told the News, “I was jealous . . . I wanted to be like that.”  Yes, you heard that right.  He was jealous.

     Upon his return from Haiti, he told his then-girlfriend and now wife, Mary Beth, that there “was no turning back” to the way he was.  Part of this meant being aware that football gave him an opportunity and responsibility to set an example for others.

     While his NFL career hasn’t gone as well as he would have liked, he’s doing just fine in the example department.  Ryan and Mary Beth are examples of one of the rarest and most counter-cultural virtues:  the ability to delay gratification.  And his character is the reason that one Washington Post commentator called Broyles his “new favorite wide receiver.”

     And I’ll add another label for him—role model.

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Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Acts 22:15  —   You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.

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.

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O God, help us to be masters of ourselves that we may be servants of others.  Amen.

862) No Pity

Randy Pausch  (1960-2008)

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Two Lessons from His Parents

By Randy Pausch,  The Last Lecture, © 2008,  pp. 24…169,170

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    HOW TO KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE:  When I was studying for my PhD, I took something called “the theory qualifier,” which I can now definitively say was the second worst thing in my life after chemotherapy.  When I complained to my parents about how hard and awful the test was, my mother leaned over, patted me on the arm and said, “We know just how you feel, honey.  And remember, when your father was your age, he was fighting the Germans.”

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     HUMILITY:  It’s been well-documented that there is a growing sense of entitlement among young people today.  I have certainly seen that in my classrooms.  So many graduating seniors have this notion that they should be hired because of their creative brilliance.  Too many are unhappy with the idea of starting at the bottom.  My advice has always been:  “You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom.  And when you get there, here’s what you do:  Be really great at sorting mail.”

    No one wants to hear someone say:  “I’m not good at sorting mail because the job is beneath me.”  No job should be beneath us.  And if you can’t (or won’t) sort mail, where is the proof that you can do anything?

    After our ETC students were hired by companies for internships or first jobs, we’d often ask the firms to give us feedback on how they were doing.  Their bosses almost never had anything negative to say about their abilities.  But when we did get negative feedback, it was almost always about how the new employees were too big for their britches.  Or that they were already eyeing the corner offices.

    When I was fifteen, I worked at an orchard hoeing strawberries, and most of my co-workers were day laborers.  A couple of teachers worked there, too, earning a little extra cash for the summer.  I made a comment to my dad about the job being beneath those teachers.  (I guess I was implying that the job was beneath me, too.)  My dad gave me the tongue-lashing of a lifetime.  He believed manual labor was beneath no one.  He said he’d prefer that I worked hard and became the best ditch-digger in the world rather than coasting along as a self-impressed elitist behind a desk.  I went back into that strawberry field and I still didn’t like the job.  But I had heard my dad’s words.  I watched my attitude and I hoed a little harder.

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Romans 12:3 — For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  

Romans 12:16 — Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Colossians 3:23-24 — Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:17 — And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.   

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A MEALTIME PRAYER by Walter Rauschenbusch: 

Our Father, you are the final source of all our comforts and to you we render our thanks for this food.  But we also remember in gratitude the many men and women whose labor was necessary to produce it, and who gathered it from the land and from the sea for our sustenance.  Grant that they too may enjoy the fruit of their labor without want, and may, together with us, be in a fellowship of thankful hearts.  Amen.

861) Heroes (part two of two)

     (…continued)  In I Corinthians 10:11 Paul is referring to some Old Testament examples, listing several examples of disobedience and punishment.  Paul then said, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”  These are examples of what not to do.  The Bible also, like Larry Elder (in yesterday’s meditation), tells stories of good examples.  Paul is pointing to examples of temptations that were not resisted, and the unpleasant consequences that followed.  But then Paul concludes the section by saying “God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  And just as we can be warned by the examples of those who have failed to meet life’s challenges, we can be encouraged and strengthened by reading and hearing about the examples of those who have endured and persevered and held up under life’s challenges.  People like Elder’s doctor and Sam in the toll booth inspire us with their courage and dignity and strength.  In the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews there are listed many good Biblical examples, and the writer says again and again that they were able to do such great things “by faith.” 

     The Bible encourages us to follow good examples, and it points to Jesus Christ as the most perfect example.  This is not to say that anyone can even approach the kind of perfection that Jesus displayed, but we can look to him as an example of how life can best be lived.  Philippians 2:1-2 says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love (as Jesus), being one in spirit and purpose.”  Look to Jesus as an example for life, says the New Testament, and also, we might add, look to those around you who in their lives display the kind of love and service and obedience and care that Jesus lived and taught.  There are many things in the circumstances of our lives that we cannot choose, but we can choose how will respond to those circumstances; and, we can choose the kind of examples we will try to follow.

     There is another lesson we can learn from Larry Elder’s stories.  Everyone has their crosses to bear in this life.  You know very well your own trials and tribulations, but you probably do not know what kind of crosses those around you are bearing.  Larry Elder had gone to that doctor for many years, yet he never knew what heavy burdens that he went home to each evening.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike commuters who line up at Sam’s booth for a smile and a kind word each day have no idea about the story of disappointment and pain that brought him to that job in that toll booth.  And that Wal-Mart greeter might look like just another old lady to you, but she might be bearing her own cross with strength and dignity; perhaps going home to an invalid husband, or a sister with Alzheimer’s disease, or two grandchildren she is raising because her daughter is in drug treatment again.  The main joy in her life just might come from her job and the occasional friendly person who doesn’t just grab the cart and look past her, but has a kind word and a cheerful smile for her.

     Larry Elder’s on-line column is set up so that people can respond with their own comments.  Most of the time those comments are not worth reading, and I usually don’t bother with them.  But after reading this column I had a hunch that many people would be writing stories of their own.  I was right.  Many folks, from all over the country, responded similar accounts of such everyday heroes.  They are all around us.  In fact, we all, somewhere along the line, are challenged by life’s afflictions, and we are given the opportunity to respond with courage, commitment, duty, and most of all, faith.

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Matthew 16:24  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

I Thessalonians 1:5b-7  —  You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

Philippians 2:1-2  —  Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

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Almighty God, you gave your Son as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life.  Enable us to receive him always with thanksgiving, and to conform our lives to his; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 74

860) Heroes (part one of two)

     Syndicated columnist Larry Elder once wrote a column describing a visit to his doctor.  Larry lives in a big city so he had no way of knowing anything about his doctor, outside of his occasional appointments.  Larry says he goes into those appointments like he goes into any other situation; talking loud, cracking jokes, and laughing.  He is the life of the party type.  His doctor is not the life of the party type.  He is quiet and serious and seldom smiles, despite Larry’s constant attempts at humor.  This time, the doctor called Larry into his personal office for further consultation after his exam.  As soon as they sat down the doctor received a phone call and had to leave the room for a while.  As Larry was waiting, he got up and looked around at some of the photos on the wall.  One photo appeared fairly recent.  It was of the doctor, his wife, and their three daughters standing rather stiffly on the front porch of their small home– their really small home, Larry thought, for this successful doctor.

     When the doctor returned, Larry pointed at the family photo, and jokingly said, “Hey Doc, why does everyone in this picture look so sad?”  The doctor just looked at him and for several seconds said nothing.  Larry regretted asking the question, quite sure he had offended the man.  Finally, the doctor stood up and quietly closed the door.

     For the next twenty minutes the doctor told Larry about his life.  He and his wife, very much in love, married young and in a short time had three daughters.  One day, his warm and lively wife suddenly lost her energy.  She become increasingly distant, and communicated less and less.  The doctor first thought it was just fatigue.  But things kept getting worse.  Before long she was alternating back and forth between long periods of silent withdrawal, and then, sudden spurts of unprovoked violent fits of anger, followed again by silent withdrawal.  She was diagnosed with a genetically based mental illness.  Eventually, each of their three daughters, at various ages, started showing the same symptoms.

     Every dime the doctor earned went to specialists and therapy.  Nothing helped.  The daughters, now also dysfunctional, never finished high school, and also withdrew into their home.  Friends tried to help but soon stopped visiting, because the doctor’s wife and daughters were frightened by old acquaintances who to them, were now ‘strangers.’

     Ignoring advice to institutionalize his family, the doctor hired and dismissed a long series of in-home attendants before finally finding one that his wife and daughters accepted.  Now, the doctor said, he comes home every day to his troubled family, and tries to make their lives as comfortable as he can for as long as he can.

      “How can you deal with this?” Larry asked.

     “How can I not deal with it?” the doctor replied, adding, “God would expect no less of me.  This is my family.  These are God’s children.”

     Another story from the same column.  Sam worked for thirty-three years as a middle manager for a manufacturing firm.  Sam loved his job, and the people he worked with absolutely adored him.  He spent much time on the floor cheering people up, boosting morale, praising work well done, and firmly, but gently bringing a word of rebuke or discipline when that was needed.  This cheerful man with his big smile infected everyone with his joy and optimism.  His co-workers referred to him as the company’s unofficial ‘mayor.’

     One day, the company was sold.  The new owner told Sam to come into his office, explained to him that his position was being terminated, and gave him two hours to pack up and leave.

     Sam was crushed.  He tried hard to find a job that paid enough to maintain his family’s lifestyle, but was not able to find anything.  After trying everything to find a job of similar status and salary, he finally accepted a position at half the pay.  It was a job collecting money at Toll Booth #6 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

     But Sam never felt sorry for himself, resolving to put as much energy and enthusiasm into toll-taking as he did at his former manufacturing job.  Before long, Philadelphia commuters, though weary from a full day’s work, would line up at Sam’s booth to pay their tolls, even though other booths had shorter, even empty, lines.  They knew that at that booth they would see a big smile on a happy man who remembered their name and always had something funny or kind to say to them.  The joy was infectious, and they knew they would leave there feeling better.

     The title of the column was Everyday Heroes, and Elder concludes it with these words: “Every day in America, ordinary people show up and perform with a sense of duty, honor, and responsibility.  They live up to their commitments, doing what needs to be done with dignity, pride, and without self-pity.  These quiet, selfless, unheralded heroes are all around us.”  (continued…)

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Ephesians 2:10  —  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

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

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PRAYER OF ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA:

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will.  Amen.

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