1567) Wheat and Weeds (c)

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     (…continued)  This parable provides some insight into the nagging problem of why God allows so much trouble in our lives.  The potential for trouble came when God created us with a free will to live as He has commanded, or, to do it our own way; to live for our Creator, or to ignore our Heavenly Father.  God could have eliminated the possibility of the weeds by creating us not in his image, but in the image of a robot, designed to act as programmed.  Even now, God could remove every tyrant, restrain every unreasonable boss, force every bully to be kind, shut the mouth of everyone who gossips or tells a lie, and so forth.  But God would have to make robots of us to do that, and would have to take away our choices, freedom, personality, character, and everything that makes us human.  God could pull out all the weeds and eliminate the freedom; but then the wheat of our humanity would also be gone. 

     The same freedom that makes evil possible, also creates the opportunity to choose real love, service, kindness, nobility, courage, and sacrifice; all those things that make relationships real and life worth living.  Tear out the weeds and there won’t be any wheat left either. God will one day sort this out, do away with all the evil, heal our hearts and minds, and things will be different.  But not yet; so for the time being, it is for us to use the freedom God has given us to choose him and his ways.  For now, said the farmer in the parable, let it all grow together, weeds and wheat, the freedom to do evil along with the freedom to do good. 

     This doesn’t mean God never intervenes.  It is clear from the Bible that He does.  But when and where God intervenes is up to Him, and is very hard to understand.  We just have to leave it at that.

     The fact that God does not always intervene means that God wants this world to be a place that provides humans with choice, and with the possibility of developing good character or poor character.  When we tell children to “make good choices,” are we only hoping they will manage to stay out of trouble for the day?  No.  It is our hope that the good choices will become habits and the children will grow into good people who naturally want to do the right thing.  Of course, this may or may not happen.  Children are free to choose.  A world that permits the development of moral character is much better than a world that would not permit such freedom; even if this means great suffering is also permitted.  This doesn’t mean God causes the suffering or approves of it.  But moral development and goodness and meaningful relationships are possible only in a world of genuine freedom.

     I know a man who makes robots.  He designs and perfects the computers in these robots until they do exactly what he wants them to do.  They are perfectly obedient and agreeable to his every command.  But I don’t remember him ever saying he was friends with any of his robots.  He loves his kids, though.  He’s a good father, and does his best to teach his children to do what is right and make good choices.  But, unlike the robots, they don’t always do what he tells them to do.  Sometimes they break his heart with their disobedience and rebellion.  But their dad still loves them.  Sometimes they return that love, and that makes all the heartache worthwhile.  That imperfect love, freely given, is still infinitely better than any perfectly programmed obedience.

   If your main goal in parenting is to prevent children from making a mistake or getting hurt, you will destroy their lives.  They have to choose, they have to learn, and they have to grow; or they will never become capable of developing a nature or character that chooses the good.

     That is why my dad eventually let me have the car– even though he knew he was taking the risk of losing me, like Donny’s dad lost him; and, like our heavenly Father loses so many of his children.

     Near the end of his life, Joshua gathered together the people of Israel that he had led for so many years.  In his farewell address to them, he began by retelling the history of all the ways God had provided for them, rescued them, and brought them to the Promised Land.  The Joshua said (24:14-15):

Now, fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness… But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. 

     Use the freedom God has given you to choose to serve and obey the one who, in the parable, sows the good seed, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

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You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

–Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody, 1979 album Slow Train Coming

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

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Psalm 103:13  —  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Psalm 25:12  —  Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?  He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.

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 O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works; give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness.   Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#255)

1566) Wheat and Weeds (b)

     (…continued)  God faces this same problem with all of us, all the time.  That is a part of what is going on in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13 (verses 24-30…36-43):

            Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.   But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.   When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’  “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.   Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

            …Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”  He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.   The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.   Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

       A man sowed good seed in his field.  But when everyone was sleeping, an enemy came a sowed weeds among the wheat, and the wheat and the weeds grew up together.  “Now what?” asked the man servants; “Should we go out and pull up all those weeds?”  But of course that wouldn’t work.  You might be able to pull out the weeds between rows of corn, but wheat is planted too close together, and the roots of the weeds are too intertwined with the roots of your wheat; so every time you pull up a weed, you are bound to lose some wheat.  You’ll end up with no weeds, but no crop either.  “Leave it alone,” said the farmer, “don’t interfere with the growth.  We’ll sort it out at the harvest.” 

            That’s just how it is in this world and this life, Jesus told his disciples when he explained this parable to them.  The devil has made a mess of things here, and so have we, by listening to the devil instead of to God.  And one day, at the end of the age, God will get rid of all the evil.  But in the meantime, God is just going to let a lot of it go.  And we can be glad He does. 

            We might wish God would just eliminate all the evil in the world.  I even have a few suggestions as to where he could begin that process.  God could start by getting rid of Dennis Rodman’s good friend, Kim Jung-Un in North Korea; and from there God could go on to eliminate the ISIS organization and everyone in it; and then he could rid the earth of those gang members in New York who recently lured four teenagers to a remote area of a park and then hacked them to death with machetes.  I have several other good ideas on where God could start eliminating wicked people. 

            But where would God stop if He was going to eliminate ALL the evil?  If God started pulling up all the weeds, am I so pure and sinless that I can be certain He would stop before he got to me?  Would it be a perfect, problem-free world with no evil whatsoever if everyone was as wonderful as me?  Or you?

            After enduring eight years of evil in a Russian prison camp in Siberia, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said what he learned was that the line between good and evil does not run between different people, but right down the middle of every human heart.  We should give thanks to God that he is letting the weeds and wheat grow together, because there is some of each in our own heart.  (continued…)

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Merciful God, I confess to you my sins.
I confess the sins that no one knows about, and the sins that everyone knows about.
I confess the sins that are a burden to me, and the sins that do not bother me because I have grown used to them.

I confess to you all my sins.
Father, forgive me, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. 

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1565) Wheat and Weeds (a)

            One of my favorite preachers was Fred Craddock (1928-2015), a long time professor of preaching and the pastor of a church in Cherry Log, Georgia. 

            Fred and his wife were invited to the home of Charles and Emily for dinner.  When everyone got ready to gather around the table, Charles said to Emily, “Where’s Robbie?”  Robbie was their seven-year-old son.

            She said, “I think he’s outside.”  So Emily went to the back door and called him.  There was no response, so she went into the backyard.  Then she came running back, and said frantically, “Charles, do something!  Robbie has a snake!”

            Charles replied calmly, “Leave him alone.  You shouldn’t interfere with a boy growing up.”

            She said, “But it’s a snake.”

            He said, “Emily, our guests are ready for the meal.  Let’s be seated.”

            “But it’s a snake, Charles,” Emily said again, adding, “and we have poisonous snakes around here, you know.”

            “Yes, I know,” Charles said, “so either he’ll be all right, or he’ll learn a lesson about what snakes to avoid.”

            Robbie came in after a little bit, and his dad said, “Go wash up, Robbie. Always wash your hands after you’ve been playing with snakes.”

            Fred Craddock goes on to say:  “Charles was right, you know.  You shouldn’t interfere with a child’s growing up, always protecting them from the bruises and pain and disappointments and the tears that are going to come.  Just let them get up, brush themselves off, and get back up in the saddle or back on the bicycle.  You can’t move every wall, so don’t stop them if they’re headed for one.  They’ll hit that wall and that’s how they learn.  Charles was right.  But Emily was right, too, because it was a snake!  What kind of snake?  Charles didn’t know, but it was a snake.  And Emily was right that sometimes the danger is too great, sometimes the price is too high.  This is a question, of course, every parent deals with every day.  Should I or should I not interfere?”

            My wife and I faced that question with our kids all the time, and I know my parents faced it with me.  I remember one time in particular.

            My Dad owned milk trucks, picking up milk up at the farms and taking it to the creamery.  Dairy cows don’t take weekends off, and neither do dairy farmers, nor do milk haulers.  There was one time Dad went two years straight without missing a single day of getting in that truck and picking up the milk.  So when I, the oldest son, got my driver’s license, Dad was ready for a day off.  I still didn’t have a license to drive a truck that size, but Dad said the license I had was close enough.  He had been teaching me to drive, and how to back around on farmers’ yards and into the creamery.  So the very first day after I turned 16 and got my license, Dad sent me out with the truck on my own.  And that was okay with me, because I liked hauling milk, and at that age you like to drive anything, anytime. 

          But when I asked Dad for the car that weekend, he said “No, of course not; you’re just a kid and you haven’t even had your license a week yet.”  And all I could say was, “What?”  What was the difference?  But that was that, Dad said no more, and I did not get the car. 

            Well, the difference was this:  Dad knew I was capable of driving a truck and a car.  But in the truck, it was just me and the truck and a job to do.  With the car there would be friends, and the temptation to drive fast, show off, and act like an idiot, which is what teenage boys do.  Not only that, but Dad was probably thinking about Donny.

            Donny was the son of a family friend.  He was a little bit older than I was, and he also drove his dad’s truck.  Even as a kid, Donny was a great truck driver.  He drove with the confidence and skill of a veteran driver, not slow and uncertain like I did when I started driving.  Donny’s dad always let him have the car, and Donny, like most boys, liked to drive fast.  One night, he took a corner too fast, went off the road, and hit a tree; and Donny was killed.  Donny was a great truck driver, but not yet a mature car driver; and that is maybe what my dad had in mind when he would not let me have the car.

            Charles said, “You can’t interfere with a boy growing up.”  But Fred Craddock said, “Sometimes the price is too high.”  Robbie got along allright, and he was learning to be independent, tough, and how to make good choices about snakes.  But in that learning process, immature kids can make mistakes. Donny made a mistake, and he lost his life.

            The safest thing to do would be to never let those immature, reckless, mischievous kids outside alone, never let them climb trees, never let them play with snakes, never let them wrestle around in the back yard, never let them play with friends without adult supervision to prevent bullying, and certainly not ever let them drive the car alone.  That would eliminate a lot of the bumps, bruises, heartache, and dangers of growing up. 

            But we all know that won’t work.  While that approach might eliminate some of the pain of growing up, it would at the same time, make growing up impossible

          There is much in life that is like this.  Oftentimes we have to allow something we don’t like to go on, in order to reach a goal that is good.  Parents face this all the time, and it is difficult to know what to do– when to step back and not interfere with a child’s growing up, and when to step in and protect them.  (continued…)

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Proverbs 22:15a  —  Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.

Hebrews 12:11  —  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

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Loving God,
You are the giver of all we possess,
the source of all of our blessings.
We thank and praise you.

Thank you for the gift of our children.

Help us to set boundaries for them,
and yet encourage them to explore.
Give us the strength and courage to treat
each day as a fresh start.

May our children come to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

May your Holy Spirit help them to grow in faith, hope, and love,
so they may know peace, truth, and goodness.

May their ears hear your voice.
May their eyes see your presence in all things.
May their lips proclaim your word.
May their hearts be your dwelling place.
May their hands do works of charity.
May their feet walk in the way of Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Lord.  Amen.

–www.loyolapress.com

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1564) Life Sentence

A Local Preacher and a Jailhouse Jesus Freak Brought Me to Faith in Prison

By Gene McGuire, Christianity Today, June 2017, pages 79-80.  Gene McGuire is the author of Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption (Emerge Publishing).  He lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, where he serves as pastor for a Christian family-owned restaurant company, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House.  His website is:  http://www.genemcguire.org

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     It happened in a blur.  One minute we were enjoying a night out, shooting pool.  The next thing I knew, we were running from the law— wanted for murder.

     I’d always looked up to my out-of-town cousin, Bobby.  I was thrilled when he invited me to come along that night.  The Marine Room was well known in my circle of friends as a place that didn’t card minors.  At 17, a high school sophomore, I was confident they’d serve me.

     Alcohol abuse was prevalent in my rural Pennsylvania home.  My biological dad drank himself to death.  My mom couldn’t tell me not to drink, since she did— excessively— every day.  She did try to keep me home that night.  “It’s too late,” she said, when we started out the door at 11 p.m.  I begged Bobby to talk Mom into it.  He did.  We were off, along with my stepbrother Sid.

     A few games of pool and several drinks in, Bobby told us he was going to rob the place.  While surprised at his sudden intentions, the alcohol seemed to dull any impulse for protest.  Sid and I would leave— as locals, we’d be recognized— and Bobby would commit the robbery alone.

     We waited outside.  It was taking too long.  After several minutes, we poked our heads in the door— Bobby had brutally murdered the bar owner.  He shouted, “Don’t just stand there!  Help me find the money!”  Before long, we were on the run.

     I followed Bobby to New York City.  We visited drug dens and stayed in roach-infested motel rooms.  But I couldn’t escape the reality of what had happened.  I decided to return to Pennsylvania and turn myself in.  Bobby said, “Tell them the truth, Gene.  It was all me.”

     I told the detectives everything I knew— and as I did, I realized I wouldn’t be going home.  Because I was present when the crime was committed, I was charged with murder.  A public defender convinced me to plead guilty in hopes of receiving a lenient sentence.  “Maybe you’ll be out in 10 years,” he said.

     A day before my 18th birthday, the judge sentenced me:  “For the rest of your natural life,” without the possibility of parole.

     Life in prison mimics most of the stories and stereotypes you’ve heard.  Violence, drugs, gangs, assaults— they’re all there.  So are the characters.  I met a wide and varied cast.  Two men, in particular, stand out.  The first was a fellow lifer, a jailhouse Jesus freak named Warner.  The second was a local preacher named Larry.

     Guys called Warner “Big Moses.”  He was larger than life.  He’d wake up early every morning and shout, “Get up, you convicts, and praise the Lord!  This is the day the Lord has made!  Rise up!  Rejoice and be glad in it!”  Guys would shout back, “Be quiet, Moses!  It’s too early!”

     There are a lot of “religious guys” in prison, but Warner was the real deal.  He genuinely loved his fellow inmates, and served and encouraged them.  I can’t tell you how many times he posted up outside my cell, confronting me about decisions I was making.  He always had a word for me— especially when it was the last thing I wanted to hear.

     I met Larry when he visited as part of Prison Invasion ’86, a nationwide outreach event.  It’s a long story how I even found my way into those meetings, because I went kicking and screaming.  God had used a number of people: my mom (who had recently come to faith in Christ), people who wrote me letters, fellow inmates like Warner, and members of the prison staff who knew the Lord.

     Walking into that prison chapel was like nothing I’d experienced before.  There was loud worship music playing.  Volunteers from local churches lined the hall, welcoming inmates, passing out hugs like everybody was their friend.  A preacher shared a gospel message and ended with an invitation saying, “Real men make commitments.”  I held still.

     I returned the next day.  Same thing— the music, the people, their genuineness and warmth.  Again, the preacher ended with those words, “Real men make commitments.”  I watched as others made the commitment.  I really wanted to— but I couldn’t.  As the service ended, the volunteers began approaching guys to chat.  I tried not to make eye contact, hoping no one would approach me.

     “Hi, my name is Larry,” he began.  After introductions, I asked, “How long have you been a Christian?”  “Since I was 4 years old,” he replied.  “And I’ve known God’s calling on my life— to be a missionary— since I was 5.”  Was he putting me on?  If a 4-year-old could sort out this Jesus stuff, why couldn’t I?  If a 5-year-old could know his life’s direction, what was I doing at 26 without a clue?

     As our time ran out, he handed me his card with an address and phone number.  “Listen, Gene,” he said, “if there is anything you need— a Bible, some clothes, books to read, anything at all— you write or give me a call.”  He meant it.  I could tell.

     The next day— the final service— I went back, and again it ended with the familiar “Real men make commitments.”  A war raged within me— Go! No, don’t go! Get up! No, don’t move!  I held on to the chapel pew with a white-knuckled death grip.  I pressed my feet into the floor as if they’d grown roots.  I was holding on for dear life.

     Suddenly, it just happened.  I was on my feet, putting one in front of the other until I was at the altar.  I remember praying, “Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.”

     It sounds cliché, but I felt as if a ton of weight rolled right off my back, as if chains fell away and I was free.

     The Scriptures promise that we become a new creation in Christ, that the old passes away and all things are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Life in prison remained life in prison, but from the moment I believed in Jesus, the newness of life was extraordinary.  God opened the doors to healing, new relationships, and ministry opportunities I never could have imagined.

     The Lord continued to use Larry in my life; for the next 25 years he mentored and discipled me, never letting me lose sight of opportunities to love God and serve others, no matter my circumstances.

     Meanwhile, I was actively petitioning the governor to commute my life sentence.  Yet another attempt— after 32 years in prison and 2 1/2 years waiting for an answer— ended in rejection.  I was discouraged, but returned to my cell as I had each time before, thanking God for protecting and providing for me.  As I was giving thanks, I heard God say, “I am going to release you.”  I had no idea when or how, but I rested in his promise.

     Then, in June 2010, I received a notice from an attorney out of the blue.  It informed me of a new Supreme Court ruling (Graham v. Florida) that could offer juveniles given life sentences the opportunity to return to court and possibly receive a lighter sentence.

     On April 3, 2012— sitting at the same table in the same courtroom as three decades earlier— I finally got my release.  As a 17-year-old looking squarely at a lifetime behind bars, I never would have imagined this outcome.

     But God’s love is so great that nothing can separate us from it; his mercy and grace so powerful that no shackles can confine us.  I’m living proof.  I received a life sentence and, along the way, I found life— and freedom.

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John 10:10b  —  (Jesus said), “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Genesis 39:20-21a  —  Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.  But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.

Psalm 142:6a…7a  —  Give heed to my cry; for I am brought very low…  Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name.

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Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.

1563) In the Image of God

Related image

The Creation of Adam, 1512, Michaelangelo,

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What Does it Mean to Be Made in the Image of God?

By journalist and author, Lee Strobel

     That humans are made in the image of God is one of the most important Biblical revelations for Christians — and it is also one that has been viciously attacked by those outside the faith.  It’s true that the endless murders, rapes, assaults, genocides and other forms of violence and cruelty in our world seem to taunt us:  How could humans be created in the image of God when we commit such evil acts?  How do we explain wars and abuse if we share the same characteristics as God himself?  Some people even claim that while we may be more sophisticated and advanced than the rest of the animal kingdom, our ultimate value is no greater than that of any creature, since we’ve all evolved naturalistically and without any divine imprint.

     Imago Dei means “the image of God.”  Ultimately, this phrase refers to two things:  the characteristics of the human spirit and our ability to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

     Our human spirit provides evidence that God’s traits — his love, justice and freedom — are alive in us.  Human nature is utterly without peer on earth.  As Dr. Ian Tattersall says, “Homo sapiens is not simply an improved version of its ancestors — it’s a new concept.”  At the most basic level of this nature is our self-realization, grounded in our self-consciousness, our ability to reason, and our emotions, such as anger and love.  Our consciousness enables us to see that we have inherent value apart from our utility or function.

     Another quality we share with God is the moral ability to recognize good and evil, which God exemplified through Adam and Eve.  We can therefore act freely in a morally good or evil way.  We can choose either to reflect the moral image of God or to reject it, but either way, the ability to make the choice reveals our underlying similarity to our Creator.

     It cannot be overstated just how different humans are from the rest of creation.  The vast chasms separating consciousness from unconsciousness and morality from amorality speak to the strong evidence that we are indeed made in the image of God.

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Genesis 1:27  —  God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:15-17  —   The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 3:22  —  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

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PSALM 8:1a…3-9:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!…

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

1562) A Time to Be Silent

     Three of Joe Bayly’s seven children died at young ages.  The View from a Hearse is Bayly’s meditation on death and grieving.  He wrote it for those facing the death of a loved one or their own death, and for those in grief.  He knew that peace with death doesn’t come from understanding everything that happens to us, but in knowing that God has prepared a place for us beyond death.  

     In this passage, he describes that in his grief he found help not so much in words, but in a friend’s silent, caring, faithful presence:

 I was sitting, torn by grief, and somebody came along and talked to me about God’s dealings of why it happened, and of hope beyond the grave.  He talked constantly.  He said things I knew were true.  But I was unmoved, except to wish that he would go away.  And he finally did.  Then another one came and sat beside me, and he didn’t talk at all.  He didn’t ask me any leading questions.  He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, and left.  I was moved.  I was comforted.  I hated to see him go.

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Ecclesiastes 3:7b  —  (There is) a time to be silent and a time to speak.

Job 2:11-13  —  When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Galatians 6:2  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

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Psalm 19:14:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

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Job’s friends

1561) Untouchable

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By Max Lucado

     There’s one gift your troubles cannot touch: your eternal destiny.

     I remember when my father had just retired.  He and mom wanted to visit every national park in their travel trailer.  Then came the diagnosis of ALS, a cruel degenerative disease that affects the muscles.  Within months, the world, as he knew it, was gone.

     My wife and I were preparing to do mission work in Brazil.  I offered to change my plans.  But Dad’s reply was immediate and confident.  “Go.  I have no fear of death or eternity, so don’t be concerned about me.  Just go.  Please Him.”  Much was lost: his retirement, years with his children and grandchildren, and years with his wife.  The loss was severe, but it wasn’t complete.  “Dad,” I could have asked him, “what do you have that you cannot lose?”  He still had God’s call on his heart and His eternal promises.

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Luke 10:41-42  —  The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha!  You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed.  Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.

John 16:22  —  (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

I Peter 1:3-6  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 7:24-25  —  (Jesus said), “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

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

–Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

1560) Tidying Up

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By Eric Metaxas and Anne Morse at http://www.breakpoint.org, July 17, 2017

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     According to the experts, millions of us have made a real mess of our lives– literally.

     One of the biggest bestsellers in recent years is the little book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo.  Over six million copies have been sold– which means an awful lot of us seem to have trouble dealing with our junk.

     But did you ever consider that piles of clutter may affect your spiritual life?

     Americans, it seems, are overwhelmed by their stuff.  For instance, their garages are so full of junk there’s no room for a car.  Papers pile up on counter tops.  Clothing– much of it unworn for years– explodes out of our closets.  And you become absolutely certain that the kids’ toys are somehow secretly breeding– especially when you stab your bare foot on a Lego or trip over a Batman action figure.

     Many parents, having spent good money on books, Barbies, and Beanie Babies, hesitate to throw them out– even when their children are fully grown– because they cost so much money.  After all, their as-yet-unconceived grandchildren might like them!

     This hoarding can even damage our health.  The authors of a book titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” warn that trying to manage all the stuff we collect causes the levels of stress hormones to shoot up in mothers.

     And of course, even Christians are being influenced by their consumerist culture.  Jesus tells us that if we have two coats, we should give one to someone who has none.  So why do so many of us have 25 coats in our over-stuffed closets?  Not to mention dozens of pairs of shoes, pants, and shirts.  You name it, and we have way too much of it.

     TV and Internet ads turn our kids into consumers, too.  But do they really play with their toys?  Or do the toys gather dust while your children watch TV?

     Even our spiritual lives can be damaged by clutter.  After all, how can we properly focus on God during our devotions if we can’t find our Bibles under the rubble, or if we’re so distracted by the mess all around us that we can’t focus on our prayers?

     The real problem is not that we can’t figure out how to store all this stuff, or that our children don’t pick up their stuff; the problem is that we bring home too much of it.  Buying more containers or a bigger house to store our stuff in is not really the solution.  It’s to stop buying so much in the first place.

     A Christian writer named Susan Vogt came up with a terrific solution to our culture’s pressure to buy, buy, buy.  In her book, “Blessed by Less,” Vogt writes that she decided to give away something every day during Lent.  It felt so good she kept it up for a whole year.  “I became addicted to identifying things I no longer needed”– but which others did, she writes.  She now thinks twice about what she really needs to buy.  “Living lightly,” she adds, “reminds me that my existence is about more than accumulating possessions and status … Letting go of stuff also changed my attitude toward my possessions and helped me clarify my true priorities.”

     Are you too attached to your stuff?  Are we like the rich young man who got upset when Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor?  Sadly, this man chose his possessions over eternal life.

     While we don’t have to give everything away, we do need to remember that we have a moral obligation to share our blessings with the needy– including, perhaps, those jeans you can no longer zip yourself into, or that Chop-O-Matic food slicer you never use.

     So the next time you trip over a pile of DVDs– assuming you can find them under the pile of Ikea catalogs– remember that God loves a cheerful giver, and that He expects us to donate both our lives and our superfluous stuff to His service.

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Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Matthew 19:21-22  —  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

John 12:15  —  (Jesus) said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

I John 3:17  —  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

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Almighty God, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship

1559) Two Tombs

By Russel Moore,  posted July 3, 2017 at: http://www.russellmoore.com

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     A few years ago, I stood at the grave of Thomas Jefferson, and wondered.  I was in Charlottesville to speak at the university Mr. Jefferson founded, and made my way up to his homeplace, Monticello.  Standing at his grave, I was prompted to give thanks for his life and legacy.

     After all, if it weren’t for Jefferson and his majestic Declaration of Independence, there might not even be a United States of America, and certainly not a country quite like it is now.  If it weren’t for Jefferson (and the Baptists), would I have grown up in some cold, dead, state-established Anglican church instead of the vibrancy of a free church in a free state?  And, of course, if President Jefferson hadn’t purchased the Louisiana Territory, I would have grown up some place other than America.

     But, much more than that, standing at Jefferson’s grave prompted me to realize that Jefferson is, well, in a grave.  The Enlightenment ideals that gave this brilliant thinker a right understanding of natural rights led him to idolize human power and potential.  Jefferson’s disbelief in divine power and intervention is seen in visual form in his famous Bible, with the miraculous parts cut out, most significantly the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I love Jefferson for standing up against King George, but not for standing up against King Jesus.

     And yet, two hundred years later, belief in the resurrection of Jesus persists.  Just days after I was at this hero’s grave, Christians from all over the world, despite all this science and all this progress and all this technology, confessed what the earliest believers in the catacombs of Rome cried out:  “Christ is risen indeed.”

     Thomas Jefferson is still dead.  I thank God for him, but standing at his grave reminds me how limited even his legacy can be in the grand scheme of trillions of years of cosmic time.  It also reminds me of the contrast with a Middle Eastern day-laborer whose monument isn’t a house or a temple made with hands, or even a simple grave-marker.  It’s instead a borrowed tomb that isn’t filled anymore.

     That empty tomb is, itself, a declaration of independence.  By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared him (and all who are in him) to be free from death, free from the curse, free from Satan’s accusation.  I suppose you could say that Jesus was endowed by his Father with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… except that these blessings don’t end in a graveyard.

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Matthew 28:1-6a  —  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

John 6:67-68  —  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

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Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

1558) Wishing You Bad Luck

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Chief Justice John Roberts  (1955- )

Last month United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address at Cardigan Mountain School, a private all-boys school in New Hampshire, where his son was graduating from the ninth grade.  In the following excerpt, Roberts wishes the boys the bad luck and troubles needed to build character and teach compassion.

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            Commencement speakers will typically wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you.  I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.

            From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly– so that you will come to know the value of justice.

            I hope that you will suffer betrayal– because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

            Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time– so that you don’t take friends for granted.

            I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time– so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

            And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure.  It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

            I hope you’ll be ignored– so you’ll know the importance of listening to others.

            And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

            Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen.  Whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

            Commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice.  They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips.  The most common grand advice they give is for you to “be yourself.”  …You should be yourself, but you should understand what that means.

            Unless you are perfect, it does not mean don’t make any changes.  In a certain sense, you should not be yourself.  You should try to become something better.  People say ‘be yourself” because they want youth resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be.  But you can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.

           The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is it not worth living.”  And while “just do it” might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you…  The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is to not think about them at all.

            So that’s the deep advice.  Now some tips as you get ready to go to your new school.  Over the last couple of years, I have gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys.  But you are also privileged young men.  And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here.  My advice is: Don’t act like it.

            When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, or emptying the trash.  Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.

            Another piece of advice: When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks, smile, look them in the eye, and say hello.

            The worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello.

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Romans 5:3b-4  —  We know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

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

II Corinthians 12:7b-10  —  In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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PSALM 119:65-71:

Do good to your servant
    according to your word, Lord.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
    for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
    teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
    I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
    but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
    so that I might learn your decrees.