1651) “Sell Everything and Follow Me.” Okay.

Mark 10:17-21  —  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

…Jesus answered… You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” he said.  Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

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     In this story that is told in three of the four Gospels, Jesus invites a young man to sell all he has and follow Him.  The young man, however, walks away from Jesus and the offer of eternal life, for “he had great wealth.”  Jesus does not tell everyone to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.  Different people are called to make different sacrifices.  But a new movie tells the story of a man who came to believe Jesus was calling him, literally, to sell everything he had and serve the poor.  And unlike the young man in the story, this man said “Okay, I’ll do it.”

     The name of the movie is “Mully,” short for Charles Mully, who was born in Kenya.  His father was jobless and regularly beat his mother.  Food was scarce, and the family’s prospects were worse.  One morning Charles, who was six, woke to discover he had been abandoned by his family, and not even his uncle would take him in.  So overnight Charles had effectively become, like 2.6 million children in Kenya, an orphan.  He was forced to live on the streets, begging for food, and sleeping wherever he could– at the age of six!

     As he grew, Charles said, “I hated my life; I wanted to throw away my life because there was no meaning.”  Somehow, however, he heard a message of hope through faith in Christ and personal hard work.

     At age 17 Charles walked 70 miles to Nairobi.  There, he began doing household chores at the home of a wealthy family that gave him a chance.  Soon, he was promoted.  Eventually Charles started his own taxi service, got married, and embarked on a rags-to-riches story that’s almost too good to be true.  Within a few years he was a globe-trotting millionaire respected by all.  In two decades Mully had transformed his one vehicle operation into an agricultural, oil and gas business conglomerate that made him a very wealthy man.  Mully had it all; a happy marriage, seven children, wealth, and success. 

     One day he encountered a group of kids who lived on the streets like he did as a child.  He refused to help them, but then his conscience bothered him.  He could not get the boys out of his mind.  His life once depended on the kind of help he now refused to give.  The reality of his hypocrisy devastated him, and he knew he had to do something.

     Miserable, he wrestled for hours with God, eventually praying, “God, use me.”

   Soon Mully stopped his career, sold everything he owned, and spent his fortune and his life to rescue, house, nurture, educate, and help orphaned and abandoned kids from the streets of Kenya.  He gave up everything to help those who had nothing.

     If you think Mully’s family was overjoyed, you’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies.  That’s what makes this documentary so special.  The pain, anguish, and uncertainty Charles brought upon his own family, in a way similar to how his father abandoned him, are agonizing to watch.  The film “Mully” shows, in a remarkable way, how the Lord can use imperfect clay pots like us to accomplish great—no, in this case astounding—things in this sin-scarred world; if we’re willing to make available to Him all that we have.

     In a short amount of time Mully and his family had hundreds of street kids living with them.  This threatened the stability of his family and presented many challenges to his own children.  But Mully knew it was part of a bigger plan.  He wasn’t just providing shelter.  He was creating a much bigger family where all these abandoned children became brothers and sisters, and Mully became their father.

     The growing family moved to a farm that became a self-sustaining community and home of Mully Children’s Family (MCF).

     The story is astounding. Through Mully’s faithful persistence, even Kenya’s physical environment and climate are being transformed.  Thank God for this man, whose soul is totally sold out to Jesus.

     It is estimated that since 1989 Mully and his wife have taken in 23,000 abandoned children, many who have since attended college and become successful teachers, doctors, nurses, business professionals and entrepreneurs.  Other children have returned to MCF as adults to transform the lives of the next generation of Mully’s children.

     Think about it– 23,000 children with no home, no family, no future– have had their lives transformed.  All this was accomplished by one selfless couple gave up their fortune and comfortable life to change the world, one child at a time.

     The number continues to grow as there are currently 3000 more children housed by MCF.

     Mully is known as the father of the fatherless and the father to the world’s biggest family.  Those who know him and meet him say he is a saint.  Most of the world knows of Mother Teresa, and hopefully they will know about Mully too.

     The movie “Mully” had a limited release to theaters for three days in early October.  There will be an encore presentation in some theaters November 9th.  The movie can also be purchased at Amazon (after Nov. 21).

(Loosely based on http://www.breakpoint.org blog, September 28, 2017)

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“Mully” movie trailer:

Movie website:

http://mullymovie.com/

Mully Children’s Family website:

http://www.mcfus.org

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Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise…

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

–Frances Havergal  (1836-1879)

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1650) A Lesson in Grace

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By Lee Strobel

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“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead.  You can tell me.”

He sighed.  “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore.  We were really surprised because she’s a good kid.  Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious.  “Sure,” I said.  “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied.  “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution.  We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down.  The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair.  Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl.  As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering.  “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.”  Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.  I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger.  “I knew it was wrong.  I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it.  And I’m sorry.  I’ll never do it again.  Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart.  “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her.  “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders.  I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence.  I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars.  I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars.  Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes.  Her mind was whirring.  Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars?  That’s a mountain of money for a little kid.  She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk.  Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer.  The little girl’s eyes narrowed.  She couldn’t figure out what I was doing.  I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed.  I tore off the check and held it in my hand.  Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her.  “So I’m going to pay it for you.  Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her.  “Because I care about you.  Because you’re important to me.  And please remember this:  that’s how Jesus feels about you too.  Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart.  She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder.  She was almost giddy with gratitude.  The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life.  But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul.  Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure.  The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame.  We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven.  Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. 

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John 1:29  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Psalm 103:12-13  —  As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Romans 5:8  —  God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I John 2:1  —  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

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Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

–Psalm 51:1-2

1649) Wisdom Learned in the School of Suffering

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Yesterdays’s meditation briefly told the story of Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) who spent fourteen years as a prisoner of the communist regime in Romania, much of it in solitary confinement, oftentimes being tortured.  When he was released, he was able to leave Romania and come to the United States.  He he started the Voice of the Martyrs organization to pray for a serve persecuted Christians around the world.  Today, they minister in 68 nations.  To learn more about Richard Wurmbrand and Voice of the Martyrs, go to:

http://www.persecution.com

Today’s meditation consists of several quotes by Wurmbrand,  wisdom learned by what he suffered.

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 “My wife and I were present at a congress.  Sabina told me, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ!  They are spitting in His face.”  I said to her, “If I do so, you lose your husband.”  She replied, “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”  (He was arrested soon after.)

“Did I believe in God?  Now the test had come.  I was alone.  There was no salary to earn, no golden opinions to consider.  God offered me only suffering—would I continue to love Him?” 

“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners.  It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating.  A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted the communists’ terms.  It was a deal; we preached and they beat us.  We were happy preaching.  They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” 

“Even the best of Christians are troubled by the question, ‘Why does an almighty God send, or at least allow, suffering?’  When you are nagged by thoughts like this, say to yourself, “I am still in elementary school.  When I graduate from the university of Christian life, I will understand His ways better and doubts will cease.” 

“I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands.  I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers.  I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren.  In the depth of my heart, I would like to keep the beauty of my own vineyard and not be involved in such a huge fight.  I would like so much to be somewhere in quietness and rest.  But it is not possible…  The quietness and rest for which I long would be an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul…  The West sleeps and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.” 

“I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church, and in prison.” 

“Martin Luther, when he walked in the woods, used to raise his hat to the birds and say, ‘Good morning, theologians—you wake and sing, but I, old fool, know less than you and worry over everything, instead of simply trusting in the heavenly Father’s care.’” 

“Are you seeking Jesus? Where have you been looking for Him? As you begin your day, think through the various places you will be and the people you will be with; and envision Jesus standing next to you in each of those places.”

“A man who visits a barber to be shaved, or who orders a suit from a tailor, is not a disciple, but a customer.  So one who comes to the Savior only to be saved is the Savior’s customer, not His disciple.  A disciple is one who says to Christ, ‘How I long to do work like Yours; to go from place to place taking away fear; bringing instead joy, truth, comfort, and life eternal.”

“When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.

“Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but all of us are called to have the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love to the very end as these martyrs had.”

“Whoever has known the spiritual beauty of the Under­ground Church cannot be satisfied anymore with the emptiness of some Western churches.  I suffer in the West more than I suffered in a Communist jail because now I see with my own eyes Western civilization dying.”

When an engineer has built a bridge, the fact that a cat can pass over the bridge is no proof that the bridge is good.  A train must pass over it to prove its strength.  The fact that you can be an atheist when everything goes well does not prove the truth of atheism.  It does not hold up in moments of great crisis.”

“We will respond, even in the face of irony and slander, with the sweetness of love.  We can afford to take this attitude because good anvils do not fear the blows of many hammers…  ‘Hammer away, ye hostile bands.  Your hammers break; God’s anvil stands.’”

“Faith in God is the sole answer to the mystery of evil.” 

“A faith that can be destroyed by suffering is not faith.”

“There’s always a good reason to rejoice.  There is a God in Heaven and in the heart.  I had a piece of bread this morning.  It was so good.  Look now, the sun is shining.  And so many here love me.  Every day you do not rejoice is a day lost, my son.” 

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Hebrews 5:8  —  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

I Peter 4:16  —  If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Romans 12:12  —  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

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Psalm 31:14-15a:

I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands.

1648) Fifty Years Ago This Month

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Richard Wurmbrand  (1909-2001)

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From the Voice of the Martyrs website, http://www.persecution.com:

     Pastor Richard Wurmbrand left his apartment and headed to church as usual one Sunday morning in February 1948, but he never arrived at church that day.  Instead, he was kidnapped off the streets by Romanian secret police.  He would spend 14 years in Communist prisons.

     When he came down with tuberculosis and appeared close to death, guards moved Pastor Wurmbrand into the “death cell.”  But he didn’t die.  Instead, he survived and was eventually ransomed out of Romania.  After arriving in the West, he immediately began to tell the story of his imprisonment and the many Christians still suffering in Communist prisons behind the Iron Curtain.

     In October 1967 — 50 years ago this month — those stories were typed up and mailed out to Christians who wanted to know more.  It was the first issue of what later became the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter.  A ministry was born.

     Today the ministry that Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand founded is actively helping Christians in 68 countries, providing direct aid to the persecuted, sending Bibles to those in hostile areas and restricted nations, and assisting front-line workers.

     The ministry also continues to tell the stories of these believers, just as Richard did.  Each year we tell one story in a video created specifically for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).  This year, in honor of VOM’s 50th anniversary, our IDOP video tells a story from Richard’s personal testimony of years in Communist prisons.  It is a story that reminds us to pray not only for our persecuted brothers and sisters but also for their persecutors.

     Select one of the links below to watch the powerful five-minute video (and preview of upcoming full length movie) :

https://www.persecution.com/idop/?_source_code=EM1710IDP6

http://www.persecution.com/idop/?_source_code=EM1710IDP6

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

John 15:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name,for they do not know the one who sent me.”

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

I Corinthians 4:12b-13a  —  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted,we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1647) A Shameful Legacy

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By John Stonestreet and Shane Morris, October 12, 2017 post athttp://www.breakpoint.org

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     Back on September 27th, Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, died at ninety-one.

     An ancient Roman maxim says that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but it would be irresponsible to not take note of his ideas and cultural influence, along with their consequences and victims.

     Much of the coverage of his death has been admiring or even adulatory.  The New York Times’ obituary, while mentioning Hefner’s feminist critics mostly in passing, emphasized how successful and influential he’d been.  There’s been a lot of “he changed the game,” “he lived on his own terms,” and “he lived life to the fullest” sort of language about him.

     CNN said that while “Some critics dismissed him as a relic of a sexist era, especially in his later years . . . many men envied his adolescent-fantasy lifestyle.”  The Washington Post called Hefner’s legacy “complicated” and then proceeded to quote gushing tribute after gushing tribute.  This sort of adulation for a man best-known for wearing his pajamas all day and spending nights with women young enough to be his granddaughters should embarrass even the media.

     Eleven years ago, Chuck Colson put Hefner’s legacy into proper perspective.  On the occasion of Heffner’s 80th birthday, Chuck said that “Hugh Hefner did more than anyone else to turn America into a great pornographic wasteland.”

     Hefner’s journalistic eulogists are celebrating his rebellion and ultimate triumph over the “puritanical elements of the [1950s].”  You know, that “dark and joyless time in America,” as writer Matthew Scully put it, “when one could actually go about daily life without ever encountering pornographic images.”  Without Hefner’s pioneering vision, “American males could not avail themselves of hundreds of millions of obscene films every year—as they do now.”

     That our pornographic wasteland is filled with so many victims is also part of the man’s legacy, which can only be fully understand in light of the larger story of the sexual revolution.

     You see, Hefner once claimed to have changed America, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t.  He took Alfred Kinsey’s ideas of sex separated from morality and embodied them in images and words, making them seem glamorous, sophisticated, and respectable.

     Along with the birth control pill, porn was the other tangible artifact of the sexual revolution and catalyzed the separation of the sexual act from its God-given purpose.  Instead of a self-giving, life-giving act in the context of marriage like God intended, sex became an act of selfish pleasure in the cultural imagination.

     Porn turned image bearers into objects to be enjoyed instead of subjects to be respected and honored, while giving the illusion that there were no consequences or guilt.  Hefner was what I call “the artist” of the sexual revolution, granted a loosely-used modifier here.  Ideas alone can’t change culture; they need champions, and the most effective champions are artists and educators.

     The problem, as Ed Stetzer often says, is that no one even won the sexual revolution, but everybody lost.  Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims.

     Hefner’s legacy includes fatherless homes, objectified women, porn-addicted and trafficked children, and the sexualization of all aspects of culture.  And in a supreme bit of irony, a decreased lack of interest in sex with real-life women by addicted men.

     All of this is the result of what Hefner called the “Playboy Philosophy”: ultimately the divorcing of sex from its God-given context—marriage—and its God-given consequences—children.

     I posted about Hefner’s legacy on Facebook soon after his death, and one commenter quoted Jesus, “For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  And thanks in large part to Hugh Hefner, the same might be asked about our entire culture.

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Matthew 16:26  —  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?  Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Matthew 5:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Ephesians 5:3  —  Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

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

I Thessalonians 4:3-5  —  It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.  The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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

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A prayer by Martin Luther on the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”:

Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.

1646) How Could it Happen? (b)

     (…continued)  There are those who firmly believe that one of the solutions to the trouble in our society today is to get rid of Jesus.  I believe the opposite.  I believe the main problem is our society is that we have already gotten rid of Jesus all too much.  I know all about mixing church and state, but that’s not what I am talking about here.  I am talking about the personal faith and integrity of individuals, and the inner moral character that a society needs in its people in order for us to live together in peace and order.

     Within our own Lutheran churches the trend is obvious.  Each succeeding generation is less and less interested in Jesus, and pays less attention to matters of God and morality and eternity.  And Jesus says, be careful, (verse 43), or “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you” and given to someone else, “to a people who will produce its fruit.”

     Our nation is indeed a “house divided.”  We cannot agree even on what the problem is, but we do all agree that we are in trouble.  And this trouble comes not only from mass murderers, but from such a disheartening breakdown in civility, respect, decency, manners, and morality (no matter how you define all that).

     I will describe just one snapshot of this breakdown.  This is not a big deal like murder, just some little thing that happened to me a couple weeks ago.  I was coming home from an evening meeting at church, and it was dark.  I was going through town, not far from my home, and I suddenly saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was a boy on a bicycle, coming across from a side street.  I am on the main road, and he has the stop sign.  But he doesn’t slow down and he’s not even looking.  It is dark, he’s wearing dark clothes, and there are no lights or reflectors on the bike.  I see him just in time and I slam on the brakes, and he just keeps on going across ahead of me.  And then he looks at me scornfully, and shows me one of his fingers.  I could not believe it.  If I hadn’t paying attention, he could have been killed.  But from him, there was no gratitude and no shame; just defiance and disrespect.

     So what is going on there?  This would be a perfect opportunity for an old guy like me to go on a rant about all that is wrong with the youth of America; but it is way more than that.  That same defiance and disrespect and lack of shame is seen in adults all over the place– in politics (on both sides of the aisle, all the way to the top), in sports, in entertainment, on the news, on social media, in neighborhoods, and in religion.

     So what can be done?  The only thing I know very much about is the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t give any outlines for reforming all of society.  But God’s Word does have a great deal to say about reforming the individual, so it is to that we need to pay attention.  There is much in the Bible about civility, decency, respect, kindness, gentleness, love, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, service to others, obedience, gratitude, and reverence.  There is also much in the Bible about accountability, about grace, and about judgment and short and long term consequences.  The Bible was not written for governments, but for individuals and our relationship with God.  And when we are right with God, and do what God says, many good things are given the opportunity to take root and grow, including good citizenship and good relationships with one’s neighbors.

     In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses says in his farewell address to the people, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.”  “Follow every command,” Moses said.  Why?—so you can be judgmental and look your nose down on neighbors and go to heaven?  No, but simply so that that things may go well with you.  That is the purpose of God’s commands: to show you how life can best be lived, so that our life together can be good.

     In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:17-18).  God speaks to us as individuals and God wants us to obey His law, and by individual obedience the whole society is blessed.

     There is an old German proverb that is very much in line with these verses:  “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”  The entire community and nation is strengthened by every truth told, by every promise kept, by every act of service, by every kind word, by every act of obedience, and whenever we bear each other’s burdens.  But at the same time, the entire community and nation is weakened by every lie told, by every broken promise, by every act of disrespect and disobedience, and by every unkind word.

     In the same way, trust is built up, or torn down, in a community.  The act of one shooter in Las Vegas destroys such trust, but the acts of those who risk their lives to save and help others can restore that trust.  That was also seen in Las Vegas, and Houston and Florida.

     Believing in and obeying God has everything to do with death and the life to come.  It also has everything to do with the life we are living with each other right now.

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Give us courage, O God, to face the fears and insecurities with which we build walls between ourselves and others.  Give us the wisdom and patience to work at better understanding the people whom you surround us with.  Let our words and actions show forth your love.  Amen.

–Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Southeastern District

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1645) How Could it Happen? (a)

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Matthew 21:33-46:  (Jesus said), “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.  Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.  When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.  Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’  So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit…”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

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From Sunday’s sermon

            The most difficult situation I was ever involved in as a pastor was a funeral I did after a family of four was destroyed in a triple-murder suicide.  A man killed his wife, and then his two teenage step-daughters, and then he killed himself.  I was asked to do the funeral for the mother and her two daughters.  It was awful and it was frightening.

     What was so frightening was that the sudden violence seem to come out of nowhere.  By all outward appearances, this was a wonderful family.  The girls were both ‘A’ students, good athletes, and well-liked at school.  The mother was from a large local family, related by blood or by marriage to many in the community.  This was her second marriage, and this husband was from out of town; but he was well liked by neighbors and by his in-laws.  Everyone said he was a friendly and pleasant man.  To think that such a family, so normal and so loved, could be so violently destroyed from within the family itself was horrible.  Sudden death of any kind brings with it shock and grief and numbness and despair.  Death like this also brought anger, bewilderment, and fear. 

     “How could it happen?” everyone wondered.  Later, it was learned that bad things were going on in that little family, but no one will ever know for certain the whole story behind that tragedy.  And it did make everyone wonder what else could be going on under the surface of our quiet and friendly community.  When that kind of evil can rear its ugly head, and that kind of violence can erupt in a family where everything appears to be all right, it is frightening beyond words.  It makes us mistrust all outward appearances, no matter how calm and peaceful.

     I was reminded of that funeral after the horrible massacre in Las Vegas which has everyone asking the same questions and feeling the same fears.  Authorities still do not have a clue as to what motivated Steven Paddock to do what he did.  No one had any idea that he was planning the attack or was capable of such evil– not his brother, neighbors, or significant other.  He had no radical religious affiliation, no political ax to grind, no record of mental illness, and no history of violence.  I have a longer criminal record that he had, because I’ve had a couple of traffic tickets for speeding.  He didn’t even have that.  How do you go from nothing, to killing 59 people and injuring over 500 more?

     Paddock’s bewildered brother Eric said, “There are no clues, that’s the problem.  That’s what everybody is scared about now.  If Steve could do this, we are all in trouble because there’s nothing there to explain it.”  Why are we all in trouble?  The reason is summed up by one of the employees at a casino where Paddock often gambled: “He just seemed like another gambler,” the man said, adding, “Now I look at everybody and wonder.”  One does wonder.  That is how people felt after at the funeral of that mother and her two daughters.  The feeling wears off after a while, but that’s a lousy way to have to live.

     It is a bit of a stretch to relate this to the Matthew 21 reading above (last Sunday’s Gospel reading in my church), but did you notice there were at least two murders in that little parable of Jesus?   A landowner rented his vineyard out, and when he sent his servants to collect the rent they were beaten and one was killed.  Then he sent more servants, and the same thing happened.  And then, in a most unexpected move, the landowner sent his own son, apparently thinking that those wicked men would respect him, and they could be won over peacefully.  Then, even the son was murdered.

     There is much going on in this little parable.  First, there is the amazing grace and patience of the landowner.  He gives those wicked tenants every opportunity to change.  But they respond to that grace and good will by getting worse.  Then Jesus doesn’t finish the parable, but he asks his listeners what they think should happen next.  And they announce the harsh word of judgment, saying “those wretches should be brought to a wretched end.”  That’s what the people themselves say should happen to those who reject such amazing grace.  Jesus then applied the parable to those who were rejecting him, saying “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  The religious leaders get the point, and they know that Jesus is talking about them.  But how do they respond?  They want to respond just like the wicked tenants who got rid of the owner’s son.  They want to get rid of Jesus.  They want to have him arrested, but they are afraid of the people.

     You know the rest of the story.  In time, they will arrest Jesus, and they will get rid of him.  (continued…)

1644) Deathbed Conversion

By Ed Cheek (2001) athttp://www.ATStracts.org 

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Mickey Mantle  (1931-1995)

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     He was one of the most compelling athletic heroes in American history.  Long after he’d hung up his fabled pin striped uniform, grown men would stammer and stutter in his presence and faithful fans would pay outlandish prices for his memorabilia.  His achievements were many, but they cannot explain his enduring popularity.  His legion of admirers felt a deep emotional attachment to this man who moved with such fluid grace and raw power.  They loved Mickey Mantle.

     His statistics are staggering– 536 home runs, 1,509 RBIs, .298 career batting average, seven world championships, and three MVP awards– and they are all the more impressive when we consider how the Hall of Famer courageously battled chronic, painful injuries during his 18 years with the New York Yankees.  In addition, he won the Triple Crown in 1956–a .353 batting average, 52 HRs, and 130 RBIs. In 1961, he hammered 54 homers, just six shy of Babe Ruth’s record.

     But these numbers pale when compared to what happened in the harsh summer of ’95 when his heart took over in that desperate final inning.  Faced with an aggressive cancer, he displayed incredible courage, humility, even humor as he battled for his life.  And when he chose to drag his frail body in front of a mass of microphones and address the public, there was not a trace of self-pity in his words– only heartfelt pleas to avoid the mistakes he had made.  “Don’t be like me,” he humbly declared, “I’m no role model!”  But despite his flaws, Mantle remained a hero to his multitude of fans, and due to his honesty, he gained many new ones.

     At age 19 he left the lead mines of Oklahoma for the bright lights of New York City.  Unfortunately, those lights cast an eerie shadow over his life.  After Mickey’s first season, his father, Mutt Mantle, died of Hodgkins disease at 40.  His grandfather and two of his uncles also succumbed to the same disease before their 40th birthdays.  As a result, a growing fear of dying young haunted the budding superstar.  He would talk long into the night with his close teammates, confiding to them this nagging fear.

     Convinced an early funeral was his inevitable fate, though often joking about it, he played hard and partied even harder.  For him there was no tomorrow.  Tragically, this attitude led to a 40-year bout with alcohol that caused his body to grow old before its time and clouded his mind.  Many criticized his self-destructive lifestyle, saying it sabotaged the greatest combination of power and speed the game had ever seen.  In the autumn of his life, Mantle came to agree with those critics, admitting that his drug of choice, alcohol, kept him from reaching his full potential– as a player and as a person.  He had learned the hard lesson that a man reaps what he sows.

     Finally in 1994, at the urging of his family and friends, Mickey sought help for his addiction.  After checking himself into the Betty Ford Center, he was able to win his long battle with the bottle.  But he knew something was still missing in his life.  He just wasn’t sure what it was.

     In June of 1995, doctors discovered that cancer had destroyed Mantle’s liver.  He was fortunate to receive a transplant, and for a while it seemed as if the greatest switch hitter of all time would live to fight another day.  Then doctors found that cancer remained in his body, and he began chemotherapy.  Mickey knew he was facing death.  During the All-Star break in Dallas, he picked up the phone and called his old friend and teammate, former Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson– a committed Christian.  Mickey asked him to pray for him over the telephone.  A few weeks later when doctors had discovered that the cancer had aggressively spread, Mickey’s family asked Bobby if he would come visit him.  His death was imminent.  To honor Mickey’s long-standing request– one he had made at the funeral of Roger Maris nine years earlier– Bobby was asked to speak at the funeral.

     After entering the hospital room, Richardson went over to Mantle’s bed and took his hand.  Locking his eyes on him, Bobby said, “Mickey, I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in heaven with me.”  Mantle smiled and said, “Bobby, I’ve been wanting to tell you that I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”  Faced with the crushing weight of his sin against a holy God and its dire consequence– eternal separation from God– Mickey had asked for and received the forgiveness he so desperately needed.  For Richardson, news of his conversion felt like cool rain after a summer drought, and brought tears to his eyes.  For years, he had talked to Mickey about the Lord Jesus, but to no avail.  Now, in the final inning of his life, the Mick had won his greatest victory– more glorious than any of his tape-measure home runs.

     When asked later how he knew he would spend eternity with God in heaven, Mickey, after some reflection, quoted John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

     At Mickey’s funeral, Bobby Richardson told 2,000 mourners and a national TV audience that there are only two groups of people: those who say “yes” to Christ and those who say “no.”  He added that, since none of us knows when he will face his own final inning, saying “maybe” is really saying “no.”  The Bible confirms this when it says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

     So, what about you?  The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  But the good news is that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  In addition, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19).

     Don’t delay!  Life is short and eternity hastens.  There is no second chance.  If you have never turned from your sins and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, do it now.  You can pray right now, saying something like this:

     “Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner– full of pride and selfishness– and I need Your forgiveness.  I believe that You died in my place to pay the penalty for my sins and that You rose from the dead.  I now trust in You alone as my Savior and receive Your gift of eternal life.”

     I urge you to consider that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).

1643) Better Than College

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By W. Scott Lamb, July 28, 2015, athttp://www.washingtontimes.com

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     If you’ve got a recent high school graduate who is shuffling their feet about his or her plans for the fall — “Should I go right into college, or not?” — then you might want to keep them away from this quote by former President Theodore Roosevelt:  “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

     On the other hand, it might be the very piece of wisdom they need to hear.

     Roosevelt, himself a graduate of Harvard and a year of Columbia Law School, was no slouch when it came it formal education.  He was a lifelong learner, consuming (and writing) books with as much energy as he did just about everything else in his life.

      But Roosevelt’s words here underscore the great confidence that people — including presidents in the public square — had in the Bible.

     So if your recent high school graduate desperately wants to do something other than head directly into college, challenge them to “take up and read” (in the words of St. Augustine) and spend the next year reading the Bible several times from cover to cover.

     Don’t take it from me though. That comes from a former President of the United States.

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“A college education might prepare you for a great career.  Knowledge of, and faith in, what the Bible says will prepare you for a great eternity.”

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II Timothy 3:14-17  —  As for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

I Corinthians 1:25  —  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Hebrews 4:12  —  For the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 

Psalm 119:105  —  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Matthew 4:4  —  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

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Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

1642) Happiness With or Without God

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     What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods;” that they could set up on their own as if they had created themselves, they could be their own masters, and they could invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—greed, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

     God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

–From Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

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Genesis 3:1-5  —  The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made.  One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

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Exodus 20:3  —  You shall have no other gods before me.  (the First Commandment)

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Matthew 22:34-38  —  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”

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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ;

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester  (1197-1253)

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