40) Blessings in Disguise

     Yesterday’s meditation (#39) was based on the song Sometimes Miracles Hide by Bruce Carroll.  In today’s meditation there are two letters that Carroll received from people who are living the story that the song describes, and who were touched by his words.  These, along many more such letters, are in a book Bruce Carroll compiled.  Testimonies like these can teach us much about how to deal with life’s challenges, drawing on the strength that is ours through faith in God.  The book is also called Sometimes Miracles Hide (1999).

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Dear Bruce,
     The first time I heard your song “Sometimes Miracles Hide,” I fell in love with it and immediately bought your CD.  Every time I listen to it, it makes me cry.  It was as if you wrote it just for me.

     Seven years ago, we had our fourth child.  Ryan has down syndrome, and he has truly been a ‘miracle’ child.  He came close to dying three times before he was one; he survived open heart surgery and complications from that surgery, three other surgeries, RSV, and pneumonia.  In all, he was in the hospital eight times before he was twenty-one months old.

     My husband, three children, and I are all Christians and very involved in our church.  Like you said in the song, we don’t know why God allowed us to have Ryan, but I am so very glad that he did!…  Several friends sent us cards saying that we must be special because God gave us one of his special children.  At the time, we didn’t feel very special.  Now we do.  Not only has Ryan changed our lives, but he changes everyone he comes in contact with.  He makes everyone smile.

     Watching Ryan interact with people is one of my favorite ‘blessings in disguise.’  Uninhibited and overflowing with unconditional love, Ryan runs up and hugs anyone and everyone– without reserve, without prejudice.  Other children, adults, the elderly– Ryan loves everyone.  Maybe we all could learn more from these children.

     I have shared your song with other parents of Down syndrome children.  I wanted to thank you and let you know how much your song is appreciated.    (pp. 56-7)

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Dear Bruce,
     From the first time I thought about having a little girl, I knew what I wanted to name her:  Angela Joy.  But it was not to be– at least not for a long time.  For ten years, my husband and I tried to have a child, but month after month, year after year, we faced disappointment.

     The yearning to have a child can be a powerful emotion– for especially for a woman– and I struggled with depression off and on through the years.  Only by the Lord’s grace did my heart and marriage survive the discouragement I felt.

     When I found out that I was finally pregnant, I was overcome with joy.  My husband and I and my whole family were so excited.  Then came the devastating news:  Our little Angela Joy had Down syndrome.  All my dreams of the perfect little girl vanished.  How could I give her the name I had chosen so long ago?  I felt anything but joyous.  Depression threatened to consume me.  The day I learned the news was the saddest day of my life.

     But then one Sunday morning, I heard your song on the radio.  One line changed my whole outlook:  “They just knew the joy they felt when they looked into her face.”  God changed my heart right there and then.  Angela Joy is now seven years old, and she is truly the joy of our lives.  She is a precious gift from God.  Thank you for the song that opened my heart to the joy God had in store for me all along.    (pp. 106-7)

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Job 2:9-10 — (Job’s) wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Luke 9:23 — Then (Jesus) said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Gal. 6:2 — Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

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     Dear Father, I am feeble and utterly crushed;  I groan in anguish of heart.  I am completely spent.  But I know, Lord, that You are close to the broken-hearted and that You save those who are crushed in spirit.  And so I know that You are close to me now.  I have been hard pressed on every side; but not crushed; I have been perplexed, but not in despair; I have been struck down, but now destroyed.  I believe that because I trust in You, I will never be put to shame.  I will be strong and brave, for my hope is in You, O Lord.  (p. 64,  Sometimes Miracles Hide, prayer based on Psalms 38:8; 34:18; II Corinthians 4:8-9; Psalms 25:3; 31:24)

39) Sometimes Miracles Hide

Cover of "Sometimes Miracles Hide"

     Bruce Carroll is a multiple Grammy and Dove Award-winning artist.  He is also the worship leader at his church.  In 1992 Carroll recorded the song “Sometimes Miracles Hide” which he had written with C. Aaron Wilburn.  The song tells the story of a pregnant couple who learn from tests that “things aren’t right.”  They were “badly shaken,” but they move past the disappointment and fear, and eventually learn that God “wraps some blessings in disguise.”  It is a wonderful song, and it has touched the lives of many people who have special needs children.  Many of these folks wrote Carroll to tell their story and thank him for his song.  In 1999 Carroll published several of these letters in a book also called “Sometimes Miracles Hide.”  In today’s meditation there is a video of the song and the lyrics.  Upcoming meditations will contain letters from the book.  You may hear the song and watch a video at:

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=9JJ9MCNU

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SOMETIMES MIRACLES HIDE
By Bruce Carroll and C. Aaron Wilburn

They were so excited, it was coming to be
Two people so in love, now soon there would be three.
For many years they’d planned it
Now it would soon be true.
She was picking out the pink clothes
He was looking at the blue.

The call came unexpected,
The doctor had bad news.
Some tests came back and things weren’t right
He said, ‘You’re going to have to choose
I’ll wait a week for your decision.’
Then the words cut like a knife,
‘I’m sure everyone will understand
If you want to take it’s life.’

Though they were badly shaken
They just had no choice.
They knew God creates no accidents
And they were sure they had His voice saying
‘Sometimes miracles hide
God will wrap some blessings in disguise
You may have to wait a lifetime
To see the reasons with your eyes
‘Cause sometimes miracles hide.’

It seemed before they knew it
The appointed day arrived.
With eager apprehension
They could hardly hold inside.
The first time they laid eyes on her
Confirmed the doctor’s fears,
But they held on to God’s promises
‘Cause they were sure they both could hear,
‘Sometimes miracles hide
God will wrap some blessings in disguise
You may have to wait a lifetime
To see the reasons with your eyes
‘Cause sometimes miracles hide.’

Though she was not like the other girls
They thought she was the best.
And through all the years of struggle
Neither whispered one regret.
On the first day that she started school
And took her first bus ride
They remembered the words that God had spoke
And they both broke down and cried.

See, to them it did not matter
Why some things in life take place
They just knew the joy they felt
When they looked into her face.

Sometimes miracles hide
They say, “God has wrapped our blessing in disguise
We may have to wait this lifetime
To see the reasons with our eyes
But we know sometimes miracles hide”

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Hebrews 4:16  —  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

II Corinthians 9:8  —  God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

II Corinthians 4:7-9  —  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

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Make my life a happy one, O Lord…
     Not by shielding me from sorrow and pain, but by strengthening me to bear it if it comes.
     Not by taking hardship from me, but by taking all cowardice and fear from my heart as I meet hardships.
     Not by making my path easy, but by making me sturdy enough to tread any path.
     Not by granting unbroken sunshine, but by keeping my face bright even in the shadows.
     Not by making my life always pleasant, but by showing me where others need me most and by making me zealous to be there and to help…
God, make my life a happy one.  Amen.     –source unknown

38) Where Do We Go From Here?

     Several years ago I attended a football game which was the first event in a community’s weekend-long all-school reunion.  The home team won the game, so the weekend was off to a great start.  It was an exciting game, with the young quarterback completing several long passes.

     After the game, everyone gathered in the gymnasium for a program honoring several coaches and athletes from past years.  A 40-something former quarterback got up, shared some memories, and then had a few words for his old coach, who still was the football coach and had just led his team to victory.  The old quarterback was a good speaker and the crowd loved his humor and the memories he shared.  As he finished, he said, “Coach, you have really changed.  When I played for you I always wanted to try the long pass, and you never let me.  All you ever wanted to do was have us run the ball.  But with you now allowing the passing game, I would love to play for you again sometime.  Maybe in the next life we can get the old team together, and you can be our coach and I will be your quarterback.”

     Everyone laughed as the old coach made his way to the microphone.  He was an ex-marine and a no-nonsense sort of guy.  He looked at his old quarterback and said, “What makes you so sure that in the next life we will be in the same place?”

      Again, everyone laughed.  But the laughter seemed a bit more subdued this time, and perhaps even a little nervous.  It may have been my imagination, but whether or not he intended it, I do believe the old coach’s words raised questions that went far deeper than the joking.  It could not help but raise in people’s minds the question of where do we go from here?, and, how do we get there?, and, will we all be in the same place?, and how can we know for sure we are on the right path?  Most of the time, most people don’t even pay any attention to those questions.  The old coach’s reply made all of us think about those things for at least a few moments.  And we should do some thinking about what is next.  Is it safe or wise to just assume all is okay, even when so little attention is paid, and so little is understood and believed, by so many?

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Acts 16:29-31 — The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and your household.”

II Peter 3:9 — The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

John 3:16-17 — 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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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     O, God of all comfort, I give you thanks that you have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe.  I know of no one else in heaven or on earth in whom I may have safe refuge except in Him.  Without this hope, I would be lost.  I pray Lord Jesus, let my soul be commended unto you.  O heavenly Father, although I must be torn away from this body and must leave it, I know that I shall remain with you forever, and that no one can ever take me out of your hands.  I rely on this assurance, and will gladly leave this life in it.  Amen.  –Martin Luther

37) Troubles, Whether One is Married or Single

By Martin Luther (1483-1546; married in 1525), recorded in Table Talk (#3508),                                   from a conversation in 1536. 

     He who takes a wife is not idle, for marriage keeps him busy.  To remain content in celibacy confronts one with many temptations that are not trivial, as the experienced know.  On the other hand, the annoyances of marriage are almost unbearable to men.  Accordingly, Socrates is reported to have given a good answer to a man who was contemplating marriage.  He told him, “Whatever you may do, you will regret it.”  In paradise, where there was no such ardor and raging passion, marriage must have been very pleasant.  Flesh and blood were different then.  But we have become so infected with original sin that there’s no kind of life which, once undertaken, isn’t a matter of regret at times.  This is the fault of our original sin, which has defiled and deformed all human nature.  Dear God, how art thou to arrange things so as to please us?

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Proverbs 19:23 — The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Philippians 4:11b-13 — …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

I Timothy 6:6-8 — But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

Hebrews 13:4-6 — Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid…”

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Almighty God, who knows our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking: Set free your servants from all anxious thoughts about tomorrow; make us content with your good gifts; and confirm our faith that as we seek your kingdom, you will not allow us to lack any good thing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –St. Augustine

36) Has This World Been So Kind to You?…

From a letter by C. S. Lewis to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 17, 1963.
Shelburne was dying, and Lewis himself died November 22, 1963 after a year filled with health problems.

     Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well.  Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer?  It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you…  What is there to be afraid of?  You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life.  Your sins are confessed and absolved.  Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

     Remember, though we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round– we get afraid because we struggle.  Are you struggling, resisting?  Don’t you think our Lord says to you “Peace, child, peace.  Relax.  Let go.  Underneath are the everlasting arms.  Let go, I will catch you.  Do you trust me so little?”

 Of course, this may not be the end.  Then make it a good rehearsal.

     Yours (and like you a tired traveler near the journey’s end)  Jack

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Deuteronomy 33:27a — The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

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

Philippians 1:20-24 — I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

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Let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay.  Let me still remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.  Preserve me by Thy grace, good Lord, from so losing myself in the joys of earth that I may have no longing left for the purer joys of heaven.  Let not the happiness of this day become a snare to my too worldly heart.  And if, instead of happiness, I have today suffered any disappointment or defeat, if there has been any sorrow where I had hoped for joy, or sickness where I had looked for health, give me grace to accept it from Thy hand as a loving reminder that this is not my home.  Amen.     –John Baillie (1886-1960)

35) The Root of All Evil

      In Luke 12:13-15 there is the story of man who believed that Jesus would be the right person to settle a family dispute.  “Teacher,” the man says, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  The man is so sure he is right that he doesn’t even ask Jesus’ opinion.  He just tells Jesus to tell his brother to do the right thing.  If Jesus had wanted to get involved, he could have began by asking a few questions, such as  ‘did your father have a will?, what did it say?, are there any other brothers and sisters?, why do you suppose you were you excluded?,’ and so forth.  But Jesus does not get involved, making it very clear that he is not interested in such matters, saying, “Who appointed me to be the judge between you two?”  And then Jesus gave that man and the whole crowd a warning.  “Watch out!” Jesus said, “and be on your guard against all kinds of greed, because a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

     Jesus’ answer is typical of the Bible’s approach to matters of money and property.  There is a balance here between concern and lack of concern about such matters.  Jesus does not tell the man to forget the whole thing, he just said that he did not want to get involved.  These kinds of things take a lot of time, and that is not what Jesus came for.  He had more important things to do– a whole world to save, and he was not about to get bogged down in an individual legal dispute that could take days or weeks to unravel and settle.  So Jesus makes it clear he will not be the one to serve as judge in the matter; but he doesn’t say that a judge is not needed.  He does not condemn such concern about money and property, but he does go on to do what he always does.  He cautions against too much concern.  He says “Watch out!  Be careful of greed because money and possessions are not the most important things in life.”

     Jesus then told a story (verses 16-21) of a rich man who built bigger and bigger barns for his abundant crops, thinking that he had now built up for himself a solid and lasting security.  The rich man said to himself, “Now I have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  All I have to do now is take life easy and eat, drink, and be merry.”  But then God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded of you.”  And in Jesus’ final comment, he again displays his balanced view toward money and possessions.  This rich man is not criticized for working hard, or for providing for himself, or for planning ahead, or being successful.  Jesus does not criticize him for any of that.  But Jesus does say, “That is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God.”  The man’s problem was not that he was concerned about being a good farmer and provider.  The man’s problem was that he was concerned only about that.  So too with the man who wanted Jesus to settle the dispute between him and his brother.  Here is Jesus, the greatest spiritual teacher that the people have ever seen, proclaiming a message of eternal life– and all that man can think about is getting Jesus to tell his brother to give him some money.  There is in Jesus, and in all of the Bible, a concern, and a lack of concern, about money and wealth.  Yes, we do need to be responsible; but the Bible’s primary message and direction is to move us toward a having broader perspective.

   The 2003 movie “House of Sand and Fog,” is about a dispute concerning the ownership of a house.  A young woman is the rightful owner, but the county has made an error concerning delinquent back taxes.  She goes in to take care of the matter, and believes it is settled.  She then foolishly ignores subsequent mailings and warnings that inform her that there is more that she needs to do.  She is forcibly evicted the day before the house is sold at a Sheriff’s auction. She is desperate to get her house back, but now the house has been sold, and the new owner is just as desperate to fix it up and sell it to make money for his own urgent financial needs.  Both are in complex situations, and both need possession of that house, and both fight very hard.  The viewer comes to have a great deal of sympathy for both of the characters, as both do have a certain right to the property.

   The legal fight becomes personal and intensifies, until it unintentionally becomes a matter of life and death.  All involved are pretty good folks, and none of them wanted it to get to that point; and when it does, they are all willing to back off, even though it might, by then, be too late.  When the fight was only about ownership of the house and the money that one or the other would gain or lose, getting that house became for each of them the most important thing in life.  But when it really did become truly a matter of life and death, their whole perspective changed.  They realized right away that there were more important things in life than getting that house.  The movie skillfully draws you into the battle, so that in the middle of the film you are convinced of the great importance of that house for each of them, but by the end, you see how silly it is to be so concerned about simple material possessions.

   That is what Jesus was trying to tell the man in the text, both in his reply to the request to settle the inheritance battle, and in the parable of the rich man who kept building bigger barns.  Money and property must be a matter of some attention and concern in this world, but those things must never be the objects of our greatest attention or concern.

      I Timothy 6:10 reflects this same balance:  “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith, and have pierced themselves with many pains.”  Again, we need to look at what it does not say.  It does not say that money itself is evil.  Money is simply a tool to simplify the exchanges of goods and labor between people.  But, says Paul, it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  Earn money, save money, spend money, give money away,– there are all kinds of good and necessary things you can do with money.  But, says Paul and Jesus, do not LOVE money.  Do not love money more than you love God.  That, they say, will get you into all kinds of trouble.  You will pierce yourself with many pains, says Paul.  And Jesus says, do not forget that someday your soul will be required of you, just like the man in the story, and then all your money will be left behind.  Be prepared for that day and do not, like the rich man in the story, find yourself poor in your relationship with God.  When that time comes, all that will matter will be your relationship with God.

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I Timothy 6:10  —  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith, and have pierced themselves with many pains.

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Almighty God, judge of us all, 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 your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.    —Lutheran Book of Worship

34) Two Slave Preachers and Their Masters

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, p.283-5…22-3

     Jack was a former slave and a Methodist preacher in the 1800’s.  In one of his sermons, he told his story:  When I was a lad, there were no religious people where I lived.  But I had a young master about my age who was going to school, and he was very fond of me.  At night, he would come into the kitchen to teach me the lesson he had learned himself during the day at school.  In this way I learned to read.

     When I was well nigh grown up, we took up the New Testament and agreed to read it verse by verse.  When one would make a mistake, the other was to correct him, so that we could learn to read well.  In a short time, we both felt that we were sinners before God, and we both agreed to seek the salvation of our souls.  The Lord heard our prayer, and gave us both a hope in Christ.

     Then I began to hold meetings for prayer and preaching among the colored people.  My old master soon found out what was going on.  He was very angry, especially because his son had become so pious.  He forbade my holding any more meetings, saying that if I did, he would whip me severely for it.  From that time, I continued to preach on Sunday nights; and on Monday morning my old Master would tie me up, and cut my back to pieces with a cowhide, so that it never had time to get well.  I was obliged to do my work in a great deal of pain from day to day.  Thus I lived near a year and a half.

     One Monday morning my master, as usual, had made my fellow slaves tie me to a shade tree in the yard, after stripping my back naked to receive the cowhide.  It was a beautiful morning in the summertime, and the sun shone very bright.  Everything around looked very pleasant.  He came up to me with cool deliberation, took his stand, and looked at me closely, but the cowhide hung still at his side.  His conscience was at work, and it was a great moment in his life.

     “Well Jack,” said he, “your back is covered all over with scars and sores, and I see no place to begin to whip. You obstinate wretch, how long do you intend to go on in this way?”

    “Why master, just as long as the Lord will let me live,” was my reply.

     “Well, what is your design in it?”

     “Why, master, in the morning of the resurrection, when my poor body shall rise from the grave, I intend to show these scars to my heavenly Father, as a witness to my faithfulness to his cause.”

     The master ordered them to untie me, and sent me to hoe corn in the field.  Late in the evening he came along, pulling a weed here and a weed there, till he got to me, and then told me to sit down.  “Jack,” said he, “I want to tell you the truth.  You know that for a long time your back has been sore from the cowhide; you have had to work very hard, and you are a poor slave.  Now, tell me, are you happy or not under such troubles as these?”

     “Yes, master, I believe I am as happy as any man on earth.”

     “Well, Jack,” said he, “I am not happy.  Religion, you say, teaches you to pray for those that injure you.  Will you pray for your old master, Jack?”

     “Yes, with all my heart,” said I.  We knelt down and I prayed for him.  He came again and again to me, and I prayed for him till he found peace in the blood of the Lamb.  After this, we lived together like brothers in the same church.

     On his deathbed he gave me my liberty, and told me to go on preaching as long as I lived, and meet him at last in heaven.  I have seen many Christians whom I loved, but I have never seen any I loved so well as my old master.  I hope I shall meet him in heaven. 

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     Mr. Ravencross was a slaveholder in Virginia, and reputed to be a hard master.  His poor distressed slaves were in the habit of meeting at night in a distant hut, for the purpose of worshiping God.  He was informed of this and was put on his guard, as it was suspected that their motives for meeting were different from what they held out, and that an insurrection might be the consequence.  Under this impression, he determined to prevent their assembling in the future, chastised the promoters of this work, and gave positive orders, under the most serious penalty, that they should never assemble again under any pretense whatsoever.

   A short time later, he was told that they had again been seen meeting in that hut.  Much displeased at their disobedience, and resolving that night to put a stop to their proceedings, he approached the hut with all the feelings of an offended master.  When he reached the door, it was partly open.  He looked in, and saw them all on their knees.  He listened.  There was a venerable old man, one who had been long in his service, pouring out his soul in prayer to God.  The first words which caught his ear were, “Merciful God, turn my poor massa’s heart; make him merciful, that he may obtain mercy; make him good, that he may inherit the kingdom of heaven.”  

  The master heard no more, but fainted.  Upon coming to himself he wept, went into the sacred hut, knelt by the side of the old slave, and prayed also.  From this time on he became a true penitent, studied the Scriptures, and became a preacher and a shining light.   In the year 1820 he preached at the general convention of the Episcopal church in the city of Philadelphia before more than two hundred clergy.

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Matthew 5:43, 44  —  (Jesus said),  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. 

Titus 2:9-10  —   Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

I Peter 2:18-19  —  Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.  For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.

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An old African-American Prayer for Sunday morning:

     O Lord, we come this morning knee bowed and body bent before thy throne of grace.  We come this morning Lord, like empty pitchers before a full fountain, realizing that many who are better than we are have passed into that great beyond, and yet you have allowed us your humble servants to plod along just a few days longer here in this howling wilderness.  We thank thee Lord that when we arose this morning, our bed was not a cooling board, and our sheet was not a winding shroud (of death).  We are not gathered here for form or fashion, but we come in our humble way to serve thee.  We thank thee Lord that we are clothed in our right mind– bless the sick and afflicted– and those who are absent through no fault of their own.  And when I have done prayed my last prayer and sung my last song, and when I’m done climbing the rough side of the mountain, when I come down to tread the steep and prickly banks of Jordan, meet me with thy rod and staff and bear me safely over.  All these things I ask in Jesus’ name, world without end.  Amen.

33) A Little Child Will Lead Them

From Nightlight:A Devotional for Parents, by James and Shirley Dobson, 
Multnomah, 2002, pp. 214-215.

     We do want to be effective parents. There is so much to teach our kids, and so little time.  But as we struggle and strain to bestow wisdom on the next generation, we might also pause to consider how much our children can teach us.

     I recall a story by a woman named Elizabeth Cobb about a mother who wanted to show her children how to be more generous.  After a tornado had touched down nearby, the mother taped a newspaper picture of a now homeless family on their refrigerator.  The photo included the image of a tiny girl, her eyes wide with confusion and fear.  The mother explained this family’s plight to her seven-year-old twin boys and three-year-old daughter, Meghan.  Then, as the mother sorted out old clothes, she encouraged her boys to select a few of their least favorite toys to donate.

   While the boys brought out unwanted playthings from their rooms, Meghan slipped quietly into her own room and returned hugging something tightly to her chest.  It was Lucy, her faded, frazzled, and much-loved rag doll.  Meghan paused in front of a pile of discarded toys, pressed her round little face against Lucy’s for a final kiss, then laid the doll gently on top.

     “Oh, honey,” the mother said.  “You don’t have to give away Lucy.  You love her so much.”  Meghan nodded solemnly, eyes glistening with held-back tears.  “Lucy makes me happy, Mommy,” she said.  “Maybe she’ll make that other little girl happy, too.”

     The twins stared open-mouthed at their baby sister.  Then, as if on cue, they wordlessly walked to their rooms and returned not with castoffs, but with some of their prized toy cars and action figures.  The mother, now almost in tears herself, removed a frayed coat from the pile of clothes and replaced it with a just-purchased green jacket.  The parent who had wanted to teach her kids about generosity had instead been taught.

   Meghan intuitively knew that her beloved rag doll was not hers to keep forever.  Though she could not have explained it, she understood the meaning of the Scripture that says, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs.  He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15).  When Meghan realized that another little girl needed Lucy more than she did, she willingly gave up her cherished toy.  

     God wants us to use our possessions, our wealth, our talents, and our very lives to bring glory to Him.

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II Corinthians 9:11 — You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 

Psalm 37:26 — (The righteous) are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.

Isaiah 11:6 — The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

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     O Lord Jesus Christ, who though you were rich became poor for us, grant that all our desire for and covetousness of earthly possessions may die in us, and that the desire of heavenly things may live and grow in us.  Keep us from all idle and vain expenses that we may always have enough to give to him who is in need, and that we may not give grudgingly out of necessity, but cheerfully.  Through your grace may we partake of the riches of your heavenly treasure.  Amen.  —Treasury of Devotion

32) Luther, Louie, and Elvis

    What do Louie Armstrong, Elvis Presley, and Martin Luther have in common?  They all initiated a revolution in the music of their time and culture.  Louie Armstrong introduced New Orleans jazz to the nation and then to the world.  Elvis Presley introduced rock and roll to the nation and then to the world.  And Martin Luther introduced congregational hymn singing to the German church, and from there, to the rest of the world.

     Today, practically all churches everywhere take hymn singing by the congregation for granted, but it was not always that way.  In the Middle Ages the worship service consisted of the priest at the altar doing the entire service in Latin, a language the people in the congregation did not speak.  The only music was a Psalm and parts of the liturgy.  This too was chanted by the priest, also in Latin.  In the Old Testament all the people sung Psalms, and it is believed that the early Christians did so also.  But in time, the service came to be done only Latin, and only by the priest.  In 1415, 68 years before Luther’s birth, the reformer John Hus was burned at the stake.  A church decree warned his followers to cease from their singing in church, saying, “If laymen are forbidden to preach and interpret the Scriptures, much more are they forbidden to sing publicly in the churches.”  I have a 650 page book on the history of Christian hymn writing, and the story begins with Luther.  Luther translated the worship service back into the language of the people, and then he wrote the first hymns for them to sing.  He changed the way we worship.

     Before Luther, there was no such thing as a hymnal.  The very first German hymnal came out in 1524 and contained 8 hymns, half of them by Luther.  These hymns were so well received, and the demand for more was so great, that later on in that same year a second hymnal came out.  This one contained 25 hymns and all but 7 were by Luther.  After this the hymnals came pouring out, by Protestants and Catholics alike, and by the time of Luther’s death there were already more than 60 different hymnals containing hymns by many different writers.  Luther’s hymns opened up a whole new era of music, and every hymn writer since Luther was influenced by his example.  He has been called the Father of Evangelical hymnody.  Everyone is well aware that Luther was a great theologian and reformer.  What is not so well know is that he was also the Elvis Presley of his time, with his music being just as much in demand.

     Luther once wrote, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits, it can drive out the devil and make people cheerful.  With music one can forget all wrath, impurity and vice…  Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men, and anyone who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, does not deserve to be called a human being, and should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of pigs…”

   Luther wrote about 40 hymns.  Most of the tunes aren’t as popular as they once were and are not sung anymore, but one has become a classic.  “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is one of the best loved hymns of all time.  It is sung around the world by Protestants and Catholics alike.  It is believed to have been adapted by Luther from the tune of a German folk song, perhaps even tavern song.  Luther often borrowed popular melodies for his hymns, saying he did not want to ‘let the devil have all the good tunes.’  This would at times bring so much criticism, and the tune would be so closely associated with drunkenness, that in a few instances he was “compelled to let the devil have the tune back again” and write some other music.  It does not matter where the tune of “A Mighty Fortress” came from, Luther wrote the words, and it gave the early Lutherans a song of their own.  It has been called the ‘Battle Hymn of the Reformation.’  It was indeed a rallying cry for the reformers, sung in the streets by the crowds and by martyrs as they were burned at the stake.

    “A Mighty Fortress” is based on Psalm 46.  It was probably written in late summer of 1529, perhaps after a long period of depression, of which Luther had many.  Mired in depression, Luther would turn to two of his most effective antidotes, music and the Bible.  He had found spiritual comfort in Psalm 46, repeating over and over the words of verse one, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.”  That faith gave him the strength to withstand threats from the authorities to his life and safely, assaults of the devil on his spirit, and opposition by enemies and friends.  In difficulty and danger, he would often resort to this song, saying to his associate, “Come Phillip, let us sing Psalm 46.”  The song reflects Luther’s awareness of our intense struggle with Satan, his confidence in God, and his determination to remain faithful to the truth.  “No strength of ours can match the devils might,” we sing, “But Christ holds the field victorious.”  Luther himself needed the strength to be gained from the singing of his hymns.  

     This hymn was sung at Luther’s funeral, and the first line is imprinted on his tomb, which lies at the base of the pulpit in the Wittenberg church where he preached for many years.

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Psalm 13:6  —  I will sing the Lord’s praise,  for he has been good to me.

Ephesians 5:18b-20  —  …Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.  Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 32:7  —  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

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Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for thee.  Amen.      

–Martin Luther, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, v. 12

31) Just a Housewife and Mother

     Today is a day to honor our mothers.  It used to be taken for granted that being a mother was in and of itself a worthwhile use of one’s time and a valuable contribution to society.  That belief is no longer held by many people.  Many women now work outside the home, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Not only is there nothing wrong with it, it is more often than not a necessity.  However, what is wrong is the belief, very prevalent today, that the work outside the home is what is most important, and the work within the home is what you do with the time you have left.  Therefore, the importance of motherhood has been, for many, de-emphasized to the point that stay-at-home moms have been made to feel second class, not up to par with a woman who can make it in the outside world.  I think the pendulum in our culture is swinging back toward a proper appreciation of motherhood, but still many look down on it as a secondary vocation, similar to how Stanislaw considered his work, when he said, “This is all I can do for now” (Emailmeditation #25).  Far too often housewives and mothers speak apologetically about their roles, saying, “Oh I am just a housewife and mother,” as if to say, “I know it is not much, but that is all I can do for now– the kids are still little.”  Sometimes the attitude has been given that “well anybody can be a mother– but your really important work is at the office.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether one works only at home, or works outside the home and at home, the importance of the role of motherhood must be remembered and appreciated.

     Tony Campolo is a world famous Christian, known for many things.  He is a college professor, international speaker, consultant to CEO’s of large corporations, spiritual advisor to former President Clinton and other important politicians, author of 30-some books, and a few more things.  He has accomplished much, and has been able to do all that because his wife did not work outside the home.  She stayed in the home to raise their two children while Tony was often busy with other things.  She was happy with her decision, but that did not prevent some people from looking down on her.

     On rare occasions she would go along with Tony to one of his formal dinners with all kinds of high-powered people.  At those dinners, she often felt looked down upon.  “And what do you do, Mrs. Campolo?,” she would be asked.  “Oh,” she would say meekly, “I’m just a housewife and mother.”  ‘Ohhhhh….,’ the others would say with a clear feeling of superiority and sympathy.

     After a while she got tired of those kinds of conversations, and she thought of a different response.  So then, when asked what she did, she would say, “I am on duty 168 hours a week in the primary care and socialization of two unique individuals, entrusted into my personal care by the Almighty Lord God of the universe; to provide for their physical needs, teach them the language and customs of the dominant culture, along with giving them an appreciation of the values and individuals from other cultures; not to mention my primary responsibility which is to nurture them in the Christian faith so that they may have a promise and security that will last for all eternity; and finally, see to their education and physical training, all in order that they may obediently serve their God by serving their fellow human beings with productive and not selfish lives, therefore, being builders of a better society and not having a negative impact on that society.”  Mrs. Campolo would then ask, “And what do you do?”

     “Oh,” the other woman would say meekly, “I’m just the Governor of Maryland,” or something like that. I think sometimes Tony Campolo exaggerates his stories a bit, but you get the point.

      Martin Luther was an important man, like Tony Campolo.  In fact, he was named by Time magazine as the third most person of the second millennium.  He was in the forefront of all the religious, political, and social movements of his day.  He was called by God to be a pastor and professor, and along the way, he became a reformer of the whole church on earth, challenging both kings and popes.  And yet, Luther never tired of saying that his highest, most important calling by God was his calling to be a husband and father.  Martin Luther was not a stay at home dad.  His many duties required him to be gone a great deal.  But he knew what was most important and kept the proper perspective on, and appreciation for his role as a father, and his wife’s role as mother.  Not everyone can stay at home like Mrs. Campolo and Mrs. Luther, but nobody should ever think that the time spent making a home is less important than the time spent rising through the ranks at the office.

    Many of the things we think about on Mother’s Day are, on another level, the very same things we think about when we consider our faith.  After all, the Bible does, at times, compare the love of God to the love of a mother.  And so on this day we are reminded of things like unconditional love, self-sacrifice and service, commitment, remembrance, and gratitude.  And just as a mother’s love and care is there for us long before we can ask for or acknowledge it, so too God is there, giving us life and grace and countless blessings long before we can ask Him for anything or even name His name.  Thanks be to God for his love; and on this day, we give thanks to God for our mothers, and we express our appreciation to them for all they have done for us.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

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Deuteronomy 5:16  —  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Isaiah 66:13a  —  (The Lord says), “As a mother comforts her child,  so will I comfort you…”

II Timothy 1:5  —  I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

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     On this Mother‘s Day, O Lord, we give you thanks for those who have given us life.  Though we call you ‘Father,’ let us not forget how often mothers embody your steadfast and relentless love.  We praise you, O God, for your gift of our mother’s and their love, both gentle and fierce, both strong and humble, both kind and true.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  AMEN.