80) Too Much Information, Not Enough Wisdom

     Our society drowns in information, but remains parched in wisdom.  “We have a surplus of information, but it is completely uncoordinated,” wrote Philip Slater in The Pursuit of Loneliness.  James Burke in The Knowledge Web pointed out that one of the hallmarks of our age is that we “know more and more about less and less, and less and less about more and more.”  We can decipher the human genome and are able to put an entire library onto a single CD, but we have little time to think about the life’s biggest questions.  Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said, “A tacit atheism prevails.  Death is assumed to be the end of life.  Our concentration on the here-and-now renders a thought of eternity irrelevant.”

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     The very amount of information that computers make available threatens us with cognitive overload:  overwhelmed with facts, people tend to mistake data for truth, knowledge for wisdom.  “Infomania erodes our capacity for significance,” Michael Heim writes in The Metaphysics of Reality.  “With a mind-set fixed on information, our attention span shortens. We collect fragments. We become mentally poorer in overall meaning.”   –Michiko Katkutani, New York Times, 8-20-93

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     During a major league baseball game a few years back, a dog somehow got out onto to field and began wandering around.  The game was stopped until the dog could be taken off the field.  The umpires tried to move the dog toward an exit.  Players hollered at the poor dog.  From the stands the fans were shouting, “Get out of here you stupid dog,” or “Here puppy, nice puppy, come here puppy,” and so forth.  The dog became thoroughly confused, running here and there, not knowing what to do.  Finally, he lay down on third base and refused to move.  A sports commentator summed up the scene, saying, “The problem was that the dog could not hear any dominant voice.”

     Our world is full of conflicting voices, all clamoring for our attention.  Many are left confused, fragmented, and insecure.  But for those who will listen for it, the voice of the Good Shepherd will rise above them all.  He can be our ‘dominant voice,’ and we can put our faith and trust in him, and we can follow him.

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     Puritan Minister Richard Baxter (1615-91):   “Through the whole course of our ministry, we must insist most upon the greatest, most certain and necessary things, and be more seldom and sparing upon the rest.  If we can but teach Christ to our people, we teach them all.  Get them well to heaven, and they will have knowledge enough.  The great and commonly acknowledged truths are they that men must live upon, and which are the great instruments of raising the heart to God, and destroying men’s sins; and therefore we must ever have our people’s necessities in our eyes.  It will keep us from needless trivialities and unprofitable controversies to remember that one thing is necessary.  Other things are desirable to be known, but these must be known, or else our people are undone forever.  Necessity should be a great disposer of a minister’s course of study and labor.  If we were sufficient for everything, we might expound upon everything, and take in order the whole Encyclopedia; but life is short, and we are dull; eternal things are necessary, and the souls that depend on our teaching are precious.”

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John 10:27, 28 — (Jesus said), “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

II Kings 20:16 — Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord.”

Hebrews 2:1 — We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

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Eternal Spirit, amid the tumult of our days may we keep within our souls a holy place where you can dwell, your great and wondrous power strengthening us; and a quiet place where you can speak, your strong and certain voice directing us.  Now and again may we withdraw from all the feverish struggle and loud anger of the world and silently commune with you, the Unchanging God who comes to visit us and refresh us.  May our spirits, being made alive by you, love you in return.  Then as we go out among others to face our daily tasks again, may we still possess your inner peace so real and all-pervading that nothing, neither life nor death, can ever lead us from you, O strong and mighty One, O holy, silent God.  Amen.   –G. A. Cleveland Shrigley (alt.)

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79) Being Satisfied with the Best (part two)

     (…continued)  For almost a century Winston Churchill walked like a giant on the world’s stage.  But even that was not enough to satisfy him.  He knew, as we all know, that whatever he had going for him, it would only be in this world, and only for this century– and then, that would be it.  And how could even all that ever be enough?  Or as Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Or as Augustine would say a few centuries later, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”

     Life in a world without God has been compared to staying in one’s house with the windows and doors closed and the shades down all the time.  All that you know, all that you can see, and all that you can do is limited to what is in that house.  We would see such limits as confining and depressing.  But as Churchill found out, even the whole world can be confining, and in the end, the limits of this life and this earth will be depressing.  Belief in God, on the other hand, is like putting up the shades and opening the windows and doors.  Faith in God opens up our time to all eternity and our home to all of heaven and our hearts to the presence of Jesus.

     On every page of the Bible eyes and lives are opened up to far more than what can merely be seen and felt here in the smallness of this world and the little bit of time we have here.  Moses is given supernatural help to gain freedom for a his enslaved people from the most powerful nation on earth.  Gideon is given miraculous help from on high to win an otherwise hopeless battle against invaders.  Esther is called on to risk everything for a higher duty and purpose.  The women at the tomb have their eyes opened to the power of God to give life beyond the grave.  Peter and the apostles are called on to proclaim that message from another world even if it means disobeying the powers that be in this world.  “We must obey God and not men,” they said.  And Saul literally has his eyes opened to the eternal Christ after he was first blinded by the light of that Christ.  In each story, and many more in the Bible, the shades are raised and the windows are opened so that people can see beyond the dark limits of this little world.

     There is much in the Bible that tells us what TO DO:  be honest, be faithful, love and serve your neighbor, do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal, and so forth.  One of the best known parts is the 10 commandments, that very important list of things that we should do, or, not do.  There is indeed much in the Bible about what we should do.  But actually, there is probably even more in the Bible about what we should see.  As Paul says in II Corinthians we should no longer see things from a worldly point of view.  Jesus has opened our eyes to a whole new way of seeing everything.

     The world says, “You can have it all.”  God in the book of Proverbs says, “It is better to have only a little and have peace, than to have great wealth and nothing but strife.”  From a worldly point of view, when you get old and your health is gone, you are done for.  But from God’s point of view, even at the end of our days, we can say with Paul, “Brothers and sisters, our SALVATION is nearer now than when we first believed.”  From a worldly point of view, the time comes for us all when our time is up and as the old expression goes, ‘we haven’t got a prayer.’  But with God, no matter how hopeless the situation looks, one always has a prayer.  Jesus, beaten and hanging on the cross, with the life quickly draining out of him, still had a prayer.  He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

     The Bible tells us all kinds of things to do, but first of all, it tells us how to SEE–  how to see the world, and life and death, and other people, and everything from a whole different point of view.  And it is in that new way of seeing that we are, as Isaiah wrote many centuries ago, ‘led forth in joy and can go out in peace.’

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2 Corinthians 5:15-17  —  And (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!

Matthew 16:26 — (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Luke 23:46 — Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

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Almighty God, teach us by your Holy Spirit, what to believe, what to do, and where to take our rest.  Amen.  –Erasmus

78) Being Satisfied with the Best (part one)

English: Sir Winston Churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill

     I saw printed on a t-shirt these words:  “The best is good enough for me.”  Perhaps whoever wrote that got it from Winston Churchill who once said, “My tastes are simple; I am easily satisfied with the best.”  And Winston Churchill (1874-1965), for all of his 90 years, did have the opportunity to enjoy the very best of everything life had to offer.  He was born into British royalty, wealth, and privilege.  From the beginning, he had servants waiting on him hand and foot; he was educated by the best tutors England had to offer; as a child he had the opportunity to meet the world’s rich and famous; and he was blessed with a brilliant mind.  Throughout his life, he could go wherever he wanted to go and do whatever he wanted to do, all the while enjoying the best food, the best cigars, and the best whiskey.  He first wanted to be a soldier, and saw action all over the world, rising to the ranks of First Admiral of the Navy.  He also wanted to be in politics, and he was in Parliament by the time he was in his early 30’s.  He eventually served two terms as Prime Minister, along the way inspiring and leading Great Britain in its resistance to the Nazis, their ‘finest hour,’ as he called it.  And, he wanted to be a writer, saying, “I know history will be kind to me because I intend to write it;” and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Wealth, challenge, prestige, fame, and success in many areas– Churchill had it all and enjoyed it all.  And so he knew what he was talking about when he said, “My tastes are simple; I am easily satisfied with the best.”  He had always enjoyed the best of everything.

     But Winston Churchill was actually not satisfied with the best.  He enjoyed all of the best life had to offer, but even so, he oftentimes found life itself to be most unsatisfying.  Having it all did not make Winston Churchill happy, and he fought a lifelong battle against despair.  His depression was so severe at times that he would not stand too close to the edge at a train station or too close to a cliff, fearing that he might not be able to resist the impulse to jump out and end it all.  It was perhaps the intensity of his inner despair that drove him to get his mind on so many other things with such intense levels of outward activity and accomplishment.  There is no way to know for certain the psychological causes of his despair, but it is a well known fact that Churchill battled depression all his life.

     The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Why do you spend your labor on that which does not satisfy?  The Lord says, ‘Come to me and hear me so that your soul may live.’  Seek the Lord while he may be found…  Call upon him while he is near, and then you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”  This verse does not mean that a believer will never get depressed.  We continue to be sinners in a sinful world, and times of despair will come to us all.  Isaiah wrote those words to believers then, and they apply to believers now, as well as to unbelievers.  I do not know if Winston Churchill believed in Jesus or not, but such belief does not mean one will never be depressed.  However, what the verse does tell us is what will satisfy us and what will not.  The things of this world, wonderful as they are, will never satisfy, even if we get it all and enjoy it all for 90 years, as did Churchill.  And we should, as Churchill did, give of ourselves in duty and service to others.  That is good and admirable and what we are called to do.  But even that, by itself, will not satisfy us.

     What the verse does do is it points out the way; it points to the only place that true joy and peace can be found.  “Seek the Lord,” it says, “Call upon him,” it says, “and then you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”  It does not say that we will never experience a lack of joy or peace, but that we will be go out in joy, and be led forth in peace.  There is movement suggested there.  The verse points to where peace and joy are found, and speaks of our movement towards those things.  In the New Testament Paul would write of such the peace and joy that is found in faith and then add, “not that I have already attained all that, but I press on toward what is before me.”  With Jesus, we may not always be at perfect peace yet, but we know where it is found, and we know that we can be on our way to that place where there will be that peace that passes all understanding.  “My peace I give to you,” said Jesus, “and that is peace not like the world gives, which is a peace that will be taken away.”  But, said Jesus, the peace we will find in him will be an eternal peace.  (continued…)

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Isaiah 55:2-3a  —  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you…

Isaiah 55:6…12a — Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near…  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace… 

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 3:12 — Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

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You have made us for yourself, O Lord,

and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.  –Augustine 

77) Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

     Jack Welch is the retired CEO of General Electric.  He is one of the top executives ever to run a major company and has made hundreds of millions of dollars.  He is incredibly brilliant, an excellent leader of other people, and a top-notch manager.  He is someone who seems to know everything, and can put it all together and make it work.  He is now worth almost a billion dollars and has a retirement package that made front page news.  In these last few years has been living a life of unimaginable luxury. 

     Even though Jack Welch can spend more money in a day than most people will ever see in a lifetime, he is still a mortal being like the rest of us and all that money is not keeping his mortal body from wearing out.  He has had some heart troubles and needed open heart surgery a while back.  Open heart surgery is becoming almost routine these days, but still facing it is enough to make any man think a bit about life and death and what it’s all about.  The surgery went well, and a few days later Jack Welch was chatting with his surgeon.  The surgeon asked Jack a question.  He said, “Many times after going through this kind of surgery, my patients will reassess their whole lives, and come to some new conclusions about life and how they are going to live the rest of it.  Did you have any of those kinds of thoughts?”  Jack Welch said to him, “Well, yes, Doctor, I did do some thinking about that, and I have come to the conclusion that I have not been spending enough money, so I decided I am going to make some changes.  For example, I am not going to be drinking any more wine that costs less than a hundred dollars a bottle.”  What?

     I do not understand how can a man who face death and learn nothing more from the experience than to spend more money on wine.  Jack Welch may be very smart about many things, but seems to be not very smart about the main thing.

     You don’t have to be a billionaire to make that mistake.  I have a friend who is a big family man.  He loves his kids and is still always talking about them, even though they are all grown now.  I have seen him on and off over the years, and every time I’d see him, he would tell me how much his kids mean to him and how he loves spending time with them, but how he was always so busy.  Yet, every time I saw him, he had taken on more obligations at work.  He was already doing very well financially, so all this extra work was not at all necessary to support the family he loved.  He knew what was most important, but his outward actions did not match what he knew in his heart to be true.  Whenever I see him I am reminded of that line, “Nobody on his death bed ever regretted not spending more time at the office.”  My friend knows what is most important, but he allows himself get distracted by what he knows in his heart is less important.

     In I Kings chapter 3 there is the story of how this matter of priorities worked itself out in the life of the young King Solomon.  In verse five, God makes an incredible offer to Solomon.  It is not even a deal, not an ‘if you do this I will do that’ kind of proposal.  It is a gift.  God says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  That is the kind of question that will reveal what is most important to you.  What if the offer was made to you?  What would you want?  Your answer will reveal much about what is in your heart.

     Solomon had just been named king of Israel after the death of his father, the great King David.  Kings usually want to get more power, more land, and more wealth.  They not only want that, but go to war all the time to get it.  Here, Solomon can just ask for any of that.  But what does Solomon do?  He responds to the request not out of concern for himself, but out of a sense of duty and obedience to God who placed him in this unique and powerful position.  He starts out by praising God for his goodness, first to his father David, and now to him.  And then he humbles himself before God, saying, “But I am only a little child and I do not know how to carry out my duties.”  He then asks God for a discerning heart so that he may know right from wrong and govern the people wisely.  Solomon is given the opportunity to ask for anything in the whole world, and he asks for the wisdom and the ability to serve God wisely.

     You don’t have to be a king to serve God.  You serve God in your family, you serve God in the work you are called to do, and you can serve God in your church and in your community.  We serve God by serving others, and that is the most important thing to keep in mind.  And so yes, we will work at a job and make money, but the focus is not on the money we make, but on the people we serve in the job we do, and how the money can be used to support ourselves and then the family we are called to support, and then however else we can use it to serve God.  Jack Welch seems to think he is on earth to spend lots of money.  Solomon teaches us that we are here to serve God with everything we are and everything we have.

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I Kings 3:5-7… 9a  —  At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties… So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

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 O Lord, to be turned from you is to fall, to be turned to you is to rise, and to stand in you in to abide forever.  Grant us in all our duties your help, in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection, and in all our sorrows your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   –Augustine

76) St. Francis and God Discuss Grass and Trees

Today’s meditation is just for fun.  I do not know who wrote this piece, and so I cannot say for sure whether or not the following conversation really took place.  But it contains such good theology and so much that I agree with, that I believe it may indeed be divinely inspired.   –Leon Stier

GOD:  Frank, you know all about gardens and nature.  What in the world is going on down there on planet Earth?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and plants I started eons ago?  I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan.  Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply rapidly.  The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds.  I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now.  But, all see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS:  It’s one of the tribes that settled there, Lord– the Suburbanites!  They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:  Grass?  But, grass is so boring.  It’s not colorful.  It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms.  It’s sensitive to temperatures.  Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS:  Apparently so, Lord.  They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green.  They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:  The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast.  That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS:  Apparently not, Lord.  As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:  They cut it?  Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS:  Not exactly, Lord.  Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:  They bag it?  Why?  Is it a cash crop?  Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS:  No, Sir, just the opposite.  They pay to throw it away.

GOD:  Now, let me get this straight.  They fertilize grass so it will grow.  And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS:  Yes, Sir.

GOD:  These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat.  That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS:  You aren’t going to believe this, Lord.  When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:  What nonsense.  At least they kept some of the trees.  That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.  The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer.  In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes.  It’s a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS:  You better sit down, Lord.  The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle.  As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:  No!?  What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS:  After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch.  They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:  And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS:  They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:  Enough!  I don’t want to think about this anymore.  St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts.  What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE:  Dumb and Dumber, Lord.  It’s a story about…

GOD:  Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

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Genesis 1:11-12 — Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And it was so.  The land produced vegetation:  plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.

Matthew 13:27…28b…29a…30a — (Jesus said)…  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?…  Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered…  “Let both grow together…” (a little out of context, and not the whole story, but it might apply. –L.S.)

I Corinthians 3:7 — So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Isaiah 40:8 — The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.

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Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
–St. Francis
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Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, Thee.
–Christina Rossetti

75) Who’s Your Daddy?

     Fred Craddock tells of meeting a man one day in a restaurant.

     “You a preacher?” the man asked.

     Somewhat embarrassed, Fred said, “Yes.”

     The man pulled a chair up to Fred’s table.  “Preacher, I’ll tell you a story.  There was once a little boy who grew up sad.  Life was tough because my mama had me but she had never been married.  Do you know how a small Tennessee town treats people like that?  Do you know the words they use to name kids that don’t have no father?

     “Well, we never went to church.  Nobody asked us.  But for some reason or other, we went to church one night when they was having a revival.  They had a big, tall preacher, visiting to do the revival and he was all dressed in black.  He had a thunderous voice that shook the little church.

     “We sat toward the back, Mama and me.  Well, that preacher got to preaching about what I don’t know, stalking up and down the aisle of that little church preaching. It was something.

     “After the service, we were slipping out the back door when I felt that big preacher’s hand on my shoulder.  I was scared.  He looked way down at me, looked me in the eye and says, ‘Boy, who’s your Daddy?’

     “I didn’t have no Daddy.  That’s what I told him in trembling voice, ‘I ain’t got no Daddy.’

     “’Oh yes you do,’ boomed that big preacher, ‘you’re a child of the Kingdom, you have been bought with a price, you are a child of the King!’

     “I was never the same after that…  Preacher, for God’s sake, preach that.”

    The man pulled his chair away from the table.  He extended his hand and introduced himself.  Craddock said the name rang a bell.  He was the legendary former governor of the state of Tennessee.     –Quoted by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource

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     To be a confident and secure person you need to know only two things– where you came from and where you are going.  The Bible tells us that we are from God, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and we are going back to God, to the Father’s home, where Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-3).

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II Corinthians 5:15-19a — … (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

Ephesians 1:3-6 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

I Peter 2:9-10 — …You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

John 14:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

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O God, the Father of mercies, grant to us always to hold fast to the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry to you ‘Father,’ and we are ‘your children,’ through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Roman Breviary

74) Don’t Miss the Miracles

     If you go to the downtown area of any big city you will see street musicians.  They will be leaning up against a building, playing their guitar, saxophone, violin, trumpet, or whatever.  Their instrument case or hat will be lying open on the sidewalk ahead of them in hopes of receiving some coins or dollar bills from appreciative (or sympathetic) people walking by.  Some of these musicians are better than others.  Some are enthusiastic and entertaining; others have that ‘hangdog’ look, and you can tell they have pretty well given up on life.  But they are probably hungry, and desperate for the few coins that might be thrown their way.

      A while back a man quietly took his place against a wall in a subway station in Washington, D.C.  He took out his violin, placed his hat on the ground, and began to play.  For this day he had chosen six selections by Johann Sebastian Bach.  During this sidewalk performance, several thousand people walked by.  A few stopped to listen briefly, and some slowed their pace; but most of the money in the hat came from people who did not slow down at all.  They just dropped something in the hat as they rushed by, perhaps out of pity, but certainly not in appreciation for the music that they did not even stop to hear.

     On several occasions little children stopped to listen, but every time they did the parent would pull them on, much like one does with a dog that wants to stop to sniff at something.  Maybe it was for the kids just a child-like curiosity.  Or maybe, like a sniffing dog, the children sensed something special was there.  Actually, it was something very special.  The street musician that day, that shabbily dressed ‘beggar,’ was the world renowned violinist Joshua Bell.  The violin he was playing is valued at 3.5 million dollars.  Just two days before, people had packed a Boston theater to hear him, paying an average of $100 per seat.

     That day in the subway station Bell made a total of 32 dollars.  When he finished, there was no applause, no standing ovation like he usually receives, nothing at all to acknowledge the magnificent talent that had just been on display.  For nearly an hour, greatness had appeared in that otherwise bleak subway station, but no one noticed it.  People just rushed by, unaware.

     This interesting little experiment was carried out by the Washington Post, but the same thing goes on every day, everywhere, for everyone.  There is greatness, beauty, magnificence, and miracles all around us, but we are usually blind to it all.  The Bible says the heavens and all creation declare the glory of God, but we usually miss it.

     Once in a while we might get a glimpse.  The other day I say a wonderful photograph of a leaf.  It was just an ordinary leaf off a tree, but the photo showed its tremendous beauty.  The leaf had for the most part decayed and disintegrated, and all that was left was the intricate system of little veins going out from the center stem to the outer edges.  The photographer had the leaf held up against the sun, the light was shining through the silhouetted veins, and it was beautiful.  This was just a common leaf.  How much more wonder is all around us all the time?!

     I am always amazed to see an old Michael Jackson video, seeing his moves, especially the way he could do that incredible moon-walk.  But the most amazing thing is to be able to walk at all, and most of us can do that.  A full description of the actual process would fill a library.  There first must be two living legs, the tissue being maintained by outside energy that is processed in the digestive system and the respiratory system, and delivered by the circulatory system.  The exhausted energy must then be delivered back by the circulatory system to other organs that process it for elimination from the body.  So far, this is all just to maintain the tissue.  Then the movement must be commanded by the brain, another miracle, with the message being delivered by the nervous system, and the command carried out by a precise arrangement of muscles, ligaments, and cartilage, with the necessary structure and support of the skeletal system.  There are a million things all must work together, all at once, in order for you to put one foot in front of the other.  If there is even a small glitch anywhere in the system you are in a wheelchair or even dead.

     Eight centuries ago St. Francis taught the world to see the extraordinary blessings and miracles of God in the seemingly ordinary things of the natural world all around us.  The hymn All Creatures of our God and King, based on a poem by St. Francis, describes how nature itself sings praises to the glory of God, with the sun and the moon, the clouds and the wind, water and fire, fruits and flowers, all declaring the wonder of God’s creation.  God has chosen to reveal himself in the ordinary.  If you look for God there, in the ordinary, you will see him all over the place.  Think of that the next time you take an ordinary step, and give thanks to God for the miracle of your ordinary body.  And give thanks to God for Jesus, who promises an even more perfect body, one that will last for all eternity.

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Psalm 19:1 — The heavens decla re the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 139:14-15 — For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

II Corinthians 5:1 — Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

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Lord, make me see your glory in every place.  Amen.   –Michelangelo

73) Not a Moneymaker

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) was a Dutch Christian who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazis in the early 1940’s.  She worked in her father’s watch-making business in Holland, and they hid Jews in their upstairs apartment until they could get out of the country.  They were betrayed by a neighbor, arrested, and sent to the concentration camps.  Corrie was the only family member who survived.  Her autobiography The Hiding Place (1971) was made into a movie.  This story is from her 1976 book In My Father’s House which was about the years before the war. 

     There were many ups and downs in the watch-making business, but Father seemed to have a keen understanding of the economic situation of our times.  In his weekly paper he wrote information and suggestions for others in the business.  Since he read all other papers about his trade in German, English, and French, he could adequately fill his paper with important news about trade and business.

     However, when it came to making money in his own shop, it wasn’t always so simple.  He loved his work, but he was not a moneymaker.

     Once we were faced with a real financial crisis.  A large bill had to be paid, and there simply wasn’t enough money.  One day a very well-dressed gentleman came into the shop and was looking at some very expensive watches.  I stayed in the workshop and prayed, with one ear tuned to the conversation in the front room.

     “This is a fine watch, Mr. ten Boom,” the customer said, turning a very costly timepiece over in his hands.  “This is just what I’ve been looking for.”

     I held my breath as I saw the affluent customer reach into his inner pocket and pull out a thick wad of bills.  Praise the Lord– cash!  I saw myself paying the overdue bill, and being relieved of the burden I had been carrying for the past few weeks.

     The blessed customer looked at the watch admiringly and commented, “I had a good watchmaker here in Haarlem his name was van Houten.  Perhaps you knew him.”  Father nodded his head.  He knew almost everyone in Haarlem, especially colleagues.

     “Van Houten died and his son took over the business.  However, I bought a watch from him which didn’t run at all.  I sent it back three times, but it was just a lemon.  That’s why I decided to find another watchmaker.”

     “Will you show me that watch, please,” Father said.  The man took a large watch out of his vest and gave it to Father.

     “Now, let me see,” Father said, opening the back of the watch.  He adjusted something and turned it back to the customer.  “There, that was a very little mistake.  It will be fine now.  Sir, I trust the young watchmaker.  He will be just as good as his father.  I think you can encourage him by buying the new watch from him.”

     “But, ten Boom!” the customer objected.

     “This young man has had a difficult time in the trade without his father.  If you have a problem with one of his watches, come to me, I’ll help you out.  Now, I shall give you back your money and you return my watch.”  I was horrified.  I saw Father take back the watch and give the money to the customer.  Then he opened the door for him and bowed deeply in his old-fashioned way.

     My heart was where my feet should be as I emerged from the shelter of the workshop.  I said, “Papa! How could you?”  I was so shocked by the enormity of what I had seen and heard, that I reverted my childhood name for my father.

     “Corrie,” he said, “you know that I brought the Gospel at the burial of Mr. van Houten.”

     Of course I remembered.  It was Father’s job to speak at the burials of the watchmakers in Haarlem.  He was greatly loved by all, and he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the Lord Jesus.  Father often said that people were touched by eternity when they have seen someone dying.  That is an opportunity we should use to tell about Him who is willing to give eternal life.

English: Casper and Cornelia ten Boom, parents...

Casper and Cornelia ten Boom, parents of Corrie ten Boom

     “Corrie, what do you think that young man would have said when he heard that one of his good customers had gone to Mr. ten Boom?  Do you think that the name of the Lord would be honored?  There is blessed money and cursed money.  Trust the Lord.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He will take care of us.”

     I felt ashamed and knew that Father was right.  I wondered if I could ever have that kind of trust.  I… had been unwilling to go the direction God wanted, only to follow my own stubborn path.  Could I really trust Him with an unpaid bill?

     “Yes, Father” I answered quietly.  Who was I answering?  My earthly father or my Father in heaven?

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Psalm 50:10 — …Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 

Matthew 7:12 — (Jesus said), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

I Peter 2:12 — Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 

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Lord, I am a countryman coming from my country to yours. 
Teach me the laws of your country, its way of life and its spirit,
so that I may feel at home there.   –William of St. Thierry

O Lord God, grant us always, whatever the world may say, to content ourselves with what you say, and to care only for your approval, which will outweigh all worlds; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.   –General Charles Gordon

72) The Master Weaver

By Doug Tilley, a pastor from North Carolina, in World magazine, 10-8-11, p. 52.

     I have been diagnosed with a disease named after one of the greatest baseball players in history, Lou Gehrig.  Gehrig played for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939, the year doctors told him he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  By the time this motor neuron disease killed him in 1941, journalists were calling it Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

     I’m a lifelong baseball fan, and a while back bought two 4-inch plastic Yankee statues, one of Babe Ruth and the other of Gehrig.  One day a couple of years ago, staring at a possible ALS diagnosis, I removed the statuette from my dresser top and stuffed it away in a drawer.  I didn’t want to be reminded of a dreadful disease that I desperately hoped to avoid.

     Later, I read about how Gehrig approached his disease.  He did not become angry.  He always hoped for a cure– but as his condition worsened, he stated that “if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best.”  His sentiment was, whatever will be will be.  By His grace and through His word, God has enabled me to approach this disease differently.  I don’t think, whatever will be will be.  The Bible has taught me that God always works through an eternal plan and purpose.

     Years ago I was looking at a large, beautiful tapestry of The Lord’s Supper.  Out of curiosity, I wondered what the back side of the tapestry looked like.  I lifted a portion away from the wall and noticed that the back was an ugly mess of threads seemingly strewn in a nonsensical pattern.  Beauty on one side, a dark threaded mass on the other.  So it is with our lives: Dark and messy threads on the back– sickness, relationship troubles, temptations, ethical issues, fear, and so on; can be what we need for the greatest beauty– maturity, spiritual growth, and godly character
qualities– to appear on the front.

     I believe with all my heart that God is working out a great plan in my life.  Part of that plan includes the dark threads of my disease woven into the tapestry of my life.  And yet, those dark threads, when properly seen, are woven into the beauty of what God is making my life to be.  From one angle, the back side, it might appear that God is unfair to me, or that He is punishing me.  Some may even believe that my life is not worth living.

     However, God, the Master Weaver, gives me a promise in the Bible assuring me that everything in my life, including the “back side,” is working together to make the other side beautiful in His eyes.  Through my disease I am learning that I cannot simply like Romans 8:28, but I must live in it, and be swallowed up by its great promise.  Understanding that God has a great plan for my life, I know that He has allowed my disease in order to turn my life more completely toward Him.  Because of Jesus Christ, I do not say with Gehrig that I am the luckiest man in the world, but rather, that I am the most blessed man in the world!

     By the way, I gave Gehrig back his status on my dresser, and I did so with confidence that God is working in my life.  Before my diagnosis, I had dreams and plans about how my life would work out in the future.  I’m now living in that future, and it isn’t how I had planned.  Yet, God has given me great joy with Him and my family, and I find myself excited about the different opportunities He places before me to share the joy of Christ with others.

     Thankfully, as difficult as it is, to date the disease has only attacked my arms and my energy level.  Yet, every day wonder if it will spread, especially on days when I feel exhausted or emotionally down.  However, knowing that God is weaving His plan for me gives me an unusual peace that actually does pass understanding.

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Romans 8:28 — We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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

II Corinthians 1:8-10 — We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and … on him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

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Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who from your tender love towards us sinners has given us your Son, that believing in Him we may have everlasting life;  Grant us your Holy Spirit that we may continue steadfast in this faith to the end, and may come to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.   –John Calvin

71) Body and Soul

From a sermon entitled “Life Eternal” by Ralph Sockman (1889-1970)

     As I ponder Paul’s discussion of the body (in II Corinthians 4 & 5), it deepens my realization that personality does go on despite bodily changes.  We are told that a human body undergoes a complete renovation every seven years (by the ongoing replacement of cells).  If that be true, then I myself have used up and thrown away some seven bodies during my lifetime.  Yet through all those changes my personal identity continues.  Somewhere in each of us is an organizing center of life, called the soul or spirit, which keeps our individuality intact while replacing the worn parts of the physical structure.  Thus these bodies of ours are but the changing instruments of a continuing spirit.  In light of this fact does it not seem possible, even reasonable, that personality can survive the extreme bodily changes of the grave?  As Sir Oliver Lodge once put it, smashing an organ is not equivalent to killing the organist.  The soul of man can go on expressing itself through some instrument other than the earthly body. 

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II Corinthians 4:16-18 — Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

II Corinthians 5:1-10 — Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

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Even such is time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;

Who in the dark and silent grave, 
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts down the story of our days;

But from this earth, this grave, this dust, 
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

–Sir Walter Raleigh, written on the night before his execution