111) Let Your Light Shine

Many people have given up on faith in Jesus Christ because of what they have seen in the lives of Christians.  In these two passages from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass describes the importance of distinguishing between believing in Christ, and believing in those who say they follow Christ.  The lives of Christians should be a positive witness to the Savior in whom they believe.  But when people call themselves Christians and live wicked lives, we must focus not on their wickedness, but on Jesus.  And we must live our lives in a way that would make others want to know more about our Savior.  “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus said, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”     (See also yesterday’s meditation #110)

     I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, – a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, – a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, – and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of the slaveholders find the strongest protection.  Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me.  For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst.  I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.

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     I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion.  To remove such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation.  What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference– so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.  To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.  I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

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Titus 1:16 —  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Matthew 5:14, 16  —   (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

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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     Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go.  Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love.  Possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may be a radiance of Thine.

Return to "Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Calcutta"     Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul.  Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.  Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.  Amen.  –Mother Teresa

110) From “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”

English: Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a y...

Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a young man

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was born into slavery in Maryland.  He escaped slavery as a young man, and became the most prominent black abolitionist of his time.  He is one of the most important figures in African-American history, and was a powerful orator.  He was a firm believer in the equality of all people and often said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”  In this selection from his autobiography (pages 82-84), Douglass declares that it was faith that enabled him to endure the sufferings of slavery, and it was faith that gave him the hope that he would someday be free.  He was an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

     Previously to my contemplation of the anti-slavery movement, my mind had been seriously awakened to the subject of religion.  I was not more than thirteen years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for some one to whom I could go, as to a father and protector.  The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend.  He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God:  that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ.  I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well:  I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise.

     I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to “cast all my care upon God.”  This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved.  I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever.  I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted.  My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.  I have gathered scattered pages of the Bible from the filthy street-gutters, and washed and dried them, that in moments of leisure I might get a word or two of wisdom from them.

     While thus religiously seeking knowledge, I continued my acquaintance with Lawson.  This man not only prayed three times a day, but he prayed as he walked through the streets, at his work, on his dray– everywhere.  His life was a life of prayer, and his words when he spoke to any one, were about a better world.  Uncle Lawson lived near Master Hugh’s house, and becoming deeply attached to him, I went often with him to prayer-meeting, and spent much of my leisure time with him on Sunday.  The old man could read a little, and I was a great help to him in making out the hard words, for I was a better reader than he.  I could teach him “the letter,” but he could teach me “the spirit,” and refreshing times we had together, in singing and praying.  These meetings went on for a long time without the knowledge of Master Hugh or my mistress.  Both knew, however, that I had become religious, and seemed to respect my conscientious piety.

     …Uncle Lawson was my spiritual father and I loved him intensely, and was at his house every chance I could get…  The good old man had told me that the “Lord had a great work for me to do,” and I must prepare to do it; that he had been shown that I must preach the gospel.  His words made a very deep impression upon me, and I verily felt that some such work was before me, though I could not see how I could ever engage in its performance.  “The good Lord would bring it to pass in his own good time,” he said, and that I must go on reading and studying the scriptures.  This advice and these suggestions were not without their influence on my character and destiny.  He fanned my already intense love of knowledge into a flame by assuring me that I was to be a useful man in the world.  When I would say to him, “How can these things be? and what can I do?” his simple reply, was, “Trust in the Lord.”  When I would tell him, “I am a slave, and a slave for life, how can I do anything?” he would quietly answer, “The Lord can make you free, my dear; all things are possible with Him; only have faith in God. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’  If you want liberty, ask the Lord for it in FAITH, and he will give it to you.”

     Thus assured and thus cheered on under the inspiration of hope, I worked and prayed with a light heart, believing that my life was under the guidance of a wisdom higher than my own.  With all other blessings sought at the mercy seat, I always prayed that God would, of his great mercy and in his own good time, deliver me from my bondage.

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I Peter 5:6-7 — Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 

Luke 11:9-10 — (Jesus said), “So I say to you:  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

John 8:36 — So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

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“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

–Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass’s Prayer for Freedom:

O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute!…  O God, save me!  God, deliver me!  Let me be free!  Is there any God?  Why am I a slave?  I will run away. I will not stand it.  Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it…  I have only one life to lose.  I had as well be killed running as die standing.  Only think of it; 100 miles straight north, and I am free!  Try it?  Yes!  God is helping me, and I will.  It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave.

109) Which Way?

     Many people have chosen the following poem (or a variation of it) for the epitaph on their gravestone.  This one was found in a cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina:

 

Effie Jean Robinson  1897-1922

Come blooming youths, as you pass by ,

And on these lines do cast an eye.

As you are now, so once was I;

As I am now, so must you be;

Prepare for death and follow me.

 

Underneath, someone added:

To follow you;
I am not content,
Unless I know
Which way you went.

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James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Joshua 24:14-15  —  (Joshua said to the people), “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Philippians 3:10-14  —  I want to know Christ– yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 Hebrews 9:27-28  —  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

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

108) A Welcoming Congregation?

I received this story in an email yesterday.  www.snopes.com cannot confirm or deny the truth of it.  Snopes has not been able to track down any source for this account, but they do list another, similar story that is known to be true.  Whether or not this really happened, it should raise in our mind the question of how welcome outsiders are in our congregations.  How welcoming are you?
     Pastor Jeremiah Steepek let his beard grow for a few days, dressed shabbily like a homeless person, and then went to the 10,000 member church where he was to be introduced that morning as the new senior pastor.  Still a stranger to everyone there, he walked around for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for the service.  Only 3 people out of the thousands there said hello to him.  He asked people for change to buy food.  No one in the church gave him change.  He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back.  He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks.  
     He sat in the back of the church and listened to the church announcements.  When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation.  They said, “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.”  The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.  The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle.  The clapping stopped and all eyes were on him.  He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment.  Then he recited these words from Matthew 25:  
     “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’   “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  
     After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning.  Many heads were bowed in shame.  He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ.  The world has enough people, but not enough disciples.  When will you decide to become disciples?”  He then dismissed service until next week.  Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.
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Luke 6:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Matthew 7:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Matthew 25:45  —   “The Master will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
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“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm on your face,
The rain fall softly on your fields;
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
–Gaelic blessing (Ireland)

107) Looking for the Great Spirit

 The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, pp. 69-71

The following narrative was given by a gentleman of the United States, when on a visit to England, and was published in that country in 1838:

     It was in the autumn of 1832, in the regions of the far West, by the waters of the Columbian River, that a traveler was led by commerce to seek out the tribe of Indians dwelling upon its borders (commonly called the ‘Flathead Indians’).  He appeared at the entrance of a wigwam and asked for food and water, in broken accents, but in their own language.  When the traveler was rested and refreshed, the wigwam owner asked his errand, and when he said he was there with items to trade, that made him very welcome to these children of the wilderness.

      The Indian who received him was tall, erect, and finely formed, with an expression of intelligence about his eyes and forehead.  “You are weary,” he said to the stranger, “and it was well that you reached our shelter before the voice of the great Eagle was abroad upon the mountains.”

     “What do you mean?,” asked his guest looking at the clouded sky, “and what is the voice of the great Eagle?”

      “Hear it now,” replied the Indian, as the first peal of thunder rolled and echoed round the hills.  “The great Spirit is riding down the waterfall!  Do you not hear him in the wind?  I am afraid of him, and so surely you must be.  Let us speak against his harm.”

      “I fear nothing,” replied the hardy wanderer.  “But is this spirit a good or a bad spirit?– and have you more spirits than one in your country?”

     “We have a good Spirit,” was the answer, “but we never speak to him– he will do us no evil.  And we have a bad spirit, who is the great Eagle I told you of; and we pray to him, that he may not work us harm.  What spirits have you in your country?”

     “I come,” said the stranger, “from the Ohio River; and the men in those parts have a book which teaches them a new way to heaven; or, as you would call it, to the sky.  They say that they shall live again after they die, and live up there– that is, if they please their Great Spirit.”

     “What is a book?  I should like to see it,” said the Indian.  “And about living after death, I want to know more.  How far is it to the Ohio?”

      “It is 3,000 miles,” replied the traveler, “and all through the desert.  You would never reach the Ohio.  But all I have said to you is true.”

      The Indian turned into his hut to sleep, but he could not sleep at all.  When the storm was hushed, he walked out again into the clear, still moonlight to think about the book which could teach people the way into the sky.  The next morning he repeated what the traveler had said to two men in his tribe, and he asked them if they would go with him to fetch such a book from beyond the mountains.  They agreed, and after a season when the traveler went on his way, they too took their journey in an opposite direction.  They lived by the chase, endured innumerable perils, and were six months on the road;– but at last they arrived at their destination, and entreated to see the book of which they had heard, and to be taught that which they did not know.

      Their story excited great interest.  They were welcomed and instructed.  But after many months had passed, the Indian who had first heard the good news from the traveler, worn out with the fatigue and hardships of his journey, fell ill and died.  But this was not, however, before he had listened to the glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ, and declared that he believed the book.  A missionary offered himself to return with the two others to their homes, and did accompany them back to the Columbian River.  Accounts were received from him of his safe arrival, his joyful reception by the tribe, and of his beginning to distribute among them the water of life.

Flathead delegation in Washington, D.C. with i...

Flathead delegation in Washington, D.C. with interpreter, 1884

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Psalm 22:27-28 — All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. 

Isaiah 45:22 — “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

Psalm 61:1-2 — Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 

Acts 13:47 — For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

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THANKSGIVING FOR THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH: Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself:  We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations.  We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer

106) When it is a Struggle to ‘Keep the Faith’

     Faith in Jesus is not the same as feelings for Jesus.  Faith is stronger than feelings.  It is stronger than knowledge.  Faith often becomes a sheer act of will.  A person may say, “I don’t feel like believing, but I want to believe.”  And it may very well be that if a person were to say, “I don’t know whether this Christianity is true or not, but with all my heart I want it to be true,” then in God’s sight he has faith.  A man cried to Jesus, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.”  God himself is the giver of faith.  By myself I cannot believe in Jesus or come to him, but the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to give me faith.

     He makes it possible for me to be a believer.  To be sure, feelings are important.  In fact, Jesus will give us deep and lasting feelings.  He will help us to feel joy, to feel repentance, to feel hope, to feel love, to feel faith.  But when the dark days come, and these feelings seem to slip away, be sure of this:  Jesus has not abandoned us.  He does not make feelings a condition for his being with us.  He is with us, even in those gloomy and depressed days when we hardly dare to think that he cares at all.

     A man came once to me and said, “I feel that God has left me.”  I replied, “Perhaps that does not make any difference to God.”  After all, God is our Father, Jesus is our great Brother and Savior…  He has promised never to leave us or abandon us.  He has given us his Word.  We rest there.     –Alvin Rogness, The Jesus Life, pages 26-27.

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     “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the cross.  It is much harder to believe than not to believe, so you must at least do this:  keep an open mind.  Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”    –Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being, page 354.

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     “I need not exert myself and try to force myself to believe or try to chase doubt out of my heart.  Both are equally useless.  I have let Jesus into my heart, and he will fulfill my heart’s desire.  I need only to tell Jesus how weak my faith is.  ”  

                                                                                    –O. Hallesby

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Mark 9:24  —  …The boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Romans 10:17  —  Consequently, faith comes  from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 

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O Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me a right faith, a certain hope, and a perfect love, understanding, and knowledge; O Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command.  Amen.  –St. Francis of Assisi

105) Divine Dealings with Sinners

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, pages 169-170

     A sermon illustration from a New England minister in the 1700’s.

     A clergyman sitting in his study, saw some boys in his garden stealing melons.  He quietly arose, and walking into his garden, called out to them, “Boys, boys.”  They immediately fled with the utmost speed, tearing through the shrubbery, and tumbling over the fences.  “Boys,” cried out the gentleman, “stop, do not be afraid.  You may have as many melons as you want.  I have more than I know what to do with.”

     The boys, urged by the consciousness of their guilt, fled with increasing speed.  They did not like to trust themselves in the gentlemen’s hands; neither did they exactly relish the idea of receiving favors from one whose garden they were robbing.

     The clergyman continued to entreat them to stop, assuring them that they should not be hurt, and that they might have as many melons as they wished for.  But the very sound of his voice added wings to their speed.  They scampered on in every direction, with as determined an avoidance as though the gentleman were pursuing them with a horsewhip.  He determined, however, that they should be convinced that he was sincere in his offers, and therefore pursued them.  Two little fellows who could not climb over the fence were caught by the minister.  He led them back, telling them they were welcome to melons whenever they wanted any, and gave to each of them a couple, and then allowed them to go home.  He sent by them a message to the other boys, that whenever they wanted any melons, they were welcome to them, if they would but come to him.

     The other boys, when they heard of the favors with which the two had been laden, were loud in the expression of their indignation.  They accused the clergyman of impartiality, in giving to some without giving to all; and when reminded that would not accept his offers, but ran away from him as fast as they could, they replied, “What of that?  He caught these two boys, and why should he have selected them instead of the rest of us?  If he had only run a little faster, he might have caught us, too.  It was mean of him to show such partiality.”

     Again they were reminded that the clergyman was ready to serve them as he did the other two he caught, and give them as many melons as they wanted, if they would only go and ask him for them.

     Still, the boys would not go near him, but accused the generous man of injustice and partiality in doing for two, that which he did not do for all.

     So it is with the sinner.  God finds all guilty, and invites them to come to him and be forgiven, and receive the richest blessings heaven can afford.  They all run from him, and the louder he calls, the more furious do they rush in their endeavors to escape.  By his grace he pursues, and some he overtakes.  He loads them with favors, and sends them back to invite their fellow-sinners to return and receive the same.  They refuse to come, and yet never cease to abuse his mercy and insult his goodness.  They say, “Why does God select some and not others?  Why does he overtake others who are just as bad as we are, and allow us to escape?  This election of some and not others, is unjust and partial.”

     And when the minister of God replies, “The invitation is extended to you:  Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17), the sinner heeds it not, but goes on in his sins, still complaining of the injustice and partiality of God, in saving some and not saving all.

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Psalm 103:8-10 — The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

Isaiah 55:7 — Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Matthew 18:14 — (Jesus said), “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that any one of these little ones should perish.”

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A Morning Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):  The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties.  Help us, O Lord, to perform them with laughter and kind faces, and let cheerfulness abound with industry.  Give to us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and contented and undishonored, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep.  Amen.

104) Religion and Wealth

     John Wesley (1703-1791):  “O ye lovers of money, hear the Word of the Lord.  Do you suppose that money, though multiplied as the sand of the sea, can give happiness?  Then you are ‘given up to a strong delusion to believe a lie’– a palpable lie, confuted daily by a thousand experiments.  Open your eyes!  Look all around you!  Are the richest men the happiest?  Have those the largest share of contentment who have the largest possessions?  Is not the very reverse true?  Is it not a common observation that the richest men are, in general, the most discontented, the most miserable?  Had not the far greater part of them been more contented when they had less money?  Look inside yourselves.  If you are increased in goods, are you proportionately increased in happiness?  You have more substance; but have you more contentment?  You know that in seeking happiness from riches, you are only striving to drink out of empty cups.  And let them be painted and gilded ever so finely, they are empty still.”

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     Dean Kelly, Why Conservative Churches are Growing, 1972, page 55:  The Wesleyan revival made former beggars and roustabouts into such honest and self-respecting citizens that their neighbors took to entrusting to them the valuables they didn’t trust themselves not to squander!  Unfortunately, the virtues of Wesley’s followers also helped them to prosper, and as they ascended in the esteem of their neighbors, they tended to place their religious commitments in perspective with other concerns, which took on increasing importance.  John Wesley, the founder of the movement, has summed up this process in what might be called Wesley’s Law:

 “Wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion.  Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long.  For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches.  But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches…  Is there no way to prevent this– this continual decay of pure religion?”

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     “Religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother…  There is danger, lest the enchantments of this world make us forget our errand into the wilderness.”  –Cotton Mather, 1702, Early American clergyman

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     As a solution to this problem, Wesley said Christians should guard themselves against temptation by giving away all the money that they possibly can, saying, “We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can, in order to give all they can.”  Observing the verse “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” Wesley himself lived on only 30 pounds a year, even though he at times earned 1,400 pounds a year from the sale of his books.  He gave all the rest away.  He said, “When I have money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart.”  Wesley also said, “It is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor.  But it is dangerous beyond expression.  Therefore, I remind all of you who are of this number, who have the conveniences of life, and something left over, that you walk upon slippery ground…”

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Deuteronomy 8:6-7, 9-14, 17-18  —  (Moses said), “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him.  For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing…  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…  You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”

Proverbs 30:7-9 — Two things I ask of you, O Lord;  do not refuse me before I die:  Keep falsehood and lies far from me;  give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

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O God, we beg you to save us this day from the distractions of vanity and the false lure of inordinate desires.  Grant us the grace of a quiet and humble mind, and may we learn from Jesus to be meek and lowly of heart.  May we not join the throng of those who seek after things that never satisfy and who draw others after them in the fever of covetousness.  Save us from adding our influence to the drag of temptation.  If the fierce tide of greed beats against our soul, may we rest at peace in your higher contentment.  In the press of life may we pass from duty to duty in tranquility of heart, and spread your quietness and peace to all who come near…  Amen  

–Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918)

103) Our Constitution and Religion

Adapted from Our ‘Godless Constitution;’ The Complicated Truth, by Eric Metaxas,  www.Breakpoint.org     July 16, 2013

     One Fourth of July ad would have you believe that the Founding Fathers sought to shield our nation’s government from Christianity.  Clever, but not true.

     This Fourth of July, I opened up the New York Times and I found an extremely misleading ad sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Celebrate Our Godless Constitution, it read.  The ad featured pictures of six founding fathers, and cherry-picked quotes that made it appear that these men were die-hard atheists– or at least, did not approve of Christianity influencing our new nation’s government.

     Now, it’s quite true our Constitution is secular; the founders were well aware of what can happen when kings and countries force a particular religion on its citizens.  Think Iran today.

     But there is a big difference between believing a Constitution should be secular, and believing that religion– in this case, Christianity– should have no influence on one’s country and its laws.  Five of the six founders listed in the ad strongly believed that America would not survive if her people were godless.

     For instance, John Adams warned in 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

     George Washington shared this view.  In his Farewell Address, the old general said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”  And, he added, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

     Benjamin Franklin– no doubt a rather worldy man– urged participants in the Constitutional Convention to pray, because, he said, “the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth– that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

     While James Madison, like Franklin, was against a state-imposed religion, as of course I am, our fourth president also noted that “before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the governor of the universe”– that is, God.

     So while the Constitution cannot be considered a religious document, many of our founders’ religious views deeply informed their thinking about the kind of government America should embrace.  To suggest otherwise is intellectually dishonest.  They also considered freedom of religion so important that they enshrined it in the First Amendment to the Constitution…

     Ironically, the New York Times itself revealed how silly and misleading the Freedom from Religion Foundation ad is just a few pages later.  Every Fourth of July, it reprints the Declaration of Independence.   Allow me to read from the text:  “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America… [appeal] to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”  The Declaration’s signers also wrote that they were acting “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”

     We need to understand the complicated truth about religion and America’s founders– and with “firm reliance” appeal to God to both bless America, and to forgive the sins of our nation.  Because Franklin was right:  God does govern the affairs of men.

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Isaiah 40:15  —  Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket (to the Lord); they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

I Timothy 2:1-5  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people–  for kings and all those in authority,that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

II Chronicles 7:14  —   If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

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BILLY GRAHAM’S PRAYER FOR AMERICA:

Our Father and Our God, we praise You for Your goodness to our nation, giving us blessings far beyond what we deserve.  Yet we know all is not right with America.  We deeply need a moral and spiritual renewal to help us meet the many problems we face.  Convict us of sin.  Help us to turn to You in repentance and faith.  Set our feet on the path of Your righteousness and peace.  We pray today for our nation’s leaders.  Give them the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do it.  You have said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”  May this be a new era for America, as we humble ourselves and acknowledge You alone as our Savior and Lord.  This we pray in Your holy name.  Amen.

102) A Religion Designed to Last

By John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
(Penguin Books, 1962), 77-79.

     Sunday morning, in a Vermont town…  I looked for a church to attend.  Several I eliminated for reasons I do not now remember, but on seeing a John Knox church I drove into a side street and parked…  I took my seat in the rear of the spotless, polished place of worship.  The prayers were to the point, directing the attention of the Almighty to certain weaknesses and undivine tendencies I know to be mine and could only suppose were shared by the others gathered there.  The service did my heart and I hope my soul good.  It had been a long time since I had heard such an approach.  

     It is our practice now, at least in the large cities, to find from our psychiatric priesthood that our sins are not really sins at all but accidents that are set in motion by forces beyond our control.  There was no such nonsense in this church.  The minister… opened up with prayer and reassured us that we were a pretty sorry lot.  And he was right.  We didn’t amount to much to start with, and due to our own tawdry efforts we had been slipping ever since…  Having proved that we, or perhaps only I, were no damn good he painted with cool certainly what was likely to happen to us if we didn’t make some basic reorganizations for which he didn’t hold out much hope.  He spoke of hell as an expert, not the mush-mush hell of these soft days, but a well-stoked, white-hot hell served by technicians of the first order…  

     For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness… but this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me.  He put my sins in a new perspective.  Whereas they had been small and mean and nasty and best forgotten, this minister gave them some size and bloom and dignity…  I wasn’t a naughty child, but a first-rate sinner, and I was going to catch it.  

     All across the country I went to church on Sundays, a different denomination ever week; but nowhere did l find the quality of that Vermont preacher.  He forged a religion designed to last, not some predigested obsolescence.

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I John 1:8-10  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Revelation 21:1-8 — Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me:  “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.”

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O Lord God, eternal and Almighty Father, we confess and acknowledge before thy holy majesty that we are poor sinners, conceived and born in iniquity and corruption, prone to do evil, incapable of any good, and that in our depravity we transgress thy holy commandments without end or ceasing.  Wherefore we purchase for ourselves, through thy righteous judgment, our ruin and perdition.  Nevertheless, O Lord, we are grieved that we have offended thee; and we condemn ourselves and our sins with true repentance, pleading for thy grace to relieve our distress.  O God and Father, most gracious and full of compassion, have mercy upon us in the name of thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  And as thou dost blot out our sins and stains, magnify and increase in us day by day the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that as we acknowledge our unrighteousness with all our heart, we may be moved by that sorrow which shall bring forth true repentance in us, mortifying all our sins, and producing in us the fruits of righteousness and innocence which are pleasing unto thee; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.   –John Calvin, The Geneva Liturgy, 1542