101) Why Does God Make Little Children Get Sick and Die?

     Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of the movie Ways to Live Forever which is opening this weekend.  While blockbuster movies from major movie companies may open in 3,000 theaters at one time, Ways to Live Forever is opening in only eight– so you may not need to bother looking for it at a theater near you.  But it is “a charming little independently made movie” says a review in Christianity Today (on-line), which the only place I heard of it.  The review by Mark Moring also says:

     Its title implies a quest for immortality, but that’s only true in some ways.  In others, the central character, a 12-year-old boy (named Sam) dying of leukemia, courageously confronts his inevitable outcome; and he concludes, like John Donne, that though Death may seem “mighty and dreadful,” in the end, “thou art not so.”  It’s a sweet piece of cinema that handles a sensitive topic with tenderness and light, with a refreshing spiritual perspective that is neither saccharine nor overly sentimental.

     The review goes on to describe the main characters and a bit of the plot.  What I found most interesting is the third of three principal threads in the film:  Sam’s important questions about death and dying.  It is an ever-growing list of what Sam calls ‘Questions Nobody Answers,’ and by the end of the film there are eight.  The reviewer says that it is the second question that prompts the movies most insightful exchange.  Sam and his friend Felix (also terminally ill) discuss the question “Why does God make children  get ill?”  I again quote the review:

Felix proposes two answers:  One, that God doesn’t exist, or two, that God is evil and tortures kids for fun.  Sam counters:  “Or three, he’s like a Big Doctor.  He makes people ill so he can make them better people, to make them less selfish.”  Felix shoots back:  “Four, there is no reason.”  Sam considers this, and then has the last word:  “Five, there is a reason, but we’re too stupid to understand it.”  Wow.

    I also say “Wow.”  Imagine that!– rather than shaking his fist in God’s face, Sam admits that we may not see everything and may not know everything.  That is pretty good theology for a movie!  Christians may disagree on whether or not God actually causes bad things to happen, but all must grant that God allows little children to get sick and die.  Either way, we are left with a huge ‘WHY?’  Sam has the humility and the wisdom to say, “I don’t know why, but maybe there is more going on here than what I can see.”

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Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Job 38:1-4  —  Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.”

Romans 11:33-34  —  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?

I Corinthians 3:18-19a  —  Do not deceive yourselves.  If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.

Isaiah 29:16  —  You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

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     O Lord, let me not desire health or life, except to spend them for Thee,with Thee, and in Thee.  Thou alone knowest what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to Thee.  Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to Thine; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of Thine eternal providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Blaise Pascal (1623-1662))

100) The Impact of a Father’s Failure

From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo, © 2000 , pages 146-147

        This brilliant story was told to me by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi…

     (Gandhi’s son continued his father’s work toward achieving civil rights for groups that were discriminated against, and the family moved to South Africa to join the battle against apartheid.)

     His grandson Arun Ghandi told me that one day his father asked him to drive him to a meeting in Johannesburg.  “My father asked me to drop off the automobile at the repair garage and then be back at five o’clock to pick him up,” he said.

     The grandson went on to say, “I dropped my father off for his meeting and got the car to the garage by one.  Since it was a long time until five o’clock, I figured I could go to the movies, which I did.  That day there was a double feature being shown, and when I got out I checked my watch and realized that it was past five o’clock!

     “I rushed to the corner where my father had said he would be waiting for me, and when I saw him there, standing in the rain, I tried to think of excuses I could make.  I rushed up to him and said, ‘Father, you must forgive me.  It is taking them longer to repair the automobile than I thought it would take, but if you wait here I will go and get the car.  It should be ready by now.’

     “My father bowed his head and looked downward.  He stood for a long moment and then he said, ‘When you were not here at our meeting time I called the garage to see why you were late.  They told me that the automobile was ready at three o’clock.  Now I have to give some thought as to how I have failed, so as to have a son who would lie to his own father.  I will have to think about this, so I am going to walk home and use the time during my walk to meditate on this question.'”

     Arun Gandhi said, “I followed my elderly father home that rainy, misty night, watching him stagger along the muddy road.  I rode behind him with the headlights of the car flashing ahead of his steps.  And as I watched him stumbling toward home, I beat on the steering wheel and said over and over, ‘I will never lie again!  I will never lie again! I will never lie again!’”

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I Corinthians 13:6 — Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Proverbs 12:22 — The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

Proverbs 30:8a — Keep falsehood and lies far from me… 

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A FATHER’S PRAYER ON THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT BY MARTIN LUTHER:
Dear God, you have given me spouse, child, house, and land.  I receive these as your gifts, and will care for them for your sake.  I will do what I can to make all go well.  If not all my plans succeed, I will learn to be patient and let whatever cannot be changed take its course.  When things do go well, I will give you the glory and say, ‘O Lord, this is not by my work or effort, but by your gift and providence.’  Be the head of my family.  I will be obedient to you in all humility.   Amen.

99) A Man Who Talked Too Much

A Jewish Fable by Shoshannah Brombacher < http://www.chabad.org >

     In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe lived a nice man with a nasty problem: he talked too much about other people.  He could not help himself.  Whenever he heard a story about somebody he knew, and sometimes about somebody he did not know, he just had to tell it to his friends.  Since he was in business, he heard quite a lot of rumors and stories.  He loved the attention he got, and was delighted when they laughed because of the way he told his stories, which he sometimes embellished with little details he invented to make them funnier and juicier.  Other than that, he was really a pleasant, goodhearted man.

     He knew it was wrong, but… it was too tempting; and in any case, most of what he told had really happened, didn’t it?  Many of his stories were just innocent and entertaining, weren’t they?

     One day he found out something really weird (but true) about another businessman in town.  Of course he felt compelled to share what he knew with his colleagues, who told it to their friends, who told it to people they knew, who told it to their wives, who spoke with their friends and their neighbors.  It went around town, till the unhappy businessman who was the main character in the story heard it.  He ran to the rabbi of the town, and wailed and complained that he was ruined!  Nobody would like to deal with him after this.  His good name and his reputation were gone with the wind.

     Now this rabbi knew his customers, so to speak, and he decided to summon the man who loved to tell stories.  If he was not the one who started them, he might at least know who did.

     When the nice man with the nasty problem heard from the rabbi how devastated his colleague was, he felt truly sorry.  He honestly had not considered it such a big deal to tell this story, because it was true; the rabbi could check it out if he wanted.  The rabbi sighed.

     “True, not true, that really makes no difference!  You just cannot tell stories about people.  This is all slander, and it’s like murder– you kill a person’s reputation.”  He said a lot more, and the man who started the rumor now felt really bad and sorry.  “What can I do to make it undone?” he sobbed.  “I will do anything you say!”

     The rabbi looked at him.  “Do you have any feather pillows in your house?”  

     “Rabbi, I am not poor; I have a whole bunch of them.  But what do you want me to do, sell them?”

     “No, just bring me one.”

     The man was mystified, but he returned a bit later to the rabbi’s study with a nice fluffy pillow under his arm.  The rabbi opened the window and handed him a knife.  “Cut it open!”

     “But Rabbi, here in your study?  It will make a mess!”

     “Do as I say!”

     And the man cut the pillow.  A cloud of feathers came out.  They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them.  They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.

     The rabbi waited ten minutes.  Then he ordered the man:  “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow.   All of them, mind you.  Not one may be missing!”

     The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief.  “That is impossible, Rabbi.  The ones here is the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone.  Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know it!”

     “Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is:  once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up.  It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never get it back!”

     He ordered the man to deeply apologize to the person about whom he had spread the rumor.  That is difficult and painful, but it was the least he could do.  He ordered him to apologize to the people to whom he had told the story, making them accomplices in the nasty game, and he ordered him to diligently study the laws concerning gossip and slander every day for a year, and then come back to him.

     That is what the man did.  And not only did he study about gossip, he talked about the importance of guarding your tongue to all his friends and colleagues.  And in the end he became a nice man who overcame a nasty problem.

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Exodus 20:16 (the 8th commandment)  —  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Proverbs 12:18  —  The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

James 1:26  —  Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

James 3:7-10  —  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 

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A PRAYER BY MARTIN LUTHER ON THE 8TH COMMANDMENT:  

I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.

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The Gossips, Norman Rockwell, 1948

The gossips - Norman Rockwell

 

98) Wisdom from Jim Carrey (and the Bible)

I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.  –Jim Carrey

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Job 8:8-15  —  Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.  Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?

Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?  Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.
What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.
They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold.

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Ecclesiastes 2:1-11  —  I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said, “is madness.  And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly– my mind still guiding me with wisdom.  I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well– the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  In all this my wisdom stayed with me.  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

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Mark 12:29-31  —  Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God is the only Lord.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

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Matthew 6:19-21…24-34  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…  No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.

     “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

      “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. “

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Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing; 

patient endurance attains all things. 

One whom God possesses lacks nothing, 

for God alone suffices.    –Teresa of Avila

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Eternal God, you ask that I rely on you alone with all my heart in all things.  It is your earnest desire to be my God, and I must believe in you as my Lord, or, suffer the loss of eternal salvation.  My heart shall neither build on nor rely on anything else, whether it be property, honor, wisdom, power, purity, or any person.   Amen.    (Prayer on the 1st commandment by Martin Luther)

97) Last Call

By James Dobson, p. 295, Night Light, Multnomah Press, 2000.

     Think about the people you love.  Have you thanked them recently for what they mean to you?  If the Lord called you home this evening, would you feel satisfied that you had told them everything you needed to say?

     In the last months of my mother’s life, she had end-stage Parkinson’s disease and was unable to communicate or understand us.  One day, however, the Lord granted us a reprieve.  When Shirley and I visited the nursing home, my mother instantly recognized us, and I was able to thank her for being a good mother, for staying true to Jesus, and for sacrificing to put me through college.  She smiled; she understood.  I told her that my father was waiting for her in heaven and that Jesus would say “Well done!  Thou good and faithful servant.”  I prayed for her and thanked the Lord for her love in my life.  She returned our love, and we said good-bye.

     That was the last rational conversation I had with my mother, and I will always be thankful for those final moments together.  In this temporary existence, we must always seize opportunities to communicate soul to soul.  Cherish each moment with your partner, family, and friends.  Tell them how important they are to you.  Above all, live each day so that when the final call comes, Jesus will say “Well done!  Thou good and faithful servant.”

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Philippians 1:3 — I thank my God every time I remember you.

Ephesians 5:15-16 — Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Matthew 25:21a — (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!…”

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Dear Lord, thank You for all those in my family who you have given me to love and to cherish.  May we never miss an opportunity to say the words that really count. Help us to live without regrets, always ready for the homeward call of Jesus.  Amen. James Dobson (adapted)

96) ‘You Don’t Expect Me to Do that Every Day, Do You?’

From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo, copyright 2000, page 91

     The story is told by M. Scott Peck, the famous psychologist and author, of a woman patient who was suffering from extreme depression.  One day, when she was due for an appointment with him, she called on the telephone and told him that her car had broken down.  Dr. Peck offered to pick her up on his way into work, but he explained to her that he had to make a hospital call before he got to the office.  If she was willing to wait in the car while he made the call, they could have their appointment.  She agreed.

     When they got to the hospital, he had another suggestion.  He gave her the names of two of his patients who were convalescing there, and told her that each of them would enjoy a visit from her.  When they met again, an hour and a half later, the woman was on an emotional high.  She told Dr. Peck that making the visits and trying to cheer up those patients had lifted her spirits, and that she was feeling absolutely wonderful.

     Dr. Peck responded by saying, “Well, now we know how to get you out of your depression.  Now we know the cure for your problem.”

     The woman answered, “You don’t expect me to do that every day, do you?”

     That’s the tragedy of our lives.  Doing what Jesus would do lifts us out of our doldrums into a higher quality of life.  And yet, we often think that imitating Jesus is something burdensome.  It’s not!  Doing what Jesus would do feeds us emotionally and lifts our spirits.  One experiences the flow of the Spirit in the context of serving others.

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II Corinthians 1:3-7  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Philippians 2:1-5 — If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… 

Deuteronomy 32:46-47 — (Moses) said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you– they are your life.  By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

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This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

95) Who Needs Angels? (part three)

      Here are seven things I know about angels and this is enough for me:

#1 — God doesn’t need angels.  He can everything by himself.  God is all-powerful.  God never gets tired.  God is our refuge and strength, says Psalm 46.  Whatever we see angels do anywhere in the Bible, we also see God doing in other Bible stories.  God can give us whatever we need without angels.

#2 — Even though God doesn’t need angels, He has created them and he does give them work to do.  That is also clear in the Bible: 300 times God uses angels to do his work in the world.

#3 — God does not need angels, and God does not need you or me either.  If we look at angels only in terms of what God needs, we find they are not necessary; but then, neither are we necessary. However, in his love, God has created angels, and you and me and all humans, and chipmunks, and monkeys and elephants, and a whole host of other living creatures in this magnificent creation, both on earth and in the heavenly realms.  God did not need to create any of this.

#4 — God does not need angels or any of us, but in his love he has given us all life, AND, he has given us all some things to do, angels and humans alike.  Again, not because God needs us to do these things, for he can do all things in heaven and on earth.  But he has created us in a certain way, and arranged life in a certain way, so that it is best lived when we are obedient and do serve him with what he has given us.  It is a privilege to serve God with what he has given us, whether it is our time, our talents, or our financial resources.  So also it is with angels.  There is not one verse in the Bible that tells of angels just sitting around in heaven with nothing to do but play harps.  That is the cartoon image of angels, not the Biblical image.  Angels in the Bible are always doing something– serving their Creator God by doing something that He has given them to do.  Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”  We, and the angels, are created beings of the same God.  And He has given all of us opportunities to serve.

#5 —  We serve God best by serving in such a way that God receives the glory and not us.  Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and PRAISE YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  The idea is that others will see our faith in action and will want to know about the God who inspires such faith and works.  The focus of all that we do as individuals or as a church should be on God and not on ourselves, and so we ought not be concerned about whether or not we receive adequate credit or praise.

#6 — The angels do this so well that we are not even aware they are there.  Angels have no doubt been present in my life and in yours, helping us along, giving us a lift, guiding us, encouraging us; doing the same kinds of things they do for ordinary folks in the Bible.  But they stay out of the way, invisible even, so that all the glory is given to God.  And the glory ought to go to God, the Creator of the angels.  The fact that we do not think usually about angels or see them and can even, for the most part, ignore them in the Bible and in our lives is proof that they are doing their job well, and God receives the glory.  Whatever angels do in the Bible points us not to the angels but to God.

#7 —  There is a lesson there for all of us, who, like the angels, are called on to serve God.  In our service to the church and to others we should be more concerned about God getting the credit than we ourselves.  Oftentimes, we want to make sure that we are recognized, that we are appreciated, and that we look good; and we might be disappointed and hurt if that does not happen.  But the more credit we get, the less glory God gets.  I have heard many stories of missionaries who left their homes and families and friends to go to faraway places and endure great hardships, all in order to serve others and bring God’s Word to them.  When asked by those they serve why they were willing to sacrifice so much, the missionaries do not say ‘because I am such a good person,’ but rather, they say it is because they believe in a wonderful and loving God who saves us and then sends us out to serve others.  And I have talked to many people from other countries who came to faith in Christ because of just such a witness.  That is serving like an angel:  serving in such a way that God receives the glory. Angels provide an excellent model for this kind of service, and this, I believe, is the main thing we can learn from them.  They are working overtime for us, and we don’t even know they are there.  May we also be such obedient and humble servants.

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Hebrews 13:2  —  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Psalm 8:3-5  —  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,  which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  You have made them a little lower than the angels  and crowned them with glory and honor.

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Now as you go on your way, may God go with you.  May he go before you to show you the way; may he go behind you to encourage you; beside you to befriend you; above you to watch over you; and within you to give you peace.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   –10th century benediction

94) Who Needs Angels? (part two)

     (continued…)   I want to focus my attention on Jesus and not angels, but if we are to learn about life from Jesus, then perhaps we should pay at least some attention to angels.  At the very beginning of the story of Jesus we see all those angels.  And when Jesus grew to be a man and was teaching the people about God, he also had some important things to say about angels.   And the Gospels tell us that at key times the adult Jesus was strengthened and sustained by the presence of angels.  So, we may not need to focus on angels very much, but we do need to pay them some attention and at least look at what the Bible says about them.

     There are four main types of references to angels in the Bible.

     First of all, they appear as messengers, as Gabriel appears to Mary to announce the coming of Jesus. Angels also appear as messengers to Abraham, Gideon, Paul, and to the women at the tomb of Easter morning, to mention just a few of many examples.

     The second type of reference in the Bible to angels is when they appear to comfort or sustain or rescue someone in need.  They appeared to Jesus after his forty days of fasting and temptations in the wilderness.  An angel appeared in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, protecting them from the flames.  Angels came to be with Daniel in the Lion’s den, shutting the mouths of the hungry lions.  And an angel appeared to the apostle Peter when he was in jail, opening the locked doors to release him.

     The third type of angelic appearance shows them engaged in the ongoing battle against Satan in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil.  There is some of this in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and a great deal of it in the New Testament book of Revelation.

     This type of appearance is closely related to the fourth type of reference, and that is how angels play a major role in visions of the end times, such as in Revelation and Daniel and some of the other Old Testament prophetic books.

     We won’t look at all 300 specific Biblical references to angels, but this is a summary of the types of appearances they make and purposes they serve.

     But this still does not speak to my own primary response to all of the references angels, which is, to put it bluntly, ‘so what?’  There is much to study in the Bible, and angels will never be at the top of my priority list.  I have never seen an angel, and no matter how much I know about angels from the Bible, I also know enough from the Bible to know that I can continue to seek my guidance, protection, comfort, strength, and hope directly from God himself.  So I haven’t paid much attention to angels, but the little bit I have learned, I will tell you in tomorrow‘s meditation. (continued…)

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Genesis 28:11-12  —  When (Jacob) reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Psalm 91:11  —  He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Hebrews 1:14  —  Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

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MARTIN LUTHER’S ORDER FOR EVENING PRAYERS–from the Small Catechism

In the evening, when you retire, make the sign of the cross and say, “In the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”
Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Then you may say this prayer:  “I give Thee thanks, heavenly
Father, through thy dear Son Jesus Christ, that Thou hast this day
graciously protected me.  I beseech Thee to forgive all my sin and the wrong
which I have done.  Graciously protect me during the coming night.  Into
thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.  Let thy holy
angels have charge of me, that the wicked one may have no power over me.  Amen.”  

Then quickly lie down and sleep in peace.

93) Who Needs Angels? (part one)

Gabriel making the Annunciation to the Virgin ...

Gabriel making the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Painting by El Greco, 1575

     At the heart of the Christian faith is the life of Jesus Christ.  This story of Jesus’ life on earth does not begin in a manger in Bethlehem.  Rather, it begins in Nazareth, another village 70 miles north of Bethlehem, the home town of Mary and Joseph.  And the story begins not with a birth, but with the announcement of a pregnancy.  And the first character to appear in the story is not Jesus, or Mary or Joseph, or any shepherds or wise men; but rather, the first character to appear is an angel.  Here is how it all began as told in Luke 1:26-28:  “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.’”

     Not only are angels the first to appear and the first to speak, angels make more appearances in the nativity story than anyone else.  The angels also have, by far, the most speaking parts.  Our favorite Christmas carols reflect their ongoing presence, hymns such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  In almost every nativity scene there is at least one angel.

     Think about all parts angels play in the story.  In Luke 1, at the very beginning of the story, it is an angel that announces to Mary the fact of her miraculous conception, and the wonder of who that child is that is growing in her womb.  It was an angel that appeared to the heart-broken and confused Joseph, explaining to him how it was God who was working in this strange and embarrassing and wondrous situation.  It was then a whole multitude of angels that announced the birth to the shepherds, filling the night sky with their songs of praise.  And it was an angel who warned Joseph of Herod’s wicked plan to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem, and told him to flee to Egypt.

     Who are these angels that are in every scene of the story of Jesus birth, and also fill the pages of the rest of the Bible?  Even though angels make over 300 appearances in the Bible, I have never taken much notice of them or had any desire to look into what they are all about.  Why should we be interested in angels?  Look at what angels do in the Bible.  They appear to give guidance, protection, comfort, and help, and that’s all just wonderful.  Of course, we all need all of that.  But the Bible also tells us that we can get all of that directly from God himself and his Word.  The Psalmist says God is our protector and strength.  Isaiah says God will carry us and sustain us.  In Matthew 28 Jesus himself says he will be with us to the very end of the age, and in Matthew 11 Jesus says he will help us bear our burdens.  And Timothy says that God’s Word, the Bible is our guide. So who needs angels?  They are all probably very nice, but unless one appears to me, I will continue focusing on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  (continued…)

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Luke 2:8-10  —  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Matthew 4:10-11  —  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Psalm 148:2  —  Praise him, all his angels;  praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

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MARTIN LUTHER’S ORDER FOR MORNING PRAYER  –from the  Small Catechism

In the morning, when you rise, make the sign of the cross and say,
“In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”
Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Then, you may say this prayer:
“I give Thee thanks, heavenly Father, through thy dear Son Jesus
Christ, that Thou hast protected me through the night from all harm and
danger.  I beseech Thee to keep me this day, too, from all sin and evil, that
in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may please Thee.  Into thy hands I
commend my body and soul and all that is mine.  Let thy holy angel have
charge of me, that the wicked one may have no power over me.  Amen.”

After singing a hymn or whatever your devotion may suggest, you
should go to your work joyfully. 

92) What a Wonderful World!

What a Wonderful World was written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.  It was first recorded by Louie Armstrong and released as a single in 1967.  Armstrong’s recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

What a Wonderful World

These lyrics do n0t mention God as the Creator of this ‘wonderful world,’ but I am thinking about God when I hear this old favorite.  Therefore, What a Wonderful World becomes like a hymn of praise for me.

What a Wonderful World 

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you”

I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh yeah

Go to this link to see an old video of Louie Armstrong singing this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2VCwBzGdPM

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Genesis 1:1… 31a  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

 Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 139:14  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

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Prayer for the morning of the 21st day from A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, 1949

(Read this prayer slowly and more than once, meditating on each phrase.  It is filled with both gratitude for this world and anticipation for the world to come.)

     O Thou Creator of all things that are,  I lift up my heart in gratitude to Thee for this day’s happiness: 

     For the mere joy of living:
     For all the sights and sounds around me:
     For the sweet peace of the country and the pleasant bustle of the town:
     For all things bright and beautiful:
     For friendship and good company:
     For work to perform and the skill and strength to perform it:
     For a time to play when the day’s work was done, and
     For health and a glad heart to enjoy it.

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

     I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast so set eternity within my heart that no earthly thing can ever satisfy me wholly.  I thank Thee that every present joy is so mixed with sadness and unrest as to lead my mind upwards to the contemplation of a more perfect blessedness.  And above all I thank Thee for the sure hope and promise of an endless life which Thou hast given me in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.