142) A Family of Martyrs

From The Fourth Dimension, by Dr. David Yonggi Cho, 1979, Logos International Press, pages 103-104.  Dr. Cho is the pastor of the largest church in the world.  It is in Seoul, South Korea.  

     The Communists were vicious to the ministers.  One minister’s family was captured in Inchon, Korea, and the Communist leaders put them on what they called a “People’s Trial.”  The accusers would say, “This man is guilty of causing this kind of sin, and for that kind of sin it is proper that he be punished.”  The only response then given would be a chorus of voices agreeing, “Yah, Yah!”

     This time they dug a large hole, putting the pastor, his wife, and several of his children in.  Then the leader spoke, “Mister, all these years you misled the people with the superstition of the Bible.  Now if you will publicly disclaim it before these people, and repent of this misdemeanor, then you, your wife, and your children will be freed.  But if you persist in your superstitions, all of your family is going to be buried alive.  Make a decision!”

     All of his children then blurted, “Oh Daddy!  Daddy!  Think of us! Daddy!”  

     Think of it.  If you were in his place, what would you do?  I am the father of three children, and would almost feel like going to hell rather than see my children killed.

     This father was shaken.  He lifted up his hand and said, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it.  I am going to denounce … my… “

     But before he could finish his sentence his wife nudged him, saying, “Daddy, say NO!”

     And to her children, she said, “Hush children, tonight we are going to have supper with the King of kings, the Lord of lords!”  She led them in singing “In the Sweet By and By,” her husband and children following, while the Communists began to bury them.  Soon the children were buried, but until the soil came up to their necks they sang, and all the people watched.  

     God did not deliver them, but almost all of those people who watched this execution became Christians, and many are now members of my church.  Through their suffering the grace of redemption flowed.  God gave His only begotten Son to be crucified on the cross so that this world could be saved and redeemed.  That is God’s uppermost goal– the redemption of souls.  So when you desire your divine healing, or an answer from above, always look through the lenses of the uppermost goal, the redeeming of your souls.  If you see that your suffering brings about more redemption than your healing, then do not ask for deliverance, but ask God to give you the strength to persevere.

There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries.

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

Luke 12:4-5  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Mark 8:34-38  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

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O Christ, the hope of all people, our refuge and our strength, whose light shines upon us through the dark clouds and across the stormy ocean so that we may be directed to you, our haven:  Grant, O Lord, that I may not perish in the waves, that the tempest may not drown me, nor the deep swallow me up: bring me from this troubled sea to you, my only consolation; whom I behold from afar awaiting me on the shore of my heavenly home.  Hear me, O God of my salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth; you see my danger, save me by your mercy, deliver me from my distress, and bring me joyfully to the haven where I long to be.  Amen.    –source lost

141) Hearing the Voice of Jesus

     Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  Jesus tells us in this verse that he knows who his sheep are; he knows who belongs to him.  But how about you?  Do you know if you are one of those sheep?  Do you know if you belong to Jesus?  How can you know?  Well, it’s easy, says Jesus, “My sheep HEAR my voice.”

     There is both a promise and a command in this little verse.  The wonderful promise is that all we need to do is listen and hear Jesus, and we are his!  This is a great comfort.  We are saved by faith, says Romans 10:8-9, and faith comes by hearing, says Romans 10:17, by hearing the words of Jesus.  We are not saved by our perfect obedience, nor by an act of our own will to create the necessary faith in our hearts, but simply by hearing.  We just need to hear Jesus calling us.  We need to hear his Word.

     But we do need to do that, says Jesus, we do need to hear him, we do need to listen for his voice in those places he has provided for us to hear it.  That is the command in this verse.  We must not turn away from Jesus and avoid him.  We must not refuse to listen to him.  Then we would not be his sheep because we would not be hearing his voice.

     So how do we hear and listen to Jesus?  In the ways and means he has given to us to hear; worship, prayer, his Word, and the sacraments.  We hear his voice in all those times and places, and by hearing his voice we follow him and he knows us, and we can know that we are his.  But not if we refuse to hear him.  “My sheep hear my voice,” said Jesus, “and I know them and they follow me.”  What a comfort it is to belong to Jesus.  And all you need to do is listen to him, and then you are known by him and you are his.

     This is much greater comfort than to just say that we are saved by faith.  The Bible does indeed say we are saved by faith, but to depend on our own feelings of faith for salvation is as uncertain as depending on our good works.  How do we know how strong our faith has to be?  How much faith is enough?  Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by doubt, and feel like we do not have much faith at all.  If you are depending on the strength of your own personal faith, and a time of doubt and despair comes over you, then what?  How much doubt is allowed?  And if you don’t have enough faith, what can you do to get more faith so that you do have enough?  This can get very complicated, and it is quite impossible to define and measure.  We can never know for sure where we are at, and how is there any comfort in that?  Faith, when it is left up to us, can be a very slippery thing; hard to get if you don’t have it, and hard to hang on to if you do.

     So how do you ‘get faith?’  Paul asks a similar question in Romans 10:14 when he asks, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in?”  His answer comes in verse 17 where he writes, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  Faith comes by hearing.  It is as simple as that.  It is just like Jesus said.  In both places, the command and promise come in the same verse.  The command is, hear the word, and the promise is that then you will have faith.  Just hear the word, and leave the rest in God’s hands.  He will take care of everything.  Keep yourself within hearing distance of where that word is proclaimed and taught, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest, creating and sustaining saving faith in your heart.  In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed he wrote these words about how to get faith:  “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls me through the gospel, enlightens me with his gifts and sanctifies and preserves me in the one true faith.”  The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the reading, speaking, and hearing of God’s Word.  There is nothing fancy, tricky, or complicated about that.  It is simple, says Jesus, Paul, and Luther.  Just hear the Word and the rest will be taken care of– you will have faith and you will be saved.

     That is why the habits of faith are so important.  We simply decide in advance to be in certain places at certain times to do certain things, things like weekly worship and daily devotions.  This is easy.  It is easy to get up and get our bodies and our ears into church, into the place where the Holy Spirit can work in us.  This is much easy than trying to muster up a powerful faith on our own when we are overcome by doubts, or, trying to create hope in our hearts when all we feel is despair and sadness.  It is much easier to get our bodies to do what we want them to do than it is to get our feelings to obey on command.  If you have ever been in a deep depression, you know that it does little good for someone to say to you, “Well, just cheer up!”  A person in despair will not become cheerful just because he is told to do so.  Our feelings, and our faith, are not so readily controlled by our will.  To say, “Oh, I’m saved by faith, not works,” does not mean it is easy.  It is not only not easy, says Luther, it is impossible without God’s Word.  But “faith comes by hearing,” said Paul; and Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and I know them and they follow me.”  So keep listening and keep hearing, and you will be all right.

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John 10:27 — (Jesus said), “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Romans 10:17 — …Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Ezekiel 3:10 — And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. 

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Grant us, O God, to hear thy voice; and in hearing thy voice, to love thy Word; and in loving thy Word, to do thy will.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.  –Paul Sherer, Love is a Spendthrift 

140) Who is Most Qualified to Serve?

Tim Hansel, in his book Eating Problems for Breakfast (p. 194-5), has a humorous and fictional letter to Jesus regarding the search for the twelve apostles.  He imagines that Jesus hired a management consultant firm to evaluate his choices for the twelve, and this letter summarizes their opinion about who would and would not be most qualified to serve as an apostle.  The letter reads:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:
     Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization.  All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

     The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

     As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements.  This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

     It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.  They do not have the team concept.  We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

     Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.  Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.  The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.  Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.  We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

     One of the candidates, however, shows great potential.  He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places.  He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible.  We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.  All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

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Mark 3:13-19  —  Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

I Corinthians 1:26-29  —   Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 

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Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.  Amen.
–St. Ignatius of Loyola

139) The Wisdom and Courage of Judith

   In the book of Judith from the Apocrypha, the heroine saves the besieged Jewish city of Bethuliah.  She does so by deceiving, and then killing the invading general Holofernes, leading to the defeat of his army.  In chapter eight (verses 8-35) Judith tells the ruler and elders of Bethuliah of her intentions, but first she rebukes them for putting God to the test.  She encourages them to remain faithful to God who may, in fact, be putting them to the test.  And she calls on them to put their trust in God even when they do not understand his ways, arguing that they should not expect to be able to comprehend the almighty God when they cannot even understand another person. 

    There was no one that said an ill word about Judith, for she feared God greatly.  But Judith heard the evil words that the people had spoken against the ruler, because their courage failed them for lack of water.  And Judith had heard all the words that Uzziah and the elders had spoken unto the people, and that they had sworn to deliver the city unto the Assyrians after five days.  And so she asked to speak to the elders. 

    And when they came to her, she said to them, “Hear me now, O elders of the inhabitants of Bethulia, for your words before the people this day are not right.  You were wrong to make an oath, pronounced between God and you, promising to deliver the city to our enemies, unless within these five days the Lord turns to help you.  Who are you that you should this day put your God to the test?

    “You want to put the Lord Almighty to the test, but what do you know?  You cannot even see into the depths of the heart of a man, nor can you understand his thinking.  How, then, do you think you can search out the heart of God who has made man and all things?  Can you expect to know what is in God’s mind or comprehend his ways and purposes?  No, my brethren, do not provoke the Lord our God to anger.  For even if he will not help us within these five days, he still has the power to defend us on any day he so wills it, or, he has the power to destroy us before our enemies even get the chance.  Do not attempt to limit the ways of the Lord our God, for God is not like man, that he may be forced to give in to threats.  Therefore, let us wait for his salvation, calling upon him to help us.  He will hear our voice and help, if it pleases him.

    “For none of our people in these times, have worshiped gods made with hands, as had been done in ages past.  For this reason our fathers were given to the sword, and plundered, and suffered greatly before our enemies.  But we know of no other god, therefore we will put our trust in Him, that he will not forsake us.  For if we are taken, all Judea shall fall, and our sanctuary will be spoiled, and we will be punished.  And the Gentiles will slaughter our brethren, and enslave our country, and desolate our inheritance; and we will be dishonored by the Lord our God.

    “Therefore, let us be an example to our brethren, because their hearts depend upon us, and the sanctuary and the temple rest upon us.  Moreover, let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test, even as he did our fathers.  Remember what things he made Abraham endure, and how Isaac was tested, and what happened to Jacob…  The Lord doth scourge those who come near to him, in order to admonish them.”

    Then said Uzziah to her, “All that you have said has been spoken with a good heart, and no one can deny your words.  And this is not the first day that we have seen your wisdom.  All the people have known of your understanding, because the disposition of your heart is good.  But the people were very thirsty, and compelled us to make that oath, which we will not break.  Therefore pray for us, because you are a godly woman.  Pray that the Lord will send us rain to fill our cisterns, and we shall be fainthearted no more.” 

    Then said Judith to them, “I am going to do something which will be told throughout all generations to the children of our nation.  You shall stand this night at the gate, and I will go forth with my maid; and within the days that you have promised to deliver the city to our enemies, the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand.  But do not ask me what I am going to do, for I will not tell you until I am finished.”

    Then Uzziah and the elders said to her, “Go in peace, and may the Lord God be with you.”

English: "Judith Showing the Head of Holo...

“Judith Showing the Head of Holofernes”, illustration of the Apocryphal Book of Judith, Chapter 14, from Gustave Doré’s (1832-1888) illustrated edition of the Bible.

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Habakkuk 1:2  —  How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?   Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 

Isaiah 55:7-9  —  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.  “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.”    

Proverbs 3:5-7  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

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    Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:  Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.     —Book of Common Prayer

138) Cheap Grace

A reading from the modern classic The Cost of Discipleship (1937) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  This is a great passage to apply to other people.  We should also apply it to ourselves.

       Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church.  Our struggle today is for costly grace.

     Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgive­ness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacraments; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit.  It is grace without a price, without cost…

       Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, as principle, as system.  It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God.  Those who affirm it have already had their sins forgiven.  The church that teaches this doctrine of grace thereby conveys such grace upon itself.  The world finds in this church a cheap cover-up for its sins, for which it shows no remorse and from which it has even less desire to be free.  Cheap grace is, thus, denial of God’s living Word, denial of the incarnation of the word of God.

    Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner.  Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways.  “Our action is in vain.”  The world remains world and we remain sinners “even in the best of lives.”  Thus, the Christian should live the same way the world does.  In all things the Christian should go along with the world and not venture… to live a different life under grace from that under sin…

       Cheap grace is that which we bestow on ourselves.

      Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ…

      The word of cheap grace has ruined more Christians than any commandment about works…

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     Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and author.  Bonhoeffer is famous not only for his writings, but also for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship.  He was one of the first to speak out against it, and was forced to flee Germany for his safety.  But soon he returned and became involved in a plot by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.

 Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of Tegel Prison, summer 1944

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A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.    –H. Richard Neibuhr

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Romans 6:15-18  —  What then?  Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Psalm 51:10-12  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my dear friends… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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 I am heartily sorry, and beg pardon for my sins; especially for my little respect and for wandering in my thoughts when in your presence; and for my continual infidelities to your graces; for all which I beg pardon, by the merits of the Blood you shed for them.  Amen.

–Lady Lucy Herbert (1669-1744)

137) Lessons From His Parents

By Randy Pausch,  The Last Lecture, © 2008,  pp. 24…169,170

    HOW TO KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE:  When I was studying for my PhD, I took something called “the theory qualifier,” which I can now definitively say was the second worst thing in my life after chemotherapy.  When I complained to my mother about how hard and awful the test was, she leaned over, patted me on the arm and said, “We know just how you feel, honey.  And remember, when your father was your age, he was fighting the Germans.”

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     HUMILITY:  It’s been well-documented that there is a growing sense of entitlement among young people today.  I have certainly seen that in my classrooms.  So many graduating seniors have this notion that they should be hired because of their creative brilliance.  Too many are unhappy with the idea of starting at the bottom.  My advice has always been:  “You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom.  And when you get there, here’s what you do:  Be really great at sorting mail.”

    No one wants to hear someone say:  “I’m not good at sorting mail because the job is beneath me.”  No job should be beneath us.  And if you can’t (or won’t) sort mail, where is the proof that you can do anything?

    After our ETC students were hired by companies for internships or first jobs, we’d often ask the firms to give us feedback on how they were doing.  Their bosses almost never had anything negative to say about their abilities.  But when we did get negative feedback, it was almost always about how the new employees were too big for their britches.  Or that they were already eyeing the corner offices.

    When I was fifteen, I worked at an orchard hoeing strawberries, and most of my coworkers were day laborers.  A couple of teachers worked there, too, earning a little extra cash for the summer.  I made a comment to my dad about the job being beneath those teachers.  (I guess I was implying that the job was beneath me, too.)  My dad gave me the tongue-lashing of a lifetime.  He believed manual labor was beneath no one.  He said he’d prefer that I worked hard and became the best ditch-digger in the world rather than coasting along as a self-impressed elitist behind a desk.  I went back into that strawberry field and I still didn’t like the job.  But I had heard my dad’s words.  I watched my attitude and I hoed a little harder.

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Romans 12:3 — For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  

Romans 12:16 — Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Colossians 3:23-24 — Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:17 — And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.   

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A MEALTIME PRAYER by Walter Rauschenbusch:  Our Father, you are the final source of all our comforts and to you we render our thanks for this food.  But we also remember in gratitude the many men and women whose labor was necessary to produce it, and who gathered it from the land and from the sea for our sustenance.  Grant that they too may enjoy the fruit of their labor without want, and may, together with us, be in a fellowship of thankful hearts.  Amen.

136) Called to Love the Whore

THE CHURCH NEEDS GRACE, TOO

By Karen S. Prior, August 22, 2013,

posted on Her.menuetics ( http://www.Christianitytoday.com )

     I’ve talked to a lot of young (and not so young) Christians about their disappointment in the church.  Many have been hurt by the church.  Many more hurt for others who have borne the brunt of the church’s injustices and failures.

     Some of those I’ve talked to have been subject to criticism or suspicion because they have loved art, or music, or words, or peace, or people that the church has rejected or merely overlooked.

     They have felt compassion for the outsiders spurned by the church.

     They have studied history and are rightly angry over the racism of the church.

     They have witnessed the present and are bewildered by the continued marginalization of some by the church.

     They say the church is too shallow, caught up in outward trappings which sacrifice the substance of the gospel.

     They have found the church too unwelcoming of hard questions, expressions of doubt, and spiritual struggles.

     They have heard the call for war made in the name of the church.

     They have seen the lure of money play out in the church.

   They are disappointed that the church has not done what Jesus refused to do: overturn the prevailing political system and replace it with one built on Christian ideals.

     They have seen co-workers disrespected and treated rudely by people who then turn around and pray over their meals.

     They have seen– or been– the fallen woman (although not likely, inexplicably, the fallen man) treated not like a beloved sister but like a cup full of spit.

     If only the church would see such as these with the eyes of Christ, they say.

     And I say, in return, emphatically, Yes.  If only we could see all with the eyes of Christ.

     Yet, I want to say, gently or perhaps not-so-gently:  That way you want the church to love those you love?  Unconditionally, enthusiastically, and compassionately?  That’s how you are called to love the church, too.

     That forbearance, that tolerance, that grace, you extend so generously and rightly to the lost and the disobedient?  That’s what you are called to offer to the church.

     To those who say that the church is too petty and political, too corporate-minded and culturally accommodating, I say, yes, it’s true.  Indeed, the wounds wrought by the church are fresh every morning.

     The church is like that unfaithful woman God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry and have children with.  The church is like that same errant woman God later commanded Hosea to seek and bring home, her and her children by other lovers.  The church is like that unlovable woman God commanded Hosea to love.  Yes, the church is like the prostitute Gomer: wayward and compromising, unfaithful to her promises, unlovable…  She’s a whore.

     Love her.

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     Devout Roman Catholic author Flannery O’Connor once said that most of us probably suffer more from the church than for it.  Anyone who has spent much time in or around the church could, like Karen Prior, make their own list of hurts suffered at the hands of good church people; their own criticisms of the church’s many failures.  At the same time, anyone who has been a part of the church can no doubt remember times they themselves have hurt, failed, or disappointed others in the church.  We have all, in our churches, been wounded and we have all done some wounding.  That is what happens whenever sinful human beings get together for anything.  Yet, Jesus tells us to be merciful and to love others, even our enemies.  Why would we want to extend such grace to everyone and everything except the church, which is made up of our sisters and brothers in Christ?  

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Hosea 1:2-3  —  When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”  So he married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Hosea 3:1  —  The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…

Hosea 4:1  —  Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:  “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.

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Most gracious Father,we humbly beseech thee for thy Holy Church.

Fill it with all truth; in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purify it;
Where it is in error, direct it;
Where anything is amiss, reform it;
Where it is right, strengthen and confirm it;
Where it is in want, provide for it;
Where it is divided and rent asunder, reunite it.

   For the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son our Savior.  Amen.    

–Archbishop William Laud

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 O Lord, we beseech thee to maintain thy Church in truth and patience;

That her pastors may be faithful,
Her flock loyal,
Her camp united,
Her lamp burning and shining;
And as thy Son Jesus Christ hath given so great a price for us,
Let us not count it a hard thing to give up all for him,
And to spend and be spent for the souls he hath redeemed;
Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
Now and for evermore.  Amen.                         —Percy Dearmer

135) Knowing the End of Our Story

     Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.”  How does that work?  How does God deliver us from all our fears?  Have you been delivered from all your fears? 

     Fear is an inevitable part of being human.  We fear the loss of what is good.  We fear the loss of what we love.  We are afraid of losing our money, our health, our happiness, our home, and our youth.  We are afraid of losing our loved ones and we are afraid of losing our own lives.  And we fear all of that for a very good and logical reason.  We fear such loss because there is a 100% chance that we will lose everything someday.  We could lose it all today, or we could gradually lose everything over the next forty years.  But eventually we will indeed lose it all.  The percentages are the same for everyone.  Everyone loses everything they have.  We don’t want that and so we fear such loss.  We may not be conscious of this fear every minute, but an awareness of our insecure place in this world is always with us.  We keep busy and we keep our minds on other things.  We have to.  That is how we cope with such fear and insecurity.  But that ‘busy-ness’ does not keep us any safer.

     I once knew a lady who was not able to cope in that way and her fears dominated her life.  She thought only about the dangers all around her and all the things that could happen to her at any time, and her fears paralyzed her.  Sometimes she even had to be hospitalized.  She was afraid of everything; illness, car accidents, bad weather, burglars, murderers, her children’s future, and her parent’s approaching death.  She feared everything, all the time.  It was all she ever thought about.  And she was right, of course, about all those fears.  I could not logically talk her out of any of them, because she knew and I knew that everything she feared could happen.  It was all possible.  And even though on most days nothing bad happened to her, she was also right about the fact that she was one day going to be losing everything to one or more of the things that she was afraid of.  And her fears made her so ill that she often pondered committing suicide, an act which would mean the immediate loss of everything she was so afraid of losing.  Such is the thinking of one who cannot cope with fear.

     Most of us cope with our fears far more effectively than that.  But how is it that we cope?  None of us can deal with our fears by eliminating all the things that threaten us.  We can’t do that, but we can keep busy and keep our minds on other things.  Yet, in the back of our minds we do know that one day, one of those things that we fear will indeed get us; cancer, a car accident, heart failure, old age and gradual decline, Alzheimer’s disease, or whatever; and then we will lose everything.  Being a Christian does not eliminate this danger or even decrease the chances.  Those who believe in Jesus and those who do not believe in anything are alike in that all will end up losing everything.

     But from Jesus we receive a promise that tells us that even after we must let go of everything, God will still have a hold of us and will one day restore us to life in his home.  There we will receive an abundance of blessings unimaginable here.  Nothing worth having will be lost forever.  All will be restored.  God promises that our story will go on even after the loss of everything in death.

     I enjoy reading novels.  I have read several of my favorite novels more than once.  Even though I know how the book will end, I can enjoy reading again and again a good story that is well told.  But knowing how the story ends does affect my reading of it.  From the beginning I know all of the characters and I know how it will go for them throughout the story.  I know the tragedy and joy that awaits each one.  If I know that the story ends happily for the main characters, I remain hopeful, even when terrible things are happening to them.  I can be happy for them even as they struggle, because I know they will be all right in the end.  But if I know the story ends in tragedy, then even the happy parts of the story are tainted and saddened by the knowledge of what is to come.  I will be sad for the people I am reading about even as they are enjoying themselves and are full of hope, knowing that tragedy or death is just around the corner.

     In the Bible we are able to read the end of our story, and we find out there that we can look forward to a good ending.  The unfolding of our story will bring resurrection and healing and restoration.  It will usher in a time and a place of peace and comfort and harmony.  All pain, sadness, death, and loss will be gone forever.  We cannot know the details of what joys or tragedies are ahead for us in our earthly lives.  We don’t know when or how we will die.  But God does promise us a resurrection from the dead.  He has assured us of that turning point in our story.  And knowing ahead of time that there will be such a resurrection gives us the perspective we need to face all of our problems without fear.  Just like when I read a novel for the second time, I can, in my own life, be hopeful and happy, knowing that all will turn out well for me in the end.  I can live my life fully aware that in the future I will lose everything, but still I need not have any anxiety about that future.  Any losses that I face are only temporary losses, and in the end I will be safe and secure.

     Martin Luther wrote of this hope in these words in the last verse of his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God:”

Were they to take our house, 
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day,
The Kingdom is ours forever.

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Psalm 34:4 — I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Matthew 24:13-14 — (Jesus said), “…He who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Romans 8:18, 24-25 — I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

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O most loving Father, you want us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing except losing you, and to lay all our cares on you, knowing that you care for us. Protect us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds in this mortal life may hide from us the light of your
immortal love shown to us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen  —Book of Common Prayer

134) Let Go and Let God?

     An often quoted definition of faith is to “Let Go and Let God.”  That is to say, let go of your fears and your worries and have the faith to let God take care of you.   It has a nice ring to it, but I was never completely sold on it myself.   Let go and let God do what?— pay my bills, get the transmission fixed on my car, and mow my lawn when I don’t have time.  I don’t think it will work to let go and let God do any of that.  So let go and let God do what?  That line certainly does not apply to everything.  I still have to pay my bills, make an appointment to get the car fixed, and find time to mow my lawn.  But those are the little things in life, and God has given me the strength and the ability to work through that sort of a to-do list all by myself.  But there are other things, bigger things, that do not fit on any to-do list that we are able handle.  Where do I go with my feelings of guilt?  What do I do about my frustration with how fast the years are flying by?  And what about the sadness of seeing loved ones dying all around me?  I’ll never get around to fixing those things because I do not have the strength or the ability or the resources to do so.  It is in these deeper, larger aspects of life that we must ‘Let go and Let God.’  Let go and let God carry you through, now and on into the life to come.  

      This was illustrated for me rather nicely in a story by Father John Powell, a Roman Catholic priest who took some time off from his parish to care for his dying mother.  Here’s his story about how that went.  He writes:     

     I remember in the last days of my mother’s life I used to carry her up and down the stairs of her home.   Her arthritis was so bad by then she could no long manage the stairs by herself.   As I would carry her up and down the stairs, she would grab onto the railing and hold on so that we could not move.  I would say, “Mom, let go, we can’t move.”  And then she would always say the same thing, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Then I would say again, “No, let go.”  And she would always respond, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Finally, she would let go for a while and we would start to move, and then she would grab the railing again, and it would start all over.  One day, as we were going through our little routine, I thought to myself, “Ah, what a perfect analogy for faith.  God has us in His arms and is saying “Come on, let go,” and we are saying to Him, “No, I am afraid you will drop me….”

       That is indeed a wonderful image of what it is to live by faith.  We need the faith to face all those big things in life, but we say, “What if none of this is true?  I can’t see God, what if it is just us here on this little earth?  I am so afraid of death.”  So we desperately cling to this life, trying to have it all and do it all right here, right now, and we hate to see the time getting away on us.  And God is saying, “just let go.  Take my hand and let me lead you.  Surrender your fears to faith in me, and really let go, you will be fine.”  Let go and let God forgive you, let go and let God give you an inner peace even amidst all of life’s outward troubles.  Yes indeed, live to the fullest every day that God gives you now, but be ready when the time comes to let go and trust God that he will make good on his promises for eternal life.

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Deuteronomy 31:8  —  The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 40:11  —  He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 46:4  —  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

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God his own doth tend and nourish,

In his holy courts they flourish.

From all evil things he spares them,

In his mighty arms he bears them.

Children of the Heavenly Father (verse two), Caroline Berg (1832-1903)

133) Comparisons or Contentment?

From Telling Yourself the Truth, by William Backus and Marie Chapian, 1980, pages 31-33 

     Are you comparing yourself and your life with someone else who seems better in some way, or are you looking at yourself in the light of God’s Word?  D. L. Moody once said that the best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.

     The straight stick in the lives of Christians is the lovely and indestructible love of Christ.  When our eyes lose sight of this dazzling truth, there remains only shadows to stare at; shadows such as envy, jealousy, or comparing ourselves with others.  Unhappiness or a state of discontent often is the result of longing to be different or to be in different circumstances, especially someone else’s.

     Not long ago, a poll was taken of 5,000 middle-class single and married men and women of average and above average intelligence.  The poll revealed that the single people were no more or less happy than the married people and the married people no more or less happy than the single.  Common, however, was the finding that single people envied married people.  Married people, on the other hand, reported envying single people…

     A single woman said, “I envy my friend, Jane.  She’s really happy.  She has a husband, kids and a home.  She has everything.”

     A married woman said, “I envy Connie.  She has it made.  She’s free to come and go when and where she wants.  Her time is her own; her money is her own.  She’s out in the world doing things.  She’s single and she’s the really happy one.”

     What do you recognize in the words these two people are saying?  Envy is usually not realistic.  It does not have all the facts.  The words “I’m miserable and someone else is the happy one” are basically untrue.  Everyone has some unhappiness in his life somewhere and sometime.  Everyone has difficulties to face and problems to solve.  Both Connie and Jane may have good lives, but they also have trials to overcome.

     Picture a little boy jumping with delight as he tightly clutches a nickel in his fist.  His mother gave him the nickel and told him to go outside and play.  The little boy feels light and happy.  But then he meets a playmate who has a quarter.  His nickel suddenly loses its luster.  He’s not feeling so light anymore.  He goes home and asks his mother for a quarter, and his mother gives him one.  Now the little boy jumps happily once again until he meets another playmate, and this time the playmate has fifty cents in his hand.  The little boy is crestfallen.  His quarter looks pitiful next to two quarters.  So back home he goes to get fifty cents from his mother.  When he does, he runs into a playmate with a dollar bill… and on it goes.

     If we do not find worth in what we are and what we have now, we will tell ourselves we are less important than others or we have less than others.  When we tell ourselves these things, we create unrest within ourselves and in striving to be or have what we think others have, we are always seeking after an invisible and unattainable state of happiness which is always out of our grasp.  Somebody, somewhere will always be or have more than we.

     Carol is a soft-spoken grandmother who lives in a modest home which is usually in need of repair.  Her sons are successful businessmen and own homes twice the value of hers.  Their wives are smartly dressed and have every convenience at their disposal.  Carol cannot afford expensive clothes.  She drives a second-hand car and takes her laundry to the laundromat.  She is happy, outgoing and content with her life.  “Grandma is my bestest person!” her small grandchildren exclaim.  Carol is not only adored by her family, but by her friends, neighbors and acquaintances.  There is a peaceful, loving and unselfish quality about her which draws people to her.  Her son marvels at how his mother avoids complaining.  Carol knows the value of the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content,” and she lives by them.  Envy has no place in her life.

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Philippians 4:11-12 — I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Psalm 103:2 — Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

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

Hebrews 13:5-6 — Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?” 

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O Lord, you know what is best for me.  Let this or that be done as you please.  Give what you will, how much you will, and when you will.  Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)