172) The Ten Commandments

A Meditation based on the Ten Commandments

and Martin Luther’s Small Catechism Explanations

SELF-EXAMINATION:

Our Father in heaven, you have said, “I am the Lord your God,” and you have command us to have no other gods before you: 
Lord, we pray that you give us the faith to fear, love, and trust in you above all things.

O God, you have commanded that we not take your name in vain: 
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not curse, swear, conjure, lie, or deceive by your name; but rather, use your name to call upon you in every time of need, and to worship you with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

O God, you command us to remember to keep the Sabbath day holy: 
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not despise your Word or the preaching of it, but deem it holy, and gladly hear and learn it.

O God, you command us to honor our father and our mother:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not despise our parents and others in authority, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them.

O God, you have forbidden us to kill:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we never do our neighbor any bodily harm nor ever cause him any suffering, but rather, that we help and befriend him in every way.

O God, you have forbidden us to commit adultery:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.

O God, you have forbidden us to steal:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring them into our possession by unfair dealing or fraud, but help him to improve and protect his property and living.

O God, you have forbidden us to bear false witness against our neighbor:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not deceitfully belie, betray, backbite, nor slander our neighbor, but apologize for him, speak well of him, and seek to explain his actions in the kindest way.

O God, you have forbidden us to covet anything that is our neighbors (9th & 10th): 
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we do not ever seek by craftiness to gain possession of our neighbors’ inheritance, home, or anything that is our neighbors, nor obtain them under pretense of a legal right, but rather assist and serve them in keeping what is theirs.

O God, you have threatened to punish all who disobey these commandments.  May we, therefore, fear your wrath and in no way disobey you. 

O God, you have promised grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments.
Give us the faith, O Lord, to love you, trust in you, and gladly keep these commandments.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION:

Almighty God, I, a poor sinner confess unto you that I have sinned against you by thought, word, and deed.  By your grace and for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, I pray that you have mercy on me and forgive me.

THE WORD OF FORGIVENESS:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us, and has given His only Son to die for us, and for his sake forgives us all our sins.  To them that believe in Jesus, he gives the power to become the children of God, and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.  Grant this, O Lord, unto us all.  Amen.

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Deuteronomy 6:4-5  —  Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7  —  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

Deuteronomy 5:32-33 — So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.  Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

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Lord God, I have indeed disobeyed your commandments.  I have been impatient in suffering.  I am unsympathetic and unmerciful.  I fail to assist my neighbor as I ought.  I am unable to resist sin.  I do not tire of doing what is wrong.  Dear Lord, pour out your grace to me so that I may obey you and keep each one of your commandments.  Help me to give my heart and soul to you, even if that means I must be at odds with the world.  Amen.     –Martin Luther

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171) Let Your Light Shine

     The coffee shop was a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, open 24 hours a day.  The lunch counter had the antiseptic shine of stainless steel, and in the early morning light looked sanitary and impersonal.

     Assorted persons were lined up on the stools:  yawning college students up early for a test; a tired looking man in a blue suit with a briefcase; two young nurses, rumpled and hollow-eyed from night duty at the nearby hospital; a family with a little girl; and a sullen teenager putting lipstick on her already too bright lips.

     The coffee shop was quiet except for the sputter of frying bacon, the occasional crack of an eggshell by the cook, and a not-yet-awake voice asking for a second cup of coffee.

     Each person was lost in his or her thoughts.  All were anonymously met together for nothing more than the custom of having an eye-opening cup of coffee in the morning.

     The little girl sat between here mother and father, happily swinging her legs from the stool.  The cook, who was also the waiter, put their orders before them, turned and walked away, polishing the already spotless counter as he went.

     The little girl whispered loudly, “Mother, don’t we ask the blessing here?”  No one else was talking, so everyone heard what she said– and then they all paused to see what the embarrassed parents would do next.

     The waiter stopped his polishing and grinned at the little girl.  “We sure do, sister,” he said with authority.  “We’ll all bow our heads, and you say the prayer,” he said as he stood quietly with his heard bowed.  

     The girl then bowed her head, and waited a moment.  Then, up and down the counter other heads bowed– the nurses, the students, the man with the briefcase, then slowly the teenager.

     The little voice seemed loud in the room:  “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for this food.  By his hand we all are fed.  Give us this day our daily bread.  Amen.”

     As heads raised there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere.  The man with the briefcase smiled at the nurses and informed them that he had a new baby son at their hospital.  The college students sipped their coffee quietly, perhaps thinking about little sisters and brothers at home.  The teenager looked in the mirror thoughtfully, and then grinned at the little girl’s mother.

     A momentary bond of friendliness had come into the room.  The little girl, oblivious to what she had done, drowned her waffle in syrup and ate it happily.     –Source unknown

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“Saying Grace”  Norman Rockwell 

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Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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

Luke 18:16  —  But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

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God is great, God is good, and we thank him for this food.  

By his hand we all are fed.  

Give us this day our daily bread.  Amen.

170) No Fear

     Ed was a Lutheran missionary to the African nation of Cameroon.  His area of expertise was agriculture and he went to the mission field to teach people how to farm more effectively.  He had hoped that his love and concern for the people he worked with could bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ for them.  It was his prayer that as he worked with people in their farming, he would gain their respect.  Then, he hoped, they would listen to him when he told them about salvation in Christ Jesus. 

     Ed was trained in agriculture at the University of Minnesota and his scientific methods of farming were immediately successful in the test plots in Cameroon.  He was confident that he could help the farmers there.  After all, they could clearly see that he was able to produce three times as much food as they could on the same amount of land.  And they, being very poor, needed every bit of food they could grow.  ‘Certainly,’ Ed thought, ‘these people will take full advantage of my knowledge and help.’

     However, the response of the people surprised and disappointed Ed.  He got along very well with them.  They were a kind and gentle people.  They always listened politely to what he told them.  They often visited Ed, and in time, Ed became good friends with most of the area farmers.  But when they went home to plant their own crops, they continued to do things the old way.  They did not follow up on a single one of Ed’s suggestions, even though Ed’s crops were far more productive than their own.  Even though they were struggling to survive, they would not do what Ed said.  They would listen attentively, they would ask questions, and they would come around often to keep an eye on Ed’s crops.  But they would not do anything Ed said they should do.  This went on for two years.

     Ed was frustrated.  He was doing everything right, but there was no response and no explanation.  Finally after much pleading, one of the tribesmen told Ed what the problem was.  He said, “Ed, we can see that you crops do much better than ours, but we cannot do what you say.  In fact, we are afraid for you.  You see, in our religion we have a story of a man who began to grow more crops than everyone, and then he became far wealthier than everyone else, and then he became very mean and greedy.  But one day he received his punishment when lightning came down from the sky and killed him.”

     Ed replied, “But I am not trying to get richer than you.  I am trying to help you.”

     The tribesman said, “That might be true, but our witch doctor is calling on the gods to strike you with lightning.  We are afraid for you and we are afraid for ourselves.  For your own good, you must end your work here.”  This caused Ed to pause for a moment as he thought about the many violent electrical storms of the rainy season.

     But Ed replied, “I will not end my work and I am not afraid.  Jesus is my God, and I know he protects me, and I know that there are no other gods to fear.  You do not have to be afraid either.”  The tribesman walked away sadly.  He was worried about his friend.

     Everyone waited.  Day after day, week after week, Ed kept on farming and the people kept on watching.  Ed was not struck by lightning, and his crops looked better than ever.

     One day, the tribesman who had warned Ed about the witch doctor came to him again.  He said to Ed, “I have some bad news for you.  Now the witch doctor is calling on the gods to send lightning to strike down your little son.”  A chill went through Ed’s body as he looked over at his 3-year old son playing nearby. 

     But Ed replied, “My son was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God, and Jesus protects him just as he protects me.  I am not afraid of your witch doctor or your stories or your gods.  But I still do wish you would let me help you with your crops.”

     Again the tribesman went away.  Again Ed continued his work.  Again he was watched carefully as the days and weeks passed.  No lightning struck Ed or his son and his crops were still doing well.

     One day a large group of men came walking across the field to Ed.  When they arrived, the leader said, “We have now come to learn from you.  All these weeks we have been watching and now we know– your God is stronger than all of our gods.  We are not afraid anymore.  We want to know about your farming and we want to know about Jesus.”

     We may not need to fear lightning strikes sent by the gods at the request of witch doctors, but we do have others fears.  In an uncertain economy (and the economy is always uncertain), we fear what we might lose if hard times were to come to us.  Since 9-11 we fear terrorism in ways we never did before.  And we may always fear accidents or disease which can come upon us at anytime no matter how cautious we are or how well we take care of ourselves.  But our faith is in a God who loves us and stays with us and who has promised us that no matter what happens we will, in the very end, be all right.

(NOTE: This is a true story. I wrote it down several years ago as I heard it told by the missionary. However, I do not remember where I heard it, and am not certain if Ed was his name or if Cameroon was the location.)

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I John 4:18a — There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…

2 Timothy 1:7 — For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Luke 2:9-11 — And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

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From The Great Litany, as adapted for the 1930 American Lutheran Hymnal:

Pastor: Lord, have mercy upon us.
Congregation: LORD, HAVE MERCY UPON US…
Be gracious unto us.
SPARE US, GOOD LORD.
From all sin; from all error; from all evil;
From the crafts and assaults of the devil;
From sudden and evil death; from pestilence and famine;
From war and bloodshed; from sedition and rebellion;
From lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water;
And from everlasting death:
GOOD LORD, DELIVER US…
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity;
In the hour of our death; and in the day of judgment:
HELP US, GOOD LORD.

169) One Monk vs. The Gladiators

From Loving God, by Chuck Colson, 1983, Zondervan, pages 242-243

     In the fourth century there had been an Asiatic monk who had spent most of his life in a remote community of prayer, raising vegetables for the cloister kitchen.  When he was not tending his garden spot, he was fulfilling his vocation of study and prayer.

     Then one day this monk named Telemachus felt that the Lord wanted him to go to Rome, the capital of the world– the busiest, wealthiest, biggest city in the world.  Telemachus had no idea why he should go there, and he was terrified at the thought.  But as he prayed, God’s directive became clear.

     How bewildered the little monk must have been as he set out on the long journey, on foot, over dusty roads westward, with everything he owned on his back.  Why was he going?  He didn’t know.  What would he find there?  He had no idea.  But obediently, he went.

     Telemachus arrived in Rome during the holiday festival.  You may know that the Roman rulers kept the ghettos quiet in those days by providing free bread and special entertainment called circuses.  At the time Telemachus arrived the city was also bustling with excitement over the recent Roman victory over the Goths.  In the midst of this jubilant commotion, the monk looked for clues as to why God had brought him there, for he had no other guidance, not even a superior in a religious order to contact.

     “Perhaps,” he thought, “it is not sheer coincidence that I have arrived at this festival time.  Perhaps God has some special role for me to play.”

     So Telemachus let the crowds guide him, and the stream of humanity soon led him into the Coliseum where the gladiator contests were to be staged.  He could hear the cries of the animals in their cages beneath the floor of the great arena and the clamor of the contestants preparing to do battle.

     The gladiators marched into the arena, saluted the emperor, and shouted, “We who are about to die salute thee.”  Telemachus shuddered.  He had never heard of gladiator games before, but had a premonition of awful violence.

     The crowd had come to cheer men who, for no reason other than amusement, would murder each other.  Human lives were offered for entertainment.  As the monk realized what was going to happen, he realized he could not sit still and watch such savagery.  Neither could he leave and forget.  He jumped to the top of the perimeter wall and cried, “In the name of Christ, forbear!”

     The fighting began, of course.  No one paid the slightest heed to the puny voice.  So Telemachus ran down the stone steps and leapt onto the sandy floor of the arena.  He made a comic figure– a scrawny man in a monk’s habit dashing back and forth between muscular, armed athletes.  One gladiator sent him sprawling with a blow from his shield, directing him back to his seat.  It was a rough gesture, though almost a kind one.  The crowd roared.

     But Telemachus refused to stop.  He rushed into the way of those trying to fight, shouting again, “In the name of Christ, forbear!  In the name of Christ, stop this madness!”  The crowd began to laugh and cheer him on, perhaps thinking him part of the entertainment.

     Then his movement blocked the vision of one of the contestants; the gladiator saw a blow coming just in time.  Furious now, the crowd began to cry for the interloper’s blood.

     “Run him through,” they screamed.

     The gladiator he had blocked raised his sword and with a flash of steel struck Telemachus, slashing down across his chest and into his stomach.  The little monk gasped once more, “In the name of Christ, forbear.”

     Then a strange thing occurred.  As the two gladiators and the crowd focused on the still form on the suddenly crimson sand, the arena grew deathly quiet.  In the silence, someone in the top tier got up and walked out.  Another followed.  All over the arena, spectators began to leave, until the huge stadium was emptied.

     There were other forces at work, of course, but that innocent figure lying in the pool of blood crystallized the opposition, and that was the last gladiatorial contest in the Roman Coliseum.  Never again did men kill each other for the crowd’s entertainment in the Roman arena.

Saint Telemachus

Saint Telemachus

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He who is firm and resolute in will, molds the world to himself.   –Geothe

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Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.   –Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

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Psalm 138:3  —  When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.

Deuteronomy 18:9  —  When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.

Acts 2:40  —  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

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Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve:
To give and not count the cost;
To fight and not heed the wounds;
To toil and not seek for rest;
To labor and not ask for reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–St. Ignatius Loyola

168) Easy to Please, Hard to Satisfy

By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

     As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk:  but no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son.  In the same way, he said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”

     I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam or of a bargain in his mind.  The first result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits.  When they find it blown into bits, some people think this means that Christianity is a failure and give up.  They seem to imagine that God is very simple-minded!  In fact, of course, He knows all about this.  One of the very things Christianity was designed to do was to blow this idea to bits.  God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt.

     Then comes another discovery.  Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God.  If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.  So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like.  It is like a small child going to his father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.”  Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present.  It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the  transaction.  When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work.  It is after this that real life begins.

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Psalm 115:1  —  Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 4:7  —  For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

1 Corinthians 1:31  —  Therefore, as it is written:  “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24  —  This is what the Lord says:  “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this:   that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

Hebrews 5:11-14  —  We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

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Lord, I pray that You would fill us with hope and joy and expectation that You have the power to put Your hand on us, and grant us the will to do what You command.  You have made it plain:  We are responsible to do what You tell us to do.  But we know that in ourselves we do not have the will to do it.  And so we cry with Augustine, ‘Lord, command what You will, and give what You command.’  Leave us not to ourselves.  Have mercy.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.    

— John Piper, Life as a Vapor

167) Tim’s Place… and Ours

“Down Syndrome and Our Humanity”

by John Stonestreet ( http://www.breakpoint.org ) Sept. 24, 2013

     A few Friday nights ago, I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Having missed dinner, I pulled up to a juice place to get a last minute smoothie.  In the very same strip mall I saw the sign for a restaurant called Tim’s Place, with the tag line:  “breakfast, lunch, and hugs.”  It sounded familiar.  And then it dawned on me.  This was the restaurant I’d heard about before, the one owned by a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome– Tim Harris.  You may have heard this story on CNN or seen it on YouTube.

      A 2004 graduate of Eldorado High School where he was homecoming king, Tim went on to Eastern New Mexico University, graduated, and in 2010, with help from his parents, opened Tim’s Place.  It is billed as “the world’s friendliest restaurant.”

     Well, I decided right then that my family, who was with me in Albuquerque, just had to go there for lunch the next day.  Tim met us at the door, gave us big hugs, and made everyone– especially my daughters– laugh and smile the entire time we were there.  At the end of the meal, he stood up in front of the entire restaurant and announced that he had some “awards” to give out.

     Then he called up my three daughters by name to the front of the restaurant and gave them handwritten, personally signed certificates for being ‘cute princesses,’ while everyone clapped.  Tim made them feel so special.  It was definitely the best meal we’ve had in a really long time.

     A few months ago, Tim wrote– yes, he wrote– an article for CNN Health, about his story:  “A few hours after I was born,” he said, “our doctor told my parents that I had Down syndrome.  A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry.  I guess they didn’t know then just how totally awesome I would turn out to be.”

     Awesome indeed!  And he has an incredible gift for making everyone around him feel awesome too.  Tim’s life and influence reminds us that all human beings are made in the image of God and bear eternal, inherent dignity.  In a society hardened by utilitarianism and addicted to convenience, Tim’s story– and the many others like it– need to be heard and shared.

     In the epilogue of Dancing with Max, Emily Colson’s brilliant book about her autistic son, Chuck Colson wrote that while Max’s disability brought enormous trials, through those trials and the purity of Max’s love the family came to a “new understanding of what love really is.”

     In his book All That Jesus Asks, my friend Stan Guthrie reminds us that “the disabled soften the sharp edges of society, teach us patience and humility, force us to look upward, and pull us away– if only temporarily– from our besetting narcissism.”  The shocking fact is, about 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in this country.  By killing them, we’re killing our humanity.  We are killing ourselves.  God forgive us!

     “But,” a critic might object, “Tim’s quality of life is unique.  He’s only doing as well as he is because of all the support from his parents, the people at his public school, his community and his customers.”

     And the answer is:  Of course he is.  So what?  Does the fact that Tim was supported somehow mean we shouldn’t support others?  No, it means precisely the opposite!  Our support of our neighbors with Down syndrome can make all the difference.

     And the fact is, at rock bottom you and I are no different.  Any of us who succeeded do so only if we’ve got support.  If I’ve succeeded, it’s because of the support of my mom and dad, my church, my teachers and coaches, college mentors, my colleagues at BreakPoint, and so on.

See Tim’s website:  www.timsplaceabq.com

See Tim on you-tube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6He0FWoFj0

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Psalm 139:13-16

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

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2 Corinthians 12:7b-10  —   …In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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 Loving God, we come to you in prayer with all of our limitations.  We confess that we often try to mask our challenges from those around us.  We pretend that we are whole to mask the brokenness in our lives.  Where there can be healing, we ask that you help restore us.  Where healing is not possible, we ask that you give us acceptance of our limitations and the strength to forge on.  Help us to be patient with ourselves and tolerant of others.  Give us the wisdom to not focus our attention on our limitations as humans, but on our giftedness as your unique children.  Help us to recognize the giftedness of others, even when they struggle to see the good in themselves.  Shift our mindset from what we are not, to what we are and are yet to be.  Move us forward together as a community for your glory and our neighbors’ good.  Amen.

~~ Benjamin Walters, Pastor, Elizabethtown (PA) Church of the Brethren

166) The Man Who Wrote “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

     Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Behind the writing of many of our best-loved hymns are stories of trouble:  personal tragedy, ill health, early death, or conflict.  And when we are in trouble, it seems, we are more likely to look to the Lord than when all is going well.  As the verse says, “the Lord is close to those who are broken-hearted.”  And for some who were able to express their thoughts in words, the result has been some of our greatest hymns of comfort and hope.  The hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus was written by a man who twice lost his own best friend to an early and tragic death.

     Joseph Scriven was a young man who seemed to have it all.  He had wealth, a devoted family, education, and a pleasant life in his native Ireland;  and, he was in love and about to be married.  But the night before the wedding, there was an accident.  Scriven’s fiance was thrown from her horse into a river, and she drowned.  Those who knew him say that he never recovered from the loss.  It soon came clear to him that he could not stay in Ireland.  There were too many memories and he had to get himself out of his despair.  So he immigrated to Canada where he worked as a tutor in Port Hope, Ontario.  There, he did come out of his despair enough to fall in love again.  And then tragedy struck again.

     Not long before the wedding, his fiance became very ill, and then, quite suddenly, died.  Again he was left alone.  Scriven never did marry.  In fact, he became somewhat of a loner, even a bit odd, some thought.  At first, people who didn’t know better picked on him because he was different.  He could not keep a steady job, but just worked here and there as he was able.  And he was never able to afford to own his own home. He just lived with whatever friends would let him stay for a while.  And, this man who had so tragically lost his best friends, became a helpful friend to anyone in town who was in need.

     It was said he was the handyman for anyone who couldn’t afford to pay him– the poor, the elderly, the handicapped.  For anyone who needed help he would fix things, cut wood, or run errands.  If they needed money, he would give them money (if he had it), and he would give them food if he had any on hand.  He would even give away the winter clothes off his back.  Even though he was odd, he gained the respect of all who knew him.  After his death, one of the local townspeople said, “If ever there was a saint on earth, it was Joe Scriven.”  He became know as the ‘good Samaritan of Port Hope.’  Along with his good deeds, he would tell everyone who listened about the love of Jesus.

     Scriven had left Ireland in 1845 when he was 25 years old.  He never returned.  In 1855, ten years after he left, his mother became ill and was dying.  Scriven was not able to afford the trip back to see her, but he wrote a poem to comfort her and sent it along in a letter.  After her death, the poem was found in her papers.  The poem had been separated from the letter, so no one knew who wrote it.  The poem was copied and passed around, and eventually found its way to Richmond, Virginia where it was put to music and became the popular hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  Famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody started using this hymn in his crusades, and soon people all over the world were singing it.  But still, no one knew who wrote it.

     Thirty one years after his mother’s death, and sixteen years after his poem was put to music for all the world to sing, Joseph Scriven himself was ill and on his deathbed.  Friends took turns caring for him, and in one of the long night watches, one of the friends started paging through an old scrap-book.  There, he found an old handwritten copy of the popular song.  He looked at the dates on some of the other items on those pages, and he started thinking about it and putting two and two together.  Finally, he asked Scriven about the poem.  “Did you write this?,” he asked.  “Yes I did,” admitted the modest man, “I wrote it many years ago for my mother.  I didn’t intend anyone else to see it.”

     This hymn, which is now among the most popular, was written for the comfort of one person only, and kept hidden for years by its author.  And yet, its appeal is so broad that it crosses all denominational lines and appears in almost every hymnal.  It makes it in the top ten of every survey of best-loved hymns, and it has been recorded by dozens of singers.  Many missionaries have said that this is the first hymn that they teach new converts, so simple is its message, and so profound in its deep dependence on Jesus in prayer.

     Scriven wrote; “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,” and he had some huge ‘griefs’ to bear in his own life.  Yet through it all, he maintained his friendship with that greatest friend of all, Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.  “Can we find a friend so faithful,” he wrote, “who will all our sorrows share.  Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

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John 15:13-15 — (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends, if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father, I have made known to you.”

Psalm 34:18 — The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

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What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.   –Joseph Scriven

165) Led By the Spirit (to Charlie Stoltzfus)

From:  Let Me Tell You a Story, pages 60-2, © 2000 by Tony Campolo

     When it comes to being led by the Spirit, sometimes there’s a lot of fun to be had.
     Several years ago I was invited to speak at a small Pentecostal college located near Eastern College, where I teach.  I love going to this little school because the people there seem to be so in touch with the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
     Before the chapel service, several of the faculty members took me into a side room to pray with me.  I got down on my knees and the six of them put their hands on my head and prayed for me, asking the Holy Spirit to fill me up and use me effectively as I spoke to the students.  Pentecostals seem to pray longer and with more dynamism than we Baptists do.  These men prayed long, and the longer they prayed the more they leaned on my head.  They prayed on and on and leaned harder and harder. One of them kept whispering, “Do you feel the Spirit? Do you feel the Spirit?”  To tell the truth, I felt something right at the base of my neck, but I wasn’t sure it was the Spirit.
    One of the faculty members prayed at length about a particular man named Charlie Stoltzfus.  That kind of ticked me off, and I thought to myself, If you’re going to lean on my head, the least you can do is pray for me.  He prayed on and on for this guy who was about to abandon his wife and three children.  I can still hear him calling out, “Lord!  Lord!  Don’t let that man leave his wife and children!  Send an angel to bring that man back to his family.  Don’t let that family be destroyed!  You know who I’m talking about, Lord…  You know who I’m talking about…  Charlie Stoltzfus.  He lives down the road about a mile on the right-hand side in a silver trailer house!”
    I thought to myself, with some degree of exasperation, God knows where he lives…  What do you think God’s doing, sitting up there in heaven saying, “Give me that address again”?
    Following the chapel talk, I got in my car and headed home.  I was getting on to the Pennsylvania turnpike when I saw a young man hitchhiking on the side of the road.  I picked him up.  (I know you’re not supposed to, but I’m a Baptist preacher and whenever I can get someone locked in to where I can preach to him, I do it.)  As we pulled back onto the highway I introduced myself.  I said, “Hi, my name’s Tony Campolo.   What’s your name?”
     He said, “My name’s Charlie Stoltzfus. . . “!
    I didn’t say a word.  I drove down the turnpike, got off at the next exit, turned around, and headed back.  When I did that, he looked at me and said, “Hey, mister!  Where are you taking me?!”
    I said, “I’m taking you HOME!”
    He said, “Why?”
    And I said, “Because you just left your wife and three children!  RIGHT?”
    He said, “RIGHT!  RIGHT!”
    He leaned against the passenger door the rest of the way, staring at me.  I drove off the turnpike and onto a side road– straight to his silver trailer house.  When I pulled into the drive, he looked at me with astonishment and said, “How did you know I lived here?”
    I said, “God told me!”
    Well, I believe that God did tell me.  I think God may set up things like that, just for fun.  I mean, if you’re God, you’re probably having a pretty sad time of it looking down on all the things that are going on in the world.  I can just imagine God nudging Peter and saying, “Hey, Pete.  Watch this!”
    I told Charlie, “You get in that trailer house because I want to talk to you and I want to talk to your wife.”
    He ran into that mobile home ahead of me.  I don’t know what he said to his wife, but when I got in the house trailer her eyes were a wide as saucers.  I sat them down and said, “I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen.”
    Man, did they listen!  And during the next hour I led both of them into a personal relationship with Jesus.  Today that guy is a Pentecostal preacher down South.
    When the Spirit leads, there are all kinds of surprises in store for us.

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Matthew 4:1  —  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  

Romans 8:14  —  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  

I Corinthians 12:4-6  —  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.  

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        Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct and rule us according to our will, to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer

164) Getting Excited About Church (?)

Published on the Joe McKeever website on August 27, 2013 (adapted).  Dr. McKeever is the Director of Missions (retired) for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

     “Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies.  After that, it all goes downhill.”  I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.  “Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted.  I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today.  It will be comforting, but not exciting.”

     But I do understand where the guy is coming from…  40 years ago, at the age of 33, I moved to the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, a congregation that had declined somewhat during the last years of the previous pastor.  So, the young energetic visionary that I was, I asked the church to erect some billboards around town urging people to visit “The exciting First Baptist Church of Columbus.”  I admitted to our staff that mostly I was hoping to convince our own people.

     These days, when I see churches announcing that they are exciting or friendly or dynamic or whatever, I figure that for the most part they are trying to convince themselves.

     But shouldn’t a Church be exciting?  You are involved in the greatest work in the world, serving the Lord of the Universe, the Savior of the world, in a ministry that changes lives and results in a blissful eternity for those who believe.  What could be more exciting than that?

     It is exciting.  But not always.  The Lord had a reason for comparing serving Him in ministry to farm work.  Ask any farmer.  Life on a farm can be exhilarating with the glorious sunrises, the “feel” of the Springtime, the joy of seeing crops come up and crops gathered in, and the delights of eating things from your own garden.  But more often it’s something far less than exciting and looks a lot like hard work.  Eventually, in any kind of lifework we settle into a routine with regular highs and lows.  Serving the Lord can be the greatest honor of our lives, and it can be downright painful.  That’s real life.

     Much of the interaction between Moses, Israel, and the living God involved confrontation, condemnation, confession, and contrition.  The Old Testament books of Exodus through Deuteronomy inundate us with a sequence of painful stories that tell how God led those rebellious people for all those years.  And one thing we know for certain:  No member of that massive march from Egypt to Canaan went around singing, “Every day with Moses is sweeter than the day before!”  Exciting?  The wilderness experience was a lot of things, but for the most part, it was hard work, constant disputes, difficult assignments, and long walks across desert terrain

     There are indeed great and exciting moments in the Lord’s service.  Someone gets saved and gloriously so.  The congregation is rightfully thrilled and bursts into applause as he or she is baptized.  A new pastor is called and a difficult interim time is now history.  The congregation is excited and enthusiastically responding to his leadership.  The massive church debt which had crippled the ministries for years is finally retired, and the whole congregation turns out to burn the note and celebrate.  The pastor had no way of knowing that today’s sermon would be different, but for reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, his message really connected with everyone in the building, hearts were open to God in unusual ways, and worship went heavenward.  Exciting?  Few things are more exciting for the pastor.  Oh, that it were this way every time we meet for worship.

      But as soon as you decide every worship service ought to be exciting is when you start making some foolish decisions.  Once the people demand excitement in every service, you as the pastor soon resort to gimmicks and celebrity guests and inappropriate music and flashy ideas you picked up from friends. Pleasing God drops far down your list of goals, while pleasing your people takes over top billing.  It’s all downhill from there…

    When worship leaders make a conscious decision to keep everything exciting, they start going for noise, dramatic stories, special effects, and glitter.  Before long, they realize they have created a monster.  People who are addicted to these things find their appetite grows to monstrous proportions and are never satisfied, but want more and bigger and gaudier.

     I will go so far as to say that it is in times of drudgery that we do our best work for the Lord.  When a job has lost its glamour and you have to make yourself get up and don your working clothes and get to it one more day, that’s when you make your highest statement about honor and duty.  When the encouragers vanish and you find yourself tackling the assignment without their support, you will know whether you are called of God…

     I love exciting worship services, but excitement should be a by-product of faithfulness, and never the main goal.

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From a letter by C. S.Lewis to Mrs. Ray Garrett (September 12, 1960) on living in the present moment, without being bothered by lack of spiritual feelings of excitement.

     The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use.  They are indeed like drugs– a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective.  We must not bother about thrills at all.  Do the present duty, bear the present pain, enjoy the present pleasure; and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.  That’s the program, isn’t it?         –From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

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II Timothy 4:1b-5  —  I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

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A Prayer For the Parish, by William John Butler, Dean of Lincoln

Almighty and everlasting God, Who dost govern all things in heaven and earth,
Mercifully hear our prayers and grant to this parish all things needful for it spiritual welfare.
Strengthen and confirm the faithful,
Visit and relieve the sick,
Turn and soften the wicked,
Arouse the careless,
Recover the fallen,
Restore the penitent.
Remove all hindrances to the advancement of thy Word,
And bring us all to be of one heart and mind in Jesus Christ,
To the honor and glory of thy Name.  Amen.

163) Forgive Me (a few words from the Motel 6 guy)

by Tom (“we’ll leave the light on for you”) Bodett; As heard on American Public Media’ s Weekend America December 31, 2005.  (NOTE: This piece was written for an end of the year broadcast, but I just ran across it and did not want to wait three months to use it.  It will work anytime)

     It’s the end of another year and time for a little ritual I call, “Forgiveness.”  There’s no gain in carrying over resentments from one year into the next.  I’m sure there’s more where these came from.  So, why don’t we let each other off the hook for all our little transgressions right here and now?  I’ll start.

     At a quiet movie last month you sat behind us eating what sounded like raw barley that you’d brought from home in a crinkly sack.  You were oblivious to our body language and we had to move.  We still talk about you.  But that ends here.  Forget about it.

     In turn, I should confess to you that we were the couple with the baby on your all-night flight to Madrid.  I admit that could have gone better.  Can we let it go now?

     You were rooting around for a cigarette or a CD or something in your console and didn’t notice the light had turned green for one whole cycle.  Everybody behind you wanted you dead.  But, we’re over it.

     You were eating cookies while you worked on your Christmas cards this year, weren’t you?  I could see the little crumbs stuck to the edges of the glue seam on the envelope.  I forgive you, because you weren’t even on our list until we got your card.

     You asked me for directions in an unidentifiable foreign accent and I talked to you as if you were an idiot with a hearing impairment.  Sorry.

     Your dog is obnoxious.

     I drive a bigger car than I really need.

     I’ve known you for years and couldn’t remember your name when I ran into you at that party.  I tried to cover it up by being friendlier than the situation called for.  That’s behind us now, right?

     You will forget my name even though I was just in your store yesterday and bought two thousand dollars worth of plumbing fixtures.

     You put me on hold in order to finish a conversation with your girlfriend.  It’s okay.

     I told you we were out of town the weekend of your daughter’s birthday party and then you saw us at the video store that evening.

     You took too long at the ATM.

     Remember that busy street where you had sat waiting for a left turn for seven full minutes?  I was the pedestrian who ambled across the intersection at the critical moment and you had to wait another eight minutes for traffic to clear.

     You always tell me what your cats have been up to.  I punish you by showing you pictures of my children.  Can we stop this madness?

     The truth is we’re all pretty darn annoying.  Just not about the same things and, thank goodness, not on the same days.  So, in the spirit of the holidays and a brand spanking New Year. I forgive you if you’ll forgive me.

     Are we square now?

© Current Tom Bodett. All Rights Reserved.
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Ephesians 4:2 — Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:31-32 — Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Matthew 7:1-5 — (Jesus said), “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.  Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?  How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

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Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.   –Jesus