183) Follow the Instructions

From Life Balance by Linda and Richard Eyre:

     I have an acquaintance who is a highly trained, high-priced psychiatrist, along with being a very competent and caring person.  A few years ago he was attending a church where the congregation’s leader was a lay minister who was, by profession, a plumber.

     Over the course of several months, the psychiatrist observed that several of his patients were members of the same church, and were also going to the lay minister for guidance.  Alarmingly, he also observed that these people seemed to be benefiting more from the plumber-minister’s free advice than they were from his costly consultation.

         He finally went to the minister and asked him to reveal the secret of his success in counseling and helping troubled people.  The plumber answered easily and quickly.  “Why it’s easy, really,” he said, “I just talk with them until I find out what commandment they are breaking, and then I tell them to stop.”

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From The Person Reborn, page 201, by Paul Tournier:

     We are like a child who has been given a beautiful mechanical toy as a Christmas present.  His father says to him:  “Come here, and I’ll show you how to make it go.”  The child replies:  “No, I want to do it myself!”  He tries, gets angry and sulky, takes it to pieces, damages it, and finally admits his I incompetence.  Defeated, he hands it to his father saying:  “There, you make it work.”

     We too have received a beautiful and very complicated toy:  life.  We try to make it work on our own.  We think we are having some success– but then things begin to go wrong, and we run into personal or social disasters.  The more we struggle to put things right with our own strength, the worse the situation becomes, until at last we come back to God, and offering our lives to him, say:  “Take over, I can’t manage It on my own.”

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Deuteronomy 4:39-40a  —  Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.  Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children…

Proverbs 5:21-23  —  For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.  The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast.  For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly.

Jeremiah 42:6  —  “Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us…”

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Lord, make your will our will in all things, for in your will is our peace.  Amen. 

182) Three Insights From C. S. Lewis

     …The right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge.   When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.   When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.   A moderately bad man knows he is not very good:  a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.   This is common sense, really.   You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping.   You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly:   while you are making them you cannot see them.   You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk.   Good people know about both good and evil:   bad people do not know about either.   —Mere Christianity

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     (One function that pain serves is that it) shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own, and enough for us.  Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.  Having all you want is a terrible condition when all does not include God.  We find God an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full– there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’  Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the sources of false happiness?    —Problem of Pain

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     On doubt:   …I have no doubt that the fear you mention is simply a temptation of the devil, an effort to keep us away from God by despair.  It is often the devil working through some defect in our health, and in extreme cases it needs a medical as well as a spiritual cure.  So don’t listen to these fears and doubts any more than you would to any obviously impure or uncharitable thoughts…  Of course, like other evil temptations, they will not be silenced at once.  You will think you have got rid of them and then they will come back again, and again.  But, with all our temptations of all sorts, we must just endure this.  Keep on, do your duty, say your prayers, make your communions, and take no notice of the tempter.  He goes away in the end.  —Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, volume 3.

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1 John 1:8-10  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.   If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I Peter 4:12-13  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

I John 3:20  —  Though our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.

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Fix Thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither halting our journey because of the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us.  The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards.  Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us.  Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country.   Amen.

–Author unknown, quoted in Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, page 64, compiled by Veronica Zundel, Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co. 1983.

181) Fulfilled Hope

By Randy Alcorn, from his September 18, 2013 blog at http://www.epm.org

     Hope is a much stronger word in the Bible than it is for most of us today.  The hope of deliverance and resurrection is based solidly on the promise of an almighty, truth-telling, covenant-keeping God who never fails and is never thwarted, who always keeps his promises.  Whenever we hope for what God has promised, we don’t wish for a possibility; we anticipate a certainty.

     Researchers conducted a study on stress with Israeli soldiers.  They assured one group that the march would end at a certain point, but kept the other group in the dark.  Although both groups marched an identical distance, those who didn’t know how long they would march registered a much higher level of stress.  Why?  Because they had no hope, no tangible assurance that the forced march would end.  They felt helpless, wondering when, or if, they could ever rest.

     Hope points to the light at the end of life’s tunnel.  It not only makes the tunnel endurable, it fills the heart with anticipation of what’s at the other end:  a world alive, fresh, beautiful, and without pain, suffering, or war.  A world without disease, without accident, without tragedy.  A world without dictators or madmen.  A world ruled by the only One worthy of ruling.  Though we don’t know exactly when, we do know for sure that either by our deaths or by Christ’s return, our suffering will end.  From before the beginning, God drew the line in eternity’s sand to say for his children, “This much and no more, then endless joy.”

     Suffering is God’s invitation to look to Jesus and look forward to Heaven.  The answer to the problem of evil is a person and a place.  Jesus is the person.  Heaven is the place.  No one else and nowhere else will satisfy.

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Life on earth matters not because it’s the only life we have, but precisely because it isn’t–

it’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end.

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Proverbs 13:12  —  Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Psalm 131:3  —  My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty;  I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have calmed and quieted myself; I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.  Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

2 Corinthians 4:18  —  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Romans 12:11-12  —   Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 15:13  —  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our deeds with reverence, to go on with obedience, and to finish them in love; and then, to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful confidence to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ.  Amen.    –George Hickes

180) Martin Luther on Holy Communion

      In Part Five of his Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches us about the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Luther repeats some of the same concepts he taught in Part Four on the Sacrament of Baptism.  He asks of each, ‘what benefits do we receive,’ and in both he replies, ‘the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.’  He asks of each sacrament: how can mere water, or, how can mere bread and wine do such great things; and in both sections he replies that it is not the water, bread or wine alone that does such great things, but the Word of God connected to that earthly element and our faith in that Word of God.  And in both sections Luther has harsh words for those who think they do not need such seemingly meaningless rituals.  To such people he says, “Who are you, little man, or little woman, to despise what God in his love offers you and in His Word so clearly commands of you?”  Both sacraments, Luther said, were commanded by Christ himself, and if anyone wants to forget about Baptism and Holy Communion, they may forget about Christ as well.

     In both sacraments we receive the promises of God as offered and commanded by Christ; and in both, that command and promise is connected to some earthly elements– water, bread, and wine.  The who, what, why, and where of the two sacraments are thus pretty much the same.  The only real difference is in the WHEN and HOW OFTEN.  Baptism comes only once, and it comes at the very beginning of the Christian life.  For some, this is in infancy, brought by the parents who make a promise to bring up the child in the faith.  For others, Baptism comes when, as adults, they make conscious decision to become a Christian.  But for both, Baptism is a one time event in which they receive God’s promise that he will be their God and they will be His child forever.

     In Holy Communion that promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation is repeated again and again throughout the person’s life.  But why, if we have already received an eternal promise, do we have to go and receive that same promise over and over again?  Well, Luther would say, you are thinking too much.  Is it so hard just to do as you are told?  If God had told you to go on a pilgrimage to the other side of the world, crawling on your hands and knees all the way, you would have to try and do that, if doing so was the only way you could gain eternal life.  But what God commands here is simple and easy.  While you are at church remembering the Sabbath Day anyway, at the announced time, get up out of your seat, walk to the front, and get a little wafer of bread, and a little sip of wine, and the Bible says, you will receive the forgiveness of sins, nourishment for your soul, and the gift of eternal life.  God makes it so easy, says Luther– yet some people want to argue the point.  Yes, you receive everything in Baptism, but also yes, Jesus commands that you eat the bread and drink the wine, his own body and blood, he says, in remembrance of his suffering and death for you. To say ‘no’ is to disobey a direct command of Jesus Christ who said, “Do this as often as you eat, or drink, of this, in remembrance of me.”

     Therefore, since the nature of the blessings and the commands of the two sacraments are so similar, Luther spends much of the time in the Large Catechism talking about the one big difference– the ‘when,’ or the ‘how often’ question. This is how Luther addresses this question (paraphrased):

     Now that we have a proper understanding of this sacrament, there is a great need of a strong admonition, so that such a great treasure may not be heedlessly passed by.  What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should receive this blessed sacrament on a regular basis.  For we see that many are becoming listless and lazy about its observance.  A lot of people who have now heard the Gospel of God’s free gift of forgiveness, and have been freed from the burden and oppression of the Law, will now let a year, or two, or three, or even more years pass by without receiving the sacrament, as if they were such strong Christians that they have no need of it.  Some believe they should go only if they feel like going.  Some think now that all they have to do is believe and from then on not do a single thing of any sort.  Is this all they have learned from the preaching of the Gospel, that they can be so smart and confident that they can despise both the sacrament and the Word of God?  In all this, the devil wins a great victory.  He is always setting himself against every Christian activity, hounding and driving people away from the true faith in every way that he can.  Here he even twists the Gospel itself into a tool which he uses to lead people away from God.  Do not let yourself be deceived.  Rather, listen to and obey the clear words of Christ, ‘DO THIS in remembrance of me.’  There should be no reason to compel anyone to come to the sacrament, and I will not do that; but all should want to freely obey and please our Lord Jesus Christ. You may examine yourself in light of this commandment and say to yourself, ‘If I am a Christian at all, I should have at least a little longing every once in a while to do what my Lord wants me to do.’

     It is certainly true, as I have found in my own experience, and as everyone will find in his own case, that if a person stays away from the sacrament, day by day he will become more hardened against and his faith will grow cold, and eventually, he will spurn it all together.  To avoid this we must examine our heart and conscience and act like a person who really desires to be right with God.  The more we do this, the more will our heart be warmed and kindled and our faith will not grow cold and dead.

     Finally, Luther speaks to those who may stay away from communion because they feel they are unfit.  For this problem, he has a great deal of compassion, and simply points to the fact that all who come to communion come precisely because they are unfit and unworthy, and it is Christ who receives us and welcomes us and forgives us, and thereby makes us worthy.  So come as you are, it is the Lord Himself who has invited you.

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Eva...

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

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1 Corinthians 11:23-25  —  For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:  The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

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Almighty God, you gave your Son both as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life.  Enable us to receive him always with thanksgiving, and to conform our lives to his; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen  —Lutheran Book of Worship

179) Wisdom from the Three Little Pigs (part two)

     …(continued) The college professor was having a discussion with the campus pastor.  The professor said, “You Christians are so hung up on telling everybody about Jesus.  Can’t you just believe what you want to believe and let everyone else have their own beliefs?”

     “Well no, I can’t” said the campus pastor.  “I believe that believing in Jesus makes for a better life now, and it is in Jesus that we have the promise of eternal life, and so I think it is important to let others know about Him, so that they can have that too.”

     The professor said, “But I don’t believe in Jesus, and I have a good life now, and I am not worried about dying because I believe life will go on in some form even after death.”

     The campus pastor replied, “I believe that life will go on after death, but I get that from Jesus.  I believe in life after death because I believe Jesus rose from the dead.  But I am wondering where you get that belief since you do not believe in Jesus.  Where in your experience or belief system is there any indication or evidence that we will live again?”

     The professor thought a minute, and replied, “Well I don’t know, it just seems that our spirits will go on.”

     “What spirits?” asked the pastor, “and go on how?  And it just ‘seems that way’ to you?  Well, it doesn’t seem that way or look that way to me at all.  I’ve never seen any ‘spirits,’ and by every indication of everything I ever have seen, dead is dead, and they put you in the ground, and that’s it.  I have never seen any evidence of anything more to hope for– except in Jesus, who I am convinced really did rise from the dead.  Only in Jesus do I see anything more, and so I want to tell people about Jesus.  That’s why we Christians are so hung up on Jesus.  It is Jesus who gives us the reason for our hope.  You do not seem to have any reason for your hope.”

     That professor, though perhaps brilliant in his own field, built his life like the first two little pigs built their houses.  Everything was looking okay for the day, so the little pigs gave little thought to the future, and so it is with the professor.  The professor’s hope for the after-life was without any foundation.  I have had similar conversations with people who will declare a firm belief in the life to come without that belief being connected to Jesus in any way.  It is easy to point out that such a belief, if unconnected to Jesus, is not connected to anything at all.  Where else can you point to a foundation for such an outrageous belief that the dead will live again, other than to the one who died and rose from the dead, Jesus Christ?  Who else has managed that?  And yet, there are all kinds of people, who, like the foolish builder, will live day to day, any one of which could be their last, without giving the least bit of thought to what comes next.

      Is believing in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead a reasonable belief?  That is certainly a question worth asking and looking into and discussing.  I enjoy talk to people about how I came to believe in the truth of the resurrection.  But there are many who will not bother with that, content to live in a house of straw on a foundation of sand.  But the storm is coming, the big bad wolf is coming; and that storm, that wolf, is death.

     A lady who I visited in a previous parish told me about her daughter Linda who lived in California and never went to church.  Linda had done well in California and became quite wealthy, but she had not gone to church for over 40 years.  In time, Linda retired and moved back to her home town to take care of her mother.  She continued her practice of not going to church.  One day Linda brought her mother to church, and then, after that, Linda never missed church.  I visited her to invite her to join the congregation, and she said that yes, she did want to become a member.

    “What brought about this change?,” I asked her.  “For 40 years you never went to church, and now you never miss a Sunday.”

     Linda replied; “That one Sunday my mother finally talked me into bringing her to church, you said something that really hit me.  You said some people spend a great deal of time and energy preparing for their retirement which they may or may not enjoy; but they spend little or no time preparing for their death and what will come next, which they most certainly will have to face.  Well, that was me.  I have planned well, and have plenty of money piled up for retirement, but I’ve never given much thought to what comes after that.  It is time now that I do that.  I need to be trusting in something bigger than my retirement funds.  I’m not going to live forever.”

     Not long after that, Linda died suddenly of a heart attack.  She therefore did not get to enjoy much the retirement she had prepared for so carefully.  But she died with something far better; she died with faith in the promises of that home prepared for her by her Lord Jesus Christ.  Finally, at the end, she had put her life on that firm foundation.

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Job 14:14a — If a man dies, will he live again?… 

Acts 4:12 — Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. 

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

I Peter 3:15  —  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect…

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A prayer by Martin Luther on the 1st commandment:

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

178) Wisdom from the Three Little Pigs (part one)

 

     Once upon a time, there were three little pigs.  One day all three of them decided they would build a house.  The first two little pigs took the inexpensive, fast, and easy way; the first, building his house out of straw, and the second building his house out of sticks.  The third little pig took much more time, and spent far more money than the other two, as he built his house out of bricks.  The first two pigs had a lot of time to go over and make fun of the other one.  “Why work so hard and spend so much money,” they said, “we are doing just fine in our little houses.”  And they had a point.  They HAD been getting along very nicely in their own inexpensive new homes– so far.  They had not thought about bad weather or other possible threats to their home and safety.

     One day there was a knock at the door of the straw house of the first little pig.  It was the big bad wolf and he was demanding to be let in, but the little pig said, ‘Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.’  And so, after a whole lot of huffing and puffing, the big bad wolf blew that flimsy house to pieces, and he had that little pig for lunch.  The wolf then went to the stick house of the second little pig, and that little pig’s house was also quickly destroyed and he was eaten.  Then, the big bad wolf went to the house of the third little pig, the one that the other little pigs made fun of; but the wolf could not destroy that solid and secure house.  And when the wolf tried to climb down the chimney, he landed in a kettle of boiling water, and that was the end of that big bad wolf’s huffing and puffing.

     That is usually called the story of the three little pigs, but it could also be called the story of the wise and foolish builders.  No one knows who first wrote the story of the three little pigs, but whoever did, might have gotten the idea from the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:  “Everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a man who built his house on a rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundations on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice, is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

     In both stories, there are wise and foolish builders, and both stories are, of course, pointing to greater truths than just how to build houses.  Whether you are building or buying, getting a solid house is very important.  For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest purchase they will make in their entire lives.  But there are some things in life that are even more important than building a solid house, and one of those things is the building of a solid life.  In the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus is illustrating the importance of building a solid life.  The parable comes at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, three chapters in which Jesus teaches us how to live an faithful, obedient, godly, and solid life.  Then Jesus tells this parable about the wisdom of building a house on a solid foundation, and he begins the parable with these words: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  You build a solid life by not only listening to the words of Jesus, but also by putting them into practice.

     As you might recall, Jesus never had much time for death, and so whenever Jesus was talking about life, he was talking about all of life– life in the here and now, and, eternal life.  “I have come that you might have life,” he said, “and have it abundantly.”  “I am,” he said, “the resurrection and the life– he who believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live again.”  So, when Jesus talks about building a solid life, he is talking about not only building for the ‘here and now,’ but for all eternity.

     In I Corinthians 3 Paul also uses the illustration of building, writing, “By the grace God has given me, I laid the foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  Jesus Christ is the only foundation which will last, Paul says, adding that it will not work to build with straw or wood, or even gold or silver.  When that Last Day comes, Paul goes on to say, only what is built on Jesus Christ will survive.  The wise person will build their life now on the words of Jesus, and will put their hope for eternal life on the promises of Jesus.  This will put them on a solid foundation.

     The foolish person will build on other things.  The foolish person will pay very close attention to interest rates, but little or no attention to God.  They will follow closely the ups and downs of the stock market, but have no time for worship or prayer.  They will know all about how the Twins and the Vikings are doing, but have no enthusiasm for the mission of God, and how that is doing in the world today.  They will spend many hours looking for the very best car and the very best deal, and they will know just what they are getting, but they will have the flimsiest and foggiest ideas about God and eternal life.  (continued…)

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Matthew 7:24-27 — (Jesus said), “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I Corinthians 3:11-13 — For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.

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Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life:  Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer

177) Your Enemy the Devil

     At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is tempted in the wilderness by the devil.  Jesus refused to give in to the devil’s three temptations, and then Luke 4:13 says:  “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Jesus until a more opportune time.”

     When did that opportune time come?  The devil is mentioned only few times during Christ’s ministry– in the stories of Jesus defeating the devil by casting out demons, and, Jesus mentions the devil in a few of his parables.  But it is not until near the end of Jesus’ earthly live that we see the devil making his next move against Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke that ‘more opportune time’ comes in chapter 22 where it says:  “Now the Passover was approaching and the chief priests and teachers of the Law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.  And it was then that Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelve.  And then Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.  They were delighted and agreed to give him money.  Judas consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”  The opportunity had come and the devil made his move.

     Mel Gibson’s movie of a few years ago The Passion of Christ was a powerful film.  There are some things I wish would have been done differently, but there are many scenes that are tremendous, making the passion story alive and real like no other movie ever has.  One unforgettable aspect of the movie is its portrayal of the presence of the devil.  This devil appears moving through the background of many scenes, never speaking, but with its pale skin and menacing face always looking on.  It is a fearsome look and its presence is symbolizes devil’s influence on the characters in the scene– and it always means trouble.

     And we need to remember that the frighteningly wicked creature in the background of so many scenes in the movie is also in the background of our lives and is alongside us.   Peter would later write, “Be alert and of sober mind, for your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).  ‘Prowling around,’ it says, and in the Bible we see what that might look like, and what the result of that can be.  Judas, friend and disciple of Jesus, was tempted by the devil and gave in, betraying the man he followed every day for three years.  Peter, swearing that he would never deny his Lord, caved in to a servant girl’s questioning just a few hours later.  The religious leaders, whose responsibility it was to see to the spiritual needs of the people, were blinded from the truth of who Jesus was, and arranged for his arrest and execution.  And rest of the disciples, who had seen Jesus raise the dead and had heard his promises of eternal life, abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives as soon as the trouble started.

     The devil, having had no success when he tempted Jesus directly, had all kinds of success with everyone around Jesus.  The devil was most successful with arranging for Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution, and for tempting all of his closest followers to either betray, deny, or abandon their Lord and master.  And if the goal of the devil was to get Jesus killed and out of the way, he was, on one level, completely successful.

     But God had something more in mind.  The devil was successful on one level which is the only level we are able to see– so when the devil succeeded there, it did seem to all involved at the time that it was the end of the story.  But God is always able to move the action in the story to another level.  The devil’s success was short-lived, and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead never to die again.  And in one of his last acts before he was taken into custody, Jesus acted to make sure that the other successes of the devil would also be short-lived.  Even as the twelve men closest to him were on the verge of giving into the devil’s temptations and letting Jesus down in a variety of ways, Jesus was providing the way for their forgiveness and restoration.  ’Take and eat,’ he would say in their last meal together, ’take and drink– this is my body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.’ 

     Peter remembered his failure and he remembered how he was restored.  When he wrote those words about the devil prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, Peter knew from experience what is was to be devoured by the devil.  But he also knew what it was to be restored by Jesus– Jesus, who defeated the power of the devil for himself and for us.  And so Peter completed his letter by following up that passage about the devil with these words:

I Peter 5:9-11  —  Resist the devil and stand firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers in the faith throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you, and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.  To Christ be the power and the glory forever and ever.

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Blessed Lord, who was tempted in all things just as we are, have mercy on our frailty.  Out of weakness, give us strength.  Support us in time of temptation.  Make us bold in time of danger.  Help us to do your work with courage, and to continue as your faithful soldiers and servants to our life’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.         –B. F. Westcott

176) Give These Young Folks What They Want

From a blog entitled Why Millennials are Leaving the Church by Rachel Held Evans. To see the full article and more by Rachel Evans, go to http://www.rachelheldevans.com

     …The assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates– edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

     But here’s the thing:  Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

     In fact, I would argue that ‘church-as-performance’ is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

     Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions– Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc.– precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool” — and we find that refreshingly authentic.

     What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

     We want an end to the culture wars.  We want a truce between science and faith.  We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

     We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

     We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation…

     We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care, and becoming peacemakers.

     You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around.  We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

     Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

     Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations.  Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!”…

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     Author Dan Kimball noticed the beginnings of this cultural shift ten years ago in “Emergent Church.”  In an attempt to reach the unchurched in Santa Cruz, California he assembled focus groups.  He took them to different church environments.  He found consistently that young adults wanted a church that was “churchy.”  Ancient.  Quiet.  Solid.  Holy.  A place unlike the world.  A place of “otherness.”  Those things whisper stability in an unpredictable, ever-changing world.  Kimball’s young adults were actually surprised that the older crowd preferred “relevant model” churches.  Their take:  “If I want to go to the mall, I’ll just go.  I want church to be church.”

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John 12:20-22  —  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5  —  And so it was with me, brothers and sisters.  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Acts 16:29-31  —  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved— you and your household.” 

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 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

–The ancient, simple, Jesus prayer

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales.

175) Martin Luther on Contentment

     The fact that no one is satisfied with what he has is a very common plague.  Consequently, everyone says:  Why is it that the crops are always better in another’s field than in our own, and that the neighbor’s cows give more milk than ours?  And why is it that no one is satisfied with his station in life and that everybody imagines the other man’s station to be better than his own?  The merchant envies the laborer for sitting in undisturbed peace at his job, while he must travel madly about the country.  On the other hand, the laborer envies the merchant for being rich and for being among people and so forth.  Everybody is disgusted with his station in life and sighs for that of another.  If he is married, he envies him who has no wife; if he has no wife, he envies the married man.  So God cannot deal with men in such a way that they are satisfied.  If they served Him in that station into which He has placed them, the work would not be so bitter or burdensome to them.  But now, since they are sick of it, they are burdened by no one but themselves.  They make their lives bitter for themselves without any need or reason.

     If God permitted a man to change his station according to his every desire in order to rid himself of his disgust, he would nonetheless become just as disgusted, if not more so, in all other stations, and would finally wish to get back to his own.  So put away and change your disgust and your discontent!  Then one station will be as another to you, and all stations will be of equal value to you, no matter which one came to be yours; then you will require no change nor desire any.  

     If the troubles of all men were heaped together and were then to be equally distributed, it would come to pass that everybody would much rather keep his own.  So very equitably God governs this world that every advantage has connected to it a corresponding disadvantage.

     Everyone only sees how snugly the shoe fits his neighbor, but does not see where it pinches.  On the other hand, he who is wearing the shoe does not note how snugly it fits but how badly it pinches him.  The world lives on in the folly that everybody has eyes only for his own evil and his neighbor’s good fortune.  But if he saw only his own good fortune and his neighbor’s evil besides, he would thank God and be satisfied in all quietness, no matter how lowly and bad his station might be.

     If we are to avoid such restlessness, disquiet, and disgust, we must have faith.  Faith is firmly convinced that God governs equitably and places every man into that station which is best and most fitting for him.                              

Anthology of Luther, volume one, #1009.

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     …A person who wants to change and improve everything and who refuses to put up with any inadequacies, but insists on having everything clean and comfortable, will usually get in exchange something twice as uncomfortable, or even ten times as uncomfortable.  This is a general rule, not only in this matter (marriage), but in all others as well.

     So it must be on earth.  Daily there will be many troubles and trials in every house, city, and country.  No station in life is free of suffering and pain; not only from your own spouse or children or employees; but also from the outside, from your neighbors and all sorts of accidental trouble.  When a person sees and feels all this, he quickly becomes dissatisfied, and he tires of his way of life, or it makes him impatient, irritated, and profane.  If he cannot avoid this trouble or get rid of it, he wants to change his station in life, supposing that everyone else’s station and condition are better than his own.  After changing around for a long time, he discovers that his situation has progressively deteriorated.  A change is a fast and easy thing, but an improvement is a rare and doubtful thing.

Luther’s Works, volume 21; “The Sermon on the Mount,” page 95.

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     We Germans (only Germans?) are the kind of people who pounce upon anything new and cling to it like fools.  If anyone restrains us, he only makes us more crazy for it.  But if no one restrains us, we will soon, on our own, become fed up and bored with it, and soon chase after something else that is new.

Luther’s Works, volume 37, page 19.

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Ecclesiastes 1:8 — All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

Proverbs 27:20 — Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.

Job 3:20 — Surely he will have no respite from his craving… 

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. 

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“For what God gives I thank indeed; 
What he withholds I do not need.” 
This is my motto: to be able to be satisfied.   –Martin Luther 

174) Getting What You Want

 From Let Me Tell You a Story, pages 7-9, © 2000 by Tony Campolo

    There are those who say that if God loves us, He should answer our prayers.  But we should recognize that sometimes it may be that God doesn’t answer our prayers because He loves us.

    Sören Kierkegaard tells the story of a schoolboy who refuses to learn.  His teacher tries hard to get him interested in his schoolwork and to apply himself to his studies.  But the boy shrugs off her concerns and pays her little attention.  She begs him to cooperate.  She pleads with him to let her teach him, but he refuses.  He just wants to play.  Eventually the teacher says, “Okay.  Tell me what you want to do, and you can do it.”

    The boy says he would like to just sit in the back of the room and make some drawings and sleep a little bit, and spend some time doing nothing at all.  The teacher tells him that he can, and he is allowed to do exactly what he wants.

    Kierkegaard ends the story by saying, “The boy got what he asked for because the teacher had given up on him.”  He then goes on to say, “Beware when God answers prayer!”  He suggests that we sometimes get what we want because God has given up on us.  On the other hand, God may refuse to give us what we want because He loves us.

    This point is especially real to me because of an incident when my own father did not accede to a desperate request.  I was about eight years old when I went to a Saturday matinee at the movies and saw a cowboy film about Hopalong Cassidy.  I was so impressed with that cowboy hero that I went home and told my father that when I grew up, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I really meant it!  I was intense!  I was passionate about it!

    The good news is that my father didn’t give me what I wanted.  Wouldn’t it have been a weird situation if when I was seventeen and asked him about going to college, he had exclaimed, “College! What do you mean you want money for college?  When you were eight you told me you wanted to be a cowboy.  You said it with such passion, and you pled with such earnestness, that I made sure your dreams would come true.  I spent the money I had saved for you on a thousand acres of land in Texas, along with a horse and a hundred head of cattle.  It’s all waiting for you, because that’s what you pled for.  That’s what you said you really wanted.”

    I’m glad to say that my father did not give me what I thought I wanted when I was eight years old, so that he might one day give me something I really needed.  He didn’t want me to have what I though I wanted, because he knew, eventually, it wouldn’t be what I wanted at all.   And so it is with God.

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Drawing of Søren Kierkegaard. The Frederiksbor...

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

    Sören Kierkegaard also told the story of a boy trying to learn arithmetic.  The teacher gives him a book full of problems to solve.  In the back of the book there’s a listing of the answers to the problems, but the teacher instructs the boy never to look at the answers in the back of the book.  Instead, he is to work out the answers for himself.

    As the boy does his homework, he cheats.  He looks in the back of the book and gets the answers beforehand, finding it much easier to work out the problems if he knows the answers in advance.  Kierkegaard points out that while it is quite possible for the boy to get good grades this way, he will never really learn mathematics.  As difficult as it may prove to be, the only way to become a mathematician is to struggle with the problems himself not by using someone else’s answers, even if those answers are the right ones.

    It’s obvious that on life’s journey we are faced with problems, and we sometimes wonder why Jesus doesn’t just spell out the answers so that we know exactly what to do.  That is what we might want.  According to Kierkegaard, however, God doesn’t give us the answers because He wants to force us to work out the problems for ourselves.  It is only by struggling with the problems as they present themselves, day in and day out, that we can develop into the kinds of mature people God wants us to be.

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Romans 1:18-24a  —  From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth.  They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them.  God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen.  But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made.  That’s why those people don’t have any excuse.  They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him.  Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark.  They claim to be wise, but they are fools.  They don’t worship the glorious and eternal God.  Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.  So God let these people go their own way…  
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    Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; thou only knowest what I need…   I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee.  Behold my needs which I know not myself.  Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them.  I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee.  I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.  Teach me to pray…   Amen.     –Francois Fenelon, French priest, (1651-1715)