233) Why Be Good? (part one)

     Tom Bodet’s first career was working as a lineman for a power company.  He grabbed on to the wrong line one time, and it almost killed him.  When he got out of the hospital he decided he’d go into a different, less dangerous line of work.  He became a writer, and has had some success.  He’s written a few books, tells funny stories on his radio program, and he has done a few commercials.  You’ve heard him.  He’s the one who says, “This is Tom Bodet inviting you to stop on in at Motel Six.  We’ll leave the light on for you.”

     Much of his humor is about small town life.  He writes in a gentle and kind way, poking fun at the foolishness he sees in other people and in himself, while at the same time managing to find something good in everyone.  For example, a while back he wrote:

     I’ve lived in small towns my whole life– in the Midwest, in Alaska, and now in New England.  Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a more decent person because of rural life, but I act more decently than I probably would if I didn’t have to see these people again.
     If the person in front of me at the bank drive-thru is talking on her cell phone instead of moving along, my first impulse might be to honk the horn, with a hollered “Come on” thrown in for good measure.  But small town people don’t honk their horns unless we’re picking up kids at the neighbor’s or shooing a dog out of the road.  Besides, I can see the person in the car is Jenny Pendergast whose only daughter is away at college, and that is no doubt is who she is talking to, and I don’t want to interrupt.  A good hearted and vigorous wave of the hand will eventually catch her attention in the side mirror and she’ll move on with an apologetic cringe.  The only rude people you’ll find in small towns are those who want to be left alone, and they are.  The rest of us have to bite our tongues so much (to keep from letting someone have it) that it makes us talk funny…
     Rural people think that city people think they’re stupid.  City people think that rural people think they’re stupid.  And they’re both right enough of the time to keep things awkward and make both sides wary.
     In the recent political campaign there were people on both sides trying to take advantage of this real, but harmless rivalry between town and country.  One side expressed an opinion about the bitter, religious gun nuts in rural America.  The other side countered that small towns are the last refuge of all that is right and decent and true about the American character, and if you are not from one you could never understand that.  They’re both wrong.  I’ve met as many wrong-headed and indecent characters in the country as anywhere else, and some of the sweetest and most generous people I know are so much from the city that they think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.  I’ve known stupid big-city lawyers, and I’ve known genius farmers who never finished high school.
     The only real difference between living in a small town or a big one is that out here in rural American it is harder to avoid those people you don’t like.  And that forces you to get to know them.  It requires patience sometimes.  And you often have to politely listen to views you don’t agree with.  It doesn’t make us bitter, but it makes us better.  And least better than we would be…

     You don’t have to read very much in the Bible to see that God cares a great deal about how each one of us lives, and how we treat each other.  There are ten commandments; three that have to do with our spiritual responsibilities before God, and seven that have to do with how we should act in order to get along with other people.  Obeying these, and all of God’s other commandments, is not always easy or convenient, and everyone, every once in a while says to themselves, ‘Why should I?  Why should I think I always have to be honest?– no one else is.  Why should I tell the truth– people lie to me all the time.  Why should I be the only one to try to be kind and fair?– it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I have to make sure I get mine.  Why try and do the right thing?  Why be good?

     The most important reason to be good and do what is right is that God tells us to, and that should be reason enough.  But it isn’t reason enough for many people, and there’s probably nobody that keeps that in mind all the time.  To want to obey God takes a certain amount of faith and maturity, and even though that is where we should all be at all the time, that is often not the case.  There are other reasons, however, on several different levels, and each can, in time, lead up to that deeper obedience to God.

     On the most basic level, we do the right thing because of the rewards or punishments that are to be received or endured.  A teenager is told to stop talking disrespectfully to her parents or she will be punished with no car on the weekend, and she changes the tone of her voice.  You go to work even on days that you don’t feel like it, because you need the reward of that paycheck.  There doesn’t have to be any love or respect for anyone at this level.  You do the right thing for no other reason than to get what you want.

     On a little deeper level, you do the right thing because that is what will make everything go smoother for everyone.  You wait in line at the store even though you are in a hurry, because if everyone who was in a hurry would push and shove to be first, there would be a fight, and security would have to be called, and then you would really be delayed.  But again, you don’t have to like or respect the people ahead of you, you just understand that the world works better when the rules are followed, and again, that is better for you.  (continued…)

**********************************

Matthew 7:12  —  (Jesus said), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Mark 12:30-31  —  (Jesus said), “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”

***********************************
Grant to us, Lord, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will;  through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  Book of Common Prayer

Advertisements

232) Pilgrim Thanksgiving (part two)

     … (continued)  Our supply of men from you came the 9th of November, 1621, putting in at Cape Cod, some eight or ten leagues from us.  The Indians that dwell thereabout were they who were owners of the corn which we found in caves, and we are in league with them.  They sent us word there was a ship near unto them, but thought it to be a Frenchman; and indeed for ourselves we did not expect a friend so soon.  But when we perceived that she made for our bay, the governor commanded a firearm to be shot off, to call home such as were abroad at work.  Whereupon every man, yea boy, that could handle a gun, were ready, with full resolution that, if she were an enemy, we would stand in our just defense, not fearing them.  But God provided better for us than we supposed.  These came all in health, not any being sick by the way, otherwise than by sea-sickness, and so continue at this time, by the blessing of God; the good-wife Ford was delivered of a son the first night she landed, and both of them are very well.

     When we are settled and fitted for the fishing business and other trading, I doubt not but by the blessing of God the gain will give plenty to all.  In the meantime, that we have gotten we have sent by this ship; and though it be not much, yet it will witness for us that we have not been idle, considering the smallness of our number all this summer.  We hope the merchants will accept of it, and be encouraged to furnish us with things needful for further employment, which will also encourage us to put forth ourselves to the uttermost.

     Now because I expect your coming unto us, with other of our friends, whose company we much desire, I thought good to advise you of a few things needful.  Be careful to have a very good bread-room to put your biscuits in.  Let your cask for beer and water be iron-bound, if not more.  Let not your meat be dry-salted;  none can better do it than the sailors.  Let your meal be so hard trod in your cask that you shall need a hatchet to work it out with.  Trust not too much on us for corn at this time, for by reason of this last company that came, depending wholly upon us, we shall have little enough till harvest.  Build your cabins as open as you can, and bring good store of clothes and bedding with you.  Bring every man a musket or fowling-piece…  Bring juice of lemons, and take it fasting; it is of good use...  Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, makes as pleasant meat as rice; therefore spare that.  Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows, with cotton yarn for your lamps.  Let your shot be most for big fowls, and bring store of powder and shot.  I forbear further to write for the present, hoping to see you by the next return.

So I take my leave, commending you to the Lord for a safe conduct unto us.

Resting in him,
Your loving friend

Edward Winslow

Plymouth in New England this 11th of December, 1621

———————————

The Mayflower arrived in 1620.  Years later, William Bradford (1590-1657), the first governor of the colony, wrote his “History of Plymouth Plantation.”  In one passage, written in 1650, Bradford recorded the fate of those who came over on the Mayflower.  The following two paragraphs introduce and conclude Bradford’s records of those original settlers.  The original spelling and grammar has not been changed.  Even after writing of the illnesses and early deaths of so many of his fellow travelers, including his own wife, Bradford is still thankful and praises God for preserving the Plymouth Colony:

     “And seeing it hath pleased God to give me to see 30 years compleated, since these beginnings.  And that the great works of his providence are to be observed.  I have thought it not unworthy my paines, to take a view of the decreasings, & Increasings of these persons, and such change as hath pased over them, & theirs, in this thirty years…
     “…Of these 200 persons which came first over, in this first ship together; the greater halfe dyed in the general mortality; and most of them in 2 or three monthes time.  And for those which survived though some were ancient & past procreation; & others left ye place and countrie. yet of those few remaining are sprung up above 160 persons; in these 30 years.  And now living in this presente year 1650, beside many of their children which are dead and come not within this account.  And of the old stock, there are yet living this present year 1650 nere 30 persons. Let the Lord have ye praise; who is the High preserver of men.”

 

*********************************

I Chronicles 16:8-9  —  Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

***********************************
A GENERAL PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING from the Book of Common Prayer:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.  We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

231) Pilgrim Thanksgiving (part one)

This description of the life of the Pilgrims following the landing of the Mayflower was written in a letter by pilgrim Edward Winslow (1595-1655) after a year in the new land.  During the first winter in New England, Winslow’s wife died, as did almost half of the original settlers.  Two months after his wife‘s death, Winslow married Susannah White, who had been widowed during the same period.  White was distinguished as the first white woman to give birth in New England, and their wedding was the first in the region.  Winslow, who was elected governor of the colony several times, is best known for negotiating a treaty with the Indian Chief Massasoit.  The second paragraph of this letter contains the most detailed eyewitness account we have of that first Thanksgiving.  Despite the severe hardships and many afflictions of that first year, Winslow is thankful for God’s abundant provision.

———————————————-

Loving and old Friend,

     …You shall understand that in this little time a few of us have been here, we have built seven dwelling-houses and four for the use of the plantation, and have made preparation for others.  We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas; and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings…  Our corn did prove well; and, God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown.

     Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.  They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.  At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms; many of the Indians coming among us, and among them their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

     We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving, and ready to please us.  We often go to them, and they come to us.  Some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them…  Yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us and love unto us, that not only the greatest king among them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have been glad to make peace with us…  So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England.  We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.  They are a people without any religion or knowledge of any God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, and just.

     For the temper of the air here, it agrees well with that in England; and if there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer.  Some think it to be colder in winter; but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very clear, and not foggy, as has been reported.  I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed; and if we have once but kine cows, horses, and sheep, I make no question but men might live as contented here as in any part of the world.  For fish and fowl, we have great abundance.  Fresh cod in the summer is but coarse meat with us.  Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affords a variety of other fish.  In September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter.  We have mussels (near us)… Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will.  All the spring-time the earth sends forth naturally very good salad herbs.  Here are grapes, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, etc.; plums of three sorts, white, black, and red;…  The country needs only industrious men to employ; for it would grieve your hearts if you, as I, had seen so many miles together by goodly rivers uninhabited; and withal, to consider those parts of the world wherein you live to be greatly burdened with abundance of people.  These things I thought good to let you understand, that you might on our behalf give God thanks, who hath dealt so favorably with us…(continued)

Portrait of Plymouth Colony Governor Edward Wi...

Plymouth Colony Governor Edward Winslow

********************************

Psalm 103:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 100:4-5  —  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Philippians 4:5-7  —  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

*******************************
A PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING FOR THE HARVEST:
Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew:  We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people.  And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

230) What Do You Want For Your Children?

By Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, page 88, © 2000

     A study done on mothers around the world asked the question, “What do you want your children to be when they grow up?”  Mothers in Japan almost always answered, “We want our children to be successful.”  The result is that the people of Japan have raised up a generation of the most success-driven children in the history of the world.  They work harder and longer than any other people at any task assigned to them.  They can be expected to excel in any activity they undertake.  The way in which Japan recovered after World War II was largely due to the success orientation that was drilled into the children by their parents.

     When American mothers were asked exactly the same question, you can imagine what the answer was:  “We want our children to be happy!”  HAPPY?!?!?!

     You’ve got to understand, I was raised in an old-fashioned Italian family.  I don’t think my father really cared whether I was happy.  Oh, I suppose it was of concern to him, and I’m sure that he also wanted me to be successful.  But if you had asked my father, and especially my mother, “What do you want your son to be when he grows up?” both would have answered, “We want him to be good.”

*********************************

Proverbs 22:6  —  Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children;  instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19  —  Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds;  tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Philippians 4:6-9  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable;  if anything is excellent or praise-worthy;  think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you. 

***********************************

A PRAYER FOR THE FAMILY by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) ( God’s Minute, 1916, alt.):
Our Father, we thank you for binding this family together by the sacred tie of common blood.  We remember with how much sacrificial love its life has been created and sustained.  We thank you for a mother’s travail and tenderness, for a father’s faithful toil.  Knit us together by our common joys and sorrows, so that even if we are far removed from one another, nothing may estrange our hearts.  When the youngest of us is old and gray-headed, may the memories of our home still be sweet and dear.  May the children’s children of this family still have the vigor and virtues of our best forefathers, and may the faith, too, of our fathers and mothers burn brightly in their hearts.  Deal graciously with our loved ones.  Give us our daily bread and strength for our daily tasks.  To you we commit the life and destiny of each; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

229) Pastors and Their Congregations

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, J. B. Lippincott Publishers, Philadelphia

     Dr. Mather Byles, of Boston, in a period of great political excitement, was asked why he did not preach politics.  He replied, “In the first place, I do not understand politics.  In the second place, you all do, every one of you.  In the third place, you have politics all week; pray, let one day in seven be devoted to religion.  In the fourth place, I am engaged in a work of infinitely greater importance.  Give me any subject to preach on that is of more consequence than the truths I bring to you, and I will preach on it next Sunday.”  (p. 207)

————————————

     The wisdom of Dr. John Rogers of New York was evident in his way of opposing error, and in his dislike of persecution.  When he was once strongly urged by some of the officers of his church to preach against the errors of a particular sect, and to warn his people against them by name, he firmly refused, saying, “Brethren, you must excuse me; I cannot reconcile it with my sense either of policy or duty to oppose these people from the pulpit, other than by preaching the truth plainly and faithfully.  I believe them to be in error; but let us out-preach, out-pray, and out-live them, and we need not fear.”  (p. 203)

————————————-

     Rev. Solomon Allen, a most excellent minister, labored in the beginning of this century in the western part of the state of New York.  He did not commence his ministry till he was fifty years of age.  His zeal was irrepressible, and his unselfishness exceedingly striking.  He endured great hardships, making every possible sacrifice in the pursuit of his great object.  And such was the happy effect, that many felt as did one avowed enemy of the Gospel who had to admit, “This is a thing I cannot understand.  This old gentleman, who could be as rich as he pleases, comes here and does all these things for nothing.  There must be something in his religion.”  (p. 200)

————————————

     A young minister was settled in a large and popular congregation, under very flattering circumstances.  The church and people had settled him in the belief that he was a young man of more than ordinary talents, and with the expectation of his becoming a distinguished man.  After a year of two, when the novelty of the thing had worn off, the current seemed to change, and the feeling prevailed that Rev. B. was not, nor likely to be, quite what they had expected.  He did not grown as they thought he would, nor did he perform the amount of labor which was needed to build up the church and interest the congregation.  Things dragged heavily.  The young man felt the influence of the chill atmosphere which thus surrounded him.  His spirits sunk, his health failed, and it was soon whispered around that Rev. B. would probably have to leave– he was not the man for the place.  He was not the man of talents they had anticipated.
While things were in this state, at a meeting of the church when the pastor was absent, (perhaps one called to see what should be done), Mr. O., an intelligent and influential member, arose and said:  “Brethren, I think we have been in the fault respecting our minister.  I think that he is a young man of superior talents, and will one day be a distinguished man.  But we have not sustained him and encouraged him as we should.  We have been standing and looking on, expecting him to raise both himself and us to eminence.  Now, let us adopt a different course.  Let us encourage our minister with our prayers, our sympathies, and our efforts, and let us speak of him with esteem and confidence to others.”
The thing was agreed upon.  The leading men set the example, and very soon everyone was speaking in favor of Rev. B. His people visited with him, and sympathized with him; and soon people out of the society began to remark how Rev. B. was rising in the estimation of his people.  
     The young man felt the change.  The cold, damp chill with which he was surrounded, and which was benumbing the energies of his soul, was changed by the influence of such kindly beams, and a warm atmosphere came over him.  His spirits rose, his health returned, his energies awoke, and he showed to all that he had within him the elements of a man.  Several revivals attended his labors, and he was firmly established in the affections of the people.  (p. 459-460)

***********************************

I Timothy 1:12  —  I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 

II Timothy 4:1-4  —  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, 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 men 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.

II Timothy 4:5  —  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

***********************************
Martin Luther’s prayer for God’s help in his ministry:
O Lord, you see you unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed in it long ago.  Therefore, I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly indeed will I give my heart and my voice to this service.  I want to teach the people.  I myself want constantly to seek and study your Word, and eagerly meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Only, dear Lord, do not forsake me; for if I am left alone, I will most certainly ruin everything.  Amen.

228) Deathbed Confession (part two)

     (continued…)   The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.  He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

    “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now? To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

     “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”

     The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, and told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, but that now she wanted to confess her sins.  And then he encouraged her to begin, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how, as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, got married, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sin, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

      She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe.  I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling him that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep here, you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves like the first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with, and that is what the second pastor did, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Believe in Him and you will be saved.

****************************

Proverbs 9:10  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

****************************

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  –Luke 23:42

227) Deathbed Confession (part one)

     I heard this story from another Lutheran pastor.  I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.

     A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital.  She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well.  She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station.  The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that.  The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.

     The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her.  She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor?  I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.”  Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background.  She said, “I have no church background.  I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it.  I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are.  You have nothing to fear.”  She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more.  Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room.  He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.

     But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before.  She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught.  They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit.  She said, “No, don’t call him back.”  (continued…)

*************************

Psalm 51:3  —  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Lamentations 3:19-20  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Hebrews 9:27  —  …It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgment.

*************************

Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  –William Bridge

226) Atheist ‘Flabbergasted’ at Christian Assistance

by Rich Flowers in the 3-20-2012 edition of The Athens Review, Athens, Texas

           Sometimes life can take a turn that makes you see things in a different light.

     A few weeks ago, Patrick Greene of San Antonio was known in Henderson County simply as a professed atheist who threatened to sue Henderson County about the courthouse manger scene. Greene’s experience with Christians was of narrow-minded individuals who had treated him unkindly throughout his life.

     “My wife and I had never had a Christian do anything nice for us,” Greene said. “Just the opposite.”

     That changed when the 63-year-old learned he had a detached retina.  Greene was forced to give up driving his Yellow Cab, and resign himself to his impending blindness.  Eye surgery would cost $20,000 he said, and he didn’t even have the money to pay bills or buy groceries.

     Jessica Crye, a member of Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens, learned of his troubles on the Internet, and felt compelled to help.  Crye’s pastor, the Rev. Eric Graham, contacted Greene to find out more about his needs.

     “I said first of all, I don’t want $20,000,” Greene said.  “That would be ridiculous, because there’s a chance the surgery would fail.  On top of that, there’s a chance it could become detached again.”  Greene told Graham he had a more immediate need.  “I said, if you really want to contribute something to help, we need groceries,” Greene said.

      Greene said he was “flabbergasted” to learn that a group of Christians in Henderson County was reaching out to help an atheist, who in February had informed Commissioners Court that he would sue if the manger scene reappeared this year.

     “I told my wife about it,” Greene said.

     “They’re going to help us?” Karen asked.

     Greene thought that if anything, he’d see $50, maybe $100.  A few days later, the Christians made good on their promise, and sent a check for $400.

     “I said I can’t believe it,” Greene said. “I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.”

     The money went to help pay the rent, and provide necessities from the grocery store.  The contributions didn’t stop at $400 either, Crye said. More money is coming in.

     Greene is so amazed by the generosity of the Christians in Henderson County, he’s sharing the story through the media, and is thinking about writing a book.  “I’m going to call it The Real Christians of Henderson County,’” Greene said.  “These people are acting like what the Bible says a Christian does.”  Greene plans on publishing the work as an e-book.  “I’m dedicating the book to my wife, the young lady who started the idea, and Reverend Graham.”

     Crye said just about everyone she’s heard from has been supportive of reaching out to Greene.  “I like to look on the positive side,” Crye said. “It’s wonderful what God has done.”

     Now, rather than keep trying to keep the manger scene removed, Green said he’d like to add his contribution.  “I have decided to show my appreciation to the Christian community for all their help, and I am going to buy a star for the top of the Nativity scene,” Greene said.

3-21 Patrick Greene and cat.jpg

Patrick Greene

*********************************

Matthew 5:43-47  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?”

I Thessalonians 5:15  —  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

I Peter 3:13-14  —  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.

*********************************

O God, the Lord of all, your Son commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for them.  Lead them (and us) from all prejudice to truth;  deliver them (and us) from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and enable us all to stand before you, reconciled through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, page 44, (alt.)

225) 50 Years Ago Today

CS Lewis's works of fiction captured the imagination of his public, especially in the dark days after the Second World War - C S Lewis deserves his place in Poets’ Corner<br /><br />

Fifty years ago today, on November 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis died of kidney failure.  The death of one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy one hour later.  Lewis was already a popular writer in 1963, and in the half century since then his popularity has grown and his influence has been immeasurable.  Columnist Cal Thomas writes:  “On the 50th anniversary of his death, C.S. Lewis remains perhaps the 20th century’s most towering intellectual practitioner of the Christian faith.  Lewis combined humility– rare among those who have achieved fame– with a style that relied less on argumentation than on logic and persuasion.  He asks readers to join him on a journey he himself has taken and, like a tour guide, shows us a better world and a better life…  His many books continue to sell and the number of people whose lives have been changed by his writing expands each year.”  Today’s meditation is a sample of his wisdom.

————————————-
Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…  Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them:  but Love cannot cease to will their removal.  —The Problem of Pain 

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world…  Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.  —The Problem of Pain

‘You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,’ said Aslan.  ‘And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.’  —Prince Caspian

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:  not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless– it will change.  It will not be broken; but it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.

Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.  —The Four Loves

God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; he died to make them worth it.  —The World’s Last Night

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. —Mere Christianity

Atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…  When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all.  —Mere Christianity

Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.  —Reflections on the Psalms

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves. 

Now that I am a Christian I do not have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable:  but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  —Mere Christianity

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.  —Letters to Malcolm

All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. —Mere Christianity

Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God:  the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.  —The Problem of Pain

*******************************

James 1:2-3  — Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Philippians 4:20, 23  —  To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever…  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen.

*****************************

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and you know our ignorance in asking:  Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

224) 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamations

President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamations 150 years ago:

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America:
     The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
     In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity…, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.  Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
     No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
     It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union…
     Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.  –Abraham Lincoln

 

—————————————-

     …Be it known that I do set apart Thursday, the 6th day of August next, to be observed as a day for national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, and I invite the people of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship and in the forms approved by their own consciences render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation’s behalf and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, (and) to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency… –Abraham Lincoln, July 15, 1863

English: Signature of President of the United ...

 

 

******************************************

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

1 Chronicles 16:34-36  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Cry out, “Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise.”  Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.”

Jonah 3:7-10 — Then (the King) issued a proclamation in Nineveh:  “By the decree of the king and his nobles:  Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.  Let everyone call urgently on God.  Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows?  God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
     When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

*****************************************
Lord and King of all creation, we pray for the government under whose care and protection you have placed us.  Give our President and all in authority wisdom and understanding that they may rule this nation with quiet grace.  Bless our land with peace and prosperity, that the word of God, decency, and honesty may be advanced, and so that the well-being of all people may be properly provided.  May we as citizens be respectful, obedient and devout.
Guide the rulers of all nations, so that they may lead their land and their people in righteousness and peace.  Enlighten all who are in authority and move them to do what is right.  Grant blessed unity and peace among all nations.  Preserve us from all strife, hatred, and warfare, so that we may eat our daily bread in peace.   Amen.  –Martin Luther